Teatime in the City - 2016


Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

By Samir Shukla

A conversation with a friend years ago led to a discussion about privacy, technology, immigration, and the future. We are both Star Trek fans, and he argued there was no privacy for any of the characters on the TV series. I told him it was, after all, a military ship (albeit with a mission to explore not conquer) with a captain, first officer, and other officers. Generally speaking, such vessels are not known to be oases of privacy. Yeah, he said, but they know everything, they can scan everything, intercept communications with the touch of a button, they can locate anyone using their bio signature and transport them. I told him that is the world we will eventually become.

That conversation took place sometime in 1982, in college, a time when many philosophical and political discussions lasted well into the night, usually fueled by cheap beer. Discussions also invariably segued into and about women and the rapidly shifting gender roles. The world is evolving socially, politically, and economically with every tick and tock of the clock, I said, pointing to the clock on the wall in the dorm room.

Now, on occasion, I sit in the quiet of night, sipping good wine, pondering about the state of the world and how so many of those discussions I had in the past about the future are becoming norm.

The science fiction of yesterday is science fact today. Privacy is becoming increasingly difficult in the age of social media, Internet, and smart phones. Women have entered into every strata of the workforce in increasing numbers, nudged along via social evolution as well as their own hard work. This has unhinged the maleness of many males.

The futuristic world imagined by Star Trek 50 years ago is becoming reality with the passing of every year. The lines separating the roles of the sexes are blurring. I sometimes switch back and forth between my love of science fiction films and it's imagining of possible futures, and Western movies, those dusty, testosterone-laden depictions of the formation of this country through the lenses of the frontier. The future is built by science and imagination. The frontier west of the past was built with guns, horses, perseverance, and violence.

Those Westerns had certain clarity, whether you consider that bad or good, where women were women and men were men. It was clear delineation with chiseled cowboys in their classic Western wear and women dressed in flowing, modest dresses. Most of these women simply played a supporting role for their men in those days.

Star Trek, on the other hand, has been cast from the beginning with strong women, many who outrank men and the men are comfortable in their evolved roles. The passage of time continually realigns a world that is better for most people.

Certain segments of American white males have come into focus in this election and are being portrayed as economically shortchanged while the country seeks out new frontiers and is socially and economically evolving into something different. I know some of these guys, and their whining about this new social and economic order is essentially like the proverbial cowboy shooting blanks. The world is changing, I told such an acquaintance the other day, you are not just competing with other white males, but with women, blacks, browns, and immigrants of all shades. They have learned to evolve and adapt, I advised, so must the beleaguered white male. He shrugged his shoulders, but understood, I think.

Watching the original Star Trek series after school in the mid-70s helped make sense of the world, both the imagined and real, to a wide-eyed young immigrant kid like me. I loved its disdain for status quo. But even Star Trek adapted and its signature tag line, “to boldly go where no man has gone before," evolved to become “to boldly go where no one has gone before." This simple change marks the ascendancy of women in our societies. Star Trek was ahead of its time, with a multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-alien crew. The world is becoming that, and that's a good thing.

Old Westerns, which I still love watching, showcased the America of the white male – conquering the land, subjugating the women, taming Native Americans, reinforcing the macho myth of the cowboy, that rugged and very white male. It is unrealistic to try to recreate that world in contemporary America, as Trumpism has unleashed among some white males.

In this election, despite all the apocalyptic talk, tolerance and acceptance remain the bright lights. Young millennials, with lots of tick and tock left in their lives, are changing the fabric of American society in a positive manner, as did women and minority activists. The divides between urban and rural, white and black remain, and in some ways are becoming even more culturally antagonistic, but that can smooth with the passage of time and good leadership. The country is becoming more socially equal and tolerant of gender and ethnic identity. The essence of America has always been forward-gazing.

The clock continues to tick and tock. The starship, filled with those who dream, is boldly going where no one has gone before. The lonesome cowboy is riding into the sunset.