08 September 2016

What Star Trek Means to Me: A Reflection on a Half Century of Trek

  This was my first Star Trek toy.  When I got it for the Christmas of 1979, I was a wee lad of 4 who had just seen Star Wars the year before at a drive-in.  In fact, my X-Wing hailed from the same Christmas.  I had already learned to love both Star Wars and Star Trek- I watched the reruns with my dad in our crackerbox of a trailer house in Lake Charles, LA.  I had a Spock uniform t-shirt.  I had a Star Trek coloring book.  I've been a Trekker literally as long as I can remember.  My only earlier memories of fandom revolve around things like the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon and the old Marvel cartoons like The Fantastic 4 and the Incredible Hulk.

  I developed a deep love of Star Trek, in the 70s and 80s the reruns of the original series were ubiquitous.  Every television market in the US had a nearly 100% chance of having some channel among the broadcasters that would show the series.  In Austin/Round Rock, where I eventually ended up, it was KVUE.  I remember moving into our home on Chisholm Valley Drive and plugging in my black and white portable TV our first night there- I tuned into KVUE and there was "The Apple"- one of the two Star Trek episodes that always seemed to be airing when I tuned in after missing a few.  It was either that, or "Devil in the Dark."  Every time.

  Wrath of Khan released just before my birthday in 1982, which was coincidentally the year my parents divorced.  Star Trek had been part of my memories from that short glorious seven years in which I'd had both parents under one roof, so it was part of me that reminded me of happier, if somewhat turbulent times.  I carried that with me as I got older.  Star Wars was like a treat you got every once in a while - in '83 when we got Jedi, then the two Ewok movies, the Droids cartoon... Star Trek was a staple.  It was always there.  I could see it after school and on saturday nights, every week, all year.

  When I discovered reading for fun at a relatively young age, I gravitated toward

geek reading even then.  I checked out The Hobbit for the first time in 2nd Grade.  But I was already devouring Star Trek media.  I remember purchasing the book "Phaser Fight" at the school book fair, and all but memorizing all it's choose-your-own-adventure options.  I later repurchased the book to read to my children.  They love trying to save the Enterprise at bedtime.

  My fandom exploded when I got to middle school.  At Chisholm Trail I procured two things that would propel me to become the geek I am today - the Franz Josef Star Fleet Technical Manual and a like-minded group of fellow geeks.  This led me to roleplaying, first Dungeons & Dragons and very quickly Star Trek, the classic FASA RPG.  It was here, though, that the social cost of being a geek in the 1980s became apparent.  I flew my geek flag in a way that wouldn't be socially acceptable until today, when geek is chic.  Nobody bats an eye anymore at folks in Doctor Who t-shirts or Star Wars jackets, but in 1986 being a Star Trek fan was not precisely socially acceptable.  My insistence on being me regardless of social norms resulted in a very tight group of fellow outcasts- but we were outcasts none the less.  What is today called 'cosplay' was grounds for an ass kicking in the 80s.

  We persevered.  We forged passes to the CTMS computer lab so we could put together our own manuals and regulations on the Apple ][ computers.  We created things with Print Shop.  We rolled up FASA Trek PCs and quizzed each other on the crew compliment of Baker-class destroyers and the torpedo armament of D-2 Stingtongues from the Klingon Empire.  We read Starlog Magazine and eagerly anticipated the release of Star Trek IV, renting it as a big event for Daniel Varner's birthday party.  The guy who introduced me to D&D was a huge Trek nerd as well.  We all were in our little gamer geek circle.  And it was worth every damn social snub and party we weren't invited to.  We were instead delving dungeons or exploring strange, new worlds.  Nowadays, the folks who didn't understand us are watching stuff like Stranger Things or Community or The Goldbergs and starting to see what my tribe and I were on about back then.

