Great stories moves us. No, they do not move us: rather, they instill the desire to move. But it is we, the reader or audience, who choose where to go, and what to do.
Moving stories comes in so many packages, though one man’s great may be another woman’s banal. Tonight I watched an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that fulfilled all of the promise of social commentary through science fiction. This was in your face; the banal was banished; my comfort and ease were disturbed; and yet I was left with hope by the end.
It was the story of a story, Far Beyond the Stars: our good Captain is sent visions of himself as a writer, in New York, in 1953. And we are given no sugarcoating about the prospects of a black writer in that time and place. In brief scenes, we are given glimpses not of the literal starry-eyed future, but of our troubled past. A writer whose ideas are squashed; a hustler who won’t accept his “destiny” of menial work; a woman who hides behind an ambiguous pen name; accusations of communist sympathies; these and other sentiments stand in such stark contrast to the daily life in the Federation of Planets. And then…
Shots ring out. Our hero races to the scene, to find an acquaintance from the neighborhood splayed upon the ground. White police officers took him down because he was carrying a crow bar while trying to break into a car. A crow bar. And then they mercilessly beat the writer-Captain.
When the episode first aired in 1998, I expect that I saw it as an accurate portrayal of our recent past. Eighteen years later, I was shaken by the terrible accuracy of this scene in our troubled present. Have we changed so little?
Benjamin Sisko is the exception that proves the rule: and the Star Trek crew does not want us to overlook that.
They also remind us that it is possible to envision a future where race, culture, gender, religion, and so on have not been erased — but rather, a future where they no longer dictate our destinies. And they remind us that to envision it, to hold the idea in our minds, is a step toward achieving it.