Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why I Love Star Trek, Essay #5: Kelly Pollock

Why I Love Star Trek
By Kelly Therese Pollock

As has been discussed already, I was tricked into liking Star Trek by my now-husband at an earlier time in our relationship when I still felt the need to make him like me. Yes, that's right, I was tricked into watching every live-action episode (most more than once) and movie (all more than once), spending countless hours discussing Trek minutiae, reading Trek novels, following Trek actors on Twitter, and going to a convention. (It should be said that Matthew also tried to introduce me to plenty of pop culture that I didn't adopt, like Star Wars.)

The perspective I bring to this is that of someone who came to Star Trek as an adult. Unlike most of the people here (and most Trekkies in general), I have no childhood memories of watching Trek; it evokes no feelings of nostalgia in me; and I can't say that a particular series or episode got me through a difficult time in my life. I know I was aware of Star Trek as a kid, that I could recognize the phrases "Beam me up, Scotty" and "Live long and prosper," but they were detached from any real meaning.

So rather than shaping the way I watch TV, Trek had to work into my already-existing framework for popular culture. To be fair, it's not particularly difficult to get me hooked on a TV show. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV as a kid. We had one TV that sat in the basement, and we watched maybe an hour in the evenings, plus some sports on weekends. That was good for child Kelly, since I got terrific grades and participated in myriad extracurriculars, but ever since I went away to college, I've been fascinated by TV, and I've developed a somewhat addictive relationship to it. Still, Star Trek has captured my imagination in a way no show/franchise had before. Why?

Well, I have put together a top-10 list to explain. Because everyone loves top 10 lists.

10. Numbers. I love numbers. I really have no idea idea, but j'adore numbers. I love baseball for the stats; I love Star Trek for the numerals. In what other show will you find characters spouting off so many numbers: warp speed, Jeffries Tubes numbers, stardates, distances, Borg designations. Even Numb3rs doesn't have so many numbers.

9. Trivia. Closely related to point 10, I really enjoy trivia. I have no long-term memory, so I'm unlikely to win a trivia contest at a convention, but every time we watch an episode, Matthew writes trivia questions from the episode and asks them when it's over. Now, trivia can be done with lots of shows, but few lend themselves quite so well to this. Star Trek has an endless stream of new alien species/planets/characters/technobabble that makes for great nitpicky trivia questions. And I do best at the number questions!

8. Intelligent sci-fi stories. I think this is much more important for many other Trekkies than it is for me, but I, too, appreciate intelligent sci-fi stories, especially those that force me to consider another viewpoint. In a recent re-watch of This Side of Paradise, I found myself wondering if it would have been so wrong for Kirk to drink the kool-aid and stay happily on Omicron Ceti III. If the characters didn't realize they were missing out on anything, would they really be missing out? Episodes like Half a Life similarly make me reexamine long-held beliefs.

7. Episodic drama with complex characters. I prefer episodic TV to serial TV. The occasional story arc is fine, if done well, but trying to keep up with a never-ending story line over years worth of episodes is exhausting. What I love about most Star Trek (except DS9) is that you can pop in an individual episode and have a complete story experience. And yet, the characters grow and change throughout the series, without that ever feeling like something that has been tacked on to the individual episodes. I think the combination is difficult to achieve, and I appreciate how well most Star Trek handles it.

6. Layered-ness. Although I occasionally enjoy re-reading a favorite book or re-watching a favorite movie, I am usually loathe to re-watch TV, no matter how much I enjoyed it the first time. And yet not only do I not mind re-watching Star Trek, I actually prefer it to watching new TV. I think the biggest reason for this is that Star Trek has so many layers that I find something new on each re-watch. For instance, I just recently found out about the occurrence of 47s in Star Trek (yay-numbers!), and on our current watch-through of Voyager I'm finding 47s everywhere. It's also fun to recognize actors who show up in other Trek roles, sometimes in other series.

5. Accessibility of actors and creative staff. It's true that actors and other creative staff are in general more accessible these days, but Star Trek seems to have always led the way in this regard. From conventions to memoirs to blogs to twitter feeds, it seems you can access the viewpoint of almost everyone who ever worked on the shows and movies. Especially for someone like me who is coming to these shows long after they aired, it's fascinating to read about how the various players felt about story lines. For anyone who hasn't spent time reading/listening to Wil Wheaton's various Trek media, it's well worth it to do so. And however nerdy I felt going to a Star Trek convention, seeing Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis together on stage talking about their Trek experiences definitely enhanced my experience of Star Trek!

4. Irreverence. I think the image of Trekkies in my mind had always been people who took this fictional universe way too seriously. I'm sure in some cases this is true, but I have been very pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of Trekkies make more fun of themselves and of Star Trek than any outsider could. What I love about watching Star Trek with Trekkies is all of the nitpicking that we all do, laughing at cliched phrases from Tom Paris ("pleasant fellow") or pointing out the plots holes in the episodes. What may seem to outsiders like fans taking things too far, now seems to me to be part of the enjoyment. I think most Trekkies are actually being fairly irreverent while enjoying this thing they love, and I appreciate that.

3. Joy of unexpectedly discovering Trekkies. When Matthew and I first started dating, he would occasionally point out in the wild and say, "He [she] is a probably a Trekkie." I always wondered what quality he saw in these people that made him say that. After all, most Trekkies don't wear their affiliation on their sleeve (at least not all the time). I'm still not entirely certain how to identify Trekkies, but I've gotten a little better at it. What I find really fun, though, is discovering in conversation that someone you never would have suspected is actually a big fan.

2. Non-embarrassing/non-annoying romances. There is romance in Star Trek, but it's not a major story element, and because of that it's usually less painful to watch than romance on other shows. Even in cases where the romance is unconsummated (Picard/Crusher, Janeway/Chakotay), it always seems like that is a decision made by both parties, not the case of one character pining away after another. When romance does work, it's beautiful and egalitarian. There's no laughing about how women are whiny nags and men don't pick up their socks. In short, it's a refreshing change from most of TV.

1. Strong Female Characters. This is the most important to me and the reason that Voyager is my favorite series. Even today, it is rare to find strong, complex female characters who aren't just making good in a man's world. I love Voyager, and I love that the ship is Janeway's ship and that she is her own captain. Janeway is not the same kind of captain that Kirk or Picard are. She is female and even feminine and yet clearly in charge. She's not perfect, and she is at times reckless (as Chakotay points out), but she loves the ship and has an almost maternal responsibility for her crew. I really appreciate her portrayal and that of B'Elanna and Seven (and Kes). TOS and TNG don't go quite so far; the female characters are strong, but I always have the sense that they are living in a man's world.

So, there you go. That's why I love Star Trek, at least in the ways I can understand/explain/quantify.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Keiko does chide Chief O'Brien for not picking up his socks.

    But I still agree on the relationships being more equal in general.