Treknobabble #48: Relevance

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

When I think of all the freedom I’ve had my entire life from the ’60s onwards living in the Promised Land (Canada), I must admit that I feel much regret that I haven’t “made a difference.” And since I prescribe to Star Trek’s philosophies which include the ideals that life should be about making a difference and living a fulfilling life, I feel especially empty. The strange thing is that when I look back on my life, I don’t regret any of the paths that I took. Except for parental pressures, I’ve always felt unencumbered to choose my own way. I’ve always admired the stances that university students took in the ’60s against the establishment, and felt that I’ve benefited from the changes that liberation instigated. Some people have expressed the notion that this rebellion ended up not making a difference with people of that generation ending up building corporate America and creating a new but equally oppressive establishment.

I’ve been reading a book, The Death of the Grown-Up by Diana West, that proposes the youth movement had already made inroads in the ’50s and that the changes in the ’60s did make a difference; however, the changes had a deleterious effect on society. Basically, adults have conceded authority to the needs of teenagers and even children. With this concession, our culture has become youth dominated with adults now having the same tastes as children. The obvious statistic to point to is the rise in the average age of the video game player. (The author has an obvious bias against video games being culturally important, or at least thinks that adults and children shouldn’t be sharing the same cultural artifacts.) Adults no longer set rules, and no longer command respect. I don’t want to debate her thesis in this Treknobabble, but assuming her thesis to be correct, I want to extrapolate what her thesis means to Star Trek: the fans and the show itself.

Here at Film Junk, I’m from an older generation than Sean, Jay, and Greg, and I get my share of disrespect although in fairness I do invite the ridicule that I get. I wonder if it’s our love of Star Trek that bonds us. (Greg was raised in a family of Trekkies, so despite his claims to the contrary, he is a Trekkie.) Jay has noticed that I’m somewhat of a man-child. I must admit that I don’t feel like I’ve grown up. Upon reaching adulthood, I’ve looked at the adult world with contempt. Maybe it’s because other adults haven’t grown-up? But historically, humanity’s behaviour has been somewhat despicable. Gene Roddenberry used to say that we were children in our current stage of development and by the 23rd century, we will have hopefully matured enough to leave this planet and fulfill our lives. I don’t see it as my prerogative to teach or show people the error of their ways, yet, how do I make my own life meaningful other than to myself?

Even if I had children, they probably wouldn’t listen to me. But I do think parental influence is unavoidable. When I said that I treat the adult world with contempt, I must admit that I treat individual adults with respect, especially older ones. I think this is due to my parents’ influence, and my parents were probably influenced by the Chinese culture they grew up in. I am also the most law-abiding citizen I know. (Jay can attest to my law-abiding ways.) In thirty or so years of driving, I’ve not gotten a speeding ticket or even a parking ticket! Even my parents think I follow laws too closely. I wonder where I got this behavior from. Maybe Star Trek? But Kirk broke the Prime Directive rule all the time!

Star Trek appeals to all age groups. Diana West seems to think that adults and children should have their own separate art cultures. I’m guessing maybe kids should listen to pop music and adults should listen to opera? Much has been said about how entertainment (I won’t call it art for Diana West’s sake) of late has elements that can appeal to both children and adults. For example, the animated Shrek movies have elements that adults can appreciate but that will fly over the heads of the younger folk. Alluding to the wide age-range appeal of video games, Denis Dyack, the president of Silicon Knights (a video game company), was fond of saying that even Shakespeare’s plays had both bawdy scenes for the lower-class and the intellectual references for the higher-class. I wonder if children in Shakespeare’s time appreciated his plays. Or were Shakespeare’s plays restricted? I can attest that I have got something different from re-watching episodes of Star Trek from different periods of my life.

Early on, some people believed that Star Trek’s popularity would boost sales of adult science fiction literature. The reasoning was that as Star Trek fans grew up, they would graduate to reading the serious science fiction literature from which Star Trek’s stories had been “borrowed.” As it turned out, respectable science fiction authors lamented that Star Trek fans ended up graduating to lame Star Trek novels created to cash in on Star Trek’s popularity. Even without dressing up, it’s no wonder that Trekkies gained a bad reputation.

Many people have commented on how Star Trek has influenced them on their choices for careers. These wide-ranging professions they enter are all respectable adult positions of responsibility and authority. There is no doubt that Star Trek technologies have become real world as a result of efforts by Trekkies. There is a concern for the environment that I don’t associate with being child-like. Charity seems to be thriving as well. So adults are taking mature stances in certain instances. Then I guess the question is, “Are Trekkies feeling fulfilled?” Was the repetitiveness of later Star Trek series not stimulating their imaginations? With the absence of new Star Trek, what is there to fill the void? Is the time right for a new Star Trek?

