Star Trek: Picard & Discovery Are the Bleak Sci-Fi Future We Deserve

Star Trek Picard Discovery Violence Gore Cursing Sex Drugs Backlash Explained

Star Trek is into a bold new era of storytelling, as exemplified by the Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard series which now stream on CBS All Access. Both Discovery and Picard take classic Star Trek canon and remix it for the modern era, without the strict censorship rules of traditional broadcast television. However, with Star Trek now offering darker and more adult stories on a streaming platform, there's been a certain amount of backlash from the fandom. For some Star Trek purists, modern Trek TV series that have cursing, drug use, and greater violence and gore are simply not the Stat Trek they know and love. However, it is definitely the Star Trek we deserve for the modern era!

The main issue that a lot of Star Trek fans have been having with Discovery and/or Picard is that they don't feel that the more bleak vision of the future these two shows depict are in keeping with ideals of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned. For those fans, Star Trek should embody the ideals of human (or humanoid) noble spirit; the strength of diversity; the benefits of science and knowledge; and the intrepid spirit of exploration and discovery. And, to be honest, if you've been a longtime fan of the franchise, it's a fair takeaway to say that modern Star Trek isn't living up to those classic ideals - but then again, it's just as fair to argue that Discovery and Picard aren't required to adhere to the old standards of the franchise.

Star Trek (and subsequently all sci-fi) is an imaginative world that was inspired by the scientific and technological pursuits of the time it was created in. For Gene Rodeenberry, the 1950s - 1960s fascination with science, technological advancement (especially on the domestic front) - and yes, the conflict and struggles of an increasingly global-based world, inspired the dream of a future in which humanity overcame small-minded thinking, prejudices, and technological limitation, in order to manifest higher-minded noble pursuits in the form of Starfleet. That made sense in a time when events like the race to the Moon were celebrated parts of our culture - but now, that kind of unbrideled optimism isn't something we've earned or celebrate very much at all. Often these days, it's quite the opposite. Therefore, the makers of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard shouldn't be faulted for making shows that are darker and more bleak in their estimation of our future.

No doubt the '50s and '60s had their fair share of bleak apocalyptic portents (the end of the worst World War ever; the constant threat of nuclear annihilation; cultural upheaval and revolution all over the world...). At the same time, science, math, education - knowledge and learning - were still held a crucial societal pursuits. Today, those intellectual pursuits have long since fallen out of vogue, and things like social media, disinformation, and a general assault on facts themselves are hallmarks of our society. And even though it's 2020, there's been a shocking resurgence in small-minded and divisional practices like xenophobia, racism, fascist and/or authoritative rule - you know, all the things that classic Star Trek lore predicted humanity would evolve past, by the 21st century.

If sci-fi is (generally) meant to be reflective of days and times it was created in, then the current group of creative minds behind Star Trek (Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman, Michael Chabon, Akiva Goldsman, etc.) have actually done a brave (and often thankless) task. The more emotionally complex franchise characters they've re-introduced are walking embodiments of just how much things have changed when it comes to characterization. Meanwhile, new characters and storylines (see: Discovery's Terran Empire continuity) raise much more topical modern themes about race, culture, prejudice, politics, fascism, A.I., generational legacy, sexuality, and even mental health - all of which are timely cultural discussions currently being had. Similarly, the cursing, violence, and even drinking/drug use, are now possible thanks to less censorship of entertainment content (especially on streaming platforms). If you don't think society has beeen moving that direction, in general, let's just take a minute to remember that "sh*t" and "F*ck" are both now terms that can be uttered (uncensored) on prime time cable TV. Just saying.

So, until society stops looking like its on its last legs, and/or reforms its increasingly explicit nature, it's unfair to ask Star Trek to offer viewers a much happier and sanitized future to fantasize about, rather than ignoring the likely future in front of them. Gene Roddenberry had something to say about that world that is, vs the world that we could achieve: If Star Trek is going to continue that practice in the modern age, we're going to have to face some pretty dark realities, before we start talking about the brighter future that may lay beyond. Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery are sparking that conversation, in the way that Star Trek was always meant to.


Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on CBS All Access. New episodes are released every Thursday. Star Trek: Discovery will return for season 3 later this year.

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