Happy Birthday, Star Trek: An Ode to Growing Up Trekkie
On this day in 1966, Star Trek (now known as The Original Series, but back then it was just Star Trek, because who woulda thought, you know?) first aired on American television. Which is funny, because Star Trek aired for the first time ever on September 6th, 1966 on CTV in Canada for some reason. In any case, I didn’t come along until thirteen years later, and didn’t start watching Star Trek until about eight years after that. But once I sat down to watch “The Trouble With Tribbles,” I was hooked for life.
Over time, Star Trek seems to have developed a reputation for being too cerebral (as if that’s a bad thing). One of the most curious observations I’ve heard leveled at the franchise was that unlike something like Star Wars, which has lots of action and myriad creatures, or Doctor Who, which very clearly and obviously started as an educational show “for the whole family,” Star Trek is seen as being not for kids. It’s too “thinky,” too “political,” too “issues-based.”
Whenever I’ve heard that point of view from people, I always feel sorry for them that they clearly weren’t given the opportunity to watch Star Trek when they were kids, because if they had, they would be thinking of an entirely different show.
Like I said, the very first episode of Star Trek I remember watching was the Season 2 episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
It was during a New Year’s Day marathon of Star Trek that one of our local TV stations in New York (WPIX, Channel 11 for those who care. They also used to do New Year’s Twilight Zone marathons, which is how I got obsessed with that show, but I’ll save that for another time). I was always fascinated by space when I was a kid, and so prose science fiction, news about NASA, and the movie Space Camp were all pretty high on my list when I was in elementary school. So my siblings recommended that I sit down and watch Star Trek during the marathon. That I would love it.
They were not wrong.
“The Trouble With Tribbles” was the perfect starter episode. It presents a straightforward conflict (two different groups want control of a planet, and Starfleet/the Enterprise have to help them figure it out); the dynamic between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in top form (particularly the Spock/McCoy dynamic); interaction with the Klingons, a major Star Trek universe alien race; and cute, fuzzy aliens that purr and are really fun to pet!
Throw in the candy-colored uniforms, the physical comedy of tribbles raining down on the captain or turning up everywhere, and the straightforward depiction of effective conflict resolution (ending on a tribble pun, because of course it should!), and you’ve got a perfect recipe for something a kid would want to watch. Not to mention something it would be good for a kid to watch.
After that, I continued watching the marathon and loved each episode more than the last. Except “Catspaw.” Even as a child, I hated “Catspaw,” because it’s the fucking worst. At least “Spock’s Brain” is funny. That episode aside, I fell in love with the story of this ship zipping around the galaxy meeting aliens.
I would imagine myself as each of the characters: what would I do if I had to make big decisions like Kirk? What would I do if lives depended on me like they do on McCoy? How much fun would it be to be able to understand alien languages and communicate with everyone the way Uhura does?
And Spock, oh Spock. I related to Spock most of all. As a kid, I was raised in a house that wasn’t big on feeling the feelings. Yet I was an artsy, emotional kid, and so even though I was trained to bottle up my feelings, they would always threaten to come out in big bursts. I understood half-human/half-vulcan Spock, because I understood the challenge of wanting to control your emotions, but not always being able to.
Spock was also my very first crush. Yes, seven-going-on-eight-year-old Teresa first felt the tingles and jingles of desire over Spock. And I hated Nurse Chapel. Every time she’d try to ingratiate herself to Spock, I’d be all You don’t even understand him! In my head. Ah, young love.
ANYway, it was around the time that I was falling in love with The Original Series that word of a new Star Trek show came out, and on September 28th, 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. Finally, I had a Star Trek of my very own, that I discovered first-hand and wasn’t passed down to me by older siblings.
I started writing fan fiction. My love of all things space travel deepened. I developed a huge crush on Wil Wheaton. I wanted to be an android like Data (see above section re: Spock and my emotions as a child). And no matter where I was on nights it was airing, my friends knew that when TNG came on, we needed to pause whatever we were doing so that I could go watch it.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was hugely popular until it ended in 1994. It had an average viewership of 20 million viewers per episode, due in large part to the fact that it was considered a show that families could watch together. This was probably because this Enterprise was a ship for families. Though Captain Picard famously hated children, this Enterprise had kids on it, and a school, and didn’t feel like a military ship (even though it was still Starfleet).
It was a place on which Data could both create himself a daughter and have a pet cat named Spot. It wasn’t just a starship, it was a home.
There’s also the fact that it was on television, and so families had easier access to it. My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so going to the movies wasn’t something I did a lot until I was in my mid-teens and started earning my own money. I saw the first Star Wars for the first time on VHS tape recorded off of television, and I didn’t watch the rest of the trilogy until just before The Phantom Menace arrived in theaters. By the time I saw Star Wars, I’d already been watching Star Trek for years, and was comparing them. And Star Trek always had my heart.
And I didn’t watch Doctor Who until 2005, but I blame that on it being British and me not being cool enough as a kid to seek out British sci-fi things.
So yes, Star Trek explores some really big ideas, and most of its dealings in conflict have to do with diplomacy before engaging in the kind of violence that leads to “action,” it’s also a franchise about aliens, and the joy of exploration, and shooting phasers, and using cool gadgets, and brightly-colored uniforms, and the complexity of dealing with your best friends.
In other words, it was great for adults, but it was also something kids could enjoy. Kids like me.
Happy birthday, Star Trek. I will love you forever.
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