Thursday, September 8, 2016

To Boldly Go...

Let me be clear--I think it's silly to put so much emphasis on anniversaries. "Oh, it's exactly X (X being some multiple of 5 that we've given arbitrary significance to) years since Y debuted, let's celebrate!" Seriously, if something is good and important, shouldn't we celebrate it all the time, rather than just waiting for some convenient round number? X isn't magically any better than it was at Y-1 or Y+1, humans are just weird sometimes.

Still, this is Star Trek. And so...

As a youth, Star Trek initially wasn't syndicated in my area--at least, not on any channels we picked up at the time. So my first exposure was while I was on vacation with my family in Maryland, I'm guessing some 45ish years ago. And in the basement of my grandfather's house, on what my memory tells me is the smallest black and white television ever, I saw a giant hand grabbing a starship in the middle of space.

And that was that.

Now, let's be honest: the giant hand grabbing the Enterprise was pretty cheesy--on the surface, not too different than something from Lost In Space or Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (which I had seen), where any damn irrational thing could happen because SCIENCE!!

But even as a tyke, I recognized that Star Trek was trying to do it differently, with actual scientific explanations (admittedly, a lot of bullshit in there, but still, they were trying). And even more, a surprisingly mature discussion about religion and worship and what we might owe our "gods." On network TV, for heaven's sake.

And the title!! There weren't that many shows putting the episode titles on screen in those days, and you couldn't go and look them up anywhere, either. But right there, after the 1st commercial break: "Who Mourns For Adonais?" Holy crap--a Percy Shelley allusion? No, of course I didn't recognize it as such initially...but I did recognize that it had some deeper meaning, as you didn't get many literary references in episodes of  The Six Million Dollar Man. And don't think that precocious little snell didn't run to the family encyclopedia as soon as he returned home to look up Adonais.

When we got home, either I found a station showing it, or someone had just started showing it, and, well, that was that.

Hell, yes, TOS had it's share of clunkers. But at it's core, as with the Who Mourns For Adonais title, at its best the show was trying to do, well, more than many other shows. Pretentious? At times, yeah. But unlike most of its contemporaries, Star Trek was trying to be about more than just that week's episodes. Beyond literary allusions, the show used metaphor to talk about important issues of the day, in a way Land Of The Giants never even tried to.

And the basic message? I sometimes find it difficult to communicate to post-Baby Boomers the sense of existential dread we grew up with in the 60s and 70s--being taught from an early age emergency drills in case of nuclear war; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the proxy wars and the titanic clash of ideologies that would inevitably destroy one side, if not the entire world. It was reinforced to us every single day, in ways both subtle and blunt, that today might very well be the last day of our civilization. And if Doomsday wasn't today, well, it would likely be tomorrow.

And Star Trek simply said, "No." It said that not only were we going to survive, we were going to thrive. Enemies would become friends. Our world would unite. We would overcome our problems, and become better and stronger as a species. Unlike a lot of dystopian science fiction of the era (or worse, sterile and arid "utopias"), Star Trek was resolutely pro-humanity in a way that was not popular at the time. That boundless, insane optimism was infused in every frame of Star Trek--and was infectious. Gene Roddenberry's view of humanity was one that I choose to deeply believe in, and has shaped my perspectives for decades.

Hell, no, it wasn't perfect. TOS was as sexist as all get-out, no matter what post-hoc defenses you can come up with. Then again, so was everything else on TV at the time. Could they have been more inclusive, in terms of people of color and gender? Not likely, on 1966 network television. Do some of its politics not stand up to scrutiny 50 years later? Nope. Then again, let's see how many of your positions and predictions stand up to scrutiny half a century from now. And rather than punishing Star Trek from failing to extract itself 100% from all the prejudices of the culture that spawned it, we should celebrate how much it was able to do so, against tremendous odds.

And no, we didn't have the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s. Sorry. But Roddenberry and company were prescient in a lot of ways, as our communications and computer technology has equaled or even surpassed what they projected for the 23rd century (or even the 24th century TNG, in many cases). People like to talk about how the "science" in Ghostbusters is inspiring kids to become scientists. Let me know when someone invents proton pack brass knuckles. But a heck of a lot of stuff from Star Trek has indeed come to pass, as Star Trek has inspired countless people to try and recreate its actual science.

So here's to Star Trek, in all it's forms--from 700+ episodes to 13 movies to thousands of books to 600+ comic books. Some are better than others (and some stink on ice), but they all say, at their base level, that hope is not a chumps' game; that by working together, through infinite diversity in infinite combinations, we can accomplish anything; that there is a future, and it's a bright one.

And let's not just remember that every 5 years on arbitrary anniversaries--let's remember and strive for those ideals every goddamned day.


Warren JB said...

Nicely said, Snell. :D

Then again, let's see how many of your positions and predictions stand up to scrutiny half a century from now.

I predict we still won't have Mattel hoverboards and flying DeLoreans. Although...

our communications and computer technology has equaled or even surpassed what they projected for the 23rd century (or even the 24th century TNG, in many cases)

I'm one of those post-Baby Boomers, whether that has much of an effect on TNG being more my thing. (Actually, DS9, but anyway) I remember rotary dial phones and having to post paper letters by snail-mail, let alone fax. I still use the term snail-mail! Right now, I'm commenting on this blog using a touch-screen tablet, and while this might be a shallow example of what you're talking about, I still get a kick out of the fact that this commonplace piece of tech is essentially a Star Trek padd. :)

Mista Whiskas said...

If clapping my hands in enthusiastic agreement would make sense in reading a blog post that's what I'd be doing. Well said!

My fondest memories are of telling my parents I was going to my room to do my homework, but putting TOS (which just happened to air during the hour my parents made me do homework) on with the volume low and the remote on top of a book in my lap so that I could quickly turn it off if my parents opened the door. I must have seen every episode three times before I got out of high school!

Prof. Chronotis said...

Well, you already know I'm your self-appointed Biggest Fan, but if I wasn't before, I sure would be now. That was beautifully said and deeply well-considered.

But I was looking forward to you marking this day with a bit of the Gold Key comics. My favorite line from all of them being, "Raise the infra-red periscope, Mr. Sulu."

The Mutt said...

My favorite line in Star Trek history:
Drunk Sulu runs onto the bridge with his sword, grabs Uhura and says, "I'll protect you, fair maiden."
She replies, "Sorry, neither."
Think about it. "Fair Maiden" is the kind of thing hero-types always say in fairy tales and folk songs, but what she is saying is
A) I am NOT WHITE, and
Pretty sure Uhura wasn't married.
How did the 1966 Network Standards and Practices guys let that slip by?