Brent Spiner Calls Star Trek’s Vision Of The Future A Joke

fb share tweet share

Every now and then one of the Star Trek cast loses his cool and lashes out against the franchise that made them famous. It’s easy to understand why they might resent it, for every Patrick Stewart who goes on to play other roles, there’s a Leonard Nimoy who walks into a casting office and is instantly dismissed as the guy who played Spock.

The latest Trek alum to lash out is Brent Spiner, who played Data on TNG, though to be fair lashing out may be too harsh an assessment of the statements he recently made to UK Theater.

It started when the interview was interrupted by a few teenage Star Trek fans, who barreled in and rudely interrupted Spiner to ask an incredibly stupid question. From there, as you read the interview, he just seems to get crankier with the whole notion of Star Trek and Star Trek fans in general. For instance he expresses bafflement and frustration with people’s inability to distinguish him from the character he plays. He tries to be good natured about it, but there’s a twinge of bitterness there and frankly, I can’t blame him. As a fan of his work as Data, I’m with I’m on it.

Well, it’s not like I’m not a fan of other people. I like a lot of actors, I like a lot of performances. When I met William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy for the first time, I didn’t talk to them like they were Spock and Kirk, I didn’t think they were. I kind of got the idea they were actors who were playing those parts. It is kind of peculiar. Even to this day, if I write something on Twitter that is so counter to what Data would have been, if it’s ironic or if it’s sarcastic, whatever, the things that I am, people think: “Oh man, I don’t really like you. You’re not like I thought you were.” And my reaction is: “That’s too bad! You know, you’re not like I thought you were either! I thought you were an adult.”

But then things take a turn for the worse as Spiner begins to address the nature of Star Trek in general. Addressing the idea that Star Trek has a grander purpose than just mindless entertainment he says…

I think there is an illusion about it. You know, if you ask somebody, why has Star Trek lasted so long, they always say the same thing: because it has a positive vision of the future. But to tell you the truth, I don’t know what is so positive about it. We are still blowing people away. We carry guns. It’s a joke. It’s like that illusion that it is somehow all about peace. It’s really not. It is a western, it is a shoot’em up. But it does have elements that are nice, like the fact that all people are celebrated for who they are, their differences rather than their similarities, and I think that’s a very positive thing. The positive thing about it is just that it depicts a future, and that is somehow reassuring, that there is going to be a future. I don’t think it necessarily depicts a future that’s better or worse than where we live right now.

On this, I can’t agree with Spiner. I see where he’s coming from, but as someone who’s spent so much of his life involved in that world, you’d hope and expect he’d see the grander things that we all see in it too.

Yet, it’s easy to understand why he might not. Spiner sounds a little like a guy who’s trying to upbeat, but is also sick to death of Star Trek. There’s little doubt that as an actor, he’s one of the most talented Trek castmembers, yet he’s also one of the Trek castmembers who has gone on to do the least visible work outside of Star Trek.

Based on talent alone Spiner should probably be as famous and well respected as Patrick Stewart, but somehow it’s never worked out for him. He seems happy doing work on the stage now, but if you’d have asked me back in 1989 which Trek castmember was most likely to win an Oscar some day, I’d have picked Spiner.

Maybe that bothers him, or maybe he’s right and the idea of Star Trek as a grand vision of what humanity could achieve is just a joke. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.


  1. Nate Leyva says:

    I agree with his comment on the vision of the future, there is the notion that there is a Utopia on earth and we have eliminated war, poverty, and a lot of the ecological problems that plagued the 20th century, but really think about it. The fight for territory has continued in the galaxy, there is still a very human conflict between the separate species and it’s no longer enough to have a world and a solar system, the federation expands into territories against other territories. War will always be a part of humanity’s future it is unfortunate but a fact. So the notion that we are somehow more advanced and better people is ludicrous because we will just find better ways to kill each other and exploit resources.

