Fifty years. It’s a huge period of time, longer than the lifetimes of many of you reading this article. For the last fifty years the world has seen so many changes and so many advances in technology, and so much of that was inspired by a single television and movie series: Star Trek. Fifty years ago today, the Enterprise first boldly went out into that final frontier, and created a whole new world.
It’s not a stretch to say that Star Trek at the very least helped create the idea of fandom. Trekkies (or trekkers, if you prefer) were one of the first major groups of geeks to really find each other, and their campaigns actually kept the original series on the air for a whole extra season. When the show finally did end, they kept their burning obsession alive through costuming, conventions and more until more than a decade later, when the Star Wars craze finally brought its predecessor to the big screen for six movies. Those movies paved the way for the franchise to return to television with four outstanding television shows (Well, three and Enterprise. Well, two and Enterprise and Voyager), four new movies with the TNG cast, and then three more films in the new Kelvin universe.
Why has Star Trek stuck around this long? There’s a lot of different answers to that, and we’d like to hear yours in the comments. But first, we opened the question up to our staff. What does Star Trek mean to you?
Mike Fatum: Growing up, I always kind of looked down on Star Trek. I thought TNG was cool, but I believed that you had to like Star Wars or Star Trek, not both. So I didn’t really get into Trek until I was a young man about to get married. The stress of dealing with wedding planning drove my wife and I to the movie theater to see the only film that looked decent that weekend, the first JJ Abrams Star Trek. And it blew our minds. My wife was the daughter of a Trekkie, but until that movie she had never really understood it. Afterwards, we turned to Netflix and devoured The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
What I loved most about those shows, but especially about The Next Generation, was that they showed up how we could be better. Not just as a society, although Star Trek does show us the path towards making a world that we can actually live in. But also in how we treat each other. No character ever doubted another’s competence on that show. If Picard had put them in a position, they deserved to be there, no matter how crazy the invisible monster of the week they were babbling about sounded. It was a group of people who truly respected each other, and that treated each other right. In a world of cheaply constructed television drama, it’s a revelation to watch.
Mark Foo: Star Trek, when it’s at its best, is about a brighter future, and trying to find the best outcome to a situation, no matter how Kobayashi Maru it may seem.
As a brainy kid, I grew up on TNG, and seeing people science their way outta things, and hearing them talk about respecting other cultures was pretty integral to my worldview. Equality, respect, and violence as a last resort: it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am the person I am today in large part thanks to Star Trek.
Tyler Dent Hayes: For me, Star Trek is a reminder of what humanity could be and should be. The sense of inclusivity in Starfleet culture, the idea that discovery and knowledge would be a ship’s mission rather than war or conquest, the idea of problem-solving through science and quick thinking as well as brute force, are reminders of what is good in human nature. I think of the men wearing skirts in early TOS episodes, and the way they disappeared, as sort of a metaphor for humanity’s potential: we have within us the capacity to evolve beyond our social constructs and biases, and while we do take steps back as often as we take steps forward, if we look hard enough we will see that we’re not as far off as we think we are.
Malkontent Blizzard: I have a complicated relationship with Star Trek. On the one hand it taught me so much about finding a better way to live growing up (as well as other lessons when I grew enough to understand them), it was also my first exposure to erasure as I devoured books and movies and TV episodes trying to find a single LGBTIQA character. I know much more about the reasons that happened now and I am very glad that the next generation of Trekkers has a chance to see themselves in the IDIC.
Like most Science Fiction it will continue to change with time and become more inclusive. I hope to be at the Centennial and see what the next steps will be.
That said let’s remember the people who with patience, creativity, and a bit of luck made it possible for Gene to make it happen among others…Gene L. Coon, Matt Jeffries, Joe Pevney, Marc Daniels, William Ware Theiss, Jerry Finnerman, Irving Feinberg, Fred Phillips, DC Fontana, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, and all the other hard-working people behind the camera.
Raven Knighte: The cultural things from TOS weren’t really that big of a deal to me because of where and how I grew up. The significance of the first inter-racial kiss between Kirk and Uhura was pretty much lost on me at the time because I was very young and thought it was fairly normal – just a guy and a girl making out. The problematic racial issue didn’t occur to me because I had seen inter-racial couples before and it was fairly common back home. It wouldn’t be until my mid-20s, when I moved away from home, that I would fully understand the significance. The technology and science stuff actually made a bigger impact on me. It made me want to find out how EVERYTHING works, and why it all works the way it does. Star Trek also encouraged me to explore the world around me and document things daily in my writing journals. I guess I can say that my love of reading and writing is all the Federation’s fault. Star Trek set me on a lifelong mission… to seek out good books… write down my thoughts… and to boldly step outside my comfort zone.
Jonathan Howe: ‘m just going to say this; Start Trek, for me, hasn’t played as big a part in my life as most of my friends. They all have watched every episode of all the shows and remember all the information that has come from it. Star Trek, for me, is a show that I have seen friends talk about for hours. They talk about what their favorite show is and who is the better Captain. (I personally think Archer is, but that’s just me.) What I am trying to say is, I haven’t felt what Star Trek can do for a person first hand, but I’ve seen what it can do for others and I think that’s amazing. It’s a great franchise and I hope it continues for another 50 years.
Melissa Devlin: I was in middle school when I started watching “The Next Generation”. And as a freshman in high school I could have made great friends over my then love of Star Trek. I read the books, was a huge fan, and a cute nerdy guy would talk to me about it. But we were both super shy and missed the opportunity to hang out after school because we never made the next step. After being socially isolated for three years it was the first thing that I bonded with someone else over.
13 is a very long time ago and the show has faded from my memory. I stopped watching when we moved back to CA. But that nerdy dude tracked me down on facebook last year and he is my only friend from when I lived in Maine. He remembered me decades later and thank god he either remembered my name or looked me up in the yearbook because I don’t have one. He is the only person from my school I can recognize.
So while the content doesn’t really mean anything to me now (mostly because I forget it), the gift having something geeky in common with others was the whole basis for my social life afterwards.
I met my first friend in CA by complimenting his ideas in chemistry. And I don’t think I would have has the courage without having made in-school friends back in ME just the year before. That friend introduced me to a whole lot of people and we formed a huge social circle that keeps in vague contact via Facebook. We spread to the winds but we still love each other. I was very lucky. All thanks to a love of science fiction started by Star Trek.
JC Brown: The Next Generation holds a special place in my heart because my dad and I used to watch it together, because his dad and him used to watch the original together. I never got into the other series, though the reboot is a lot of fun. That’s what’s nice about it – it blends so many themes, like hope, exploration and the lighthearted moments to be generally entertaining and still fun, something missing from a lot of entertainment nowadays.