Real Life in Star Trek, Movies Summary
This is a discussion of a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property with references to a part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions are free, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions implies any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names are trademarks of the owners and so forth and everything here should be well within the bounds of Fair Use.
The project was outlined in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, this is an attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation.
This is neither recap nor review; those have both been done to death over fifty-plus years. It is a catalog of information we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to be a potential “spoiler,” if that’s an irrational fear you have.
Rather than list every post in the series here, you can easily find them all on the startrek tag page.
Star Trek Movies Summary
We have significantly less information in these films than the shows—unsurprising, since they total around twelve hours—but it’s still enough to get a decent picture of at least some aspects of Federation life.
As a reminder, since the end of the project quickly approaches…
Ihen discussing The Slaver Weapon, I mentioned that I don’t really have any further use for the two Foster adaptations of animated episodes that I bought. I don’t own them as part of a collection, and they’re not great episodes, so the odds that I’ll ever revisit them or display them are extremely low.
Because of that, I have decided to take the excuse to experiment with self-promotion and raffle off the two paperback books. They defy the low expectations that I had based on the seller’s own assessment in that they’re whole and completely readable, but still definitely think of them as reading copies—covers are bent and cracked, the pages of another curl—and not showpieces.
If you’d like one of the two books, sign up for a monthly membership of any amount on my Buy Me a Coffee page. When I publish my summary post for all the original cast content, 2022 May 12th, with two weeks remaining—I’ll randomly choose a member for each book (weighted by number of months donating) and work with you to make sure that your book winds up on your doorstep, no matter where that doorstep happens to be in the world, along with a handwritten note, if you want to see my terrible handwriting.
Nobody’s going to offend me if they don’t contribute at all. Nobody’s going to offend me if they contribute for just one month and then cancel. This is an experiment, and the only wrong outcome is (honestly) that I keep the books on a shelf and forget about them, when they could have gone to a better home.
If you don’t have the money to spend or the desire to spend it, you have my sympathies. I will also consider people who jump over to the blog’s version control repository—link to the right, or just above, if you read this in an RSS feed reader—and do some proofreading.
You’ll need a GitHub account. Then, you should probably walk through their tutorial to learn how the system works, if you haven’t used it before. Then, click the “Fork” button on the repository’s page, make the changes, and create a pull request. Please mention
@jcolag in the description, so that it notifies me, and feel free to contact me if any of that sounds too confusing, and I’ll both try to walk you through it and update this paragraph with what I learn from you in the process.
As I mentioned in the first season roundup, unlike the discussions of individual episodes, I’m going to skip the judgment calls and instead break everything down by field of practice.
Before we get going, though, it’s always worth a reminder—the same reminder—that it becomes clear that Star Trek doesn’t show our future and didn’t even show our then-present. We’re shown that the broad strokes of history are probably the same, but there are differences in ancient history, significant details have changed in 1968, and little beyond the original airing of the series has (not that we’d expect it to) come true. I’m not going to collect those deviations—too many people have already done that work, and the company has even published official timelines—but I wanted to make sure that point was clear.
Training and Professionalism
We continue to see Kirk as omni-competent, as he serves as a master transporter operator1, swimmer2, and mountaineer3, and may have the training to speak and read Klingon4 [VH]. He also still spends much of his time in self-analysis, admitting his mistakes, apologizing to those he has wronged, and forgiving those who have wronged him5 3 6 7. Decker, similarly, seems to have more engineering knowledge than his engineers1, suggesting that captains see significantly more training than anybody else, which may explain Chekov’s easy willingness to create a makeshift medical team7, given his long-standing ambitions in commanding a ship.
While contradicted by others, many believe that Starfleet deliberately recruits incurious social conservatives with little self-awareness, to avoid explorers coming to the realization that new cultures might have more to offer than the Federation1.
When we see harassment, it appears to come primarily from people with high status, suggesting that they feel confident that their superiors will side with them instead of the victim1. Some people of high status also feel threatened, when their former subordinates gain status similar to their own8, and it doesn’t seem out of the question for this harassment to turn violent3.
