There are so many ways in which I can be considered a geek. So. Very. Many. I read fantasy novels (even the ones for grown-ups), I enjoy science fiction, and use the word “genre” in casual conversation. I have given the concept of time travel an inordinate amount of thought.
Perhaps most condemning, every week I sit at a table with a few other choice geeks, roll dice, and in great verbal detail, pretend to cast spells and/or shoot things.
For most of my life, however, one vital charge has been missing from my list: a love of Star Trek.
I’m sorry. Truly, friends, geeks everywhere… forgive me, but I have always hated Star Trek. My attitude was inconvenient, because I married someone who loves it with a passion almost as intense as my hatred. Two subjects we never spoke about when dating: politics and Star Trek. And while our politics eventually seemed to ‘merge’, Star Trek was still a standoff.
My biggest excuse for this is that I’m a child of the nineties. My earliest memories of Star Trek were of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 (the series’ that most people associate with the Trek universe). Those memories are superimposed by fantasies of violently, gleefully dismembering Data. His vocal processes would be the first to go. To me, Star Trek was a step down from Full House–just as transparent and repetitive, but done in stupid polyester costumes that no adult would ever be seen in, ever. They might as well have been wearing aluminum foil and go-go boots. And is it a cultural requirement that all Vulcans have that ridiculous haircut? Or is it a biological thing? Maybe it just grows in that way, like the eyebrows.
My husband tried to sell me on TOS (The Original Series), which aired in the sixties. This, to me, was even worse, as I was unable to get past the barrier of 1960s television, with its peculiarly exaggerated acting, insipid females, odd colors and sets that all looked like the inside of a cardboard box. It made something already far-fetched seem vastly more so, and I was never able to get through an episode.
Then, about 4 years ago, my husband downloaded one of William Shatner’s books onto our ipod–a collection of his (Shatner’s) memories of the earliest days of Star Trek. One night as I was working late, the ipod began Chapter 1, and I was too engrossed in what I was doing to correct the mistake.
In the book, he chronicled the origins of Star Trek from its very beginnings–the seeds of ideas that grew into stories and characters, and then into the actual nitty-gritty of getting a television show aired in the 1960s. The studio demands, the budget struggles, the in-fighting between actors and the constant tug of war between the producers and the writers.
Spock was originally intended to be red, with a tail, and he was also meant as the comic relief. Leonard Nemoy wanted an actual acting job, and would have none of that. Also, the show experienced a lot of freedom with its content, because it was science fiction. No one took that seriously, it was kids stuff–so the writers and actors could, in relative safety, explore social subjects that simply weren’t talked about at the time. Gender issues, war, racial issues and sexuality. The first interracial kiss aired on American TVs took place between a very white Captain Kirk and the ship’s african american communications officer, Uhura.
With this glimpse behind the original Star Trek, my curiosity was piqued. I easily convinced Jeff to watch the first seasons with me, and I watched with new eyes. Seeing the man behind the (very flimsy) curtain had somehow allowed me to see what the creators of the show had intended, handicapped as they were by the technological and social limitations of that era.
While the crew of the Enterprise adventurously explored “new” planets that all looked the same, and aliens that were simply people painted different colors, they conversed about more meaningful things. Captain Kirk’s cowboy attitude and Spock’s logical reserve weren’t simply an odd-couple novelty, it was a commentary on two opposing sides of human nature.
The characters evolved into relationships incredibly complex and more meaningful than I ever expected from a cheesy little sci-fi show. Kirk and Spock, while constantly at odds, always seemed to work better together than apart.
And lets not forget the exploration. One of humanity’s most striking traits is our need to know. We want to see things with our own eyes, to touch them, to understand them. And as the last miles of the ocean floor are captured via underwater camera, and Google Earth lays our entire planet bare, there is only one more road to take. And that is the essence of Star Trek.
I watched JJ Abrams’ Star Trek tonight, again. I think I saw it three times in theatres, and this is probably my second viewing on DVD. I had to turn up the volume midway through because Jeff had fallen asleep and was snoring over the dialogue. My loathing for the Star Trek of my childhood remains–but that’s not what I saw on screen. I saw that original Star Trek, stripped of its cardboard sets and odd costumes, and given all the life modern film can manage.
After listening to the immense struggle that went into Star Trek’s genesis–honest to goodness blood, sweat, and tears, this movie is a lovely thing to behold. Leonard Nemoy’s voice, aged and wobbly, narrated the last few frames of the film as the iconic ship slipped through space, and I had to admit I was a little breathless. I get it now. I get it.
Can I get my geek award now?