    • Curtis Bolin says:

      You can take multiple viewpoints on this.  It’s one of the reasons I liked Deep Space 9 so much, they took a more political and not so rosy view of the Star Trek universe.  It was even pointed out the hypocrisy of the Federation in their dealings with the Maquis and the Bjorins to the point that the Federation was described as worst than the Borg, at least the Borg were honest enough to tell you you were being assimilated.

    • Scoey says:

      Nate, I’m gonna bash you a bit. Don’t take it personally. I mean to make you a better debater. A master debater, if you will. Your comment is just silly with contradiction. On one hand you say that humanity will always be at war, a simplistic and unsophisticated view, at best, for which you use the conflicts between the Federation and other races as evidence. Then you claim that Star Trek is unrealistic because…? If you are saying that we, as a human race, will not find peace on Earth, then you don’t follow history very well. Human history is indeed one of expansion, as you say, but that expansion has only happened after great unions and alliances have formed and then those unified roll over the weaker, non-unified smaller groups. If you mean to say that the vision is not so much improved because humanity, as part of a larger Federation, is just another player on a larger board of competition with others like the Romulans, Dominion, Borg, etc, then we agree. But you seem to be saying we’ll never reach the stars because we aren’t capable or the unity needed to do so. I disagree with that premise as well as the premise that we will forever repeat this cycle of unity and aggressive expansion. When we encounter extraterrestrial life, it will be both as result of and a movement toward an ever-greater form of unity, one that only an enlightened human race can achieve. Militants, zealots, greed-driven materialists and those who would otherwise form that mirror universe’s Terran Empire will not be able to function in an interstellar community. They will be like the old racist hold-out who runs the gas station up the backroad to the dump. At worst, they’ll be like Terra Prime, freaks of nature who insist on imposing their will on a community they are incapable of understanding, let alone threatening. Oops. I just watched Enterprise again and I’m all gung-ho for the Federation. I’ll get off my soap box now.

  2. “One of the Trek castmembers who has gone
    on to do the least visible work outside of Star Trek.”

    Really? Stewart, I’ll give you. Wil Wheaton has been visible
    on Eureka and other shows. Marina Sirtis popped up once on the BBC show
    Casualty. Michael Dorn has done some cartoon voicework, but I’ve not seen him
    in anything. Frakes has stuck to TV and film directing as far as I’m aware. LeVar
    Burton appeared in an episode of Community, but that’s all I know. Gates
    McFadden? Is she still alive?

    Spiner, on the other hand, I’ve seen in Independence Day,
    Alphas, Leverage, Enterprise, Threshold, The Aviator, Gepetto,  even The Master of Disguise.

    Still, I can understand his frustration at times. 

    • JT says:

      I said ONE of, not the least visible.  Frakes is a very successful director, Levar Burton also has a successful career as a director and does movies, and was already famous before Star Trek anyway. Wil Wheaton was already famous as well and does a lot of high visibility guest work. I’m not saying Spiner hasn’t done anything, he’s just not that visible and definitely not famous for anything other than Data.  He has done a few very minor supporting roles in a couple of big movies and a couple of big roles in horrible movies no one saw.

      Maybe I’m just being a fanboy, but to me he’s always seemed talented enough that she should be a well known, well used, character actor at the least.

    • Will says:

      Like most actors, Gates McFadden has not had an easy time getting high profile, well paid work.  And as a woman, it gets worse faster than it does for men.  FYI, she had the role of Paul Reiser’s “hot, older boss” on Mad About You.  She most recently appeared on TV on an episode of Franklin & Bash.

  3. I agree with him completely! It’s the nature of the beast, and THAT’S what will keep us from that bright future we see on T.V.!  Ps: Brent your an excellent actor!  Keep doing what makes YOU happy.