It’s permissible and “fun” for engineers to lie about the time that they need to solve problems, despite the impact those estimates have on planning4. It’s likewise apparently good-natured to dismiss the value of and try to reject helping to save billions of lives2 6. We also see continuing tension between Starfleet’s officers and its leadership2 6.
While nobody disciplines Kirk for not doing so, it appears that Starfleet expects officers to remain in contact at all times, even on vacations3. By contrast, killing Klingons to steal their ship carries far less weight4 2 3.
The Federation appears as a painfully unequal place, where some individuals can casually charter interstellar flights without any documentation4 or casually purchase five-hundred-year-old antiques as gifts5 2, while on the fringes, people own almost nothing and fear criminals taking that nothing from them3.
Regardless of whether money has the level of implied relevance in typical Federation life, the status conferred by important jobs definitely does2 3. Even when fantasizing about abandoning society, those fantasies tend to include the trappings of status7.
Three hundred years leaves San Francisco mostly recognizable to Federation citizens, suggesting that economic conditions haven’t changed substantially since the 1980s2. Retirement habits similarly suggest that economic conditions have remained mostly stable, with people working for the majority of their lives to save up the money to make huge purchases to make their remaining leisure time easier6.
People also routinely buy and sell land7.
Despite the wide variety of prior references showing that the Federation uses money, we…randomly hear that they don’t2, suggesting that the term “money” may have merely gotten pedantically defined away. That seems especially likely, when Federation banks air commercials in bars3.
We don’t see colonies as such in the films, though we do see an increased presence in orbit around planets1 8 5 4 2.
While we don’t see any new cultures to care about the Prime Directive, we do see our heroes interact with Earth’s past, where they don’t seem to care at all about interfering with development2.
Travel and relocation appears to present some significant inconvenience, preventing even a wealthy person engaged to an alien from moving to the significant other’s location8, though clients can find transportation that ignores legal restrictions, for the right price4.
It doesn’t seem that cargo undergoes any rigorous testing, spreading vermin throughout the galaxy5.
Science and Technology
The strange mistrust in technology seems to have metastasized into a blind trust of unreliable and broken technology8. However, people still fantasize about walking away from connectivity to live in the woods3 7. Likewise, the Federation largely ignores older technologies, not monitoring for archaic signals until an object presents a crisis8.
Scientists can’t acquire computers for routine data storage on the mass market, requiring bespoke engineering5.
Timekeeping, such as the stardate, appears to have a limited influence outside Starfleet5. Units of measurement still appear hazy, with even temperature and time measured in various ways3 6.
We don’t see any overt anti-intellectual comments, but it does seem that Starfleet has chosen to take its first cetacean biologist and separate her from the first whales that they have responsibility for2.
At least Earth, but possibly the entire Federation, relies exclusively on solar power, with no backup systems for emergencies2.
User interfaces have chosen to alert people through voice alerts, which start out as inappropriately loud and tinny1, though this declines in offensiveness over time4. Brain implants have also seen wide deployment in some circles, despite their tendency to distract the user and cause headaches1.
Safety harnesses finally exist. They seem more hazardous than not using them8, though they see mild revisions4. Honestly, nothing seems comfortable3.
People still choose terrible passwords, and the computers accept them4, while data security has sufficient flaws that an eavesdropper can credibly pose as any official3.
We find that engineers deliberately avoid automating tasks, with ships like the Enterprise operable with a crew of three4. In some cases, though not all, this philosophy extends to normal monitoring of ship functions4. Vaguely similar, engineers seem dismissive of fundamental technology that could improve space travel and overturn the galactic economy2.
People expect poor design and manual processes, as we see that months of fixing a Klingon ship never includes learning the language or relabeling the consoles2.
Construction seems wildly optimistic, not accounting for severe weather2. Government and military facilities also brand themselves more like large corporations than public institutions2.
The Federation still doesn’t seem to believe in therapy, leaving Kirk to stew in his regrets and trauma, and even manipulating him into taking a desk job that multiple doctors believe might kill him, preferring to throw him into contrived romances to solve the problem1 7.
Federation doctors still seem to rely on brand-name drugs8. One such drug represents the Federation’s single solution available for all age-related eyesight issues, with no alternatives provided for those with allergies5. While generic drugs appear to exist, they only have rare uses4.
