This review originally appeared in Ergo, November 19, 1975. I am including this review here to preserve some of the material which appeared then, and which may otherwise be found only on deteriorating newsprint. Ergo was an Objectivist-Libertarian weekly in newspaper format which was published at MIT.
Although several interesting books have already been published about the television series Star Trek (see Ergo, April 9, 1975), none provided a good explanation of the enthusiastic following the series received -- until the publication of Star Trek Lives! This book, written by three highly active members of Star Trek fandom, is the first to really get to the ideas behind the show and discuss them at length.
The subject of Star Trek Lives! is the response of the fans to the series. The discussion of this response includes much which is of interest only to the hard-core Star Trek fan (the process of organizing a convention, amateur fiction about the show's characters, etc.); but what is of greater importance is the analysis of the various "Tailored Effects" which contribute to the program's unique appeal. Each of these effects, according to the authors, excites a strong degree of interest within a particular group of viewers, providing in combination an enthusiastic audience large enough to support a television show. The "Tailored Effect" technique is the opposite of the usual approach to television programming, which seeks not to generate enthusiasm but merely to avoid hostility. The result is that while Star Trek did not have an overwhelmingly large audience, it had an audience whose enthusiasm has outlived the show.
The "Optimism Effect" is the view of the future which Star Trek provides. It is a "vision of a brighter future of man, and of a world characterized by hope, achievement and understanding." Star Trek's presentation of such a future provides an image of success which can encourage someone seeking success for himself.
The Optimism Effect is not only a statement about the future, it is a statement about the nature of reality. In facing difficulties, discovering their nature and sources, and overcoming them, the Star Trek characters show "that the mind can understand reality and be a useful tool of survival." This philosophical optimism puts Star Trek in contrast with the view, which is prevalent today, that reality is malevolent and incomprehensible.
Closely related to the Optimism Effect is the "Goal Effect." This is the presentation of the idea "that important goals are worthwhile, worth striving for and -- attainable." Every episode of Star Trek deals with the seeking and attaining of important goals -- the saving of a life, a planet, or even a galaxy, the correction of an injustice, the attainment of co-operation between civilizations.
"Man is shown as he could and should be, strong, intelligent, beautiful, confident, solving his problems, heroic -- thus furnishing us the fuel to become that way, to reach for the stars."
The "Spock Charisma Effect" is responsible for the remarkable appeal of Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-alien officer of the starship Enterprise. Several aspects of this appeal are discussed as separate "effects," which include the "Psychological Visibility Effect" (the viewer is favored with an opportunity to understand Spock's personality better than any of the show's characters do), the "Sex Effect" (which has a unique aspect because Spock's alien biology results in his experiencing powerful sex drives only once every seven years), and the "Friend Effect" (Spock's close friendship with his superior officer, Captain Kirk), among others.
At the root of Spock's uniqueness, psychologically and philosophically, is the "Spock Premise": that one must act logically, suppressing one's emotions. The book points out that the implication of this premise "that reason and emotion are irreconcilable opposites" is an error. The reason why it is an error is not explained at sufficient length (it is necessary to explain that since one's emotions follow from one's values, and one's values depend upon one's thought processes, a person who avoids contradictions in his thinking will avoid conflicts in his emotions), but it is pointed out that "to deny something which has such an indestructible, persistent reality,' is a breach of reason -- is, in fact, not 'logical.'"
The way in which Star Trek Lives! interprets the show owes a great deal to the fact that one of the authors, Sondra Marshak, has had "a longstanding interest in the philosophy of Ayn Rand." The idea of art (including television) as a means of presenting what the artist regards as significant in human existence, and specifically of Romantic art as a means of showing man's pursuit and attainment of values, is taken from Rand's theory of esthetics. The Optimism and Goal effects are the aspects of Star Trek which make it Romantic drama. The denial of the opposition between reason and emotions (or the Spock Premise) is also a principle taken from Objectivism. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand states,
"Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions."
That is, sound thinking is not merely compatible with but essential to a sound emotional state.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, is also aware of the Objectivist view of art. He is quoted as saying of Rand, "I read The Fountainhead four or five times, Atlas Shrugged, but also some of her nonfiction -- her book on art [The Romantic Manifesto] ..." He apparently found himself in agreement with much of Rand's esthetics, if not her full philosophy.
Star Trek Lives! may be criticized for its lack of mention of some of the negative aspects of the show, such as Captain Kirk's often unjustifiable bouts of self-reproach and Enterprise physician Dr. McCoy's flights into irrationalism. Even if Star Trek is the best television series (certainly it is the best science fiction series) on the air, it is still not the ideal Romantic drama. Yet it may be a long time before it is equalled, and Star Trek Lives! does the best job thus far of showing just what the series accomplishes.