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To Boldly Stay at Home

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I can’t have been the only one who was delighted when Barack Obama outed himself as a Trekkie while on the campaign trail last year, flashing Leonard Nimoy the Vulcan salute and assuring a Wyoming audience that despite his criticism of the bloated Nasa budget, the space programme was important to him: ‘I grew up on Star Trek. I believe in the final frontier,’ he told them.

My president’s a geek.  More than that, Star Trek is a celebration of curiosity and self-improvement – and not a little socialist. Money has been abolished by the 24th century: ‘The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity,’ says Captain Picard.

But an old piece in the LRB by Tom Shippey says that I have it wrong. The Enterprise bridge may include officers with varying skin colours and forehead prostheses, but for all of Trek’s lip-service to respecting alien cultures, the show ‘centred immovably and unthinkingly on the beliefs, values, assumptions and limited experience of the American white-flight suburb’. We explore the universe and find that everyone speaks English. In the end, the Klingons, the Cardassians – even the Borg – are really just like us, or decide they want to be.  At least, in the new movie, only baddies practise torture.

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