After four days of the 2016 Republican doom and gloom be afraid be very afraid convention, after Donald Trump’s forever acceptance speech, I needed to transport myself for a while to another world to live in. I took myself to the movies to see “Star Trek Beyond.” It did not disappoint. The movie made me think about the meaning of leadership, the role of popular culture in our perceptions of reality, and how art imitates life and how life imitates art.
This year marks fifty years since the original Star Trek series made its debut on television. Since then, there have been several television series and movies. The current set of movies made for the big screen tell the story of the original crew of the starship Enterprise from before the series begins. Our favorites – Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Chekov, Sulu, McCoy, and Scotty – are back in fine form. The movie is self-referential in ways that only true trekkers will notice. However, I was delighted by the references that I did find. The new movie maintains the Star Trek brand of excitement with a touch of philosophical thinking. At the very beginning, we see Kirk trying to offer a gift to an alien people who are deeply suspicious of him and of his motives. His encounter with them is as exasperating as are human encounters with Others who do not want diplomacy on any level.
I started to think about Kirk, the leader of the group. He is now and has always been portrayed as a kind of ubermensch, an over much man, a man of superior abilities. He is courageous, with a devil may care elan that allows him the creative force to break the rules when it suits him or when he thinks it is necessary. He is the combination of the cerebral Spock and the emotional McCoy. He is the tip of the spear, the one who is not afraid to take charge.
Our popular culture has given us many such heroes, the man, usually European but not necessarily, who rides in to save the day. Kirk is another iteration of Superman, Batman, the Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon, Bond, James Bond, James West and others. They have a supporting cast of characters, but usually they are the men who will think their way or fight their way out of trouble and save the town, or world from utter destruction. Women find the over man irresistible, and men are always grateful to see him come and display the courage that they lack.
Is this who Donald Trump thinks he is? Or, is his declaration that the United States is in a state of crisis and that he is the only one who can fix the situation cynicism, a carbon copy of the recent movie “Our brand is Crisis”?