A series of cataclysmic events leads to the annihilation of a war-mongering elite. All that remains is a rogue group of working-class types who are motivated by racial resentment, obsessed with drilling, and led by a balding, blue-collar spokesman. Not only does this describe the 2008 GOP — the party of Joe the Plumber, “Drill, baby, drill,” and supposed anti-intellectualism — it also describes the Romulan villains of the latest Star Trek film.
In the movie the Romulan home world is blown up by a supernova, a cataclysm that recalls the successive electoral defeats of 2006 and 2008 that destroyed the Republican elite and allowed blue-collar avengers like Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber to take up its cause. The film’s villain is cast from this mold. He fights like a professional wrestler and talks like a truck driver. The most painfully obvious reference to the 2008 election is the fact that this villain decides to get back at his enemies–those damn liberals like the half-breed Mr. Spock and the hippies of the San Francisco-based Starfleet–by drilling to the core of Earth and Vulcan.
Star Trek has always been a political show, with the crew of the Enterprise an ideal of humanitarian liberalism. The original series showed a cold-war-style battle between the Federation and the Klingons, while The Next Generation depicted hopes for an end-of-history pax Americana. Gene Rodenberry, Star Trek’s creator, not only crafted a vision of the future, he helped create it by showing the first interracial kiss on American television.
How does the new film compare to the franchise’s past aspirations for relevance? The most striking thing may be the narrowing of the show’s ambition. Rather than provide an allegory for world affairs, the new Star Trek merely delivers a parsing of electoral politics. Perhaps its new motto should be: to timidly go where many pundits have gone before.