STAR TREK At 50

Why we still boldly go, 50 years later.

Star Trek is fun.

I struggled with how to start this piece. I was going to write about hope or about science or about humanity’s forward march into the future, but you know all that. It’s what we always talk about when we talk about Star Trek, about how important it is and what it means and how it has inspired scientists to do real science that has changed our lives. You know all that by now, and it’s the thing we always focus on when we want to explain how great Trek is. We talk about how it was the show with the first interracial kiss or about how it’s the show that depicts a positive outcome for our stupid, squabbling race. We always focus on these things and what we rarely focus on is how fun it is.

And it’s so much fun. I’m not a Trekkie because of philosophy or science, I’m a Trekkie because I like watching the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and her crews. I like seeing ships go to warp and I like seeing phasers being shot. I like watching Captain Kirk down someone with his patented two-fisted punch. I like seeing cool aliens and I like the bright colors in the hallways in the first two seasons of The Original Series. I like the strange new worlds and I like the crazy scifi concepts that fuel the stories. I like seeing the crew bounce off one another and I like knowing that, in the end, they’re always there for each other. I like the moral conundrums and I like the hot women in miniskirts. I like watching the actors throw themselves across the bridge and I like watching the actors be called upon to deliver truly heartbreaking moments of emotional sincerity. I like the fucking and fighting and I like the philosophizing and the moralizing. I like the silly episodes and I like the classic, heavy moments. I have fun watching Star Trek.

That’s why it’s still here fifty years later. The show barely staggered to three seasons, propped up for the last year by a then-unheard of fan campaign, and then it went away. It was a failure at the time but it stuck in the pop consciousness because it was fun. Because people liked watching it. We may have ended up watching it monkishly, with concordances and compendiums at our side as we penciled in small continuity details, but we did it as ecstatic monks, lost in the divine pleasure of boldly going.

And while it went away it lived inside of us, airing nightly in reruns whose pop garishness punctuated the malaise of the 70s and early 80s. Every night on channel 11, WPIX, I would watch. I had a TV in my bedroom, a small one, and I would stay up too late and watch the reruns, played in haphazard order, unless football ran long. If the game ran long it would be yet another instance of the jocks keeping down the nerds, but on so many nights I was able to struggle through and watch and be transported. I might fall asleep before the end, my dreams merging into the candy-colored fantasia of the show, but I stayed up because it was fun. This wasn’t a duty, this wasn’t a dry experience of nerdly intentions but rather a full-on celebration of the shit that I loved.

I went to conventions, and they were fun. The people were fat and weird and smelled odd but they were having the time of their lives, and anyway I was those things too. I saw James Doohan wheeled to his autograph table by a Klingon honor guard. I saw people in Andorian make-up sing “Star Trekkin’.” I bought a bootleg copy of the Next Generation writer’s bible before the show aired and I watched a shitty VHS boot of TOS outtakes and bloopers. I bought the soundtrack to The Voyage Home on vinyl and I cried listening to it because I could have Star Trek in my life at any time, back when the VHS copies were rare and expensive.

I’ve been to other conventions and I’ve met other fanbases, but none are as fun as the Trek fanbase. They truly love Trek but they’re also funny about it; they’re not precious (until you get into a nitty gritty continuity debate or declare one captain better than the others) and it’s because they came up in a fanbase that was the platonic ideal of dorks. William Shatner went on Saturday NIght Live to mock us and we made t-shirts about it. Trekkies know they’re nerds, that they’ll never be mainstream in the way Star Wars is (cool Yoda shirt, you’re really edgy and niche with your interest in the most popular thing in the world). And they love it, and they embrace it and they have fun with it.

And maybe our fun isn’t your fun. I’ve been watching The Next Generation in honor of Trek’s 50th, my first full time through the series, and last night I saw the episode where Data makes himself a daughter. Halfway through the episode Picard mentions a science base that has a Daystrom Institute, and that’s a reference to a TOS episode called The Ultimate Computer, featuring a brilliant computer scientist named Dr. Richard Daystrom. I shouted out in happiness, recognizing the small reference, and it was fun. It was fun to be in that universe and to see the places where all the edges meet.

We wouldn’t be talking about Trek at 50 if it wasn’t fun. If it were just the dry, nerdily inspiring show we always hear about it would have disappeared into history like Gunsmoke or 77 Sunset Strip. But it lives now and it does so because, yeah, it’s inspiring and hopeful and positive but also because it’s fun. Because it has solid, great drama that is fun to watch, over and over again. Because it’s a work of big imagination presented with a smile and a wink and with an earnest heart beating under it all.

I look forward to another 50 years with Star Trek. The human adventure is just beginning, and it’s fun as hell.

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with the special BMD commemorative issue, still available in very limited numbers! 

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