Maybe because we live in a Star Trek world with hand-held communicators, wall-sized television screens, computers, hi-tech medical devices, sliding doors and multicultural societies, we no longer need to see this depicted on television even if it is in outer space. Everyone now plays in a Star Trek world.

Gene Roddenberry created an adult space show with Star Trek in contrast with Lost in Space that had children as main characters. But even he conceded the importance of the youth movement by adding the Chekov character in the second season. It should be noted that Chekov respected authority under the mentorship of Spock and was by no means a rebel. Also I think he was in his twenties so I don’t think the actor Walter Koenig established himself on many teeny-bopper magazine covers.

In an Original Series’ episode that is generally derided because of its overt depiction of the ’60s hippies movement, Captain Kirk is depicted as part of the establishment while Spock is someone who the space hippies can relate to. The space hippies hijack the Enterprise in order to get to a planet they believe to be Eden-like. But when they get there, they discover that the planet’s nature is poisonous to them. The apparent message of the show would seem to be that the counter-culture is deluded. That is, Star Trek is siding with the adults.

When Star Trek made the leap from television to motion picture, I wondered if this meant that Star Trek would start to be more “adult” by allowing nudity and profanity as well as exploring mature themes without having to resort to metaphors. My naivety, however, made me overlook the view that Star Trek’s appeal to all age groups would allow it to rake in more profits. And so the first Star Trek motion picture was rated G. (To Gene Roddenberry’s credit, he did not allow the appeal of Star Wars to influence him to add space battles. Perhaps the addition of space battles might have alleviated the boredom that the first motion picture introduced, but I think the level of tension could have been increased to make the film more watchable.)

The success of the Next Generation surprises me, because it essentially maintained the adult stance towards handling problems with the fatherly guidance of Captain Picard. The Next Generation even seemed kind of “square,” especially in the first season with Tasha Yar giving a direct anti-drug speech and Wesley coming off as a nerdy kid who is continually being scolded by Captain Picard. The show’s success did take off in later seasons when Roddenberry was no longer with the show, but the producers did generally maintain the decorum.

Ignoring the concerns of the Trekkies for the moment, I do wonder why the later Star Trek series failed to garner the attention of the general audience. Even when the last series so far, Enterprise, started by disassociating the show from the rest of Star Trek by removing the Star Trek name from its title, there didn’t seem to be anything the producers of Star Trek could do to generate enough interest. They began using actors from The Next Generation. They added awesome space battles. They used stunt-casting with stars like The Rock. They sexed up shows with body-rubbing decontamination scenes. They added middle-of-the-road vocals to a theme song. (Oh, perhaps they should have got Britney Spears.) They tried a season long story-arc. Personally, I feel the producers of these later Star Trek series did uphold Star Trek traditions and respectability. I even forgive them for having Data utter the word “sh*t” in the movie Generations. (For the record, I’m all for nudity and profanity.)

As for the upcoming movie, I think we can expect to have space battles. Despite the clamor from Trekkies upon hearing that J.J. Abrams was going to make the new Star Trek more Star Wars-like, Gene Roddenberry always intended for Star Trek to have action / adventure. Unfortunately, I don’t think J.J. Abrams is known for his innovation, so I won’t expect to be awed. And the writers aren’t known for their intellectual acuity, so I won’t expect to be stimulated on this front. (I do hope, though, that Spock uses some “big” words.) From interviews, J.J. Abrams strikes me as being child-like. If Diana West is to be believed, perhaps having J.J. Abrams helm this latest Star Trek was the right move to boost Star Trek’s appeal.

  • Walter was actually 31 when he was playing Chekov on the original series.. and married. Despite that he was a huge feature in all the teen magazines, and considered one of the main heart-throbs at the time, along with Davy Jones and Sajhid. Search his name on ebay and the old “Fav”, “16”, “Tigerbeat” and other mags will pop up!

  • Thx for that info, mtngracie.

    Wow, he was really 31? Now I’m wondering if he wore that silly wig for the photos in the teen magazines. You made me realize that I have this huge hole in my Star Trek collection. :-)

    BTW, I know who Davy Jones of The Monkees is, but I have no idea who Sajhid is.

  • No, no wig… just the mother of all combovers!!

    The teen magazines also had a lot of silly Star Trek articles. “Mr. Spock’s loves and hates!”

    Sajhid was a teen singer that looked similar to both Davy and Walter: an immigrant from India. I only remember him from a Big Valley episode in the last season. He was slated to be a regular but it was cancelled.