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Star Trek: The Unfolding Text, Part 03 The Opening Credits

We open on a star field of cold black emptiness and little points of light, countless stars.
“Space, the final frontier.”
The Enterprise comes into view, tiny, yet approaching us fast.
“These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.”
We see a planet in the distance, and the Enterprise approaches, then the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet.
“Its five year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations.”
Cut back to the star field. In a blur of speed the Enterprise shoots right past us, from left to right.
“To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Proper grammar necessitate that “to boldly go” be changed to “to go boldly” so as to not split the infinitive.

Most people don’t care.

More problematic is the phrase “where no man has gone before.” What about women, aliens and robots?  I’ve spent some time in the last post talking about the sexism in Star Trek.

Despite the best efforts of the creators, they were sometimes unable see past the deeply entrenched prejudices of the day. When Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared in 1987 the phrase was changed to “where no one has gone before.”

More importantly though, when Star Trek boldly declared itself with this opening narration, it wasn’t just explaining the idea of the show, it was explaining why we as a species and the United States as a nation was going to the moon.

As JFK said at Rice University on September 12, 1962, four days shy of four years before Star Trek premiered:  “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade… not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…” Kennedy’s speech, with minor tweaking, could have been the opening narration of the series.

Of course, Kennedy was also moving strategically against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

A month later he would push the country closer to global thermonuclear war than it had ever been before or since, during the Cuban missile crisis. The politics of mutually assured destruction left many wondering if there was going to be a future after all. Nuclear war didn’t seem possible, it seemed probable.

But Star Trek stood in defiance of all that.

Star Trek assured us that the missiles would never fly, or that if they did, we would figure out a way to survive them. Star Trek boldly proclaimed that the future of humanity was not only possible, it was wonderful. The future world of Star Trek was not nuclear armageddon, it was Utopia.

As the credits flashed by and the stirring theme music composed by Alexander Courage filled our ears for the first time, we learned the names of the series stars, William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. We also saw a name that would have been in all probability unknown to us. The creator and producer of this brand new television gamble, Gene Roddenberry.
The future Mrs and Gene Roddenberry

Roddenberry was a former airline pilot who started writing television scripts on the side, starting in 1954 with the series Mr. District Attorney. From there he began getting regular television writing work, alternating, it seems, between cowboys and cops, doing shows like The Lieutenant and Have Gun, Will Travel. Talking about the latter series, Roddenberry made the curious claim that “Paladin, the main character, was something of a science-fiction character. I didn’t realize it at the time, he did science fiction things.” I haven’t seen enough of that series to know exactly what Roddenberry meant by this claim, and Roddenberry himself did not elaborate.

Science-Fiction character?

Would a regular television watcher in 1966 recognized Roddenberry’s name in the credits?

Probably not. It’s unlikely such a viewer would make any connection at all between Star Trek and the earlier shows unless they read something about it in TV Guide. But Roddenberry was smart to put his name up on the screen as the creator of the show in big, bold yellow lettering against a black sky full of stars. It immortalized his name, and linked him forever with both the show itself and the larger philosophy that the show came to represent.

Gene Roddenberry became immortal on the day Star Trek first aired, and in the process of becoming a celebrity television writer/creator he set the mold for later auteurs such as George Lucas, Michael Straczynski and Joss Whedon. But Roddenberry was in a class by himself because he became identified not only with a television franchise, he became identified with the philosophy the show espoused.

George Lucas is not a Jedi, Joss Whedon is not a Slayer, but Gene Roddenberry was every bit the Futurist and Humanist.

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