On September 28, 1987 something monumental happened. Something that would change the world, and would begin one of the most profound love affairs in my entire life. Star Trek: The Next Generation aired its premiere episode.
I was only eleven years old, but I was instantly hooked. TNG aired for seven seasons which means I was eighteen when it ended but by then Deep Space Nine had begun and soon, Voyager would come onto the scene. These three shows carried be into my twenty-fifth year, so Star Trek was a part of my life during my pre-teen years, my entire adolescence, and the formative years of my young adulthood. It is not hyperbole to say this franchise had a huge effect on me, and helped to shape me into the woman I am today. I would even say these shows were partially responsible for raising me. That’s a scary thought when you rewatch the early seasons of TNG today, and realize how racist and sexist they were (I’m looking at you, Code of Honor), but for the time, the show was revolutionary and the ’80s version of woke.
I’ve already written about how TNG came into my life at the exact right time; I was lonely and looking for something to believe in. Even though I didn’t have many friends in real life, the crew of the Enterprise D became my new friends – my surrogate family. They were a group of people who cared about each other, and all supported one another. They were the dream team and I wanted nothing more than to be part of that team. From the first moment I was instantly enamoured with Deanna Troi because she was empathic – the premiere episode even implied that she was telepathic – and at the time I was so insecure and fearful of people that I wanted nothing more than to be able to read their minds, just so I could get an idea of how I was supposed to behave. In time I developed a crush on Data and I realize now that this is because he represented something safe. As someone incapable of emotions, he’d also be incapable of hating me, as I hated myself.
I also felt a deep admiration for the Vulcans, and endeavored to emulate them in my own life. Now that I’m in my forties and have gone through a lot of soul searching and a little therapy, I know that my life long obsession with being emotionless was rooted in my laissez-faire and somewhat emotionally neglectful upbringing. I am only now beginning to reverse this programming and learning how to embrace every facet of my personality, but for most of my life, looking to the Vulcans for guidance provided much needed comfort. “I am Vulcan” was a mantra I used to get me through many a difficult time.
For young me, TNG was a beacon of hope, something for me to rely on as my life got increasingly difficult to deal with. As I fell into a depression during my adolescence, TNG was often the only thing getting me through the week, and cliffhangers like The Best of Both Worlds got me through entire summers. Looking for more of the same, I attempted to watch the original Star Trek series, hoping it would hold some of that magic I longed for. Unfortunately it didn’t, and I was sadly disappointed. Just as the spin offs don’t always hold up when viewed through a modern lens, teenaged me from the ‘90s couldn’t handle the overt sexism of the ‘60s series.
Still, I remained profoundly protective of the franchise, and deeply in love. Even as, throughout all the shows’ runs, I was often annoyed, (mostly with the lack of gender parity and meaningful stories for its rare female characters), I was also consistently moved, and watching the shows mostly remained a joyful experience.
As time has gone on, I’ve come to accept other shortcomings of the franchise, like its spotty understanding of science, and inconsistent ideas about future technologies. Writers from the 20th century can’t be blamed for guessing wrong about the future, and how our species would evolve, but watching the show now isn’t so much nostalgic as it is hilarious. And that’s fine. It’s still fun to watch, even if every episode needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and a gigantic helping of suspension of disbelief. And when watched within the context of the time it was made, the show can still hold valuable lessons, and serve as a teaching tool. Star Trek, as with all good science fiction, has always been its best when the storytelling was allegory, and not simply shoot-em-up space battles.
So I can’t blame fans for wanting to revive the franchise but I would argue that the modern reboot absolutely did NOT recapture that old Star Trek magic. They’re passable movies in their own right, but they are not Star Trek movies. They actually hold more in common with Star Wars, in that they are more action oriented than allegorical. Again, that’s fine for people who are into that sort of thing, but for me it’s not enough. What I’ve realized though, is that it’ll never be enough, that the old Trek magic simply cannot be recaptured because modern audiences are now too smart.
Ok, maybe not everyone is too smart, but generally speaking, as a culture, or at least for those of us who follow advancements in science, we’ve come to see that the tech as shown in Star Trek makes no sense. Some of it is way too advanced and some is not advanced enough. Today, in 2017, we have smart phones that seem more advanced than the PADDs the crew of the Enterprise walked around with. Why are crew members constantly seen walking around to deliver information when even today a simple email will do? And you’re telling me that in the 24th century people still only live into their hundreds? And genetic engineering is banned? There’s no cure for blindness? And nanotechnology is seen as novel? And women are still expected to take their husband’s names?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Again, a lot of this comes down to the time in which the series was made, but that’s exactly why it can’t still be made today. We know better. Handcuffing writers with the limitations of the established Trek tech seems like a particularly cruel form of torture. I would actually argue that writing any sci-fi today is similarly difficult, and current space-faring shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys are also laughably unrealistic, but at least they aren’t also hampered by decades of highly limiting (and sometimes internally inconsistent) cannon.
The only wise, and merciful, thing to do is to let Star Trek die. Let it rest in dignity as much-loved franchise that was good for its time. Leave it the hell alone! But no, much as there was coffee in that nebula, there is money to be made, so of course they’re taking another kick at the can.
Which brings us to my ultimate purpose in writing this blog post. I am deeply apprehensive about the new Trek series set to premiere this year, Star Trek: Discovery. We all know it’ll be a shit show because how can it not be? The producers have already admitted that they are redesigning the Klingons yet again, because hey, if the Klingons need anything it’s even more confusion regarding their turtle heads, or lack thereof.
I am hopeful about the black woman lead but disappointed by the continued lack of gender and racial parity. A bit of intertronning reveals that the show is still 69% white and only 30% female. *sigh* I also think back to the most recent disaster of a Trek show: Enterprise, which was often offensively stupid and could only be viewed through rage-filled tears of bitterness.
I’m not reading up too much about Discovery in order to avoid spoilers, so I can’t say much about it yet except to say that yes, I will of course be watching it. I’ve even started rewatching TNG in an effort to get back into that Trek mood, and so far it’s working. The early episodes are so amusing that I’ve started recapping them, which I will start posting here soon. And I might as well recap Discovery as well. Hopefully it won’t be too painful, but only time will tell. I’m very much worried about what Discovery will do to a franchise that has already taken way too many hits, but two things are certain: I will absolutely love it and absolutely hate it.