The 1960s meets the 2010s: Interrogating Star Trek

Joseph Lough

Yes. I liked the new Star Trek. I liked the eye candy (almost all male). I liked the explosions. (Did I say that it was almost all male?) I liked the weak, fallible, flawed leads. (I must have said that it was almost all male.) Visually, Into Darkness was spectacular. But, don’t waste your time on the 2D version. I even liked the acting. Chris Pine is the scrappy, prime-directive averse imp I always imagined Kirk to be; Quinto Zachary is Leonard Nemoy, only younger. Don’t ask me how they did that. Zoe Saldana stands up well to Spock’s moodiness. Even Alice Eve puts on a good show as the scientist with whom Kirk does not sleep. And I have not even mentioned Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban), or Chekov (Anton Yelchin), all of whom are quite simply younger versions of the men who made me come back day after day after school for each new episode.

I fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch during his stage performance of Frankenstein. I became addicted during his Sherlock Holmes. His performance in Star Trek is superb.

Campy? Yes. Tongue-in-cheek playful. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. But there is more here than meets the eye.

Why are we attracted to the skinny jeans and short, mussy mops of the 1960s? Why does the sexual energy of the 1960s – so different, nearly opposite, the energy of the 1980s or 90s – pull us in?

And if you are inclined to think that we long the 1960s because of the clarity of the moral issues – race, war, sex, poverty, empire – then it is clear that you weren’t there. Much as the 2010s is stretching us – an African American President who is in many respects indistinguishable from his predecessor, the realization that while gender is politics, it might not be our politics – so too did the 1960s. This is a movie of greys. It pulls us in directions we may not want to be pulled.

Which is why, I would suggest, if you liked the original Star Trek, you will like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. If you didn’t like the original – too sexist, too campy, too morally ambiguous – you probably won’t like the prequel. Yet, there is something else here. Do we want a redo?

Do we wish, like the voice of Radiohead, that it were the 60s again? Yes. But we want a 60s where men and women shared equally in planning and leading and taking credit for free speech and weather underground and SDS and anti-war. Where the sexual revolution was not exploitative. We want the 60s, but without the bad trips. We want the 60s, where McCarthy beats out Johnson and McGovern beats Nixon. We want the 60s where students not only carry, but actually read Marcuse.

There is something disturbingly, naively, unabashedly retro about Into the Dark. But there is also something refreshing. Into the Dark does not promise to resolve any of our 60s pathologies. It does not bring resolution at all. Instead it reminds us of how ambiguous that era actually was. Which makes it not unlike our own.