Star Trek has always been there for Jonathan Lane, Trekxpert and Chief of Communications for STARFLEET, Star Trek’s oldest fan club. The airing of Star Trek’s first episode, “Arena”, took place two days before Lane was born. He watched Star Trek during dinnertime as a child growing up in the 1970s. He doodled Starship Enterprises on his science homework.
“I loved the way that the show worked, the fact that it was science-y. I was, for the most part, a geeky science kid,” he explains.
He’s memorized the plot and title of all Star Trek episodes, from all the series. And while attending Cornell, he and his roommates would even have Star Trek marathons.
“I can’t even imagine some of the Star Trek marathons these days – with all of the series – you could technically watch four and a half weeks worth of Star Trek episodes without repeating one,” jokes Lane.
“But that wouldn’t be healthy,” he warns.
Lane claims to own six Star Trek uniforms, and even featured a Star Trek groom’s cake at his wedding. His wife, who is not a Trekkie, was good natured about it.
Below, Lane provides the five takeaways of Star Trek.
1) Star Trek provides a futuristic lens on contemporary social issues.
In the 1960s and 70s, there was a lot of social controversy and upheaval in the US – and in the 1960s, television presented a sanitized view of ourselves. For example, The Andy Griffith Show, Dick Van Dyke, Leave it to Beaver – these television shows were, in a way, utopian versions of society.
“Gene Roddenberry wanted Star Trek to be a mirror of what was going on in contemporary society, and he created other civilizations who encountered similar issues. There is one particularly famous example, an episode called “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, where an alien was half white and half black – had whiteface makeup on the left side of his face, and was completely midnight black on the right side. There was a being like him from the same planet, except he was white on the right and black on the left – and they had been hunting and running from each other through the cosmos for thousands of years. Eventually, the entire planet of the half black and half white beings was destroyed, and because of their deep hatred, the two characters end up killing each other as well, even though they are the last beings on their planet. This spoke strongly to the civil rights movement,” explains Lane.
“There was another episode where Klingons started arming villagers with primitive flintlock guns to take over an area occupied by mountain people, and Kirk and his crew had to decide whether or not to start arming these mountain people to defend themselves. It was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in Vietnam,” says Lane.
Similar themes were reflected in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine.
2) Not all Star Trek fans live in their parents’ basements, have never kissed girls before, or have tape in the middle of their glasses.
There are several types of Star Trek fans. Two commonly heard phrases are “Trekkers” and “Trekkies”.
“The easiest way for me to describe the difference between a Trekker and Trekkie is that a Trekker owns a pair of Spock ears, and a Trekkie is someone who owns them AND wears them. An alternate explanation is that a Trekker gets angry if you call them a Trekkie.”
Lane goes on in further detail:
“A Trekkie is that typical geek who has no real connection with reality – they live in their mother’s basement, and believe that Star Trek is the be all and end all of everything. Trekkers are a bit more progressive about Star Trek – they don’t go around giving the Vulcan salute to everyone, and they don’t wear Star Trek uniforms to court.”
Extremely devoted Trekkies are sometimes called “Get-a-lifers”, who represent the typical stereotype of a Star Trek fan. This was made popular by a Saturday Night Live skit in which William Shatner lambastes Trekkies at a Star Trek convention, telling them, “For Chrissakes, it’s just a TV show! Get a life!”
However, for the most part, Star Trek fans are a diverse bunch.
“There are all sorts of Star Trek fans out there – one of our officers in STARFLEET is in her 80s or 90s. We have members who are 10, 11, 12 years old. There are people in college, professionals, lawyers, doctors, anyone you can imagine. There are even people who have met their current husband or wife through STARFLEET, or their second or third husband for that matter. There’s this stereotype that we’re loners – but really, we are people who like being with people – we’re an inclusive bunch you could say,” explains Lane.
3) The oft-mocked Star Trek convention is not a laughing matter.
There are two types of Star Trek conventions – professional ones, and fan-run ones. The predominant professional one is run by a company called Creation Entertainment, which started in the 1970s and 1980s. What began as a quick way for a Long Island comic book store to make extra money, has turned into a multimillion dollar enterprise.
“The first Star Trek convention started off as a way to make a quick buck selling merchandise for the store, with the hook of having several Star Trek actors signing autographs. However, over the past fifteen years, these professional conventions have emerged into huge, monolithic conventions in major American cities, where big (Star Trek and science fiction) stars attend, and spots in autograph lines are sold. The events are extremely well run and well attended. They’re very high profile events,” explains Lane.
On the other hand, the fan-run conventions provide a more “personal” feel.
“The fan run conventions are held in smaller towns and cities, and do not have such a large budget – perhaps only two or three Star Trek stars are able to attend. However, everyone gets together, has room parties, dances, and the like. And they’re typically not as expensive. However, as Star Trek fandom waned over the years, as well as the recession, many fan-run conventions have had to be cancelled. Some conventions have gone from having 2,000 down to 200 registrants, and they haven’t been able to afford doing them anymore,” laments Lane.
Of course, at both types you’ll find people wearing costumes and Spock ears.
4) The rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek could be likened to the cola wars.
I asked Lane about the rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans.
“I think the debate between Star Trek and Star Wars is analogous to the debate between Coke and Pepsi. I enjoy and drink both. The difference between the two is the ‘trek’ part. Star Trek is more about exploration, and you aren’t always guaranteed a phaser battle. I mean, you’ll have them from time to time, and we’ve seen some good battles against the Borg. But with Star Wars, the ‘wars’ part is guaranteed – you just have to wait a few minutes for the next battle to happen.”
Lane describes how Star Trek is changing.
“However, if you look at the most recent Star Trek movie – Kirk on an ice planet running from a giant scorpion, Sulu with his collapsible sword – there is a feeling that JJ Abrams is pulling Star Trek more in line with Star Wars. Star Wars is the more successful franchise, from a mainstream acceptance standpoint, although both franchises still have incredibly strong fan bases.”
5) The technologies on Star Trek can best be described as art imitating life imitating art.
When creating technologies for the show, Gene Roddenberry conducted painstaking research to ensure that things were accurate. In some cases, Roddenberry would work with NASA to find out what some up-and-coming gadgets were.
Many gadgets have already materialized in one form or another
“One doesn’t have to look further than the communicator – which we now see as a cell phone. I wonder if Captain Kirk knew that, one day, we would even be taking pictures with these communicators!” laughs Lane.
“In many of the original 1960s episodes, there were these small, hard, square-shaped objects that could be placed into computers and read – years before the floppy disk. And now, forty years later, some technology has even leapfrogged over Star Trek—as you won’t find many floppy disks around anymore,” explains Lane.
And in some cases, NASA was inspired by Star Trek.
“One of the technologies that the USS Enterprise had, the impulse engine, was run by something called ion propulsion. It’s where people go through space, pick up some stray hydrogen, process it, and as you pick up speed, you pick up more hydrogen and accelerate. This is something that NASA is working on right now, no doubt in part because of Star Trek,” says Lane.
And of course, the one technology that came from Star Trek that Lane is keeping his hopes up for?
“Teleportation,” he jokes.
Only time will tell.
More information can be found about STARFLEET at http://www.sfi.org.