Live long and prosper: ‘Star Trek’ turns 50
On a Thursday night in 1966, on a big, wood-paneled TV in the living room, directly after “Daniel Boone” on NBC, the screen went black for not even half a second. Then, as a single, ethereal note played, stars appeared.
They slowly moved toward the viewer, as though seen from the bridge of a starship. Three more unearthly notes followed, drawn out in clear, high pitch. Then…
“Space: the final frontier.”
No transporter necessary, thanks. Those words alone, and the ones that followed — “These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…” — were enough to rocket a fertile, star-bound imagination into the known universe and beyond.
A starship whooshed from the distant horizon on the screen in the coolest of interstellar fly-bys, then slowly drifted past an iron-red planet as Captain James Tiberius Kirk slowly intoned the details of its five-year mission.
Was it cheesy? Sure, it was a little cheesy, especially viewed from an unforgiving vantage point of decades in the future. Was Captain Kirk a melodramatic horndog? Were the female crew members’ uniforms sexist? Were some of the actors very obviously painted green? Yes, but does it really matter?
Fifty years ago today — Sept. 8, 1966 — “Star Trek” debuted to lackluster ratings and began a three-season, 79-episode struggle against cancellation. It wasn’t a cultural juggernaut, not then, but an OK TV show that some people loved.
After what felt like inevitable cancellation, though, and into syndication, something happened. A fervor built into cult-level adoration for Gene Roddenberry’s creation, one that often mirrored the conflicted values of its time, that resorted to defensive violence when necessary, that considered the imagination-stretching possibilities of what could be out there.
In short, a phenomenon was born, so culturally saturating that even the most ardent anti-trekker (not “trekkie,” please) knows to set their phaser to stun. Live long and prosper? Everyone should be so lucky.
Five television series and 13 feature-length films followed — the most recent, “Star Trek Beyond,” opened in theaters July 22 and will be released on DVD on Nov. 1 — as well as “Star Trek” conventions and cruises, books and comics, intricate cosplay, worldwide fandom and the Bible translated into Klingon.
Maybe it’s just because the stories and aliens and gadgets are cool, but maybe it’s because there are life lessons to be mined from the ongoing mission of the USS Enterprise, including:
■ Oh, sure, the whole “to boldly go where no one has gone before” seems like some sort of Emersonian ideal of road-less-traveled exploration, but you also might get shot at by Romulans.
■ You must actually be Vulcan for the Vulcan Death Grip to work. Otherwise, you just end up pinching your brother really hard and getting in trouble.
■ In fact, if someone with even vaguely pointed ears comes at you with a hand aimed for your neck, do not assume it’s going to be a convivial pat. Run.
■ Punch a Klingon right in the face the moment you meet one. Flirting!
■ Not every lemming needs to jump off the cliff, as Seven of Nine proves. It’s OK to declare that you dislike irrelevant conversations when talk turns to mass demise, and run off to join the crew of a starship instead.
■ Make it so. Just make it so already!
■ If someone tells you that their special alien skill is empathy, prepare to be annoyed (looking at you, Troi).
■ The foppish British guy who periodically shows up to make a mess and be condescending is still going to be the funniest guy in the room. Sit next to him at the party.
■ You are under no obligation to humor your doctor’s kid, especially if he’s an exasperating know-it-all whose sole purpose is to be precocious.
■ Anxiously claim that something can’t be done and then do it at the last second. People will be constantly amazed by the humility and competence.
■ Don’t be afraid of your emotion chip.
■ Google Translate has been invented and warp speed shouldn’t have to accommodate dead weight. So, even 200 years from now, whatever the technology, you can avoid the pointlessness of “translator” Hoshi Sato on your crew.
■ Even criminals and cowardly smugglers are capable of doing heroic, selfless things once in a while, as Quark demonstrated. Still: Never trust a Ferengi.
■ Don’t trust a Cardassian, either.
■ When designing emergency drills for the workplace, be sure to create one in which every system fails simultaneously and all the things go wrong and then suddenly the Romulans uncloak. This happens more often than you’d think.
■ Just leave the house five minutes earlier, because stuff gets weird at warp 10.
■ Sometimes you just have to let a crew member die at the “hands” of the black, blobby Armus because, if we’re being honest, she’s kind of annoying and not good enough for Data.
■ Short skirts don’t earn you even temporary captainship of the Enterprise, talent and competence do. Sheesh. In the 23rd century we still have to say this?
■ Go ahead and wear the red shirt! It’s sassy, and they don’t always die!
■ Take a few community education classes, so that when push comes to shove you can be a doctor and a cake decorator (for example).
■ Poke three buttons on the console by your right hand and then two buttons on the thing above your head. That usually does the trick.
■ Give her all she’s got, even if the shields are failing.
■ If a Vulcan raises a single eyebrow at you, you’re probably being illogical.
■ Always carry a packet of tissues or a hanky, in case you suddenly find yourself having to utter the flop sweat-inducing words, “Mr. Worf, fire!”
■ Do not be fooled by small, round, fuzzy things. Even if they’re so, so cute and purr when you pet them. A non-native invasive species is a non-native invasive species; just ask the Everglades.
■ Sometimes you just have to face the Borg queen at the Unicomplex. It’s scary, but the best chance you have to release a neurolytic pathogen that will destroy the collective.
■ Don’t date your subordinate/boss, in case boss ends up having to send subordinate to dangerous Federation outpost Bersallis III. It’s emotional compromise that sinks (star)ships, folks.