An Interracial Kiss Nearly Sank 'Star Trek.' Then George Takei Brought Up Homosexuality.

Also: Hear the powerful story behind how Mister Sulu got his name.

George Takei: The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was a true visionary. The starship Enterprise was supposed to be soaring through space in the 23rd century. By that time the crew of Enterprise reflected the philosophy that Gene Roddenberry had.

Gene Roddenberry felt that the Enterprise was a metaphor for starship Earth and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity. People of many different backgrounds, many different cultures, many different experiences, many different ethnicities coming together and working in concert as a team boldly going where no one had gone before. And that was depicted in the makeup of the crew. African-American woman as the communications chief; the captain was a North American. The engineer was a European and my character, Sulu, was to represent Asia.

The problem he had was to find a name for this Asian character from the 23rd century because every Asian surname is nationally specific. Tanaka is Japanese. Wong is Chinese. Kim is Korea. And 20th century Asia was turbulent with warfare, colonization, rebellion and he didn't want to suggest that. He wanted to depict and suggest a much more enlightened society. And he wanted to find a name that suggested all of Asia, Pan Asia and that was a real dilemma for him. He had a map of Asia pinned on the wall and he was staring at it trying to get some inspiration for the Asian character. And he found off the coast of the Philippines the Sulu Sea. And he thought ah, the waters of a sea touch all shores, embracing all of Asia. And that's how my character came to have the name Sulu. And so that's the kind of vision he had projecting into the 23rd century.

However, I did very privately bring up the issue of gays and lesbians. And he was certainly, as a sophisticated man, mindful of that, but he said — in one episode we had a biracial kiss; Captain Kirk and Uhura had a kiss. That show was literally blacked out in the south. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn't air that; our ratings plummeted. It was the lowest-rated episode that we had. And he said, "I'm treading a fine tight wire here. I'm dealing with issues of the time. I'm dealing with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and I need to be able to make that statement by staying on the air." He said, "If I dealt with that issue, I wouldn't be able to deal with any issue because I would be canceled." And I understood that because I was still closeted at that time. I talked to him as a liberal rather than as a gay man and I understood his position on that.

So that's the way Star Trek envisioned our future in the 23rd century, but I think we're getting closer to that utopian society that Gene Roddenberry visualized, much more rapidly than even the technology. We had this amazing technology on Star Trek. We had this device on our hip; walked all over the ship and whenever we wanted to talk to someone we would rip it off and start talking. Back in the '60s that was an astounding device. No wires attached to it? And now in the 21st century, early part of the 21st century, we not only talk to people, but all the things that we do there, send text messages, watch movies, listen to music; it's amazing the kind of progress that we're making, both technologically and societally.

Actor, activist, prolific meme-generator, and cultural icon George Takei graces Big Think with his presence today in this powerful five-minute clip. Takei explores Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's ambitious and progressive vision for the future: "Roddenberry felt that the Enterprise was a metaphor for starship Earth and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity."


We also learn that Takei's character, Sulu, represented a united Asia free of the many strifes Roddenberry witnessed during the 20th century. Takei tells us how the name "Sulu" came about; it's an incredibly inspirational story.

Finally, Takei explains the now-glaring omission of gay and lesbian characters from Roddenberry's progressive Enterprise. In short, it was the 1960s and the biracial kiss between Uhura and Kirk nearly sank the show. Roddenberry knew there were limits to what the public would tolerate and he couldn't risk losing his platform for social commentary by testing them. Thankfully, as Takei notes, times have changed quite a bit since then in so many ways. And Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry are partly responsible.

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Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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