For a lot of us, Star Trek represents a certain hopefulness about our future, and Gene Roddenberry offers a far more optimistic vision of humanity’s potential compared to other sci-fi series. That said, Star Trek actor Brent Spiner, who played Data in the Star Trek TNG cast, has a different perspective.
Having starred in the direct sequel to the original Star Trek series and one of the best sci-fi series ever, Spiner has a fascinating take on the underlying philosophy. “I question this idea that it’s a hopeful vision of the future,” he told the BBC in 2002. “To me, it’s the same future that we live in now – it’s people blowing people up. You try and negotiate; it doesn’t work, so you blast them. That seems to be the way of the world.”
That’s a little dark, but not untrue. The Star Trek movies, in particular, show that the 2300s have a lot of the same issues we face now. “Maybe why Star Trek and science fiction is intriguing to people is simply it shows a future – period,” Spiner muses. “Because in the world we live in, we can’t be sure there’s going to be a future.”
I mean, he’s not wrong. Making it to the 2100s would seem impressive at the rate we’re going. Not that any of us will be there to see it – wow this got dark, back to Star Trek!
Spiner’s take brings a certain level of realism. Star Trek contains a lot of aspirational moral platitudes, but ultimately, the conversations remain the same as ever. How do we convince oppressive forces to not be that? How can current standards be changed to meet evolving social needs? Why are Klingons so angry all the time?
One of Data’s most popular episodes, ‘The Measure of a Man’, involves Star Trek captain Picard arguing that he should be considered human. It’s a powerful episode and a keen metaphor for how tricky it is to get the government to acknowledge and protect something that seems new and different.
Spiner recently returned to Star Trek for Picard season 3, and from that we’re still awaiting news on the Star Trek Legacy release date. We just had Strange New Worlds season 2, and you can read our interview with Anson Mount and why our James Osborne doesn’t care that Strange New Worlds broke canon.