The shady tribes of people who manufacture television reportedly bandy the word 'aspiration' around quite often. 'Aspirational programming' is a genre-spanning term defining shows typically featuring healthy, conventionally attractive people leading comfortable, fun happy lives. The hook is supposed to be that you will aspire to be like what you see: happy, fun, affluent, white teeth, sex-but-no-sleaze, etc. For those wishing to learn more about the definition of the term Charlie Brooker's BBC2 series How TV Ruined Your Life is still the locus classicus.
Aspiration spans genres because it sticks its fingers into programming of all types: X-Factor wants you to 'aspire' to be famous; Glee wants you to 'aspire' to be happy and contented with yourself; Antiques Roadshow wants you to 'aspire' to rifle through your grandmother's discarded possessions for wood of the True Cross so you can sit next to Fiona Bruce. As such the term can be rather liberally and lazily applied so we must be careful not to dilute the meaning by wielding the term without thinking.
However, I would like to argue that there is at least one more show that deserves to be called 'aspirational': Star Trek: The Next Generation. (It's possible that the original Trek also merits the label but my viewing experience is limited to TNG.) I began watching Picard et al last summer thinking I would appreciate it ironically or as a piece of television history but was surprised by what I quickly discovered: it's actually really good. Even now, when some of the special effects seem dated, the quality of the stories and screenplays is still very high. Season Two's "The Measure of a Man", in which the android Data is put on trial and asked to prove his sentience on pain of disassembly, is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of television I have ever seen.
But I will stem my trekkie gush for now and get to the point. Star Trek: TNG is aspirational with a capital A. Consider the following: 24th Century Earth is free from war, poverty, hunger, most diseases and almost all material needs. There is a post-scarcity economy; the invention of the energy-matter replicator means there is never a shortage of resources. It even perfectly synthesises meat so the ethical question of killing animals for food is totally circumvented. Strength, force and superstition are looked down on whilst the virtues of reason, intelligence and peacefulness are praised; everyone is encouraged to maximise their talents and better themselves at every opportunity. Most importantly the brightest and best are permitted to join Starfleet to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Like many of you, I suspect, for a time I raised an eyebrow at the sorts of people who cosplay as their favourite characters and go to conventions but now I completely understand. Can anyone honestly say they wouldn't want to live in a world like that? If it could make you feel, even for a fleeting instant, that you were closer to that world wouldn't you reach for the pointy rubber ears? Like Glee and Sex and the City, Star Trek: TNG wants you to aspire to be like its characters. Every one of them is courageous, honest, intelligent, morally upstanding - all the values a Starfleet officer (and a good human being) require. It's secret ingredient is no longer a secret. It has lived long and prospered because of aspiration.Suggest a correction