Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why I Love Star Trek, Essay #4: Kevin Curran

Here's mine. It's a little on the long side, but screw it. Blog author's prerogative.

Why I Love Star Trek
by Kevin Curran

Of all the projects we have contemplated here at Treknonbabble thus far, this has got to be my favorite. It's been a lot of fun reading everyone's reasons for liking Star Trek. I have to say, I agree with and share pretty much all of them. Like Matt, I came to Star Trek during TNG. I actually remember the exact day it happened. It was 1992; I was nine years old. I needed to pick something to watch after dinner but before primetime. The networks ran national news, and that was out. The FOX affiliate ran two Cosby Show reruns from 6-7, and WPWR, the syndication channel that eventually became UPN in Chicago, ran a TNG rerun on weeknights and the new one Saturdays. So, I flipped a coin. Star Trek won. The first episode I watched was "Arsenal of Freedom." I won't say that I was blown away by it, but I wasn't turned off.

I should say, this wasn't the absolute first Star Trek I had ever seen. I knew what Star Trek was. I have vague memories of seeing some TOS reruns my father was watching and I am almost certain the half-formed memory at the age of 4 of seeing two men in maroon coats in a movie was my parents taking me to see "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" at the now demolished Brighton Park Theater. Anyway, like I said, I wasn't immediately a fanatic, but I tuned in the rest of the week. They ran reruns weeknights and the new episode on Saturdays. It was the summer hiatus and the Saturday reruns were exclusively from the preceding season, so I saw the last half of season 5 largely in order, just a few months late. I remember I saw "Conundrum" then, and it was certainly in the first ten episodes I ever watched. That episode holds a special place for me, because being new to the show, I didn't know that MacDuff was an obviously extra character. When I first saw it, I actually thought he was just a character I had missed before, so I might have been the only person on Earth surprised by the reveal at the end. Eventually, I hit "Inner Light" and "Time's Arrow." That's when I was hooked. Fortunately, I only had to wait a week for the conclusion, because the new season was premiering. I made my father tape the whole week's worth of shows to make sure I didn't miss it. Eventually, I got the second half of Time's Arrow, but not before snagging "Most Toys" and "Sarek." Does anyone else who grew up in this era remember taping things on VCRs? On extended play? Pausing the recording at commercials to fit eight episodes on a tape instead of six? Yeah.

I'm relating this somewhat long story because the precise way I came to Star Trek was, I think, largely responsible for my eventual fervent love for it. First, this was one of the first things I really got into entirely on my own. It was me staking out my own tastes in something, so it became this thing that is mine. My mother loves pandas. My father loves The Three Stooges. My brother, at least at the time, loved racing cars and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so Star Trek was the thing that I liked. Also, like others who written this essay, I was a loner when I was a child, and I soaked up the friendship portrayed by the crew like a sponge. Even in "Arsenal of Freedom," which is not the best episode, the relationship between Riker, Data, and Yar and especially the relationship between Crusher and Picard drew me in. By "Inner Light" and "Time's Arrow," there was no going back. My mental pathways had become accustomed to their inputs, to borrow a phrase. I also worried about the anthropogenic doom that seemed to be around every corner, and the idea that we, and not just our technology got better, was comforting.

I think what struck me the most was the idea that both intelligence and diversity were virtues, not vices. Kind of a powerful message for the closeted gay nerd who got picked on a lot. I won't say I knew I was gay at nine years old, but I knew I was an outsider at any rate, and here was this ship, this society, that said our differences are what make us interesting and that together we accomplish more than we do apart. I never really fantasized about being the captain of the Enterprise, I just fantasized about living on the Enterprise, surround by these people who treated each other the way I wanted to be treated.

It helped of course that the stories were really good. The first episodes that I saw included "I, Borg" and "Cause and Effect," and I was enthralled by "I, Borg" without having seen either "Q Who" or "Best of Both Worlds." I watched the show religiously. It was great, because I had more than 100 episodes of reruns to tear through. It was like having new Star Trek six days a week for a year. Until I got the DVDs a few years ago, I could still take a random tape of 6-8 episodes, not even checking what they were and just have it on the television for an afternoon while I did other stuff.

Lastly, and this is something I don't think anyone else has brought up yet, I fell in love with the design of the Enterprise and TNG. I'm a very visual person. I can watch a mediocre plot with good cinematography and still have a great time at the movies. The Enterprise-D is the most graceful thing I think I have ever laid eyes on. If it moved through water, it wouldn't leave a wake behind it. I liked watching it move. It fascinated me on a visceral level. I liked how the designs of the different species corresponded to their personalities. The Klingons has powerful ships with big guns right up front, and the Romulan Warbirds actually look and move like stalking birds-of-prey. It's a theory I have about TOS; one of the reasons it was so successful is that, especially with the spread of color television, this world made up of bright primary colors in large unbroken fields taps into some basic part of our brain, the same part that found Legos fascinating as toddlers.

In very many ways, I have never understood the gentle to not-so-gentle scorn that Star Trek fandom gets. Am I really that different from the kid who fantasizes himself on the pitcher's mound in Game 7 of the World Series? We both picture ourselves in places where we were powerful and talented and needed and where everyone loved us. Only the window dressing is different. And for every creepy anti-social guy who wears Klingon head ridges to work, there's that man who isn't wearing a shirt in 2 degree weather with his invariably fat, hairy torso painted his team's colors. Unhealthy fanaticism is a problem regardless of object. To the extent we are shaped by our childhood role models, I picked Captain Picard, who has spent the last twenty years reminding me to be thoughtful and compassionate and curious and hopeful, and who, let the record reflect, has never testified to steroid use before Congress. I digress a little, but there is a point here. In "The Perfect Mate," Kamala has this great line about Picard. "I find myself thinking 'I like who I am when I'm around him.'" And I feel much the same way. I like the person I would be expected to be in that universe, so I strive to be it in this one. And despite the image of the loner freak in his parents' basement, Star Trek hasn't separated me from friends, it's lead me to them. I've immediately bonded with several people who became very close friends over a love of Star Trek, It's like a vetting process. I know if you are a fellow Trekkie, there is a decent chance you are thoughtful, intelligent person that I want to get to know.

When you get right down to it, I'm a gay man and I need three things to live: friends who care about me, pretty things to look at, and drama. Check, check, and double check.

No comments:

Post a Comment