For about a week now, a bad cold has been working its way through my household. Starting with our second youngest son John, that bug is now firmly entrenched in myself and my wife and most of the other kiddos.
So this past weekend involved a lot of laying low and trying to rest and take it easy. On Saturday, for instance, I was not feeling like doing much of anything except intermittent napping and watching old TV shows, so I made a deal with my daughter Evelyn.
She wanted to watch Little House on the Prairie, and I wanted to watch Star Trek. By way of compromise, we agreed to alternate one episode of her show with one episode of my show, back and forth like that throughout the day while we rested and worked on getting better.
What a study in contrasts that proved to be.
On the one hand, Little House on the Prairie ran from 1974-1983 and served as a look backward to a picturesque pioneer family in the nineteenth century based on the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, based in turn on her own childhood growing up in a pioneer family.
The show’s cover photo says it all. Here is Ma and Pa Ingalls plus their three young daughters – everyone smiling on their farm in the countryside, green and golden grass all around them and a blue sky partly cloudy above them.
You know from the jump then that this is a story centered on a particular family settling down and building civilization in the wilderness, navigating the ups and downs of life guided by their love for the good Lord and one another.
On the other hand, you have Gene Roddenberry’s second Star Trek series which ran from 1987-1994 as a look forward to a progressive future for secular humanism and scientism.
Set in the twenty-fourth century with the first Star Trek series (1966-1969) as a reference point, this is a new Enterprise. The crew is always moving, always in a new place, always discovering new things, and always doing new things with new people. The only real fixed point is the ship and their mission – to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Star Trek is a story about philosophy and science and technology, and interspecies diplomacy guided by man’s Reason.
Would it be overstating things to say that on the one hand we see a conservative understanding of where we find ourselves, and on the other hand we see a liberal projection of where we are going?
Little House on the Prairie is a story honoring the hard work and traditions of previous generations. It’s about family, and going to church every Sunday, and building a community outward from our home, where mothers and fathers get married before settling down and having children. Then they roll up their sleeves and raise those children together over the long haul, loving and supporting one another through thick and thin from the ground up.
On the other hand, Star Trek is about where we will presumably go in the future as our capabilities and sensibilities evolve ever up-up-and-away past crude economic and political considerations like free market capitalism and republicanism and the traditional family and organized religion into something more closely approximating purely secular technocratic socialism.
To be sure, both visions include a dose of the other’s primary component.
Little House on the Prairie is about progress after a fashion. What else do you call all that sawing and hammering and tilling the ground in every episode?
Just so, The Next Generation certainly spends time looking back through history. Every episode is chock full with admiring though academic references to Earth’s past and the lessons we should learn from its mistakes and triumphs.
But the dose and order is the question. Which is the cart, and which the horse?
Is family the center out from which civilization flows? Or is family a satellite orbiting a supposedly more advanced form of community based on arbitrary rules like the Prime Directive?
Is marriage a thing that must wait for the conclusion of your career, or is your vocation a means to the end of providing for a wife and children?
One thing is certain – Laura Ingalls Wilder and Gene Roddenberry answered these questions very differently. And speaking personally, I think Ms. Laura had the right of it by being humbler and more down-to-earth.
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