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Star Trek at Fifty

One of my earliest memories was watching the Apollo Moon missions on TV.

One of my other earliest memories was hiding behind my mother from a frightening image on TV: a giant, alien, disembodied head. No, this was before Nixon. If you don’t know how those two could possibly be connected (besides an early indication that my generation watched too much TV) … then you don’t know Star Trek. (That episode, by the way, was “The Corbomite Maneuver”.)

Could it have really been fifty years ago? A whole half century since the single most influential entertainment show in television history debuted.

Yeah, that’s a big claim, but think about it. That weird space show with the bad special effects did more than spawn a bunch of movies and spin-offs. It influenced people who became astronauts themselves, as well as scientists of every stripe. It became a cultural phenomenon, to the extent that even people who hate science fiction recognize “Live long and prosper”, and “Beam me up, Scotty”. It went all the way from there down to a little kid who was inspired to write stories about space himself, and who now defines himself as a writer above almost all else.

Just to be clear, that would be me.

Lots of electronic ink is being spilled this week over the big five oh. Why did it become so huge? The simple answer is that it held one thing that so much futurism of the time didn’t: optimism. It posited a future universe in which we not only survived nuclear weapons, racial conflict, despots and election campaigns, we triumphed. We went out beyond our world together, as one race.

Can’t we all just get along? In Star Trek, we did. That was what it was about, not the rubber alien faces and over-emoting.

On a personal level, it led me not only to write stories myself, but to have my first fictional role model. I was a shy kid, suppressing my emotions, misunderstood—alien. The character of Spock spoke to me … I even had a blue long-sleeved shirt with an insignia on it that looked a lot like his uniform shirt.

The less said about my haircut at the time, the better … although it may help explain why I wasn’t the most popular kid.

As a teen, it seemed like I was in an exclusive club, maybe too exclusive—sometimes I thought I was the only Star Trek fan in the state. In a weird way, I was upset when it went from a canceled cult show to a franchise. It was like losing ownership. But now Star Trek belongs to the world, and after fifty years it’s still going strong.

That’s a good thing—the world needs all the optimism it can get.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2016 01:26 am (UTC)
If you haven't already; do go watch the opening two-parter of the Sixth Season of the New Doctor Who; you'll love Matt Smith's interactions with Tricky Dicky; as well as the secret agent who, in response to Nixon saying he wasn't his first choice for the job, replies," That's ok sir, you weren't my first choice for President."

One of my earliest memories is my mum very insistently getting me out of bed, and dragging me downstairs on th emorning of July 21st to watch very grainy black & white footage of Neil Armstrong taking those first steps (these days I can't be sure what I rmember is that actual footage, or the news coverage footage; I know they're the same, but I hope ypu understand what I mean).

Mostly I think, at the time, I just wanted to go back to sleep.


Sep. 10th, 2016 07:30 am (UTC)
How dare you suggest I've missed a single episode of the New Doctor Who! :-) Wow, I just realized how much Hillary Clinton reminds me of Nixon.

Live verses the morning news, I get it. I had the reverse reaction that you did: Our whole family gathered in front of the TV to watch the launch, the landing, the first spacewalk--everything. My family consisted of big SF fans, and here was space exploration becoming reality! It was about the only thing someone could have dragged me out of bed early for. I do remember that I was in school during the return splashdown, but our teacher brought in a little black and white TV and we watched it live, too.
Sep. 10th, 2016 10:38 am (UTC)
Apart from being honest and a woman I can see how you could make that mistake :-(

Don't start that; we're friends.


And it was my seventh birthday, and birthday's had, I think by then, already become an exercise in disappointment. Don't think, except online reminders, I've taken much notice of mine since the last century.
Sep. 10th, 2016 09:56 pm (UTC)

Ok, whatever, I try not to talk to brick walls. But wow, I don't know whether to giggle or cry.

Here's the thing about birthdays: mine is in mid July, and every year we would have a big Independence Day family gathering down I'm Kentucky ... As a little kid, it seemed like I was getting a week long birthday celebration. We were very poor, but my parents made sure we didn't know it. These days, I'd rather not think about birthdays ... As the old timers say, I'm no spring chicken. But I think it's horrible that so many kids had bad birthdays, and if I had the resources I'd throw you a big celebration--we all deserve that, every now and then.
Sep. 10th, 2016 11:38 am (UTC)
I've missed all but a handful outside of S5 since around the time of School Reunion/The Girl in the Fireplace; they reminded me of how much the new incarnation was missing what made the old show so special, and that no matter how good the episode was it would never overcome that. It just wasn't a show I was willing to watch with any enthusiasm.

S5 which was really, as all the new shows seasons have been, a thirteen episode story; rather than a season was the exception that proved the rule. It had a lot of the old magic, and enough new stuff to engage, but it was clear by the time we were out of that two-part opener that it was an exception. I stuck with it until the halfway break; probably would have stayed to the end of the season if they hadn't had the break, but there was nothing there to make me want to go back.

I've got a great number of eps off the internet so I can watch them if the moment grabs me, but rather like having the complete Space 1999 & UFO, I have them because that moment may come.

Sep. 10th, 2016 10:01 pm (UTC)
See, I got lucky in a way: I never saw more than bits and pieces of the old version, so I had nothing to compare it to. I've caught several since then, and much prefer the new Who ... But isn't it possible that's because I started with the new? Certainly the old ones had plenty of heart, if not budget, which brings us around to the original Star Trek again.
Sep. 10th, 2016 05:16 am (UTC)
well said
Sep. 10th, 2016 07:16 am (UTC)
Well, I practice in the mirror a lot.
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