I often find myself asking: WWPD? (What Would Picard Do) These days as I watch Next Gen over and over again on Netflix.
As a child I grew up with Star Trek 1 through 3 playing ad nauseam as I built spaceships out of Lego and ran around the house trying to Vulcan neck-pinch my brother and force him into submission.
Never did get my technique down.
Around the time Star Trek 4 or 5 came out (we’re going waaaay back now), Next Gen came out and I was addicted. It’s such a tolerant world. A polite world. There was not an ounce of sarcasm or derision among the crew. When I watched it I felt sort of grown up and Tuning in was like tuning into an extended family. The Enterprise, with its warp core sounding like a pleasant heartbeat in the background (woop…woop…woop…woop) felt like a safe space. I was going through EXTREMELY rough times. By twelve I was harboring very dark thoughts involving self-harm and the one place that shed light on that dark place was Next Gen.
Sci-fi isn’t about discovering aliens, it’s about discovering ourselves. It’s a mirror with different facets.
On Next Gen you had Picard, who shows us what leadership of an evolved human society could look like.
Riker chose loyalty and love for his home on the Enterprise above accepting promotions on other ships.
Worf represented our primal urges and the necessity to tame them in order to discover the truth before being rash.
Geordi showed us that our perception that he was ‘vulnerable’ because of his vision challenges were dead wrong – his blindness was a birth-right, an advantage, and it made him uniquely qualified to overcome a variety of challenges.
Troi led the discussion on emotions, and helped the crew navigate its way through various growing pains and provide insight into other species.
Outwardly, the show appears to be about discovering new life forms and civilizations, but it’s really about how the characters coped with ideas, new and old, as well as their own inner worlds.
one of the most beloved characters in the franchise was Data. He wanted to be human so much that he was willing to take the bad - all the bad - with the good. It made me think it was worth living, you see. That the bad would be worth it, I just had to hang on…try and make sense of it. Maybe rebel against the idea that emotions aren’t inherently ‘negative’ (or ‘positive’) as Troi asserts in an episode of Next Gen. Or maybe even take a cavalier approach. i mean, it was pretty bad-ass when Kirk rejects a ‘god’ (not really God) who’d offered to remove his pain by screaming: “I want my pain, I need my pain!!!”). I’d never thought of pain as something we needed before that.
And that’s why I love sci-fi. Right when I was at my worst: hating life, hating myself -LOATHING! - I saw the possibilities when I watched the show. I thought: Is it possible the future could be that mature? That Open-minded?
That the reason the show is so popular is because people can relate to it the same way I do? That this is a future we should try and strive for?
I still believe this is probably true. And though it sometimes seems like we’re back-tracking culturally, I’ve actually seen so much positive change in the 30 years since the show came out. We have a long way to go, it’s true, but I’ve seen changes. People are more informed about psychology and sociology than ever before. We are opening up to new ideas and revisiting old ones, trying to find our happy medium as we swing the pendulum this way and that. But Star Trek and the Sci-fi genre taught me that there’s (often) more than one right answer for how a society can exist and co-exist.
Presently I am venturing into Orville (an EXCELLENT show which has really hit its stride in this second season) and am a budding Dr. Who fan.
My gingerbread Tardis, my Christmas cat shirt and my deer-caught-in-the -headlights look.
Dr. Who is an advanced being (I mean, he’s an actual ‘time-lord’ yo) but is fascinated by human culture. Despite being hundreds of years old, he (and now she with Jodie Whittaker) continues to see the world with child-like wonder, and as such, prefers the company of humans.
Here, too, we see our own humanity and emotion through the eyes of a character removed from our 21st century human selves.
In season 201, Ep 7 (2006), The Age of Steel, David Tenant (The 10th Doctor) confronts The leader of the Cybermen:
Cyberman: You are proud of your emotions?
The Doctor:Oh Yes.
Cyberman:Then tell me Doctor, have you known grief and rage and pain?
The Doctor: Yes. Yes, I have.
Cyberman:And they hurt?
The Doctor (with a knowing smile): Oh, yes.
Cyberman: I can set you free. Would you not want that? A life without pain?
The Doctor (flatly): You might as well kill me.
Then all hell breaks loose, like it does in the Who-verse. The point is the Doctor argues that development stops when pain stops.
I have so many more episodes to get through, but so far my take away from this show, and all other sci-fi shows I’m into is this:
As humans We are awkward, confused, violent, mean and petulant at times, barely evolved from knuckle-dragging days, but we want to grow, we are basically good, and have the ability to see past the present time to a variety of outcomes if we choose to. We may be less than god-like ourselves, but manage to foray into realms of personal strength, forgiveness and open-mindedness that makes us worth loving – worth existing – whether we’re talking about our species as a whole, or just a twelve year old girl with no friends. We understand that morals are a continuing discussion, can be complicated and more of a journey than a fixed destination or conclusion. There will always be questions about what is right, but the point is being able to discuss it rationally and take into account new information. We are explorers. We meet things with curiosity rather than fear when we are at our most evolved and when we are at our best. We’ve made mistakes. But we are worthy.
We’re struggling with this right now. I’ve said meaaaan things about the current powers that be. I’m not proud of that. I’m profoundly disappointed on some days now that we’ve had the real mirror of where we are held up to us and didn’t see a society that was heading in the direction of Next Gen, but rather one that seems stuck in some gear that represents ignorance (both the willful, spiteful kind as well as the legit version), emotional illliteracy and a mistrust for different ideas. In turn a rather ugly mirror was held up to myself. Put to the test, I’m not so mature as I thought when I see where things are at. I’ve lashed out.
Then I remember It’s happening for a reason, and we still need to listen. Not to everyone with an opinion all the time, but for the sake of trying to figure out the best course for the future we need to at least hear people out as we continue to inform ourselves Rather than writing them off at first glance. (THAT’S What Picard Would Do). If they can’t justify their views then maybe we can take away what led them to have those views in the first place, and go from there. I hope that people do the same for me.
I find this really hard, but I’m trying to commit to it.
The worst kind of purgatory I can imagine is being stuck in the same spot forever. But We won’t be, not as a collective culture, nor as individuals. It gets better. I know this because it’s logical. I know this because I’ve lived through it before on a personal level and as an observer of society at large. People get smarter and they get kinder. The mirror that was held up to us in 2016 and seems to endure is not a trend backwards, it just showed us that people had been hiding. This needs to come to light because an evolved culture is one where everyone feels their needs are met and aren’t just pretending to be tolerant. It should be come by honestly for the most enduring and positive outcomes for all. There are answers. We just need to keep exploring like we’re a member of the Enterprise crew or riding around in a Tardis with the Doctor, With fascination and tolerance of our own. When my daughter gets big enough, I’ll introduce her to my various crews and help her start her journey. (May I have found a bit more enlightenment by then).
For now, I’ll just dress her up and take photos and fake it till I make it.
Dr. Who Photoshoot
…or maybe Work on her room decor. What can I say? Art is cathartic.
In the meantime I’m going to keep my sci-fi friends close. Spend some time with Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart, Peter Capaldi, David Tennant and when we can afford it, Jodie Whittaker. I’m going to party with the crew of the Orville.
For the now, my friends, keep on keepin on.
Enjoy some earl grey tea, Live long and prosper.
oh - and don’t Vulcan neck pinch your brother. He might use Kirk’s classic axe handle DEFENSE move in retaliation. On your back. While you’re drinking hot cocoa.