  4. Ham Salad says:

    Doesn’t seem that grumpy to me. He just has his own point of view…and maybe he doesn’t ‘get’ the ideals that star trek represents: he’s look at the wrong thing, and assuming that’s all there is. Star Trek isn’t about accomplishing utopia, it’s about the process of becoming better.  That’s what the human adventure refers to: it’s not just an exploration of the universe, it’s an exploration of ourselves. What other show has been about such an idea?

  5. TetrisShot says:

    I agree with him well enough that Star Trek isn’t as Utopian as a lot of people would be lead to believe (that’s why I personally like DS9 so much: it deals more with the gritty politics and what it takes to be able to hold onto what you believe) but at the same time, it does give us something to strive towards. If nothing beyond the equality of all beings, regardless of gender, race, species and even level of sentience. But there will ALWAYS be someone that will oppose that and therefore even the most peaceful of civilizations will need to defend themselves in order not to lose what they’ve worked for. In Star Trek, the Starfleet never (okay, rarely) fires first. And they always try to find another means to work out their differences before resorting to fighting. In that regard, I think Mister Spiner is wrong, and I have to say that I’m sorry to hear that he’s become bitter (albeit understandably) towards the franchise. 

    • spet67 says:

      Was he bitter? Or was he just annoyed because he encountered a few rude fans?

      As for the rest, I agree. The Star Trek universe is better than the current world situation, in many ways. But, better doesn’t mean perfect.

  6. DailySF says:

    The original Star Trek was more utopian in its time than the later series, I think. By the end of the franchise, wimpy phasers had been dropped for laser machine guns (stun? This thing doesn’t do stun.) The notion that people weren’t suffering and that criminality had been mostly eliminated didn’t seem to enter into the universe at all.

  7. Will says:

    Spiner has a legitimate opinion that someone else may agree or disagree with.  He’s not a fan who’s seen every episode of every series & all the movies (more than once).  He’s the actor who was on 1 of the series + 4 of the movies.  He doesn’t remember what happened in every episode – he likely doesn’t even remember most of the scenes he took part in.  He does remember the movies because people in the business consider those to be more important than TV.  And what about those movies?  Every 1 was about the good guys defeating the bad guys by being better at doing violence.
    You might believe that it’s only fair to judge the franchise by looking at it as a whole.  That’s a legitimate opinion too.  Just remember that the franchise is so big that only you fans have see all of it, let alone remember all of it.  And for most people, Trek was not Shakespeare.  It wasn’t good enough to deserve the effort to watch all of it.

  8. David Villa says:

    Oh my gosh, how can you not agree with Data!? :-

  9. I wouldn’t even say Star Trek is anywhere near Utopian, if Utopia is no money and space ships then that’s all cool for the space jockeys and future geeks, however, it is a very detailed parody of the world today.

    Star Treks greatest strength was that it (from the next generation onwards) used sci-fi as a backdrop to push complex ethical issues such as war, conspiracy, slavery, insubordination, interventionism, medical ethics, international relations, economics, cloning, eugenics, liberty over security and weapons of mass destruction.

    Like I said the sci-fi was only a backdrop, but the rest of the series was an exploration of current world issues, and while the outcome always tended to be optimistic regarding what human nature is generally it was far, far from utopian and it wouldn’t be interesting  anyway if it was as their would be no drama. 

    I agree with Brent Spiner’s comments and I don’t feel he was lashing out at the series, only the fans interpretation of it. But lets face facts as much as I love all of the trek series and have been to many a convention there are a fair few, very vocal yet socially inept lunatic trek fans out there. The stereotype does have some basis in fact, loath as I am to admit it there are many fans out there who embarrass us all collectively by making star trek the sole thing in their life, by seeing criticism of it as something blasphemous, seeing criticism where there is none and a general victim complex as a whole which makes us all as fans look bad.Play computer games, want a star trek mod for it, well forget it serious lunatic trekkies will end friendships and working relationships over arguments as to what is cannon. Go on any star trek mod developer forum and you will see, which is a shame because there are some very talented people out there. The point is Star trek for some has become a little bit of a religion for some, it could enlighten us somewhat through its content, why waste it being pious. That’s the joke and I don’t think Spiner is being at all bitter when he’s pointing it out.

