If you know me, you know I have several loves; T-shirts with obscure references, fresh donuts, Final Fantasy video games, bangin’ Happy Hardcore dance music so offensive only four warriors scattered across the winds of the world possess the constitution to not only stomach it but also dance to it, and somewhere in there are my wife and fur babies (Eleanor RR Moody = dog. Thomas Bosley = Cat)
The most influential and long lasting love of my life however is and will always be Star Trek (hereafter referred to as ‘Trek because I’m the coolest of Star Trek fans and I don’t have time to type my beloved’s full title) And I get to claim some hardcore nerd points because I was a fan BEFORE TNG (The Next Generation, laypeople) arrived on the air. Yes indeed, I was a five and six year old child watching TOS (The Original Series, jeese am I gonna have to do this for you people for EVERY show!?!) on KVOS and the CBC because they had laser guns and spaceships, and that was A O K with little Steve.
But why the interest in science fiction from such a young age? I have one particular theory. If you grew up in Vancouver in the 80’s, then you were probably around for Expo ’86 (when the world still gave a shit about International Exhibitions) a celebration of technology and cultures the world over. That year the theme was ‘Man in Motion (later revised to ‘Person in motion’ by the PC armies in the late 90’s) and human travel was a fixture thoughout the event. And since this was the 80’s and the height of the Cold War (so I’m told, but seriously, it’s a ‘Cold War’, when was the ‘low friendly point’?) every nation that participated was hyped to showcase their space technology. There were replica’s of moon landers, Russian Sputnik mockups, some red ball that was an intelligent alien learning all about the geography of Canada… As a kid I was fascinated by all of this technology and innovation (okay sure, I didn’t know what ‘innovation’ was at age five, but stay with me) and I know it bled into my every day life of chasing my friends around our secret playground, the ‘Campout/Sweepout’ (No idea where that name came from) So when spaceships and lasers appeared on TV alongside men and women in coloured pyjamas, I was riveted.
Back in the day the Save On Foods on #3 Road in Richmond had a video rental kiosk inside (remember video rentals? Like streaming only without computers) and they had TOS videos, two episodes per, which I would convince my Mom to rent for me each week. To this day I remember the first episode I saw off a rental (I don’t remember what episode of TOS I saw first, since my brain then was only as developed as my dogs is now) It was ‘By Any Other Name’ where the Kelvans come to our galaxy disguised as Humans, scouting it for colonization by their empire situated in Andromeda. This is the episode where Scotty, queried about the unknown content of a bottle of alcohol, makes his expert assessment that “It’s green.” This is also the episode where Rojan (the Kelvan leader) orders his subordinate Hanar to transform yeoman Leslie Thompson into a fist sized D20 made out of drywall, which is then crushed in his hand to demonstrate the Kelvan’s power.* To a five year old, watching someone distilled into a D20 shaped object and then crushed like a bad meringue is absolutely horrifying. To this day that moment sticks with me. Yet I didn’t run or hide from that. It scared the living shit out of me, but I wanted to know more, to see MORE.
(*Note: two crew members are transformed in this manner by Hanar – the other was Lt. Shae, however he was not crushed and ultimately returned to his original form. I mention Lt. Shae specifically because he was played by African-American actor Carl Byrd and I didn’t want to leave out the important contributions of another talented African-American actor. Star Trek Not So White!)
By the time I was 10 yrs old I had learned the lessons of racism from Lokai & Bele of the planet Charon. (spoiler: racism is bad and will kill your planet) I sat through a court martial to determine whether Data was in fact a sentient being or not, and in doing so learned a great deal about an individuals rights and the importance of their codification into law. I was exposed to the dangers of drug addiction thanks to the Ornaran’s from the planet Ornara, and I learned about those who would exploit it, the drug suppliers from neighboring planet Brekka. I experienced the pain of Admiral Alidar Jarok, defector from the Romulan Empire, who would learn that his reasons for defection were a fabrication intended to determine his loyalties. That man did what he truly believed in his heart was necessary, and in the end took his own life when he realized he had been fooled and would never be able to return to the society he loved. I learned that even when it is difficult, we should all strive to better not only ourselves, but contribute to bettering the society around us as well. I absorbed the lesson that all of us foolish Human’s are capable of so much more, if we worked together for everyone’s benefit.
‘Trek imprinted these lessons on young, impressionable me. And like a naive idiot I carried these ideas through my youth and into adulthood. Here’s the funny thing: It wasn’t until I was older than 30 that I *REALLY* started to understand that this idea of even tangentially working together to better everyone was NOT shared by every person around me. ‘Trek affected so much of my thinking and my disposition that I literally painted an optimistic view of Humanity and its capabilities. Becoming an adult does a lot to shatter those misconceptions, and one of the most disturbing realizations of my life was that there were folks who seriously had no fucks to give when it came to bettering themselves or others. Growing up with ‘Trek like I did, it never crossed my mind that as Human’s we weren’t all working together towards a common goal.
