50 Years on the Final Frontier: Seeing Star Trek through the Eyes of Minnesota Geeks

As we mentioned on our last episode, here’s the article i wrote about the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and what it means to some geeks on the ground —

It’s been 50 years to the day since Star Trek’s September 8, 1966, premiere on NBC. A different but equally important milestone happened 20 years later, on December 20, 1986—the night William Shatner appeared on Saturday Night Live, in an episode featuring then-timely sketches about T. J. Hooker and Oliver North and presenting the musical stylings of one Buster Poindexter. More to the point, Shatner appeared as himself in a now-infamous sketch set at a clichéd Star Trek fan convention crawling with overpriced memorabilia and fake Vulcan ears. As he takes the stage, he’s pelted by irritating questions about inane bits of Star Trek trivia timidly asked by man-children in “I Grok Spock” T-shirts. It all becomes too much for Shatner—Shatner the “character,” not Shatner the actor, natch—and he famously exclaims, “Get a life, will you, people?! . . . It’s just a TV show!” The gathered fans look down in humiliation as if to confirm that, no, they haven’t ever kissed girls. The audience laughs and we cut to a performance by roots-rock superstars Lone Justice! Lone Justice (you’re just going to have to look that one up on your own) barely made it out of 1986, but the Star Trek phenomenon is still going strong as it enters its second half-century of life, with 7 television series, 13 feature films, and a robust, diverse, and rabid fan base under its belt. It’s hard to gauge what fans’ reactions to the sketch was at the time it aired, as that requires us to gaze backward into the dark abyss of the Time of No Internet (though options do exist), but the general consensus seemed to be that the skit was tone deaf and mean-spirited. Worse than that, it both drew on and helped to crystallize the trope of the basement-dwelling, misanthropic nerd: hopeless, gormless, and ready for a wedgie from a “normal,” non-obsessed representative of society. I’m not here to somehow focus and transmit 30-odd years of fan butthurt over six minutes of late-night television. I mean, I spent more than 10 years of my life pretending to be a starship crew’s worth of fictional people, and even I have to agree that a lot of those jokes do land. Shatner himself was mostly indifferent; he’d never partaken much in the convention scene, was mostly mystified by the passion of fans, and later expressed that he saw the sketch as “equal parts comedy and catharsis,” saying, “I bought into the Trekkie stereotypes.” But the reaction of that fan community he had dismissed drove him to seek out (sorry) the element of fandom that had eluded him. He began attending Trek conventions as an official guest and speaker. He’d roam show floors incognito in a rubber mask (in my fantasies, it’s a Gorn mask) and interview attendees about what they valued about conventions and the community, and he spoke with Star Trek producers, convention organizers, and pillars of the fan community, ultimately compiling his experiences into the fittingly titled 1999 book Get a Life! (recently adapted into a documentary film of the same name). I’m no Captain Kirk—hell, I’m no Cap’n Crunch—but I did a little searching of my own as the first 50 years of the Star Trek story were coming to a close, and the responses I collected from Trekkies across the Twin Cities about the lasting appeal of Trek echoed the sentiments uncovered by “the Shat.” Bill Hedrick is Thought Admiral and leader of the Klingon Assault Group. He is also one of the original translators of A Klingon Christmas Carol and the world’s deadliest fan. You probably wouldn’t think to look to a Klingon warrior for positivity, but Bill thinks that Trek’s lasting appeal comes down to its optimism—creator Gene Roddenberry’s “whole idea that there would be growth in the species and that [we’d] find a way to live together.” He says, “It’s a brilliant idea and a very hopeful thing. The ’60s were a paroxysm of change, and Star Trek was right in the middle of it.” When I ask him whether Roddenberry, a man who was well into his 40s before the counterculture of the ’60s even arose, could possibly create a cultural phenomenon that could draw upon the best impulses of the decade, Bill replies that “Star Trek came closest to getting what was really happening . . . or got a heck of a lot closer than Dragnet, for God’s sake.” The Klingons killed their gods a thousand years ago, because as Worf famously stated (and as Bill reminded me), “They were more trouble than they were worth,” but I get his meaning. While Star Trek embraced a philosophy of cross-cultural harmony, racial equality, and personal freedoms, Joe Friday was endlessly lecturing “hippies” and youngsters of the day for not appreciating how good they had it. Freedom from polio, it seemed, was all that the previous generation could ima

Source: 50 Years on the Final Frontier: Seeing Star Trek through the Eyes of Minnesota Geeks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *