What Can We Learn About Peace from 50 Years of Star Trek?

Recently I attended the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas with my family and 6,000 others celebrating their 50th Anniversary.  I’m not the extreme Star Trek Fan that my husband and son are, but I do enjoy the shows – especially the values.  Through the decades they have taught:

·       Hope ·       Courage ·       The Joy of Discovery ·       Diversity
·       Inclusivity ·       Innovation ·       Collaboration ·       Curiosity
·       Friendship ·       Negotiation ·       Respecting Others Beliefs ·       Solidarity

 

Our world could use more of this, don’t you think?

My affiliation with Star Trek started while dating my husband – a committed Fan. Next to be initiated into the Federation by my husband, was our son : ) When it came time to plan his Bar Mitzvah – guess what theme our smitten tween wanted for the party? We attended our first Star Trek convention to get ideas, and props.  Not only did we have Star Trek themed center pieces, and a Star Trek knowledgeable and costumed D.J., but we had our son’s Star Trek Online ship that he designed, used as the inspiration for his 3-D, 4’ X 3’ cake : )

Star Trek Online Bar Mitzvah Cake

Star Trek Online Bar Mitzvah Cake

Star Trek, the original series started in 1966 and lasted for 3 seasons. Subsequent series included The Next Generation (my personal favorite), Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. I was excited to learn that their latest series will be starting in January 2017 – Star Trek Discovery. There have been 12 movies and add to that Star Trek: The Animated Series, books, comics, computer, video and board games, figurines, conventions, special events, so far the franchise is an international phenomenon with no end in sight.  Now with the new series coming out, I have to admit for our family, Resistance Is Futile.

All of the series had great characters from the captains, to their crews – sometimes human, alien, or both.  Each episode had a conflict to resolve and there were always new civilizations to meet. When “enemies” were introduced, we loved to outwit the Klingons, The Borg, Romulans, Cardassians, the ever-annoying Q and the infamous Kahn!

Why the fascination?  I think you have to first look at the characters and the writing, as well as where we were as a world and how we’ve changed during this last half century.  Who doesn’t want to Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before – especially from the convenience of your couch?  I changed the expression a bit. Feminism is surely an issue that the country, the world and Star Trek struggled with during this time period.  It’s not quite become a non-issue unfortunately, but we’ve come a long way baby.

Realize, that the series started during the sixties – a time of huge unrest in the United States.  We were in the middle of the race to the moon, and race riots on the street. Yet Star Trek had the foresight to present their vision of the future by having their characters lead the way with their crew and stories. Roddenberry chose a cast that included an African American woman, Asian, Russian, Alien and oh yes, some Caucasian, white males working side by side : ) The shows’ characters inspired generations.  In the subsequent series, top Starfleet positions included a woman and alien and the captain’s command ultimately was filled by an African American man, and finally, a woman.

I have to pay special homage to the beloved Leonard Nimoy, Spock, who recently passed. His Star Trek lineage was mixed – Vulcan and human, and he sometimes struggled to suppress emotions because they were not logical. Paradoxically, he helped us recognize our own emotions.  Mr. Nimoy was an accomplished actor, film director, photographer, author, singer and songwriter.  His conflicted emotions regarding how the show impacted his life was apparent. The first book he wrote on this subject was titled, “I’m Not Spock” and 16 years later he published “I Am Spock.” Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, called him “the conscience of ‘Star Trek.’ ”William Shatner, who wrote the recent book, “Leonard, My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man,” intimated that Nimoy could make him laugh hysterically.  I noted that beyond Nimoy and Shatner, many of the cast, crew and writers over the years were Jewish.  In fact, the famous Vulcan salute that Spock was known for was suggested by Nimoy as a nod to the actual Jewish practice of holding your fingers to form what looks like the Hebrew letter “Shin,” which represents God – used when saying a blessing.2  His tag line “Live Long and Prosper,” is a blessing in its own right.

Then of course, there are the Fans. The series had been cancelled after the first 2 years. John and Bjo Trimble called on fans to send letters in support of the show, and the rest is Star Trek Fandom history3  : ) The studio buckled under their influence and decided to continue the show.  The Trimbles are still active in Star Trek today and amongst the fans and franchise, lauded as heroes. Beyond loyalty, another Star Trek Borg family 400x599 IMG_7931Fan characteristic is that their costumes are legendary.  I met this family of Borgs walking down the hallway…

During the Q&A sessions, Fans recalled how the various characters had inspired them to boldly go where they couldn’t have imagined before.  Women spoke gratefully about how Captain Janeway, inspired them to become the scientist or physicist that they were today.