Let’s not make me sound too awesome though. I don’t really volunteer, I don’t donate much to charity, I don’t do all that much to ‘better’ other people. But I help people when they ask for help. I look out for my friends and my family. I support decisions and policies that are based in facts and designed to benefit everyone, and I have a distinct mistrust of most ‘market based’ solutions, because people aren’t ‘markets’, and just like I don’t believe that’s what best for the market should come first, I don’t believe governments should be run like businesses. Markets and finance are tools that we have allowed to be perverted into the supposed ‘purpose’ of Humanity. ‘Trek backed away from those ideas and instilled a more ‘socialist’ world view in me from the beginning. I know I am better for it.
This is what ‘Trek does that is so magical, so unique. It tells flashy stories about whiz-bang technology, space explosions and alien fights, while at the same time delivering an optimistic message about Humanity and it’s future. Every bit of Sci-Fi in the current age is seen through a ‘dystopian/post apocalyptic’ lens, something that ‘Trek outright rejected. Don’t get me wrong, I think Deckard served as a Blade Runner in a fascinating and well crafted world. I thought that Max Rockatansky and Imperator Furiosa were amazing characters in a fantastic setting, but again, this future doesn’t give us much to hope for. ‘Trek did. ‘Trek said the future would be okay, and showed us why.
I’ve been a reasonably optimistic person my whole life, and it seems to have served me well. I thank ‘Trek for that. When Gene Roddenberry built his world and the rules that went with it, he was doing something very unique. It all started with TOS but his ideas expanded greatly when given the reigns to TNG in ’87. The crew of this new Enterprise-D wouldn’t have interpersonal disputes, because they were trained professionals and Human’s didn’t quarrel with each other in the 24th century. There were no ‘space pirates’ in this world, and unlike even in some TOS episodes, “gunboat diplomacy” was not the ‘go to’ method to achieve Starfleet and the Federations aims. Now sure, these rules/guidelines didn’t ALWAYS make things easier. In fact a major complaint/challenge for writers in the early seasons of TNG was the fact that you couldn’t have your characters argue or disagree. It means these writers needed to stretch themselves, looking for good dramatic structure while being unable to use some of the most basic tools. As Gene’s health deteriorated and he took a backseat on ‘Trek before his passing, some of these rules were relaxed. Writers were still able to tell amazing stories about Human perserverance and determination, while also being able to bring interpersonal conflicts to the forefront. The clearest example of this was the debut of Deep Space Nine in ’93. This was a ‘Trek in a single location, so naturally longer form stories told over several serialized episodes were more prevalent, since you had the same characters on site day in and day out. Furthermore, these characters were allowed to grow, change and interact in ways that the crew of Enterprise-D never could. These characters made questionable decisions, and sometimes even made mistakes, and they LEARNED from that, they changed and became different people than who you first encountered in the pilot episode. DS9 still stands as my hands down favourite ‘Trek, because it added a necessary dose of ‘grit’ or ‘realism’ to Roddenberry’s idealism, and it showed our flawed heroes doing flawed, heroic things.
Then came Voyager (VOY) and I met my favourite captain. Janeway. Seriously, I mean it. Janeway is easily the most complex of all the ‘Trek captains, since she is challenged in ways that the previous captains were not. Sure, Kirk was the alpha male, aggressive bravado in a mustard tunic, but he was a character from a different age when that kind of stark certainty was more valued. Picard was the ultimate diplomat and scholar, which would sometimes render him ineffective against others whose motivations came from deep seated passion and emotion. Sisko was a brash, arrogant man who always seemed like he was about to be doing something much more interesting until you interrupted him. Archer was a fabulous captain (shut up ENT haters!) but a little naive in an “Awe shucks” kind of way. This attitude made sense since Archer was the ‘first’ captain of a starship Enterprise and didn’t have the wealth of one or two centuries of space exploration to draw on. Janeway was different. She was a scientist first, an explorer like Picard with a keener interest in the details and minutia of discovery. She wasn’t a diplomat, but was forced to become one to keep her fractured crew together. She wasn’t a visionary, but needed to become one in order to lead her lost little Interpid class starship on what was originally calculated as a 70 yr trip home. She wasn’t a warrior hardened in battle, so when the need to defend herself and her ship with violence arose she often made decisions from her heart, rather than her head. She was strong while vulnerable, sophisticated while relatable and ultimately the most ‘Human’ representation of a captain ‘Trek has ever presented us. And she made Admiral before Picard did.
So yes, ‘Trek shaped my life from an early age, and I’m grateful for it. It taught me the importance of science while also balancing the signifigance of Humanity. It taught me that our hard questions HAD solutions, just not always easy ones. Those hard questions and less than easy solutions helped me understand that we CAN make the difference we want in the world, it just won’t necessarily be achieved in 42 minutes with a convenient conclusion. ‘Trek raised the storytelling bar pretty high for me from an early age and I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I am without it. I am one of the biggest ‘Trek fans there is, and that’s saying something in today’s environment. I love ‘Trek in all of its incarnations, even if there are episodes here and there which simply fall flat – that’s the reality of producing television. I understand this and forgive these errors because they do not detract from my enjoyment of the whole. In recent years I’ve discovered that this puts me curiously at odds with a certain sect of ‘Trek fans, and fuels a schism in modern fandom that I think is actually poisoning our current market.
You read this far not realizing this was going to be a two part entry didn’t you? Stay tuned for part II where I intend to examine the current relationship ‘Trek fans have with each other, and how this sad state of affairs is affecting genre and franchise production the world over.