Live long and prosper ... lessons from Star Trek. Photo: Trekkies 1997 documentary poster
I once dated a guy who was a Trekkie. It was a confusing time. He roped me in with his looks and intelligence and then dropped this Star Trek revelation on me once I was hooked on him. It was betrayal at its nerdiest. I wasn’t a complete sci-fi snob, but I did know that any self-respecting child of the 80s sat firmly in the Star Wars camp. Trekkies were clearly just overzealous nut jobs in alien costumes.
Despite this obvious flaw, I married him.
When our son was born I made a decision in my post-baby fog to surprise my husband with tickets to a Star Trek convention, and desperate for a day out, I promised to go with him. To prepare me for the experience, he showed me a documentary called Trekkies, full of convention footage and interviews with cast members and fans.
The original Star Trek cast.
What I got from this documentary was that Star Trek, while definitely having an abundance of obsessive fans, actually promoted everything I stood for as a parent, and as a person - kindness, equality, and humanism.
The stories told by fans and cast members illustrated the way the original series and its spin offs promoted this thinking by dealing with the issues of their era. The original series, made in the 1960s – the middle of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict, included Walter Koenig and George Takei as Russian and Asian characters, Chekov and Sulu, who finally broke the stereotypes previously portrayed in television series. A big deal at the time, especially for those who had waited so long for relatable characters to appear on their screen.
It was also the height of America’s race riots, at a time where segregation persisted and Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive and fighting for equality. At the time not only did Star Trek have a strong African-American female character in Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, but it also contained American television’s first interracial kiss between Nichols and William Shatner.
Nichols’ role famously prompted 9-year-old Caryn Johnson (who grew up to become Whoopi Goldberg) to run through her house, yelling “Come quick! There’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” Goldberg later told Nichols that she realised at that moment that she could be anything she wanted to be. Nichols’ role also inspired Mae Jemison, whose incredible list of achievements includes being the first African-American female in space.
After listening to these stories, I found myself actually looking forward to this convention. Maybe they weren’t all crazy. Or maybe I was. Richard Arnold, a consultant on the show, sealed the deal for me when he explained “People of all races, religions, political backgrounds, sizes, shapes are all absolutely equal at a convention and nobody is ostracised because they’re different, and I think that attracts a lot of people because elsewhere in their lives they don’t have that kind of freedom.”
Arriving at the convention that weekend, I found that to be true and many people talked to us as though we were old friends. It was a warm, uplifting atmosphere. I revelled in it. When the amazing and accomplished Sir Patrick Stewart appeared, standing barely a metre from me, having travelled from the other side of the world to a small ballroom in the Western Suburbs of Sydney just to meet Star Trek fans, I realised I needed to experience the wonder of this show for myself.
Starting with The Next Generation series, in which Stewart played the ship’s captain, the doctor on board was raising a child on her own, the chief engineer was blind, and the lieutenant was a Klingon (an alien race that humans were at war with in the original series), I was sucked into this peaceful, diverse world - one that I wished my children could grow up in. The episodes tackled everything from racism to adoption to the loss of a child with honesty and sensitivity.
In the Captains interviews, Avery Brooks explains that part of what attracted him to his role of Commander Sisko in Deep Space Nine - a widower who went on to be captain while raising his young son on his own, was being able to talk about a father-son relationship. “It is a reality of the disproportionate number of brown male children without father figures, so it was very important to me that that relationship remained strong in the context of the seven years” he explained. The relationship between Sisko and his son, Jake, was the most beautiful parent-child relationship I’ve seen on screen, and highlighted the value of paternal relationships, often overlooked by television.
In Trekkies, Kate Mulgrew, who plays Captain Janeway on the Voyager series, explained that fans had told her that her character was the first woman in a leadership role they could watch as a family without talking about who is being victimised or what she stands for.
It seems to be an endless stream of examples that are not just there for tokenism, but to actually say something, to give us relatable lessons to learn from and to pass on to future generations.
The values I want to pass on to my children - to treat others with love, respect and equality, and learn from others’ differences rather than fear them is displayed in any given episode. Although, it’s the importance I place in teaching my children to constantly seek answers and question their own beliefs, to value science and knowledge, and to never stop learning that just about makes Star Trek the perfect parenting tool.
Despite my husband’s smugness about converting his wife into a Trekkie, when I listen to Majel Barrett, the widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, explain her husband’s vision that “Not only is there going to be a tomorrow, but it’s going to be a better, kinder, more gentle world tomorrow,” I’m glad to admit defeat on this one.
Are you a reluctant Trekkie? What won you over? Leave your comment below.