A brief note on turning 50
Not me. But this week, as you ought to know, is the 50th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek.
It may sound a little weird, but few things or people have had a grander effect on me than that show—specifically The Next Generation series, which I remember watching in syndication at 4 p.m. during our last couple of years living in Pullman, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I remember being frustrated when every so often there’d be some kind of after-school educational special instead of TNG. I remember watching the best-of special hosted by Jonathan Frakes leading up to the showing of the series finale (and I remember my brother and I videotaping it on VHS for repeated later viewings). I remember molding all my other childhood playings after Star Trek: I built Trek-themed Legos, I went as a Trek character for Halloween multiple times, I doodled Trek ships.
But most of all I remember the sense of decency the show had. If you’ve read any of the histories of the show in the last few days leading up to this anniversary, you’ve no doubt gotten a whiff of “it showed a future that was positive where people are generally good,” etc. And it’s true. There was always the grounding theme of doing what’s right. It was not always crystal clear (thanks for that, Deep Space Nine), and it was rarely easy and sometimes ham-handed from a storytelling point of view, but it gave me hope that in the future people would become better toward each other.
No—it gave me an expectation for that.
I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life, privileged to be white, middle-class, educated. I don’t deserve it any more than anyone else. It’s just how it happened. I feel lucky that I watched a lot of Star Trek growing up and gained at least some sense of what equitable treatment could be. (Such as it was—it wasn’t a perfect show by any means, but it did break a lot of ground that should never have had to be broken.) I am no saint today and I mean no slight to my family and teachers and others who influenced me, but I know I’m more cognizant and respectful of others as an adult that I would have been if I had not been exposed to some of the lessons of Trek: it’s better to be gracious than correct, curious than obeyed, respectful than belligerent.
In the last decade I’ve started to notice a pretty significant correlation between the people I know who treat others with respect and dignity and the people I know who watched Star Trek growing up. I’m not going to claim causality—”Star Trek makes you a better person!”—or suggest that it was even close to the only influence. And I know that Gene Roddenberry wasn’t a perfect human being. But I do know that he created something that inspired many people to try and be better. That is no small thing.
So happy birthday, Star Trek. May the Kelvin timeline figure out how to be something other than action tropes and retread stories. May it find its roots again. The good of the many, after all.