Gene Roddenberry, Troubled Genius
what can his life teach us?
Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 at the age of 70 from cerebral disease and other health complications he sustained as a result of long term hard drug and alcohol use. Born in 1921 Roddenberry experienced a hard early life that included flying a B-17 bomber during WW II and serving as a commercial pilot and also with the Los Angeles Police Department after the war. He wrote television scripts on the side until he could earn a living writing for television, and his work includes Have Gun, Will Travel. Lucille Ball deserves a lot of credit for Star Trek because her studio gave the show it’s first change after MGM rejected the script. I Love Lucy. Yes, I actually really do.
Anyway, when you do a cursory Google search for Roddenberry you receive a list of stories about the heroic visionary who spawned a new way of thinking about humanity. The truth of the man who inspired what we could call Space Western Philosophy reveals itself as less ideal and more complex than the hero fantasy we crave and create with our own ego projections. Why do we need to niceify the people whom we admire who do clever and great things? Why do we need brilliant genius to also be perfection of character and moral purity? Why can’t we be satisfied with their flawed humanness? Why do we always need more?
Questions for reflection, I don’t know the answers, really.
You can read widely about Roddenberry’s genius blah blah and you might feel tempted to run with that and make Roddenberry into this romanticised heroic genius who had a new vision for humanity. Yet the wise among us know that a lovely hero story serves the purpose of covering up the real human story that we would rather not know. Roddenberry heavily and widely used cocaine, quaaludes, methamphetamines, and a variety of other recreational drugs and his health suffered as a result, culminating in a stroke in 1989 at the age of 68.1 Roddenberry did live his life as a serial philanderer. He hooked up with the love of his love, Majel, when he was still married to his first wife Eileen-Anita Rexroat and in fact he married Majel in a Shinto ceremony in Japan before his divorce from Eileen became final. He continued to have trysts with women throughout his marriage to Majel.
Be clear, I have no judgement to issue here, I simply want readers to know that a flawed human can produced a near perfect body of work. We really eclipse the hopeful part of the story of Gene Roddenberry when we try to downplay the problematic choices he made in his life and when we ignore the picture of complexity his interactions with others reveal about him as a person. We often feel seduced by a desire to superhumanise those whom we admire. Genius comes at a cost, a personal one.
Isn’t that what Marvel has taught us?
Mutants become superheros or supervillains, they can effect extraordinary change because they possess a special innate power over material reality others do not have. Rogue can remove the life-force from another human with a touch, this means she cannot touch anyone without killing them until she learns to control this ability. We are not born with the ability to master our innate extraordinary abilities that set us apart from others — we learn mastery through growth and development and discipline. Sometimes we can have the genius part and we suck at the discipline part, like Roddenberry. This doesn’t make the philosophy of Star Trek, (including the the exquisite possibilities in Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations)2, any less wise and worthy of our study. In fact maybe it makes it more worthy of our close scrutiny. We do a disservice to ourselves and the one whom we superhumanise—the fully human complexity of anyone can only be appreciated through acceptance of their vulnerabilities and flaws.
The creator of Star Trek lived the life of a deeply flawed human, he did little to earn any kind of particular admiration or worship—as a personality he did not model good behaviour. He didn’t treat women well in his relationships, he exhibited reckless behaviour with heavy drug use, he frequently presented a challenge for others to get along with in work relationships. In short he seems the opposite of James T Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard or William Riker — all disciplined and noble men who modelled good behaviour for their crew. Roddenberry, the personality of the man, did not inspire much on the surface, yet his creative genius left a legacy that continues to stun and thrill and inspire us. His mission for future humanity involved the lesson we need now: to master self control sufficiently such that we have no desire and jealousy and we have instead a hunger to journey on the trek of living to know more and understand and explore our universe to be our best version of ourselves. The way to make the world around us better is to make ourselves better from the inside out. When we have all learned discipline then the world becomes better by our self improvement.
From the humble acorn a mighty oak will grow, and that oak will have more humble acorns that can grown more mighty oaks. I like this analogy a lot because it reminds us that any flawed human can create a thing which spawns a perfect vision of hope and wisdom beyond the imagination. Gene Roddenberry created this world in which human society has been able to advance beyond its internal demons and interpersonal bickering to expand humanity in exploring new realms. Maybe the hope he could not have for himself as an individual from within he somehow managed to inject into the world of The United Federation of Planets and write into The Star Trek Canon itself.
Coming soon I and a couple of creative collaborators will bring you a cool new podcast about the Star Trek canon. We will approach it with light hearted humour and fun and this will be like a place to forget the terrible troubles afflicting humanity and just think about Trekkie Things. We will focus on the philosophy and spirituality of the world of Star Trek — life lessons come in the form of the seeking or the journey, this means going beyond our own confines to explore the unknown.
The obvious lesson in just the concept of the show alone begs a closer look. In a time when most of us have grown tired and impatient with religions and the God-veto their holy books grant them, when we each feel tired of the you can’t sit at my table schtick, I felt like I wanted to remind us all that the things we seek we can only find when we indeed seek them. I cannot get anywhere standing still, stuck in my own ego projections. When I push the envelope a bit, then I can see a thing I didn’t see before and I can understand a person I didn’t understand before and I have grown and the whole world sighs. So, you can sit at my table, it’s messy and disorganised and you can sit here, the God-veto or any kind of tribal veto doesn’t exclude anyone from claiming a seat.
We have decided to kick off Shhhhhh The Trekkies are Talking with a discussion of The Borg canon, beginning with STTNG. We are just finishing the viewing of the 7 Borg in Star Trek The Next Generation (STTNG) episodes, and soon we will bring you our podcast first conversation. Stay tuned.
Adventures of Bad Hijabi is a reader-supported publication. I conduct behaviour analysis on social trends + track extremism and its online proliferation and its connection to dehumanisation. Currently I am tracking pro Palestinian NGO terror proxies in Canada. To support my work please consider a paid subscription.
Witney Seibold, August 20, 2023, The Death Of Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry Sparked An Eternal Deep Space Nine Debate in Slashfilm.
Yes, I suppose we coud take the cynical view that IDIC was only ever a marketing ploy and not anything deep and meaningful. Yes, some of us choose to believe that this entire universe happened randomly with no singularity and others believe in a causative source of all existence and call that creator. Whatever floats your boat. Humans are creatures that make meaning as they move through life, it creates purpose to move forward.