Doctors seem to solve any anxiety-related issues with tranquilizers8 5 4. They treat possible personality disorders by committing the patient to psychiatric institutions under severe sedation4.
Despite the drama-draining ability to “reset” a person’s body with the transporter, doctors won’t bother to treat injuries of some extreme severity, considering the victim already dead5.
Age, mental health, and body type all carry some stigma, making them fodder for insults4 2.
Starfleet doesn’t sanitize its probes, apparently not worried about contaminating the spaces that they explore4.
The legal issues around euthanizing pained patients appear to have settled, though people still find themselves shamed and stigmatized for their choices3.
Whether the Federation at large does, Earth doesn’t seem to have the idea of protecting endangered animals, with Earth animals either limited to Earth—presumably except for the vermin that we’ve seen4—or originating on other worlds2. However, parks like Yosemite now find themselves claimed by Earth at large, rather than smaller political units3.
Holiday goose dinners seem common enough that Vulcans can understand related metaphors5.
We see that the Enterprise still manages its kitchen and dining facilities manually, with a large galley staff6.
Smuggling seems routine enough, now, such that someone with wealth or status can socially pressure their peers to overlook contraband or their periodic purchase of cases of such contraband5. The black market seems sufficiently robust that obscure information or unauthorized travel makes itself available with the right connections4.
Civilian life might involve enough danger that people find it convenient to learn to fight with knives5, though civilian housing doesn’t seem to have any monitoring to warn occupants of visitors5.
Government, Law, and Corrections
Starfleet appears to not sit entirely under Federation control6, seemingly a peer entity to the civilian government seated in Paris6, though the Federation appears to own all Starfleet equipment2.
The Federation government and Starfleet often conceal projects1 5 4 and threats1 2 from the populations they serve, concerned about revolts and collapse of the Federation1. This extends to what amounts to “gag orders” on officers, and following them through civilian life to silence them4. This policy of silence continues, even when the relevant information has become public4.
Similarly, the government has adapted the logs of the Enterprise into entertaining propaganda that turns Kirk into an action-hero who can do no wrong, leading soldiers into battle, hinting that the shows that we in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries know have material objectionable and embarrassing material to the organizations edited away1. They publish some of it for children7. In other words, we should consider all prior analysis optimistic. If the live-action pieces are propaganda, then we might see a right-wing trend in politics3, which seems to eventually manifest as something close to a series of attempted military coups6.
While the Federation has competing journalists, we only ever see them cover a story about Starfleet, mostly there to see Kirk7.
Apart from Kirk, Starfleet has a poor reputation among civilians, who see them as a military itching to turn any scientific innovation into a weapon5 6, a view shared and magnified by outsiders, who believe that the Federation routinely commits war crimes4 2 6 and functions by enslaving alien civilizations in the name of collaboration6. Some see Starfleet as a successful peacekeeping organization, however5.
The Federation employs labor camps for the punishment of some crimes2. While this may just come from one personal opinion, the possibility exists that either Vulcan or the Federation treats abduction crimes as having equal severity to genocide2.
We also find that the Federation’s reputation for corruption has some basis, with multiple theft, assault, and even murder charges dismissed because people happen to view the culprits as heroes for saving other lives2, not to mention our seeing conspiracies to assassinate officials unfold6.
Significant policing seems to go into preventing weapons from entering certain parts of the galaxy, leaving the population with improvised, hand-made devices3.
The only serious religious references still come from Spock5 2 6, though we see some interest in what we might call spirituality2, and people freely misuse religious quotes2.
While it seems that nobody believes that they should take their religious teachings as literal statements of fact, many are quick to connect shaky evidence with their gods and afterlives as some sort of proof3.
Nobody seems to treat upstart religions, especially among the poor, as a serious endeavor, mostly framing it as a threat3. Yes, they happened to be right, in the one case that we see, but that doesn’t change their behavior.
Child-rearing apparently includes corporal punishment8. Single parenthood appears common enough that those who get pregnant don’t feel the need to rush to marriage or tell the children about their other parent5.
Where would the franchise be without accidentally showing us how the culture handles social justice issues through the lens of colleagues interacting?
