If you can get your hands on it, Romulan ale is always appropriate for any antipodean philosophical knees-up in which you will best your fellow thinkers under the ready-room table. The drink is precisely the spirit of the times. And, if not the blue booze, then it’s Hegel who will give you the headache.
Fear not, however, for we can skip the latest Federation conference, Phenomenology: A Vulcan Perspective, and come to a simpler definition of zeitgeist as the general, or dominant, set of cultural, moral, and intellectual ideas of a particular era.
Since its inception, Star Trek has been responsible for huge shifts in our collective cultural psyches, so much so that its stories and concepts have forged new norms. Try typing in 'live long and prosper' on your mobile phone (communicator), look up Trekkie in the dictionary, ask anyone who Kirk or Spock is, or say 'beam me up, Scotty!' if you just want to get off this rock.
Moreover, never one for blindly following the moral or intellectual precepts of the epoch, Star Trek (at its best) has always pushed beyond the frontiers of the accepted, and of the acceptable, to shake up the spirit of the present by invoking its better future. The wonderful, and sadly missed, Nichelle Nichols put it much better when she said, regarding her involvement in NASA's Space Shuttle Programme, "[…] I had really touched the future by changing the present […] and will never be Earth-bound again".
10. Wagon Train To The Stars
In 1964, Gene Roddenberry wrote a pitch for a new television show that began with the words "STAR TREK is… " The three-dot drop heard around the world.
Star Trek was to be a "Wagon Train [to the stars] concept" set "Somewhere in the future" where the crew of the S.S. Yorktown travelled to new planets as opposed to the settlements along the train tracks in the Western. Roddenberry’s unyielding optimism about the future is evident in the pitch as he describes the Captain, Robert M. April, as having "an almost compulsive compassion for the plight of others […] continually fight[ing] the temptation to risk many to save one".
The first pilot, The Cage, began production in 1964 but ultimately did not play well with test audiences. In an exceptionally rare decision for the time, the studios allowed a second pilot to be filmed. Roddenberry would then use his innovative 'Wagon Train in space in the future' concept to explore contemporary moral, social, and political issues.
Star Trek was never merely the reflection of the times, however; it moved them forward. Now nearly sixty years after 'the Great Bird of the Galaxy' (Roddenberry’s nickname) penned his pitch, his impact on the film and television industry alone is immense. His kind of allegorical and inclusive storytelling would lay the groundwork for others. As George Lucas put it, "Star Trek softened up the entertainment arena so that Star Wars could come along and stand on its shoulders".