Arthur Meiselman

Santayana and Star Trek           


February 2014

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known as George Santayana (December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952), was an early 20th century philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. He was raised and educated in the United States and identified himself as an American, although considered himself a Spaniard as well. He was a major influence on many philosophers and writers of his time, but he is best remembered for a cornucopia of provocative and thought-stirring aphorisms, of which the most famous and clichéd is:

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an American screenwriter, producer, and futurist. He was a good writer, a good producer and a provocative, thought-stirring visionary. His primary legacy lies in his creation of
Star Trek, which developed production values only equaled on television by HBO's Rome and as yet unmatched in its character depth and idea vision.

Santayana said:"We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible."

Roddenberry created Star Trek in the 1960's. He employed some good actors, some good writers (including himself) but he was hamstrung by budget and woefully ahead of his audience. It lasted only a few seasons and took on an extra-terrestial cult life of its own. After a group of adaptations of the concept into theatrical films, he was given the opportunity to develop a full-blown seven-year series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is the heart of his legacy. After he died, his successors, the spin-offs, the films (with the exception of First Contact), all fell short. Roddenberry's voice, his eyes, his ears were gone.

Only two filmmakers have absorbed Roddenberry's milieu and vision to any effect: Ridley Scott and Luc Besson. And before Star Trek and since, only one cinematic work compares to the Star Trek visage: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. This because of Kubrick's visual brilliance and the injection of another visionary: Arthur C. Clarke. The film stands nearly "alone " at its height, 45 years after its debut.

Santayana said: "Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit."

What has happened since Star Trek? Ignorance. "They who do not remember" or do not care... a massive proportion of this planet's population. Cynical marketing. "They who may remember" but do not care... a massive proportion of this planet's film and media industry. It's as if Gene Roddenberry (and Arthur C. Clarke) never existed. Even the remarkable visual gifts of Alfonso Cuarón in his recent film Gravity not only couldn't overcome the uninspired acting, the film is devoid of recognition of what he has seen, and a testament to what he has failed or refused to absorb.

As with the perversion of Bram Stoker's portrait of the intensely romantic addiction and obsession of the vampire, the crap, the garbage, the video-game dumb-down stream out: "Farscape", "Stargate", Babylon5, the Mars' films, even NASA.

A banner scrolls across the screen of the mind: "Have you not seen Star Trek? Have you not seen the reality of what Gene Roddenberry envisioned?"

Santayana said: "Knowledge is not eating, and we cannot expect to devour and possess what we mean. Knowledge is recognition of something absent; it is a salutation, not an embrace."

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Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4. He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms.
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February 2014

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