The majority of western families no longer carry patriarchal names1, though female nudity is some sort of exciting taboo3.
Organizations force women of certain non-human worlds to refuse all sexual and romantic contact, because men don’t carry the responsibility for their own actions1. People similarly see it as legitimate to talk about wanting to manipulate a colleague into sex8, police a woman’s appearance5, merely demean people based on their gender4, or (possibly) order them to dance in the nude3. However, people do enforce some social limits on the vulgar jokes that they’ll allow colleagues to tell8.
Men seem willing to dump boring work on women unexpectedly5, and we find women erased from history in real time4 2.
Women do seem to feel increasingly comfortable pushing back against sexism, however, whether racially motivated or not8.
Romance and Sexuality
For unknown reasons, Kirk and Spock both feel the need to obfuscate the possibility of his having a romantic or sexual relationship with each other, going out of their way to appear to deny the accusation without actually saying anything, even while openly yearning for each other1, caring for each other’s souls4, and thinking that they have no secrets between them3. They have also kept the extent of the relationship—whatever it actually is—from Sarek, implying some taboo4. Kirk, however, claims that he feels no personal taboos as to whom he sleeps with1.
Many apparently find it reasonable to have sexual encounters in semi-public spaces where others can overhear them1. Others feel the need to justify their attraction to aliens3, and we see something that looks a lot like homophobia when men embrace3, slut-shaming6, and transphobia6.
Race Relations and Nationalism
While it doesn’t seem to have bubbled up to the most prestigious assignments4, Starfleet appears to have diversified its staffing1 2. However, we also see widespread bigotry against those diverse crews, from mocking accents, to spreading stereotypes, to struggling to deny mixed parentage, to regulation of non-human bodies1, to dismissing the possibility of something’s or someone’s intelligence8 2 6, to demeaning colleagues for not performing human norms5 2 3, to using slurs1 4, to complaining about smells4 2 3 6, to questioning loyalties8 2, to comparing a culture to an invasive species, to biasing examinations against them, to ignoring the needs of non-human dinner guests, to a studied ignorance of medical needs6 or critical language4 6. We also see the victims of such harassment blamed for their victimization1 3. Even Kirk, usually the sensitive one, believes that the highest compliment that he can pay to someone is to compare them to humans5 6.
As a possible counter-balance, human body odor seems singled out as especially offensive3.
Inter-species relationships do not enjoy wide acceptance, with many humans struggling to defend their attraction to non-humans3.
The culture, at least what we see of it from Starfleet, appears indecisive when it comes to managing its Black officers, especially regarding what constitutes a professional appearance. In some cases, natural hair seems acceptable1 8 2 3 6, but not always5. Minstrel songs maintain recognition in the culture, as well, without any acknowledgement of the racist legacy3. Similarly, much of the Federation appears to believe the fictionalized exploits of Christopher Columbus that frame him as something other than a bigoted slave-driver so bad that the royal family of a colonial empire arrested him for his excesses3.
When people list great scientists, the most prominent are light-skinned human and Vulcan men5. People see Vulcan culture as obscure enough, however, that they dismiss its religious beliefs as implausible mysticism4.
The Federation’s reputation beyond its borders is one of humans effectively conquering and enslaving alien worlds2.
Until aliens began tearing up the Earth looking to speak to humpback whales, Federation science had no consensus about whether the Earth hosts or hosted intelligent non-human creatures2.
The society among Vulcans continues to show itself as primarily focused on toxic masculinity, including another macho survival ritual for people and suppressing memories to prove themselves worthy of respect1. Their jockeying for dominance3 also makes it easy to back them into defensive attitudes by claiming that they have violated some rule5.
They also find the idea of communication during sex repulsive8, similarly emphasizing that they want everyone to see them as macho loners. We see mating presented as a matter of individual survival for men—they allegedly must have sex periodically or risk death—though the woman feels shame for participating4.
Likewise, they dismiss any social interaction where they can’t appear dominant as “illogical”5. We also see a strange obsession among Vulcans about whether Vulcans can or will lie5 2 3 6.
We also find Vulcans gossiping behind the backs of their colleagues5. It’s possible that they generally keep to themselves, with people seeing it as a surprise to find them off-world3.
