I’ve been thinking about heroes lately. With news of the death of terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden last week, I was reminded of the sad tragedy of September 11th, 2001 when the world witnessed the horrific loss of life and destruction in New York, Washington D.C., and a rural field in Pennsylvania at the hands of Bin Laden’s terrorist group. Yet, I was also reminded how, 10 years ago on 9/11, we were all witness to the best of humanity and to the heroism that lives in all of us – a message which I believe Star Trek has presented and encouraged for the past 45 years.
Perhaps as I grow older and life sands me down, I am getting a bit more cynical. Perhaps, the world isn’t worse today than when I was growing up, as some people suggest. I remind myself that it’s important to wake up each day looking at the world as a glass half-full. I must admit, for me, one of the positive influences through most of my life has been Star Trek. It has inspired me to strive for something better - during the best of times and the worst of times.
There will always be those who commit abhorrent acts of violence in our lives and we’ll always face the challenge of combating and eliminating it so that we can exist in a world where mutual respect, peace, personal growth and security is available for everyone – regardless of what part of this beautiful blue planet you live on. That was the dream of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Of course, I can’t help but look to Star Trek for the kind of world I hope we will become someday. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was 12 years old and Star Trek’s heroes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It seems I have always looked up to someone for inspiration and courage. The Star Trek universe has no shortage of heroes – stories of noble characters who have high ideals, a strong moral structure and the concern and compassion for others that is necessary to be a truly civilized society. And they all work together as one heroic team.
Through the various Star Trek shows and adventures, we have been given lessons on the best of humanity and, at times, the worst. But there are reasons why we, as Star Trek fans, look up to the men and women on Star Trek as heroes and have kept the franchise alive for so long. They exemplify the very best of what human beings can be while still showing us the warts and scars we all have and we all must struggle to overcome.
As we continue the ongoing fight against terrorism both here and abroad, it brings to mind a revealing interview I did with Gene Roddenberry back in 1987. Gene was explaining to me what subjects he wanted to deal with in his then new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In addition to problems such as drug abuse and global pollution, Gene wanted to explore the subject of terrorism. 1987 was not so different from 2011.
“We will attack the problem of hostages and terrorism,” he said thoughtfully. “Terrorists today feel that they have been wronged. The feeling is there, no matter what we believe the truth of it is. They feel very passionate about their beliefs. People don’t kill themselves for things unless they’re passionate about it. Today, in the United States, we should be exploring why they feel this way. What could we possibly have done wrong? And how can we fix it? The answer is not the current answer, which is hating them. And the answer in the new Star Trek is not going to be hating them.” Gene was ahead of his time in many ways.
The Star Trek universe has given fans so many heroes to revere and emulate. I can’t help but admire Kirk’s courage, Picard’s wisdom, Janeway’s passion, Sisko’s quiet determination or Archer’s optimism, along with a host of other characters. But what Star Trek has really shown me is that there is a hero in all of us. Star Trek has countless stories of men and women of all sizes, shapes and colors who have stood up for what they believed in and rose to the occasion when they were called to do so. Star Trek has shown us time and again inspiring stories that the common man/woman can be truly uncommon when the time comes for him or her to do so.
These days, when there is so much talk about violence, anger, hatred and suffering, it would seem as if heroes are few and far between. Yet, I believe that every person harbors something to believe in, something to look up to. It’s my opinion that he world needs true heroes now more than ever.
In that same interview back in 1987, I shared with Gene Roddenberry how his characters had been real heroes to me – inspiring me to better myself and to work harder. I asked him who his heroes were.
“Oh, I have some strange ones,” he smiled. “Jonathan Swift, Albert Schweitzer. But many of my heroes are unknown people I’ve met which I consider remarkably brave, patient and understanding. But I have less of that collection of heroes than an overwhelming affection for humanity. The things we are able to do are just marvelous – and it is not just our leaders but every one of us who has the capacity for greatness, both large and small. I know that humans, even today, capture and torture people and commit war and all of that. But that’s because they are still children and children are violent. But I refuse to think any other way about the human race but that they are beautiful children. They will, in the end, persevere.
“You know,” he added in conclusion, “I am relieved about something. I would want to cut my own throat if this whole phenomenon around Star Trek had happened out of a show in which I had an anti-hero saying, ‘Hey man, be smart, get yours while you can, screw the rest!’ If the phenomenon had happened out of that, I’d really feel bad. At least we did one with old-fashioned heroes that believe their oath and their word are worth something and they have a respect for life. That’s not too bad if that’s the things it stands for.”
My list of heroes, both real and imagined, has grown over the years and Gene Roddenberry is definitely on it. But one important lesson that Star Trek has taught me, in all of its incarnations, is that there is a hero within all of us, which we can choose to recognize if given the chance. I know my hero, Gene, would agree.
Dan Madsen is the former founder, president and publisher of the Official Star Trek Fan Club and Official Star Trek Communicator magazine. He now is involved with actress Ashley Eckstein’s new company, Her Universe, which produces fashionable, female-focused apparel for Sci-Fi fans.
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