BLOG: Life imitates art
I am a lifelong Trekkie. I watched the original Star Trek show on TV with my dad and brother and we were big fans before it was popular with the rest of the country. I sent away for the Star Fleet Command emblem and wore it on my jacket in high school.
While in college in the 1970s, I was thrilled when Gene Roddenberry came to our campus and explained the two guiding principles of the series. The first is that the science of the show was a plausible extrapolation of the current technology. Therefore, although fiction, it was not just made up from scratch.
The second principle was that the space theme was really just an interesting stage for Mr. Roddenberry’s social agenda. This agenda was one of ethnic diversity. The example was of unification of all people working together in a common cause. Of course, the famed “Federation” extended beyond humanity and included life from other planets.
It was no accident that the bridge of the Enterprise was comprised of a Japanese and Russian officer. The sworn enemy of the original series, the Klingon empire became the ally of the next generation, with a Klingon officer on the bridge. The dreaded Borg, enemy of the second generation, showed up yet again with a trusted officer on Star Trek: Voyager, the third generation, and this time with a woman as the captain. The social message was simple: Today’s enemy is tomorrow ally.
The themes of this brilliant artwork did not go unnoticed by American society both on the science front as well as the social. Whether subconsciously or intentionally, life has imitated this particular art. The communicator used by Captain Kirk evolved into the flip phone that kicked off cellular communication. The phaser, a weapon with a beam of light that could cut through steel evolved into the laser that can not only cut through steel, but on a lower setting, one we Trekkies would call “stun.” can be used to cut though human tissue without collateral damage. Fax machines are really just scaled down transporters.
In the 1990s, I had the pleasure of taking my son’s scout troop to the NASA space center in Green Belt, Md. As boy scouts, we got the special tour that went behind the scenes into the offices of many of the scientists that run our space program. As we walked through the offices, I saw models of the Space Ship Enterprise and posters from various Star Trek movies. As we met many of the staff, I learned that a very significant portion of the NASA team was inspired to pursue their careers in space science by the Star Trek franchise.
On the social front, much of the ethnic diversity and gender equality that we see in American business and politics follows the tenets that were popularized by Mr. Roddenberry. Even the new trend to employ people with autism and find creative ways to use their special talents has its roots in Star Trek philosophy. Just watch how the adventures of young Dr. Sean Murphy on the new hit series, The Good Doctor, will affect the attitudes of our culture. I predict it will be as effective for the autistic community as the Will & Grace series was in changing our attitude on gay and lesbian issues.
I hope that I have made my point that, in many cases, life imitates art. My last example will bring us back to the issue of health care reform and provide some food for thought.
In the clever animated movie, WALL-E, we meet cute little robots that are searching a scorched Earth looking for any sign of life. We learn that after humanity destroys the planet that they have all escaped in a giant space ship and are living in space waiting until Earth recovers enough to return. When we finally meet the human race, we learn that they have evolved. They all weigh 500 pounds and ride around on motorized carts with their eyes glued to computer screens. Their limbs have evolved to little stumps, and they are serviced by an army of little robots.
Next time you are in a super store, take a look at all of the obese people riding around in little charts with their eyes glued to their cell phones. Note how the little computers serve them when they check out. Please tell me that we are not going to see life imitate art, WALL-E style.
So, do your part as primary care providers. Take vital signs and educate and counsel your patients. Read selections from this blog series and learn how we can make a difference. Most of all, “Live long and prosper.”