  Star Trek was part of my refuge.  It was part of what kept me sane and gave me a place to belong.  All of us Trek nerds and gamer geeks spoke the same language- and we did so before Darmok was at Tanagra, too.  In fact, for the first bit of Middle School, Star Trek was Star Trek.  No bloody A, B, C or D.  Well, OK, A appeared in '86.  But there was no Next Generation.  No DS9.  No Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery or Reboots.

  I watched Star Trek and wondered why older adults had the attitudes they did about non-Caucasians.  Uhura and Sulu were colleagues, bridge officers, surely equals with everyone else?  It made me look inward, even at a young age, and realize that the attitudes I had absorbed from the culture around me were a bit backward- more than a bit.  It caused me to look hard at some of the words I used, some of the attitudes I had, and start to form my own opinions about things.  It took a while to finally sink in, but thanks to the examples set by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation I learned that people of all stripe can get along.  If a Klingon can serve on the bridge, what do I care what skin color the other humans around me have?  Bele and Lokai drive this home with the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"- don't you see, he's black on the right side, I'm black on the left side.  It points out the ridiculousness of racial bigotry in a way that makes us feel a bit silly for every having held that sort of opinion.

  Star Trek pointed out so many things.  "Balance of Terror," "Errand of Mercy" and "Day of the Dove" taught us that our enemy is not always so different from ourselves.  "A Private Little War" taught us the proxy wars in Southeast Asia were nasty business.  "The Doomsday Machine" taught us the futility of the nuclear arms race.  So many social lessons wrapped in the veneer of science fiction.  TNG kept up the tradition - sometimes a bit too preachily in the first two seasons.

  Let's talk about TNG.  When TNG premiered I was in the 7th grade.  It blew us away.  Yes, even Season 1.  Yes, even "Code of Honor."  I had the Galoob action figures on my birthday cake when they came out.  We were already making TOS communicator props out of cassette cases and masking tape, making combadges and wearing them on our shirts came next.  Simplicity released a TNG uniform pattern.  We plopped down in front of our TVs every Saturday to tune into KBVO Fox 42 and watch TNG- new Trek.  Sure, the Captain was bald and the helmsman had a banana clip on his face and was the dude from Reading Rainbow but it had us SPELLBOUND.  As many jokes as we make about Wesley Crusher now, Wil Wheaton was living the dreams we young geeks had.  He was on a starship, not stuck in some mundane middle school, dealing with 80s stereotype classmates and derision for our loves and our intelligence.  He was out there, saving the day sometimes, and we wish we were Wesley.  And Beverly Crusher?  Well, we didn't have the word "MILF" back then, but...

  Star Trek was part of my armor.  It was part of my persona, to be sure, but was what helped insulate me from the jeers and jibes and insults from the mainstream kids.  They could say what they wanted, Star Trek was bigger than them and bigger than me.  Star Trek had achieved an impact.  They didn't name the first space shuttle after an athlete or actor, they named it Enterprise.  Star Trek had a cultural relevance far beyond our little community in Round Rock.  When I wore my Star Fleet uniform (and I did) I did so not only as a fan, but as someone who believed in what that uniform represented.  Hope for the future.  It wasn't so long ago, and definitely not in 1986-89, that the predominating predictions of our future were Global Thermonuclear War and Mad Max post-apocalyptic stuff.  We were the generation born into the Cold War, and scared to death by The Day After.  Our President had warned us of the Evil Empire, and sabre-rattling had just started to give way to glasnost and perestroika.  A hopeful future was something we grasped for with both hands.  And we got it.  For the most part.  But Star Trek carried is through that period.  It carried me through that period.  People could say want they wanted about the nerd in the red shirt, but their opinions didn't really matter.  I knew what Starfleet, and Star Trek, represented.  I suppose today's parlance would be "F#$% the haters." but that wouldn't be necessary to say today, would it?

