Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alas, Mr. Roddenberry....

My Sixties generation wanted to give peace a chance—working with about the same odds, it would seem, as the Powerball lottery. Despite our distrust of The Establishment, strange grooming habits and sneering disrespect for our elders, there was a pervasive optimism that a better world would come.

Ours was a decade that witnessed the civil rights and equal rights movements, the mop-topped Beatles invasion, the Sexual Revolution, the Timothy Leary drug culture, several horrifying assassinations and Mankind taking a giant leap onto the moon. Growth and change are seldom easy.

Our futurist guru, Gene Roddenberry, led the way by showing us evidence of this better world every week on Star Trek. Huddled in front of our televisions like grunting Neanderthals around a campfire, we listened to stories of the 23rd Century where there was no racial or gender prejudice on Earth because most of it was now re-directed toward alien species. Any food you wanted could be materialized through a wall-mounted replicator, the ship’s doctor opined about how disease and mental illness had finally been cured, and Scotty was always there to beam you up.

Flash back to the 21st Century and it’s time for some impatient foot tapping. Rather than moving toward reconciliation, the country appears, more than ever, divided into uncompromising factions goaded on by an equally contentious media. The world seems to revolve around Big Oil, Wall Street bonuses and multinational corporate profits—all blithely exchanging currency while the sea level slowly rises. We could charitably look back on our optimistic youth as charmingly naïve, or simply admit that we were dribbling stupid.

More than 40 years after Captain James T. Kirk launched his five-year mission, the closest thing to a replicator is mediocre coffee machines that gurgle like disgruntled toilets. If rising cancer rates and stress-related illnesses don’t finish us off, the decaying healthcare system will. And Scotty’s job has been outsourced to a thickly accented helpdesk employee located in a Third World nation somewhere outside the Orion Nebula.

Should we consider it karmic that in our Viagra years, we are left with deflated real estate, atrophied 401Ks, bankrupted pensions and expiring unemployment benefits? Remember, we were the generation that prided itself on not being materialistic. And The Who sang about how we hoped we’d die before we got old. [NOTE: If you are over 50 and reading this, you did not accomplish that goal.]

But here we are, and we might as well make the best of things. Our present, dim financial situations would appear to provide us with some outstanding, character-building opportunities—such as basking in the comfort of a sustainable, eco-friendly cardboard box under a highway overpass or partaking in the epicurean sport of dumpster diving behind our favorite restaurants.

The Sixties generation has lived long enough to see a large chunk of the news media usurped by a billionaire from Australia, the U.S. Congress leased by lobbyists and our hopes for peace undermined by a seemingly endless number of struggles in the Middle East. We have watched the events of 9-11 ignite the match of hatred against Moslems, immigrants, unions, gays, pacifists, the French, socialism, the Dixie Chicks, Dan Rather, Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, literacy and intelligent political debate.

It makes one wonder: Is the world we inhabit today just some twisted hallucinogenic flashback or was our Sixties paranoia of The Establishment, in fact, an astonishing, collective prescience of things to come?

Only two centuries to go before the Enterprise fires up its warp drives for its five-year mission. Let’s hope we can clean this mess up before Captain Kirk arrives.

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