  10. yeah, Star Trek is utopian if you survive the third world war, the fourth world war, the eugenics war Khan fought in, and the one started by Colonel Green (the last two might actually have been the third and fourth for all I know). If you survive all that then its not a bad place. Bahh, Star Trek survived because fans enjoy science fiction and having it on weekly was awesome for awhile.

  11. spet67 says:

    Is he bitter? Or was he just, temporarily, a bit irritated because some people were rude to him?

    I’ve sent some time at Star Trek: The Experience & at Star Trek conventions. The Overwhelming majority of people are nice, kind-hearted & open-minded souls. But, there are a few who definitely fit the stereotype of condescending, somewhat angry nerds without social skills. There aren’t a lot of them. But, they can be damn annoying.

    He’s also got a bit of a point. The Star Trek universe is definitely a better place than this one in some regards. But, at the end of the day, they’ll still settle things with violence.

  12. Pinpointer says:

    He could’ve QUIT THE SHOW in the first season if he didn’t want people to be fan of Data and recognise Data out of uniform with non-gold skin and want to talk to Data walking around Earth. Denise Crosby aka Tasha Yar left the show in the first season in the episode “Skin of Evil” and Spock was from the 1960s Star Trek series. I’m sure Data knew about Spocks earthling counterpart but wants to stick his lip out after the 7 tv seasons and 3 good movies and one badly scripted° movie(who tried to kill-off Data? Brent°). But I guess it was fine when the episode Datas Day was filmed? Data should have just stayed as a guest on Night Court as a hillbilly then I could understand his flatulence a little bit. What a dumbass Data is being wanting people to think he IS human and his name is Brent. BTW: I know what an actor is… Data sounds like he wants to be Xavier now

  13. Wylding says:

    I’ve met Brent Spiner several times at conventions and watched him interact with his fans. He’s jaded, tired and fatigued. People just feel sorry for the guy. He has a barely contained animosity about him that has probably done a lot to hinder his progress as an actor…

    It’s sad.

  14. Scoey says:

    If you think Brent is talented, that’s fine, but he’s also quite bright. There indeed was/is too much shoot ’em up for Trek to be considered much of a positive view of tomorrow. Only if you view the vision of Earth uniting and abandoning empty materialism and greed as the positive vision can Trek be considered a more “positive vision” for humanity. Our ancestors had an ever-widening frontier of tribal conflict, leading to larger communities made of several tribes and their conflicts with neighboring city states, then cities banded together in nations which then fought other nations, now we have groups of nations gathering into economic and political “unions” and they seem to be able to avoid war with each other, but rogue nation states (North Korea) attacking those unions or its members. What the members of Star Fleet face out in “the final frontier” is not much different (nor are many of their conflict resolution strategies) than what we have on earth today. But this is no accident, no mere coincidence. Roddenbury himself said at the outset that Trek is a creative vehicle through which he would address existing troubles here in our own world. Roddenbury was a visionary in the sense that he saw our current problems with racism, materialist greed, religious intolerance and age-old blood feuds coming to an end once we look outward together to our future in the larger universe. When it comes to Section 31 plotting and scheming to assassinate Romulan senators and the like, that’s where the vision gets murky. Starfleet doesn’t seem much different from the bumbling fools that rule the United States using vague threats of terrorism to lock us all up in a cage of fear. Peace is a difficult road, much more difficult than blowing things up. Reaching out to understand other cultures and their reasons for actions which we find abhorent is what Trek SAYS Star Fleet is all about, but it’s phasers and photon torpedoes more often than not. So criticize Brent for speaking his mind, if you must, but he’s not alone. I’m a life-long fan of Trek, but I’d rather see more story lines that involve paradigm-shifting revelations than the same group of people constantly facing life-or-death conflict. I think that’s what Brent was talking about. I might be wrong, though.