  High School was more of the same for two years.  Nerdery was still wildly looked down upon.  In those days conformity was the way to avoid ostracism - something in common with today - except the parameters of conformity were very different.  I have more than a few gay classmates - all of whom came out after we graduated.  I've seen some of the same people who gave me hell in High School posting today about Star Trek's 50th and the Facebook Trek emojis and other things.  These folks would not have openly acknowledged a love of Trek back in the 80s and early 90s for fear of being put in the same social gulag as myself and my close friends.  It simply wasn't done.  Back then, the mainstream was quite different.  There were no Marvel movies, no Game of Thrones, and Star Wars was at a low ebb.  Geek was certainly not "in" and nobody wore superhero tuxes to the prom.  We formed a Star Trek club at Round Rock High School.  We flaunted our geekery in the face of the derision of our classmates and we proudly and openly declared that yes, we do enjoy thoughtful sci-fi that addresses issues our nation has been wrestling with all our lives.

  Something started to change a bit junior year- for me, at least.  Somewhere in there I went from complete and total social outcast to something of a fondly regarded eccentric.  I have no idea how or why.  Was it that I got the best damn Monster Maroon uniform this side of Anovos?  Was it that my peers had finally started to understand or admit that some geeky stuff was actually pretty neat?  Well, it may have been some of those things.  But at our 20th High School Reunion I had so many people come up to me and say "I always admired you.  You weren't afraid to just be you."  Many variations on that statement.  I felt nothing but warmth and friendship with each and every person at that reunion (save one) and I realized that in being unabashed of my interests, embracing all my loves, chief among which was Star Trek, I had succeeded in that endeavor Data so appropriately quoted from Shakespeare- "This above all: to thine own self be true."  I was.  Even when it was ridiculously difficult.  And in the end, mine own self won out.

  After High School I never stopped loving Star Trek.  These days I would consider myself primarily a gamer, but that began in large part due to Trek and things like the BASIC version of Star Trek, the PC games Kobayashi Alternative and The Promethean Prophecy, and FASA's Star Trek RPG.  I graduated up to Star Trek 25th Anniversary, and other games, and of course branched out into every genre of gaming imaginable.  But my imagination was primed by Star Trek.  Fueled by it.

  We attempted to form our first chapter of STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association in 1993, the ill-fated shuttle Retribution, which in hindsight isn't too Star Fleet of a ship name.  We succeeded in 1999 with the shuttle Ark Angel, a chapter that persists today under the command of one of her founding members.  We were a family, and in many cases continue to be.  I've met some of my closest friends due to STARFLEET and Star Trek.  Both couples who chose Mary and I as godparents for their children were STARFLEET members.

  USS Ark Angel at her prime was an amazing experience. Dozens of Trek fans
brought together in a love of the multiple series and films, books and games.  All with a hopeful outlook for our future.  We became trend-setters, one of the most active chapters in the history of our Third Fleet, and one of the most decorated by the organization.  The period of 2000-2006 was incredible.  We formed traditions that are still practiced in Third Fleet today.  We set the bar.  Life and burnout brought an end to that golden age, which is sad, because there's not one among us who will not reminisce about how awesome we were at our prime.

  These days I'm not as involved in Trek fandom as I used to be.  My own chapter, USS Texas, is as much a museum ship as her namesake.  The Texas exists as part of a larger group of people who are also into tabletop games, Honor Harrington fandom, and Battletech.  It's no longer my identity and driving force- but as the anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek approached, I found myself being more and more nostalgic for Trek, re-watching TOS and TNG- Wrath of Khan is playing on my tablet as I write this.  Star Trek will always be part of me, and a part that led me to gaming, which is my primary geek MOS.  Without Trek, I wouldn't be me.  Just as much as D&D, Star Wars and fatherhood.  It's part of what makes me who I am, what formed me, and what carried me through the depressing parts of growing up.

  Congratulations to Star Trek on 50 years of making the future seem amazing.  I hope I'm around to celebrate the centennial, as a 91-year-old who still rolls funny dice and weaves stories for his grandkids.

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