Dystopias ‘R’ Us
by Sharon Ashwood on May 27th, 2009

This weekend I went to Star Trek with a friend and we both thoroughly enjoyed the film. Yeah, there’s plenty to pick at, but it was a nice mix of the familiar with updated sensibilities. Gone were the bright white sanitized, futuristic landscapes. The concrete looked like concrete and the villains seriously needed a makeover. The grungy bits made me believe in it more.

As my friend and I dissected all of the above, we hit on an interesting point. The old Trek, as much as we adore it, is very dated. One of the things that makes it that way is the boundless Sixties optimism that gave it much of its innocent charm. Today, we don’t want to go where no one has gone before unless Starbucks got there first. Plus, who believes in the technological utopia the old Trek promised? If the Federation existed today, it would contract the ship-building to the lowest bidder and the Enterprise would never make it to the next Starbase. Either that, or the tech would go evil and eat our brains.

I’m such a child of my generation. Welcome to the cynical, morbid, suspicious twenty-first century. We can’t even feel chipper about a starship, so what about everlasting love?

Ah, the HEA–there’s more to it than meets the eye. Cutting through all the philosophical preamble, belief in a HEA is arguably belief that we are lovable and have the capacity for love, that we are worthy and can find what is worthy in others, and that we’re capable of pursuing joy. Somewhere in there is an assumption about human goodness, redemption, and capacity for forgiveness. It speaks to our basic attitude about our right and ability to be happy. In otherwords, if we think we deserve a HEA, we think we don’t suck.

What do I believe? That we need to have faith in the HEA—however we define it—unless we want to slide into a permanent nihilistic funk. If we stop looking for happiness, what have we got left? A world that looks like A Clockwork Orange? Libraries filled with nothing but financial reports and copies of Kafka’s greatest hits? Or maybe just a strange societal obsession with overpriced shoes?

Nope, sappy or not, I’ll stick with the lollipops and rainbows. I need to believe things will turn out okay. The alternative is just too ugly to contemplate.

It’s true that HEA is hard to measure. In real life, houses where the HEA lives fade into the landscape. It’s really about people believing enough in themselves and each other to build a life, that tomorrow is worth planning for, and that trust in the future is not tragically naive. It’s optimism—perhaps tempered by the day-to-day, but it’s there.

Hm. Sounds a bit like the cheery old Star Trek. Come to think of it, even Spock, cold-blooded Vulcan that he was, was big on the old “live long and prosper”. Isn’t that kind of like wishing us a happy ending?

Maybe Trek classic is not as outdated as I thought.

6 comments to “Dystopias ‘R’ Us”

  1. 1

    “Today, we don’t want to go where no one has gone before unless Starbucks got there first.”

    Haha, this line made me snort my coffee. Love it!

  2. 2

    Wow, Sharon! This is the best bit of circular reasoning I’ve seen in quite a while. Well done!

    Oh, and I agree with you.

  3. 3

    I love this analogy to Star Trek. Every relationship is unique, a journey that takes each of us “boldly where no one has gone before!”

  4. 4

    That’s one of the great things about the Trek universe – it sort of folds into whatever argument you wish to make…even if it’s completely circular!

  5. 5

    Let’s do the time warp again!

    Sharon, I’m afraid I’m with you on the “cynical, morbid, suspicious” part. Maybe that’s WHY we write HEAs? To convince ourselves?

  6. 6

    There really is a Star Trek HEA-type optimism — I’m not sure how much thought I gave to that until I went to see Terminator this past weekend.

    I enjoyed both movies (I saw Star Trek already) — both are futuristic adventure movies — but the feeling I had on leaving the Terminator movie was not optimism. Natch, being a fan of HEA, I preferred the Trek movie over Terminator.

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