Treknobabble #31: Why I Believe in Star Trek

Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.

This Treknobabble is a sequel to Treknobabble #2 – First Contact. I wanted to try to explain why Star Trek has stayed with me ever since I saw my first episode of Star Trek. I’ve read articles by people who have tried to explain the relevance of Star Trek and why it should matter to people in general. And people often mention how Star Trek has inspired them in choosing a career path to become a scientist, engineer, or medical doctor. But I don’t often read personal stories of why it matters so much to an individual and why it has stayed a constant in some people’s lives.

(Even though her English wasn’t particularly strong, my mom would occasionally watch Star Trek with me. I never asked if she knew what was happening in an episode. (She enjoyed watching game shows and variety shows.) She was able to recognize Star Trek reruns. She asked me once why I watched the same episodes over and over again. I never had a good answer beyond saying that I liked the show. After a while, she didn’t bother watching with me.)

Everyone knows that Star Trek has a stigma. It would only seem natural to disassociate myself from something that makes people think less of me. I suppose I could say that I don’t care what people think of me, but I can’t honestly say that’s true. I guess I must get more out of Star Trek than from people liking me. But what is it about Star Trek that makes me not let go?

The fact that Star Trek appeals to all generations indicates that one person could enjoy Star Trek for his entire life. The spaceships, ray guns and aliens capture our imagination when we are young. The shapely women and handsome men draw our attention during adolescence. The concepts and ideas stimulate our minds when we are engaged in higher education. I guess I’ve been stuck at this stage for the past twenty-five years. I suppose if I had a family, I might see Star Trek as an escape from reality. In retirement, I would view Star Trek as a comfort, thinking that the human race will be fine without me.

(Approaching my teen years, I remember Saturday mornings watching Star Trek while my dad, who had allergies to grass, mowed the lawn. My mom would admonish me for not being outside and mowing the lawn instead. (I had inherited the allergy to grass. My brother didn’t. Unfortunately, my brother was off at university.) My excuse was that I would mow the lawn later. Fortunately, my dad always hated procrastinating and especially waiting for someone else to do something that he could do right now. I inherited that, too.)

It would be easy to say that adult Trekkies are arrested adolescents. Realistically, I would have to put myself in that category. (Having Jay around to constantly point out my child-like behaviour has helped me accept the fact, I suppose.) But I do think I am normal in most respects. I can cope in an adult world, and besides being geeky in appearance, I don’t think people would be able to identify me as a Trekkie in a police line-up. I fully admit to being a misanthropist, but I wonder if that’s a remnant of childhood in which adults are seen as untrustworthy and rigid authority figures. (Inwardly, I always laugh at people named Herbert, because that’s the word used by space-hippies from the Original Series (OS) for humourless authority figures. Ironically, Spock was seen as cool and Capt. Kirk was the Herbert. Does anyone name their kid Herbert anymore? I speculate that the name “Herbert” was chosen as an affectionate jab at the executive in charge of production, Herbert F. Solow, who later co-wrote the book, “Inside Star Trek.”)

(One day during my high school years, my dad asked to take a picture of me in my room with my K-7 space station model from “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and my Star Trek posters. I don’t know what my dad thinks about Star Trek. We’ve never discussed Star Trek. Occasionally, he mentions something to me that’s Star Trek related.)

Man has always been the explorer. (And I’m not using “man” as a generic term for the human race. I think females are more often the nurturer. I’m speaking historically based on biology. I don’t know if this is coincidence, but even Star Trek in the feminist age has perpetuated the stereotype with having the female captain in Voyager trying to bring her crew back home to Earth. At least Janeway was a scientist.) Even when man has found a home, settled down, and is living a comfortable life, he is still restless. Space is the final frontier. And when our end is drawing near, we wonder what life has all been about. Some people question earlier.

For all these years, I suppose being “alone” after having left home has given me more time on my hands to ponder my existence. The tedium of existence does bear down once in a while. Perhaps it would be better to be out there exploring. (BTW, I think life is too precious for suicide to be a viable option.) Could we really be alone in the universe? Despite the logic of Carl Sagan, I have a sneaking suspicion that we are alone. I guess it’s sort of strange to not believe in aliens, and yet have a love of Star Trek.

(When I was cross-border shopping at Toys ‘R’ Us at the height of The Next Generation’s popularity, I found myself beside an elderly Chinese gentleman searching for a hard-to-find Playmates’ Borg action figure. I wondered if I was looking into my future.)

I have grown to believe that the aliens on Star Trek are simply reflections of us. And not just in the stereotypical associations people have made. (That is, the Klingons are the Russians, the Romulans are the Chinese, the Ferengi are the Jews, and the Borg are the… Canadians. Yeah, I just came up with that last one myself. Canada has a multi-cultural heritage. I think my Chinese parents were assimilated, and I’m their Borg offspring. Canada is the best of all nations.) Each Star Trek alien race seems to have a particular human behaviour amplified with all the members of the alien race more-or-less identified with that behaviour. If there are truly aliens out there, I wonder if they would have behaviours that we can’t relate to. Or does their existence in “our” universe mean that they would have to share the basic reproduction/survival/death cycle that define all the behaviours we are familiar with?

