GENDER, THE FINAL FRONTIER:
Revisiting Star Trek: The Next Generation
Diana M. A. Relke
Star Trek departed this galaxy in 2005 when Enterprise, the last of the five television series, was canceled after only four seasons due to poor ratings. The sci-fi television audience of the new millennium had moved on. We had become globalized, postmodernized, posthumanized: we now preferred something edgier—something darker, less predictable, less high-minded— and definitely something less humanist. But we were also discovering that humanism—that quintessential white, Western, masculine construction of subjectivity—could not simply be discarded like last season’s unfashionable overcoat. As Neil Badmington notes, “Humanism has happened and continues to happen to ‘us’ (it is the very ‘Thing’ that makes ‘us’ ‘us,’ in fact), and the experience—however traumatic, however unpleasant—cannot be erased without trace in an instant.”1 So it’s hardly surprising that we are haunted by afterimages: Star Trek in syndication across the cable TV universe. More revealing, the release of an eleventh feature-length film in 2009 suggests that rumors of Star Trek’s death may have been exaggerated. This chapter looks back at an earlier resurrection miracle—the one that returned Star Trek to television screens as The Next Generation after eighteen years in the wilderness.
My own engagement with Star Trek began in 1988, when The Next Generation was in its second season. Teaching a course in gender imagery in popular culture, I found those early episodes full of teachable moments. Were these episodes an accurate reflection of second-wave feminism’s progress in consolidating its achievements of the 1970s? Or could they be read as