Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. For many people it inspired us to be better people and get involved in technology. I think I can say with some relative certainty that I would not be who I am today if I had not watched Star Trek.
I am too young to remember when Star Trek originally ran but it was a staple of syndication by the time I was a youngster growing up in rural America. This was a time before satellite television and we had only four channels (the horror!). Star Trek was on every Sunday afternoon and it quickly became a must-watch show in our family.
One of my fondest memories was going to my grandmothers house and watching Star Trek with my cousin. She was the only family member that had a color television and she was content to let us watch “that show” as long as we relinquished control before the Lawrence Welk Show came on. Good times, let me tell you.
I recently attended the World Con convention in Kansas City. This is one of the big science fiction and fantasy conventions of the year where the Hugo Award is given out. Think of it as the Oscars for SF and Fantasy writers/readers. I attended quite a few writers panels where panelists brought up Star Trek as being a major influence. It was surprising to find that authors that I admired had the same influence as me.
Star Trek is part of the pop culture now. Who doesn’t know what a Vulcan or Klingon is? It’s what every show about space travel is compared to in some way. The impact it has made on our culture is huge.
Star Trek is surprisingly liberal when you think about it. It was where liberal ideas got presented to a conservative audience in a way that was palatable. It made a huge difference in the lives of many people. Black men and women saw Uhura on the command bridge doing real and important things and no one (on the show at least) cared that she was a woman or black. As a kid I didn’t know it was a big deal that Kirk and Uhura kissed.
Star Trek and its subsequent followup shows talked about the politics, religious, and social issues of their era. Of course you didn’t know it at the time – it was just entertaining – but like any good science fiction story it explored the grey areas of the day. In my opinion, science fiction is the last remaining political and social commentary avenue available for modern era writers because it’s not about ‘us’ it’s about the future or some alien civilization. It’s easier to see the injustice when it’s not about present day us.
There are other numerous examples of how Star Trek predicted the future, or perhaps helped change the future. Automatic doors, cell phones, tablets, talking computers, and any number of other ‘futuristic’ technologies in Star Trek are now commonplace. Imagine what the next fifty years will hold for us technology wise!
The other thing that I love about Star Trek is that it gives us hope for the future. A future where we’ve learned to work together for the greater good for all species. To not ignore our differences but to embrace the diversity of ideas that we all bring to the table. To use technology for good things but also be wary of its abuses.
Happy Birthday, Star Trek. Let’s hope the next 50 years are as fun, memorable, and thought-provoking!