(At the end of The Voyage Home (the movie with the whales), Spock’s father Sarek has a scene with Spock where Sarek asks Spock what he should tell Spock’s mother as to how Spock is feeling. (This is in reference to a scene at the beginning where Spock is taking a computer quiz. (His mind had just been restored to his body in the previous movie.) The computer asks Spock a series of knowledge questions that Spock has no problem answering. Then the computer asks him how he is feeling. Spock replies that he doesn’t understand the question. Funny. Spock’s mom steps in and tells Spock that his feelings are as important as any of the technical knowledge. Anyway…) Spock answers Sarek, saying that Sarek should tell her that he is feeling fine. This unemotional, awkward exchange between Spock and his dad concerning feelings is how I see my relationship with my dad. My dad and I have never hugged. I can’t imagine Sarek and Spock hugging.)

At the risk of drawing comparisons to the Church of Scientology, the title of this Treknobabble reflects the reverence I and others have for Star Trek. People often equate Trekkies with members of a religious cult. I do have enough of my mental faculties left to realize that Star Trek is just a television show as William Shatner was oft to say. But behind Star Trek are philosophies that were not part of the original outline for Star Trek and were not even originated by the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry. These ideas came from episode writers who filled in the details of the future worth aspiring to.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC) is a Vulcan philosophy which celebrates the contribution of all life-forms in making existence a beautiful experience. This is the view that has made Star Trek so appealing to people who see themselves outside of society.

(In Buffalo, N.Y., there was a Borders Bookstore that hosted Star Trek meetings for local fans. Out of curiosity, I attended one meeting. Sorry if my descriptions are offensive or judgmental, but apart from myself, there were three women: a small woman in a wheelchair, a large lesbian (she mentioned this fact), and a shy, homely woman. The three seemed to know each other as I guess they were regulars. I don’t remember the shy one saying very much, even when prompted, and the small woman and lesbian soon became engaged in their own conversation. I guess I wasn’t that interesting.)

Starfleet’s General Order No. 1, aka the Prime Directive, is the rule of noninterference which prohibits humans from meddling with the normal development of alien life and societies. Now this rule seems reasonable and simple enough to follow. Some people even see it as a metaphor for the way the United States should stay out of other countries’ affairs in order to avoid sacrificing the lives of its own citizens. But to be fair, minding your own business might result in other lives being lost; human compassion demands that you should step in. However, someone you save today may end up doing something bad in the future. Personally, I think it’s a chance that you should take. That’s why I agree with the times that Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive. Generally, though, when lives aren’t at stake, I think it’s a good rule. It’s a rule that I live by.

(My parents had always referred to my Star Trek collection as junk. After my dad had retired, my mom and dad took a bus tour that included a stop at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. They brought back souvenirs. To my surprise, my parents had bought for me some overpriced Star Trek drinking glasses and a holographic print of Star Trek aliens! I don’t know how they managed to buy things that I didn’t already have in my collection. At the moment I saw those gifts, I realized that my parents had finally accepted that I was a Trekkie.)

  • This article is great, even though your relationship with your father saddens me greatly.

    “I agree with the times that Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive.”

    I can see why you wouldn’t like Insurrection. I for one appreciate that not-so-black-and-white view that was introduced with The Next Generation, where Picard can not just do whatever the hell his morals tells him is right and deal with the stuffy shirts down the red tape afterwards, becoming a hero in the process. In real life, there are no heroes, and Picard is not a hero. That’s just one of the things that make him – as I have said before – much more interesting than any other character, and the zenith of the Star Trek universe.

  • Good article Reed, if a bit all over the place. I myself am a life-long Trekker (the term I prefer for me), though I wasn’t a fan of Enterprise, and so I’ve had no good Star Trek to discuss for some years now. In my science fiction world, Trek has now for the most part been replaced by Firefly, but TNG is a show that will always be dear to my heart. Unless I mention it, I don’t appear to have any of the stereotypes of a Trekkie. I’m socially active, I have a wife and kids, I own no uniforms (other than Navy uniforms, for I am in the military reserves), but on Halloween, it’s usually a starfleet officer uniform that I’m wearing, and I’m hoping that the new movie is great, and rekindles something in me that has dimmed in recent years. I feel that Star Trek has much in it that we should emulate. High ideals, and strong morals that exist despite the absence of religion. It shows us a world without poverty, corporate greed, or racism, and it shows us that it could work. Star Trek for me, will always hold that promise, that there’s a possibility that my kids’ kids will be fine, and develop a world that rose out of ours, to be a much better place.

