Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Very Special Trek Thursday: Happy Birthday!

Image courtesy Ryan Hutton

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first air date of Star Trek. It's hard to find words for it, though mostly because I am hella busy and not because I'm emotionally choked up. Otherwise there would have definitely been a marathon of my top 5 TOS episodes today.

Confession: I first got into Star Trek after the J. J. Abrams reboot. I won't say because of the reboot—it had been on my "to watch" list for years by that point, since I had missed it on TV in syndication but was geeky enough to know that it was a thing and to know that I would probably like it—but seeing the movie reminded me that I really did want to see the TV show, so I can't say there's no connection, either. (I hear your cries of "ZOMG FAKE GEEK GIRL" "NOT A TRUE FAN!" and idgaf.) I went back and watched TOS in all of its mid-century campy glory and loved it; I rewatched the J. J. Abrams reboot and actually kind of hated it.

For all of the cool whiz-bang tech, for all of the cowboy heroism, for all of the green-skinned space babes, what makes TOS really special for me is the philosophy of it and the willingness of the writers to sit and stew over moral dilemmas. (To an extent. You can't do much stewing in under an hour and still have cowboy fights and green-skinned space babes. But you can do some.) I studied philosophy in college because I liked to think and because I wanted to get at the heart of things; science fiction does much of the same. And not just in the hackneyed "philosophy and pop culture" sense (though considering they've subtitled that one "The Wrath of Kant" I can't even be mad), either. The genre, at its best, tackles real metaphysical (How do we know what exists? How can we objectively measure things like space and time?), epistemological (How can we be sure that we even know anything? What limits are there to what is knowable?), ethical (Are there any truly universal moral imperatives?), and aesthetic (What does art look like in the face of technology? Is there anything like a universal standard of beauty or perfection?) questions. It's kind of why I prefer the older term speculative fiction instead of science fiction. It denotes a little more reflection; boundaries that are a little looser.

Did TOS always live up to that promise? Not always. At its heart, it's an action show, and arguably the whiz-bang of J. J. Abrams is actually a completely appropriate and updated version of the franchise. But TOS certainly held much more space for those questions than the new movies do, and that's why it holds a special place in my nerdy heart.

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