But Star Trek, after all was created by humans.  Jonathan Frakes, Commander William Riker, spoke of being encouraged to cross the line into directing episodes. Gates McFadden, Doctor Beverly Crusher, lamented that although she had repeatedly expressed a desire to direct, it took her 7 years to be allowed to accomplish that goal : (

The talented cast have received top awards and expanded their careers to include other notable roles, directing, writing, and also activism.  To name just a couple, Kate Mulgrew was Captain Janeway.  Like many of her fellow stars, she has had an extensive television, film, theatre and writing career. She is currently playing in Orange is the New Black. Her book, Born with Teeth, is a memoir born of pain and success.  She was from a large Irish-Catholic family with 8 children.  When she was 4, she was asked to feed her baby sister and when her sister caught pneumonia and died later that month – in her child’s mind, she was convinced that she had killed her. Then, new in her role on the soap opera, Ryan’s Hope, she gave up a daughter to adoption, and spent years of regret, looking for her. I’m happy to say after a painstaking search, it has a happy ending.  She not only found her, but she has forged a deep love with her birth daughter over the years. Ms. Mulgrew, whose mother suffered with Alzheimer’s, works extensively to find a cure.4

George Takei, Sulu, has had many films and television appearances to his credit – but his activism for Japanese-American history especially caught my attention. Mr. Takei, was born an American citizen and so was his mother.  His father was born in Japan. In 1942, during World War II at the age of 5, he was rounded up with his parents from their home in Los Angeles. “The Takei family was forced to live in the converted horse stables of Santa Anita Park before being sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center for internment in Rohwer, Arkansas. The family was later transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. At the end of World War II, Takei and his family returned to Los Angeles.”  He starred in Allegiance, a Broadway musical, based on his experiences.5 How could these 110,000 Japanese American citizens, 30,000 who were children,6 make sense of being imprisoned like this in the United States? As only he could say it, “Oh My!” Given our current political atmosphere, I think this real-life story is a cautionary reminder of how fear can distort judgement.

One of the highlights of our weekend was meeting one of the hosts, Scott “Movie” Mantz, from Access Hollywood.  He was very kind and we appreciated how he warmly connected with our son.  Scott is an unabashedly proud, 48 year-old, Uber-Trekkie.  His excitement at being at the convention was infectious.  During his presentation, he showed interviews that he conducted with Chris Pine and Zackary Quinto, stars of the latest movies.  At times they didn’t seem to know how to take Scott, whether he truly was just a Fan – or they should call security : ) I had to laugh, when Scott confided to them, that his bar mitzvah was Star Trek themed. Scott told us that it had been planned lovingly by his parents as a surprise.  But what meant the most to me, was the example that he set for our son.  He was a role model showing him that no matter what you are into – you can find happiness doing what you love : )

William Shatner, Captain Kirk is an icon of the franchise – and this year we discovered a new, improved version.  As usual, he was funny, truly enjoyed reminiscing about Star Trek, his extensive career and his passion for horses.  However, this time he seemed transformed. He was filled with love and gratitude for his luck in his life, accepted life’s challenges and pain, spoke in part about spirituality, the soul, our connection with everyone and every-thing, and candidly discussed his complex relationship with Leonard Nimoy.  At times I shook my head in amazement and wondered if he was channeling one of my favorite teachers – Jean Houston, Gary Zukav or Deepak Chopra : )  During the Q&A, one of his admirers confused by his portrayal of his acting career as being such a lonely, friendless life, poignantly suggested that he look around the room, at the thousands attending the weekend and encouraged him to feel the Love : )

You learn not to confuse the characters with the real people. Marina Sirtis, Counselor Deanna Troi, from The Next Generation mused that she was really quite wicked compared with her character.  When Patrick Stewart, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, first joined the cast, he was the quintessential Shakespearean actor.  After 6 months amongst the troublemakers, taking on his natural leadership role, he became the worst mischief-maker of the lot : )  First time attendees at this conference were Whoopi Goldberg, Guinan and Kirstie Alley, Saavik.  They seemed genuinely taken aback by the admiring crowd and received their questions graciously.  I was surprised to learn that Whoopi had actually requested being on The Next Generation. Kirstie, was self-deprecating. She lamented, “I wasn’t always prepared as I should be, because as much as I was grateful for getting a role in a movie, I was also a bit of an irresponsible twit.”

My writing interests led me to listen to 2 teams of Star Trek novelists – Paula Block and Terry Erdmann who are married, and Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward, who are writing partners.  They understood the long-established characters and they approached the stories as if they were in their shoes. They brought in new characters to take the story arc in a new direction.  The teams chose different techniques to divide the writing and critique their team member for each novel. The process was varied and creative like their stories : )

How does Star Trek help with Peace?  I believe, through their role models and values they teach. Their openness to explore new ways of thinking, respecting others who are different, looking closely at the impact of new technologies on our society and learning to live with one another in this world amicably, all move our World to a better place.  As they boldly enter the next 50 years, I hope they continue to Live Long and Prosper and take us on the journey with them – I know I’ll be watching and learningAs always, I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…

Footnotes:

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html?_r=1

2 http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/The-Jewish-Origin-of-the-Vulcan-Salute

3 http://fanlore.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series

4 https://www.amazon.com/Born-Teeth-Memoir-Kate-Mulgrew/dp/0316334316

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Takei

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans

 

 

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