  • JakeTheFatMan

    This is a bit off topic, but would a country be ‘multi-cultural’ if the different cultures have been assimilated?

    Pardon my complete ignorance of Star Trek, except what I gather from reading some of these articles, but it sounds to me that the positive view of humanity that the show portrays is based on assimilation. There are different human races, but they have all assimilated to one homogenous cultural. To me thats a scarey thought.

  • Henrik, I thought you were going to say what Deven said about me being “a bit all over the place.” I still remember how you criticized my use of the third person when referring to myself in Treknobabble #2. But you were probably sparing my feelings, so thx.

    BTW, I was probably a bit harsh on my dad. There were unfinished thoughts that I excised from the article. These thoughts would have softened the relationship I have with my dad. Ever since my mom passed away, he’s taken over my mom’s role, even so far as continuing to provide me with “care” packages to take home after a visit. I know Spock and Sarek loved each other even though they were not allowed to openly express the feeling.

    Deven, thx for sharing some things about yourself. I like to read about how Star Trek has affected people. You’re right about me being all over the place in the article. I was being experimental again. My personal flashbacks were supposed to be tied more into the main text, but I was getting tired and I thought maybe the reader would add their own connections. I was being a “lazy artist” in letting the audience come up with its own interpretations. :-)

    JakeTheFatMan, thx for reading. You’ve pointed out one of the main criticisms of Star Trek in that the Federation seems like it’s exploring and expanding its frontier by homogenizing other cultures to share human ideals. The Federation is seen as the United States spreading its brand of democracy. Offhand, I can’t think of an episode of Star Trek that showed humans learning something from aliens. I laugh when I think of Capt. Kirk ruining an “ideal” society controlled by a computer just because he thinks life is meant to have its ups and downs and people should think for themselves.

    Canada tried to be multi-cultural by supporting peoples’ attempts to maintain their culture when they immigrated. But the kids, the next generation so to speak, were wont to ignore their parents’ homeland culture. As for myself, I’m somewhat embarrassed at being unable to speak Chinese competently.

  • I actually liked the format of this one with the changing paragraphs. The third person stuff is just poor taste and tacky.

    The whole father issue is probably not something to get into over a Star Trek column.

  • SolesGirlRachel

    I’m overtired from trying to turn my usual sleep-at-day, up-all-night rhythm into the opposite in time for a family trip next week (it’ll be the first I’ve seen of any of the family since Xmas), via staying up for 24 hours.

    So I’ll comment properly (and lengthily) once my brain is working again. For now I’ll say the first thing that came to mind: I am jealous of that awesome Spock poster and extremely jealous of your hanging K9 space-station model. But in a good way. *hugs* :)


    Rachel :)

  • ProjectGenesis

    I think an interesting Treknobabble would be about the fandom involving the other projects members of the cast of Star Trek have been involved in. Like The Supernaturals starring Nichelle Nichols and a pre-TNG LeVar Burton!!!

  • ProjectGenesis, I’ve thought about doing that, but I was afraid the topic would be of minimal interest. Since my obsessive collection includes everything cast members have been involved with, I think I am in a good position to talk about this stuff.

    I recently snagged a Sylar paper mask used in promoting the upcoming season of Heroes. (Jay made fun of me for getting one.)

    I also recently picked up Night of the Lepus, which is about giant killer bunnies! (Deforest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) has a role in it.)

  • So with Star Trek, is it really the ideals and philosophies that you like, or just the fact that there is so much merchandise to collect? Seems to me your brain is perfect for collecting minutia, and Star Trek is the arbitrary artificial universe you ended up collecting. I wonder…

  • Henrik, you raise an interesting point. But if it was purely for merchandise, one would think that I would have switched my allegiance to Star Wars.

    BTW, I can’t believe all the merchandise that came out for the Clone Wars movie.

  • Is there really more merchandise for Star Wars than for Star Trek though?

  • Maria

    Do you know why i believe in star trek? I can’t count.. peace, no rich and poor, no racism,no polution, better medicine.. and no man and woman!
    “Man has always been the explorer. (And I’m not using “man” as a generic term for the human race. I think females are more often the nurturer. I’m speaking historically based on biology.”
    i believe that you should be shamed! You believe in star trek and you judge an entire gender based in ages where women weren’t concidered humans! Janeway is my precept because she would put glasses on your face.

  • Sorry if I offended you, Maria. I was speaking historically.

    I think Kirk would be aghast if the differences between men and women were to disappear in the future. :-)

    Not to raise your ire more, but I am disappointed that “feminists” haven’t done more for the world in the past few decades.

  • Maria

    Speaking historically, you can’t have a reliable opinion. Even if theoretically there are no anequalities any more, you can search every social survey you want about education and employment between men and women. When these differ, it’s obvious that what they have done for the world will differ.