Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the first airing of the first episode of Star Trek. While the much more significant day, from my perspective, will come on the 28th of September next year with the 20th anniversary of The Next Generation, I felt this was an opportune time to try to describe the influence Trek has had on my life.
I’m going to flat out state this at the beginning so that no-one is under any illusions: I genuinely don’t think I’m capable of expressing in this medium the depth of TNG’s significance to me. Feel free to make light of that if you will, but it’s true. I’m not one of the guys you see in the conventions wearing Vulcan ears or Klingon costumes. I never wore a Starfleet uniform. But there are aspects of my personality and aspirations that resonate so strongly with some of what’s portrayed in that show that it’s difficult to believe that I came to them independently of its influence on me.
TNG is not without its flaws. In fact is positively reeks of them. It’s riddled with boring, annoying or unbelievable characters. Some of the acting is terrible. The special effects in some episodes must have been appalling even at the time. Many episodes are near photocopies of original series episodes or other existing works.
Even as I recognise and enumerate these glaring deficiencies I find myself incapable of holding them against the show. It’s like criticising the Mona Lisa for having no eyebrows. TNG was set in space, but it was about humanity. It was about what makes us special, what we should value, and what we could be. When it succeeded in enlightening such topics it rendered any judgement of its production values petty and pointless.
Every alien race was a differently shaped mirror held up to look at ourselves from a new perspective. Sometimes they gave a bad impression – a mirror that gave too good a view up humanity’s snotty nostrils. But no matter how nasty and petty and unenlightened we saw ourselves to be in these mirrors, there was always the hope presented in the show’s portrayal of 24th century humanity: a future so idealised, so utopian, so perfect. But still… so believable? To me it was. Hell, when I watched it as a kid it seemed an inevitable future. Maturity has since led me to expect the future to be more Firefly than Star Trek, but that little ember of utopian aspiration will never be extinguished.
And there I think I’ve hit upon something significant: the ideal. I want to live in that world. More than that, I want the unfortunate people who got crapped on by being born into the hopeless parts of this world to have a chance to live in that world instead. No money, no poverty, no tyranny, no oppression.
Nowhere is the outside-looking-in observation of humanity, most visible in the one-dimensional alien archetypes, better represented than by Data. Data’s relentless quest to learn what it is to be human mirrors the same quest that I think most of us go through. I’m not sure it ever really ends for us either. Data’s naïve questioning of things that we take for granted–humour, say, or romance–gives us an opportunity to see our peculiarities from the outside, perhaps to appreciate them in new light or to reflect on what’s really important.
- What about love?
- The act or the emotion?
- They’re both the same.
- I believe that statement to be inaccurate, sir.
Like I said, I don’t know that I possess the coherence of thought necessary to really capture the meaningfulness of this show. I’m almost ashamed to post this feeble attempt at it. But it’s something I wanted to tell, and if this is the best I can tell it then so be it.