For many nerds like me, and I assume you for reading this, this week is a particularly important one for us. This week (or specifically September 8th) marks the first airing of the original Star Trek TV series, all the way back in September 8th, 1966. That episode, “The Man Trap”, wasn’t even the first produced episode for the show, but the network scheduled it as the series premiere. Watching it even now as I assumed back then for many viewers at the time, you would find it hard to believe this would create a multitude of series, movies, novels, and comic books that would last through half a century. Yet it has, and through all of the high and lows, somehow persevered through now generations of fans.
For some perspective, I got into Trek around the time the second movie, Wrath of Khan, and the third movie, The Search For Spock, were floating around on cable and caught my interest as a kid. Then I fell into watching reruns of the original series every weekend on KMPH Channel 26, one of the local TV stations, and eventually fell into Star Trek: The Next Generation when it started to air. Since then, while my fandom has fluctuated, Star Trek was always around for me throughout the years. Of course, I ask myself why is it that this particular franchise has lingered on throughout the decades?
On a base level, there’s a pulpy sci-fi likability to everything involved with Trek. Yes there’s the occasional message wrapped in an episode of the series here and there, but its always in the flashy fun wrapper of action and adventure. Yes Captain Kirk may have to solve a delicate diplomatic matter involving two races or something, but he would often have to use his fists to help the process along. It’s as much about learning new things as it is watching someone fight a lizard man in the desert.
And yet, that base of adventure would get uninteresting eventually if it wasn’t for what has been at the core of Trek: the optimism of the future. Unlike the majority of many sci-fi franchises, Trek specifically suggests a better future can be achieved if we want it. There are troubles in the fictional 23rd century and beyond to be sure, but Trek suggests mankind can work beyond their prejudices and come together to improve themselves for the better. What has become interesting over the years is how that has changed with the times.
Lets be honest: the original show, for a lot of its forward thinking and intellectual yearnings, did fall victim to a lot of the less desirable attitudes of the 60’s. But the difference is as Trek has continued in its many forms, it has also evolved. The concept of a multicultural, and in some cases, multi species group of good guys is an extremely appealing one, and as our culture has changed, that notion has evolved for Trek. That evolution is important for the several generations of fans that have come up with all these versions of it throughout the years.
And that’s why I think Star Trek is important now as it was for the fans who kept the show alive through its cancellation. The world is not the most optimistic place right now, and the positive view that Trek posits becomes even more important. The idea of humanity can work beyond its petty squabbles and ignorance, and strive to make themselves better is an idea that seems corny for many pessimists, but why is that? Why shouldn’t we work past all of that to make ourselves better overall?
Wanting to do better things for mankind without prejudice is a great thing to pass on to people, and certainly you can see that idea has meant something equivalent to epiphany to so many fans. I know from my experience, the little things I do to help people, as small as they may be in the grand scheme of things, are based on my exposure to Star Trek. While I don’t think I achieved the level of result of the many scientists and flat out geniuses born and raised on Trek, that core concept of working to a better future has always been there. That’s where I think Trek has stood out from many of its peers, is that it gives fans something to strive towards, even if that goal seems impossible at times.
In the infinite diversity and infinite combinations Star Trek has taken through the years, its influence is not just measured by the iterations and forms it has taken. Look at the many people in science and general geekdom who have grown up with it in their lives, and its hard to say it hasn’t been a positive influence for them. Look at the many technological advances we made thanks to people influenced by the cheesy future do-dads the show created. Look at all of that, and its not a surprise why Star Trek has lasted 50 years.
Also, who wouldn’t want to be having amazing adventures on a starship?
But hey, enough of my yammering, and let’s talk about Star Trek (past, present, and future) in the comments below…