Star Trek: Picard is in the midst of its dynamic debut season and fans have noticed a few, well, interesting choices the series has made so far. Showrunner Michael Chabon is breaking down the intent behind the F-bombs, earbuds, and sunglasses, and diving into the history of Star Trek on network television and human history as a whole.
For starters, there’s the fact that (much like Star Trek: Discovery) we’re seeing some of Starfleet’s finest using profanity, something we’ve never seen them do on previous Star Trek shows. It can feel a little jarring to see an admiral look Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) in the eye and say: “The sheer fucking hubris.”
However, Chabon indicated that we should assume Starfleet officers have always used foul language because people use foul language. There was a reason we didn’t see the swearing in previous Star Trek shows and it wasn’t their moral upstanding. It was censorship.
“No human society will every be perfect, because no human will ever be perfect. The most we can do—and as Star Trek ever reminds us, must do—is aspire to perfection, and work to make it so,” Chabon wrote. “Until that impossible day, shit is going to continue to happen. And when it does, humans are going to want to swear.”
He continued, “The absence of swear words in Star Trek was never a matter of Federation principle, it was a matter of FCC rules. Writers of previous eras had no choice. They were censored. Swearing is one of humanity’s most ancient, sensible, and reliable consolations. Personally I would consider any society that discouraged, banned, or abandoned the use of curse words to be a fucking dystopia.”
There’s also the question of the sunglasses, which we saw Commodore Oh wearing in the latest episode, “The End Is the Beginning.” Some fans were quick to poke fun at the Ray Ban-style shades because they looked in no way futuristic. Combined with the fact that we also see Jurati wearing earbuds and Raffi smokes what looks suspiciously like a vape pen (Chabon called it a “traditional Orion ‘flashpipe’”), there have been concerns that the show is using too much of today’s technology in a way that doesn’t reflect life in 2399.
In response, Chabon cited some of the classic object designs we’ve adopted over the past millennia to explain why some we use today could eventually do the same thing. We’ve been using knives, books, and wine bottles for centuries and the way they’re designed hasn’t significantly changed because there’s no reason to “fix” what already works. In Chabon’s view, we might see sunglasses and earbuds as modern devices but they’re also the product of years of development to create the best tools for the job. Of course, only time will tell whether they become a centuries-long standard, but at this point, there’s no reason to assume they wouldn’t.
“When you are making a show that’s set in the future, you have to ask yourself constantly how people will be meeting daily needs and performing everyday tasks. One guiding principle is that some fundamental objects and tools evolve an ideal form—efficient, economical, comfortable, durable, practical, effective, useful—and afterward change very little, except as subject to fashion, which itself is often retrospective,” he wrote. “Certainly any human civilization in which all the objects and appurtenances of everyday life were brand new, of recent invention, and thoroughly contemporary in design, would be fairly unprecedented.”
He also added in a comment that Oh’s sunglasses were designed to play off what a commenter called the “stereotypical undercover government operative trope,” noting that officer’s noted studies of human behavior have led her to adopt certain tactics that “produce the desired effect” of intimidation, like cops or soldiers. This includes Ray Bans.
Star Trek: Picard continues with episode four this week on CBS All Access.
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