Writing for Wired, “GeekMom” Jules Sherred explains the importance of Star Trek to her life, and how it shaped her.
My first conversation about this new series didn’t go exactly how I had hoped. For the rest of my class, Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first time they had watched Star Trek on television. They had seen most of the motion pictures, but they had no idea what I was referring to when I would draw parallels to Star Trek: The Original Series. Despite being slightly disappointed that they were not already fans of the series, I was glad that they liked their first experience with the series on television, and would continue to watch it with me, week after week. For the first time in my existence, I had people — the majority of my classmates — to discuss something about which I was passionate. I couldn’t talk to them about my love of math or science. I couldn’t talk to them about my love of ancient history. I couldn’t talk to them about my troubled home life. I couldn’t talk to them about my struggles with just being around people. But I could talk with them about my first love, Star Trek. Yes, this series was the most important thing to have ever happened to me.
Not only did it help me feel less alone through the creation of characters to which I could relate, but Star Trek is responsible for my love of science, technology, and knowledge. It is responsible for my ideas about social responsibility. It taught me that I was capable of anything, that nothing can stand in my way, that it doesn’t matter how bizarre of a creature I may be, I do have a place in the universe, and I am valued. Being able to finally share this series with others was a pretty huge deal. It was the one thing that connected to me to humans.
As a fellow lover of The Next Generation, I found myself nodding and smiling quite a lot throughout Sherred’s article. Her experience was similar to mine. I had been a fan of The Original Series, and when I saw the first announcements of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I couldn’t wait to see it. For many years, the double-header of The Original Series and The Next Generation on Saturday evenings was the highlight of my week, and I was fortunate enough to have a group of nerdy friends with whom I could discuss each episode the following week at school.
However, the second paragraph in the above quote is what I want to focus on. All too often, we write off pop culture as mindless entertainment, and yet there are those for whom a show as seemingly trivial as Star Trek: The Next Generation is nothing short of inspirational.
Sherred’s story reminded me of scenes in the charming documentary Darkon where various live-action role playing (LARP) afficionados explain how acting out the roles of wizards and knights in some empty field in the middle of nowhere has positively impacted their lives. For some, being an imaginary commander made them better and more capable bosses in the real world. For others, acting in imaginary relationships gave them the courage to strike up relationships outside the game. And for still others, it gave them a sense of purpose that went beyond mere escapism: it allowed them to glimpse their better natures, as it were.
All this is to say that we run a risk when we write off the TV shows we watch as merely trivial entertainment. They have the power to inspire us, to shape us, to serve as building blocks for our worldviews… for better or worse.