Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why the world needs Star Trek

I originally wrote this article sometime in 2005 after the movie Star Trek: Nemesis had underperformed at the box office and Paramount was considering pulling the plug on the series, Star Trek: Enterprise.

It's hard for me to imagine a world without Star Trek since the show and movies have always been there, touching my life in one way or another. Now that production of new shows (and movies) has come to an end, I wonder: What will the world be like without Star Trek?

Avery Brooks, "Captain Sisko" was my teacher and mentor at Rutgers.  His Alternate Styles (of acting) class was my favorite class, and I still draw on what he taught me when I need to create anything. He's a gifted musician and spiritual seeker, and when someone like Avery touches your life, you grow in many unforseen ways. The man is a nexus.

Gates (Cheryl) McFadden "Beverly Crusher" and Steven Culp "Major Hayes" were friends and roommates of my husband's when they were all at Brandeis. I don't know Gates, but Steven is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's one of the smartest, hard-working, talented, generous, kind-hearted and funny humans I've ever known, and if we didn't live so far away, I have no doubt that he and his wife would be among our closest friends. Another link has come from my screenwriters' group here in Los Angeles where some of the writers from Star Trek: The Next Generation and other series are members. It's a strange coincidence that these writers, actors and I have even connected. I've never been to a Star Trek convention and other than my fascination with the original series when I was a young boy, there is no reason I should have met anyone connected to Star Trek other than fellow fans.

It's 1966 and I'm a good-looking, outgoing eight-year old boy, who is not unhappy, exactly, but I feel like I just don't fit in. I'm too smart for my age and not athletic enough because I have no father in my life to teach me the things a boy needs to know to play sports. I'm too sensitive and empathetic, too curious, too visible to escape the fact that everyone can tell that there is something unusual, or alien about me. My eyes are way too blue and piercing, I keep hearing the adults whisper behind my back, and my mom doesn't help matters when she reminds our relatives and close friends that I was born with an lacy cowl or fatty membrane protecting me. From what I don't know. The biting sarcasm of demons perhaps?

It doesn't help that I used words that were too big for normal adult conversation, was constantly reading anything I could get my hands on, and whenever anything about the Space Program was on TV, it was like I was in my own impenetrable bubble, or the cone of silence from Get Smart. My first grade report card says something like "Richard is exceeding all expectations but when he gets up from his nap he sometimes wakes with a sadness, and hides the fact that he has tears in his eyes. When I ask him what is wrong, he says that the other kids are mean. When I ask him who is being mean to him, he corrects me and says, "they are mean to each other.""

One other thing you should also know is that I didn't speak for several months when I was five. Someone turned on the evening news with Walter Cronkite one May night in 1963 and as usual, I had my eyes glued to the TV when I saw young children being propelled on their backs with water from a firehose, and giant dogs were ripping and biting them. I loved dogs. I loved water! How could this be? It was horrific and I remember crying as if the world had just come to an end. To me it had. Those children from Birmingham, Alabama were being treated in a way that I found so monstrous that I believe all my nightmares for the rest of my life would come from those unspeakably heartbreaking images. I wouldn't be able to speak for the rest of the summer as I began to learn the long sad history of racism in America. I learned about the methodologies of meanness and cruelty that humans have perpetrated on each other since time began. I didn't belong on this planet. There must be some mistake.

So you can imagine what it was like for me, a few years later when a new color television broadcast the first episodes of Star Trek. Here was a world, a galaxy that I could relate to. Captain James T. Kirk was the father figure that I had hungered for all my childhood: he was clever, funny, strong, handsome, and the absolute embodiment of good. His crew was made up of all those lovely people that didn't look exactly like me but we were the same. They worked together to solve problems, stay alive, and explore strange new worlds. They did this without resorting to firehoses or police dogs. They were respectful, kind and helpful to each other. I was in heaven.

I knew that as long as there was a TV show like Star Trek, there were other people like me in the world. I would be OK. We would be OK as long as we continued to reach out, explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations. As long as we boldly went where none of us had gone before, we would not stagnate. We would not turn on each other as the world would get smaller and smaller.