By: Larry Nemecek
I’m talking about the whole Star Trek pendulum thing. You know—that big sucker, the one that takes a new, loping swing every 8-10 years or so over all us so-called fans… and then the vibrations resonate out along the way to the mainstream pop culture folks.
To be precise, I’m talking about the pendulum of history. And with all the anniversaries we’re being deluged with lately, how can a Trek fan’s fancy not turn to history? The 45th birthday of The Franchise and the 10th of Enterprise are this year, while 2012 brings the 25th of The Next Generation and the 30th of The Wrath of Khan. In a fallow Trek time while we wait for the next movie (and maybe even a new TV series, sometime before Doomsday), there’s certainly nothing new to grab our attention—at least on a scale bigger than games, books or comics.
So, we dwell on what we have. And one of the things I love about Star Trek history—and by that I mean the history of our own trendy self-perceptions about Star Trek—is what I’ve always called the “big pendulum.“ It caught me off guard, really, at first—and not til the ‘90s, at that: That’s when the franchise had enough years of “dual generations” and casts piled up to create that pendulum, with at least two points to swing between… and swing it did.
Many fans poo-poohed TNG at launch because “real” Star Trek meant Kirk, Spock and McCoy, but that was just a dim memory two summers later—by the time of the “Best of Both Worlds” cliffhanger and the “TNG coolness” explosion. By then, the audience following Picard’s gang and overall Trek fandom was now three or four times the number that TOS had ever claimed, amazingly. By 1993 or ‘94, when you said “the Enterprise” everyone knew you meant “-D” without having to spell it out.
Sadly, the flip side of the TNG boom was that a lot of the “new” fans who had never “come up” with TOS could only ridicule and ignore it as hopelessly cheesy and outdated—pointing out the plywood sets and Christmas lights, foam rocks, and bad matte lines in all the ship shots. “I just can’t take it seriously,” they’d say, as TNG spawned not only movies but two TV spinoffs within two years.
And I, in turn, would always defend our founders, pointing out that Picard and Data and Worf would never have existed without Kirk and Spock and McCoy. And if one would just look at the stories... and characters… and the TV/social context they were born in… then there’d be no trouble loving the old shows.
Yep, I defended the 79 originals in the face of all the hothothot!ness of the entire Picard/Sisko/Janeway era … just as I defended that same era when it went coldcoldcold only a few years later when, by the time Voyager got home, the new trendy fad had suddenly become the “retro-cool” Sixties! Yes, seemingly overnight, everything black and silver-trimmed was so much cooler … when fisticuffs and alien babe-bedding were once again a captain’s tools of choice. By then, once-worshipped TNG had become “soooo Eighties,” ridiculed for having “a therapist on the bridge,” a “board chairman” as captain and plushly carpeted bulkheads as the “Hyatt Regency in space.”
It was as if a huge pendulum had popped out of nowhere, and boy, had it swung! All of a sudden it was TNG that needed defending—those choices were Gene Roddenberry’s intentions, not accidents of the times—and everything once mocked about classic Star Trek was now cause to wallow in Swingin’ Sixties sensations! Led by the new wave of Trek fan films, and the delight that greeted Enterprise’s “In a Mirror Darkly,” the nostalgia of the ‘60s set in so hard that a “return” to the classic characters—if not their exact Prime universe— became the solution to the “reimagined” setting of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) comeback movie. Break out the red miniskirt uniforms for all the new geekgirl fans, kiddies!
That’s sure been the wave since the early mid-Aughts, and it’s not going anywhere too quickly—just take a look at all those miniskirts at any recent convention! But I’ve begun to wonder lately if the ol’ pendulum arc is at its high point after six or eight years, and a return swing is about to set in. Are you seeing the same signs I am?
Maybe it’s how news of the TNG Remastered Blu-ray project (and how its scope and mission will differ from that for the classic episodes) has set many fans’ hearts a-flutter, according to surprisingly strong public reactions, pent-up ever since the TOS redos won such acclaim. Or maybe it’s the fact that, for all that retro-cool Sixties fan fervor of recent years, the basic math of TNG’s original fans and impact still leaves it equal or ahead of TOS when I take “show of hands” polls at the big cons like Vegas Trek.
Or maybe, most telling of all, it’s the faces of Our Heroes—and how they are turning up everywhere. Our buddy Wil Wheaton has built such a geek guru brand for himself that those Wesley-bashing days by stupid fans are not only long gone … but it’s headlines whenever he guest-stars on Big Bang Theory, and now this month with Brent “Data” Spiner along for the ride! There’s a fan campaign that will gear up again next year to get Marina “Deanna Troi” Sirtis in as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars ... and what’s this about LeVar “Geordi” Burton getting his classic Reading Rainbow series going again for its own next generation? Michael “Worf” Dorn is the recurring psychologist on Castle … Gates “Beverly” McFadden is directing Denise “Tasha” Crosby in a play in L.A., Jonathan “Riker” Frakes is directing every series in Hollywood, it seems, … and Sir Patrick Stewart is, well, Sir Patrick!
So, what do you think, fanfriend-o-mine? Has the TNG Blu-ray news led you to dig out your gray-tops, combadges and “Dustbusters” again? Or did you ever put them away in the first place?
Larry Nemecek, author of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Star Trek Magazine columnist and longtime editor of Star Trek Communicator, is currently producing The Con of Wrath, a documentary about the biggest failed convention “success” ever. He most recently appeared in Biography Channel’s The Captains of the Final Frontier two-hour special and, in a non-genre turn, guest-starred as Caleb McCoy in the mockumentary web series Divine White’s Introduction to Hollywood. Larry shares his years as Star Trek author, historian, consultant and insider online at conventions and on larrynemecek.com. Check out his posts and original video chats with all your favorite Treklanders at his own Treklandblog.com, plus @larrynemecek on Twitter and Larry Nemecek’s Trekland on Facebook .