Friday, September 30, 2016

Gene Roddenberry

"Someone once said, 'Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man. Let history make its own judgments."

- Cmdr. Riker, quoting Zefram Cochrane,
Star Trek: First Contact

There was a point when he began believing his own hype. During a time of great social and political upheaval, he had created a television show that spoke to people on a deep level about the possibility of something better, and was being lauded for it by his audience, being praised as a visionary. To a man like him, whose proclivities tended to veer in the direction of... excess, that kind of praise can do things to your head. 

Herb Solow & Robert Justman, who were there practically from day one, wrote in Inside Star Trek about his vision, yes, but also about his extramarital trysts, his eagerness to take or share credit for works not his (and not only Trek-related), his manipulation of NBC to keep Trek alive, using the fans as pawns, his contract feud with Leonard Nimoy. His heavy hand on the early seasons of The Next Generation, abetted by his lawyer, was the subject of a William Shatner documentary in 2015. Time has, at the least, eroded his footing on the pedestal he had been placed as a result of his creation.

I had never really bought into the mythos. I was too young to know about it during the time it was being built, and by the time I had understood what it was all about, he was dead. I remember the feeling in the audience on opening night of the sixth Trek film, The Undiscovered Country. This was the first movie made after his death. There was a low murmur of anticipation within the crowd. Even a Trek neophyte, as I was at the time, could sense an era was ending. Oh sure, when the dedication card came up on the screen, I chanted "Gene, Gene" with my friends and everyone else, but I didn't feel it for myself, not as someone who had been part of the human adventure for a long time.

While I would not presume to speak for her, I suspect Bibi may believe in his legend more than me. She's older, and traditional science fiction in general means more to her, having grown up an adherent of it, having her life positively shaped by it, having met her wonderful husband as a result of it. She was a Trekkie when it wasn't popular to be one, when being a geek marked you as an outsider and against the grain, so I think the pure Trek ideal of inclusion and scientific knowledge and peaceful exploration is something she really takes to heart. It's one reason among many why I love her deeply. If that means she's inclined to leave Gene Roddenberry on that pedestal, that's okay with me. Trek is something that binds us together. I have him to thank for that.

He was who he was. There's no Guardian of Forever through which we could jump back to 1966 and make him a better person. The result might not necessarily mean a better Star Trek anyway. So be it. The continuing saga of an improved humanity in a brighter future, fifty years old and counting, was spawned by a greatly flawed man in an imperfect world. Perhaps it couldn't have happened any other way. We're all in the gutter, to quote another great storyteller, but some of us are looking at the stars...



  1. Great end to a great month of Trek. Good for you for keeping up with such a rigorous writing schedule! These were really great posts.

  2. Thank you. That means a lot. There were a couple of times when I thought I might not get a post up on time, but I managed somehow.

  3. Excellent, honest summation.

    If success had come to Gene through another genre, he would have gone with it happily. That creativity and the times came together made for something special. We do not always choose what that will be.

  4. Funny you should say that, because awhile back I was toying with an idea for a post imagining what if Gene had tried to make Trek as a movie instead of a TV show. I pictured him working with Roger Corman and was gonna have Jack Nicholson as Dr. McCoy, but that was as far as I got. Maybe I'll revive the idea sometime down the road.


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