Thursday, September 1, 2016

Return to Tomorrow: Star Trek at 50

Why has Star Trek lasted fifty years? Even a non-fan can probably come up with a few reasons: the iconic characters, the unforgettable stories, the influence it has had on the real world. Of the TV class of 1966-67, a few shows are still remembered fondly today, like The Monkees and That Girl, and others whose popularity was revived thanks to movie reboots, such as Mission: Impossible and The Green Hornet.

Trek was different. Though it only lasted three seasons, it was kept alive in the hearts and minds of its small but passionate audience, leading to not only a revival through the movies, but a multi-generational, multimedia franchise worth millions annually to its corporate masters and exponentially more to its fans. Why?

Speaking as someone who has been one of those fans for over half my life, I think what it comes down to is, people want to believe a better world is possible, and Trek offers hope. It was born during a period of great social and political strife. Sadly, little has changed since.

You don't need me to tell you that. For all the baby steps we've taken forward towards progress and equality, we continue to be held back by our basest instincts and our unfettered self-interest. I freely admit I'm no different. There are some who think it'll always be this way, and that salvation will only come through divine intervention. Maybe that's what you believe.

Gene Roddenberry thought otherwise. No matter how canonized he has become by historians, and especially fans, he was no guru; he was no holy man nor saint. He was a man, with a man's imperfections, but he dared to present on television an ideal of a better future for all of us, one where we face new challenges through exploring space, putting aside our petty differences and working as a team. It wasn't very commercial. It wasn't always understood. But it was there, for anyone who was receptive.

My inclination is to expect the worst from humanity. The more I see, the less I believe we're capable of cleaning up our act in time to save ourselves and our planet. But then I'll watch one of the episodes or films, or I'll read one of the books, or I'll see an article describing an imaginary piece of Trek tech becoming one step closer to reality, or how Trek inspired someone to pursue a career in science or medicine, or I'll simply talk to another fan... and I'll find a reason to go on hoping. I think - no, I know - we need that. We needed it in 1966, and boy, do we need it now.

I don't love all of Trek equally. As you'll discover during this month-long celebration, I have my biases and blind spots, and they'll make themselves apparent. I strongly encourage you to share your preferences with me. Maybe we'll change each other's minds about something in Trek, maybe we won't. Either way, I hope it'll be fun.

(This was written before the big Trek con in Las Vegas, and I subsequently found out via Twitter that Whoopi Goldberg said basically the same thing about hope on a panel discussion. Nice to know.)

Axanar and fan fiction
William Shatner's 'Leonard'
Two Nimoy docs
Lin brokers Axanar settlement
action Trek vs. mental Trek
the new fan film rules
Discovery to break the Trek mold


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