09/12/2016

Gene Roddenberry: The Great Boor Of The Galaxy

Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon

Get a Star Trek fan talking—and believe me, we love to talk—and inevitably you will hear about the television and movie franchise’s optimistic portrayal of the future. The twenty-third century depicted in the series is a liberal utopia. There is no racism, no poverty, no war, no pollution, and no money. Instead there is world government.

The United Federation of Planets, a sort of galactic U.N., meets in Paris. The Federation’s navy, whose primary mission is exploration and research, is headquartered in, where else, San Francisco. For a certain type of Trekker, the politics of the show is its appeal. “In a cynical twenty-first century consumed by dystopian visions of the future,” writes author Mark Altman, “Star Trek is unique.”

No one is more responsible for this sense of novelty than Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, whose posthumous reputation more closely resembles that of a religious figure than a Hollywood producer. With his long hair, sideburns, and bushy eyebrows, his professorial clothing and theatrical sense, Roddenberry in his maturity took on the appearance of his friend Isaac Asimov, instructing generations of adoring fans in the tenets of IDIC, or “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” a philosophy of logic, inquiry, multiculturalism, and peace.

Roddenberry is lauded as a progressive icon, a prophet, the self-styled “Great Bird of the Galaxy” directing humanity to a limitless future in the stars. “There is no question in my mind that Roddenberry is a genius,” says actress Diana Muldaur. “There’s no disputing his genius,” says movie producer Harve Bennett. “He was a man who was able to reach out through my television and explain to me that I had a place in the world and in the future,” says Whoopi Goldberg. Longtime Roddenberry friend and collaborator Bob Justman is more measured but just as complimentary. “His background was very humble, but he’s a man who educated himself and he’s found that his mind is fertile ground.”

These quotes are from The Fifty-Year Mission by Edward Gross and Mark Altman, a two–volume, 1,300-page oral history documenting the history of the franchise from its inception to the release of Star Trek Beyond this past summer. The book is an extraordinary achievement of research and reporting, filled with inside scoop and backstage drama, fragile egos and the surmounting of great technical challenges. It’s essential for diehards, as well as for readers interested in film and television production in general.

But there is a problem. Intended as a tribute to Star Trek and its creator, The Fifty-Year Mission ends up debunking the Roddenberry mythos. Liberal visionary? Maybe. But he was also an insecure, misogynistic hack.

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