Where are all the grown-ups?
On the Starship Enterprise, apparently.
I’ve recently found myself watching a bunch of random Star Trek episodes of most of the versions that exist (there are a lot) and thinking about those stories even more.
I’ve resisted Star Trek for many years. Perhaps it stemmed from feeling bored as a 4-year-old when my bestie was obsessed with Star Wars and I just sat through the movies because the alternative was not hanging out with him, which says more about me than I’d like it to.
As far back as I can remember, any story that takes place in space has been an automatic turn-off for me. I’ve resisted them even as most everyone around me raves.
In junior high and high school, my group of friends were basically made of up the smartest, geekiest kids in my grade. They were all in honors classes and band. I was not in honors classes or band, but there was no other group I loved hanging out with so much. They tolerated me despite my lack of knowledge regarding their greatest passions.
They would do things like print out 50 pages of chat room conversation to read over at the lunch table (this was the mid-90s, when AOL was king!), and write stories in which people they knew where characters in fan fiction.
Star Trek loomed large in their lives. “It’s not about space, it’s about people; it’s about human nature” they’d tell me emphatically, and I’d roll my eyes. “Anything on TV without sunshine in it is just too depressing for me,” I’d respond, something that makes me roll my eyes now. (I’m automatically turned off by soap operas and courtroom dramas for the same reason).
Now I know that they’re right. In some ways, it’s a 101 social sciences overview course disguised as a techie action show.
So here I am at the age of 40, finally fairly familiar with and appreciative of the show in its various iterations. Finally able to feel interested in a story that’s not about a cool girl with various love interests that I can project myself onto. I’m growing up!
My friends were right. It’s about people (well, humanoids). It’s about human nature. It’s also, at least from what I can tell so far, about what our societies would look like if we always let our higher selves be in charge, or at least people whose higher selves are always surface-level present, be in charge of things.
It’s forward-thinking plausible utopia…if we humans can ever get our shit together, that is.
Recent history has shown that collectively, we seem to be okay with leaders who are positively id-led, and the consequences are taking us to hell in a handbasket. The idea that someday we’ll escape from that, that we’ll rise above (literally, in the case of Star Trek), is such a balm, especially now. It’s fairy tales for grown-ups, and we’re all the princesses. Star Trek fans: I get it now.
As you’d probably expect from an American show, the humans are always the heroes. Vulcans are cool and all, but they can’t match our feelings. Other aliens they come across have obvious flaws that prevent them from being able to take on wise and god-like peacekeeper roles.
But humans in Star Trek are Baby Bear, the perfect balance of everything. They regularly face the real possibility of death in the show, and never seem fazed. Cool, collected, and even thoughtful, as if they’d just awoken from a really, really good LSD trip and knew in their hearts that no matter what, everything would be alright.
Star Trek is potent fantasy in these troubled times. We’re going through a pandemic; they can resolve nearly any illness at Sickbay. We’re collectively prevented from doing much anything of value at all because the people in charge can’t agree on what the right direction is, some because they’re only considering the right direction for themselves and are blocking everyone else’s efforts. Up in space, only those less-evolved aliens do that kind of thing. We cry out in fear and anguish; they are 100% at peace with every choice they make, each having been arrived at through a series of always logical processes. Something bad, usually existence-threatening happens: “What are our options?” and everyone jumps into action as quick-thinking scientists rather than mortally afraid humans.
It’s fantasy, but I’m an optimist. I like people. I believe in redemption. I believe in our potential to truly be god-like beings. In Star Trek, that’s a reality…at least for the humans in charge.
P.S. I wrote my own fantasy, by the way, way shorter than Star Trek.