Thankful for Trek on Thanksgiving
How does one compile the many reasons we have to be thankful for Star Trek into one article? For over half a century, Star Trek has not only excited and enthralled us with tales from the 22nd, 23rd and 24th centuries, but it’s shown us much about the human condition and a pathway to a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow. Where other sci-fi presented a grim, dystopian future – all too easy in these days of uncertainty, and certainly so during the Cold War era of the 1960’s – Gene Roddenberry gave us an optimistic vision. Earth and the struggles of humanity to co-exist upon it were the macrocosm, while the fictional Star Trek galaxy developed to show us our hopes and ideals on a grand galactic stage. As a parable for life, and a means of presenting the everyday battles we face in an attractive sci-fi setting, we should be thankful.
Star Trek influenced the technological world around us. As the decades rolled by, Treknology previously seen only on our TV screens became commonplace in everyday life. Kirk’s communicator inspired the flip phone, just as the Portable Auxiliary Data Display (PADD) - upon which we were so used to watching information distilled through a familiar LCARS interface (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System) - became the Smart Phone. Hyposprays, tablet computers, tractor beams, tricorders, replicators, cloaking devices… would we have such advanced voice-activated interfaces on computers, Siri or Alexa, for example, without the inspiration of Star Trek and Majel Barret’s iconic ships computer voice?
Here’s an interesting thing to be thankful for; Binge watching. Think about it, with more than 742 episodes of televised Star Trek TV and 13 movies (that’s currently 560 hours of film and TV, including the first two Short Treks), new fans can dig in to the franchise and be assured of hour after hour after hour of fresh viewing. Deep Space Nine has enjoyed an upturn in its fortunes thanks to Netflix and its innate bingeability (officially now a new word), while fans can choose to tuck into the Kirk era movies, The Next Generation quadrilogy or the Kelvin Timeline entries. New fans to the franchise are often daunted by the sheer volume of past episodes they need to watch, but there’s no requirement and no rush to watch them. Whether it's on CBS All Access, Netflix or another streaming service, pick a Trek, grab a bowl of popcorn, hit play and before too long you’ll be wondering where the weekend went.
We can be thankful to Star Trek for opening our eyes to the wonders of science. Real-world legend Dr. Stephen Hawking joined The Next Generation in the sixth-season episode “Descent, Part I,” playing poker at the same table as historical giants Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Lieutenant Commander Data and winning by bluffing Einstein. Theoretical science also appeared in season six in "Relics," where a solar system-spanning Dyson Sphere was encountered by the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, holding within it a star, and on the outside of it the crashed Federation transport the Jenolan, containing the long-lost engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Indeed, a watch through The Next Generation and the series that preceded and followed will unfold a universe of science that has inspired fans to follow their on-screen heroes into the sciences and helped shape the future of 21st century Earth.
Many of us enjoy occasional trips to weekend conventions, traveling to far-flung locations to enjoy actors and others from our favorite shows as they spin yarns and entertain crowds on stage. You can thank Star Trek for that. While there were certainly plenty of sci-fi conventions before the rise of the Star Trek mega-cons in the early 70’s, the letter writing campaign aimed at NBC with a view of saving the show emboldened the fanbase to dream big, and as the 60’s shifted into the 70’s, Star Trek conventions became commonplace as ever-expending crowds attended to meet their heroes and soak up the atmosphere. There are other major franchises and similarly huge events, but nothing replicates the excitement and warmth of a Star Trek convention running at maximum warp.
Perhaps the most-rewarding thing we can thank Star Trek for is friendship. Every series has focused on special relationships, from the three-way dance of McCoy, Spock and Kirk to the evolving relationship between Burnham and Tilly and the nurturing friendship between Seven of Nine and the Doctor. Conventions are often the location for rekindling friendships amongst fans, and occasionally where the best ones are made. The technology influenced by Trek that makes social media work is another avenue upon which to nurture these friendships. Star Trek has a rich pasture of topics to chew over and a near endless supply of amazing moments to savor.
Thanksgiving is the ultimate shared experience, so hug those closest to you and be sure to say “Thank you, Star Trek.”
Mark Newbold has been an avid Trek fan since the 1970's, when TOS was shown on UK TV, but it was the original cast movie series and TNG era that sealed the deal. Mark is a writer for Star Trek: The Official Magazine, is editor-in-Chief of Star Trek: The Neutral Zone and was a stage host at Destination Star Trek Germany in 2018. At heart, he's a Niner. Follow him on Twitter.