Media-interlude: the role of 'third places' in Star Trek ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

Guinan star trek third place.jpgThe reason I like Star Trek, most sci-fi in fact, is because of the space-opera aspect. You don't just tell a story, you design a universe around it. I've been a fan of the show, ever since the age of 10 when I got to watch TV at home. In some ways, sure, the time spent watching the show impoverished my life by taking me away from other endeavours, in other ways, it enriched it by contributing to my ability to dream.

As I grew older, I started paying much more attention to the story-telling aspects of the franchise. For instance, did you know that until the second season of Star Trek, the next generation, the writers didn't create a place for the crew to relax? It was only then that the makers came up with the concept of Ten Forward, hosted by the infamous Guinan (see pic). Later, in its spin-offs, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, we also saw a big role being played by the "lounge", hosted by Quark and Neelix respectively.

It was felt that by introducing this aspect into the show, a third place, it allowed the characters to show a different side of their lives, necessary if you want to teach a complete philosophy about society, as Gene Roddenberry was in fact doing. And of course, it spawned plenty of dramatic stories, that would otherwise never have happened. It allowed for romance, friendship, and conflict to happen, for aliens to meet and interact with one another.

What's interesting about the franchise that each series had a different archetype, which also affected the room for "drama." You could see it as both an evolution and devolution of a story. Star Trek, the original series, was the raw outline of Roddenberry's philosophy about the future of society. The next generation was much more developed and allowed for deeper interpersonal relationships. Deep Space Nine was again an evolutionary step, and much of the stories centred around "life" on the station.

Both Voyager and Enterprise represented a devolution. Voyager introduced the "morale officer", in my opinion, an engineered effort to bring a certain warmth to the story. But it was much less about teaching philosophy, as it was about survival. It showed that Roddenberry's universe was in fact small and could break apart at the edges. But it was still a good story.

Enterprise represents a return to those raw ideas. Perhaps it was felt that the franchise could cover no more new ground, and that a new philosophy had to be designed. It was also a story of survival and the raw pioneering spirit, shown in part in Voyager. But it felt like a military mission, there was little room to form complete characters. Instead we were presented with deep dramas, echoing the 9/11 events, which turned the characters into one-dimensional creatures, much perhaps the way the news depicts the main characters involved in the post-9/11 era.

To me, at least, Star Trek is a good analogy for certain principles in life. That it is not enough to search, but also to build. That friendships and societies are built, not only from the hard work they require, but from the breaks we take to reflect on our actions, and the places that are engineered to cater for that need.

Food for thought.


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