Despite an ancient grounding in fact and many principles having testable aspects, many Vulcans believe their own religious rituals to not have any more credibility than outdated superstition based on legends4. Despite that dismissive attitude, even Vulcans see their communities as repressive, exiling individuals for having an interest in forbidden topics like religion3, and that seems to lead some of them to question the usefulness of their culture and turn to making the next generation more worldly6.
Vulcan apparently has at least one royal family that still holds some status3.
Shortly before the start of the original series, the Federation, Klingon Empire, and Romulan Empire jointly settled a neutral planet to promote piece and serve as a central location to negotiate, but none of the governments took the project seriously3. Despite that, an extensive body of interstellar law binds the major governments6.
Starfleet appears to have undergone a shift, where the crew takes pains to help a rogue computer grow, rather than using its limitations against it8.
The relationship with the Klingons, however, has deteriorated to a point where Starfleet officers routinely reinforce propaganda characterizing Klingons as inhumane monsters5, much of which we see revealed as outright false4 6. They have also established a neutral zone between the two powers4, though the Genesis Incident strained relations further2.
Earth may feel paranoid enough to destroy unknown ships before they can identify themselves2.
However, Federation citizens might appreciate Klingon culture well enough that the attribution of quotes similar in both cultures generally goes to the Klingons5. And despite the apparent problems, the Federation seems to welcome refugees of planetary disasters7.
People still read Charles Dickens8.
Paper books still exist, though seemingly only as antiques8.
People credit significant parts of Earth cultures to non-humans, particularly Vulcans and Klingons5 4 6.
Various scenes suggest that the English spoken in the Federation no longer contains profane language, looking to the past to express extreme feelings8, though enough people know those historic terms and feel the emotional weight behind them5 to contradict the idea that they no longer have currency.
Organizations now dedicate significant space to recreation8.
We’re told that the proliferation of invasive technologies has led to a backlash of people demanding privacy8, though the aforementioned recreation appears to include sexual encounters with less privacy than we might expect8.
At least on Earth, people seem bad at socializing, often making caustic comments or not thinking about the consequences of their actions4. People also broadly seem to (still) think that inhibition-reducing drugs make tense social situations easier6.
Civilian clothing appears to involve a lot of leather4 2, with many designs seemingly inspired loosely by Starfleet uniforms2 3.
People are vain enough to feel embarrassment for needing assistive technologies5.
In one week, we wrap up the entire original-cast run with a final summary. It probably won’t literally recap the prior summaries—you could just copy and paste those yourself, and come up with the same post that I would—but I’ll do something to cap off the project. Then, be back the week after that, as we start watching The Next Generation, mostly against my better judgment…
Credits: The header image is The planet, the galaxy and the laser by the ESO and Yuri Beletsky, released under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
This also serves as a list of posts for the season, though ordered based on where I first mention them, rather than the order of their blog posts.
The Motion Picture, Part 1 ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23
The Voyage Home ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23 ↩24 ↩25 ↩26 ↩27 ↩28 ↩29 ↩30 ↩31 ↩32 ↩33 ↩34 ↩35 ↩36 ↩37 ↩38 ↩39 ↩40 ↩41
The Final Frontier ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23 ↩24 ↩25 ↩26 ↩27 ↩28 ↩29 ↩30 ↩31 ↩32 ↩33 ↩34 ↩35 ↩36 ↩37 ↩38
The Search for Spock ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23 ↩24 ↩25 ↩26 ↩27 ↩28 ↩29 ↩30 ↩31 ↩32 ↩33 ↩34 ↩35 ↩36 ↩37 ↩38
The Wrath of Khan ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23 ↩24 ↩25 ↩26 ↩27 ↩28 ↩29 ↩30 ↩31 ↩32 ↩33
The Undiscovered Country ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23 ↩24 ↩25 ↩26 ↩27 ↩28
The Motion Picture, Part 2 ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5 ↩6 ↩7 ↩8 ↩9 ↩10 ↩11 ↩12 ↩13 ↩14 ↩15 ↩16 ↩17 ↩18 ↩19 ↩20 ↩21 ↩22 ↩23
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