Space, the final frontier. If you've seen an episode of the original Star Trek series, you probably heard that in the voice of a young William Shatner. What do you think of when someone says "Star Trek"? Do you think of Spock? Trekkies? Geeks? Nerds? Well, let's see.
Star Trek started out as a small, unassuming television show about space exploration, debuting in the late 1960's. No one could have predicted the worldwide cultural phenomenon it would grow to become. The Star Trek franchise has been bringing people together for 53 years through television, movies, books, comic books, toys, games, memorabilia, and conventions. I mean, I met my husband at a Star Trek convention, so you could say I owe my current and future lifetime of happiness to Star Trek.
The original Star Trek series debuted on television in 1966. Yes, it looks dated with its mini-skirts and beehive hairdos, but critics argue that it has produced some of the best episodes of any television series. Star Trek pushed the social boundaries of television. The show sported a racially diverse cast, including Japanese, African, Russian, and Scottish people, which was unusual for the time. Star Trek also had television's first interracial kiss. Furthermore, it pushed the boundaries of storytelling with episodes about diversity, hatred, racism, war, religion, and many other social topics.
We can't talk about Star Trek without touching on two of the most famous characters in the entire Star Trek Universe. First, the logical, pointy-eared Mr. Spock. (No, not Dr. Spock. Doctor Spock was a human who wrote books on how to raise children.) Spock, aptly portrayed by Leonard Nimoy, was a very complex character. He was half human and half Vulcan, which of course brought a unique angle of character complexity. Vulcans, as many of us know, suppress their emotions, so Spock was always dealing with having human feelings while trying to keep in line with his Vulcan upbringing. And then there was Kirk. Now, who can forget William Shatner as Captain Kirk? Kirk was the classic hero, both a fighter and a ladies' man. He was handsome and charming and, in my opinion, the best captain of a starship there ever was. These two characters interacted and developed in a way that would captivate entire generations, creating die hard Star Trek fans, or Trekkies.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (also called “TNG” or “Next Gen”) came along in 1987. It was notable for being the first sequel to a TV show and for breathing new life into an old series. It was a new, updated show for a new generation. TNG had a very '80s look, which was totally cool for the time. TNG also boasted some of the best adversaries: Q and The Borg. Q was an all-powerful being who was funny, cynical, and always a thorn in the crew’s side. However, whenever he appeared, you knew he was going to teach the crew a valuable lesson in humanity, and would learn something about himself along the way. The Borg were a cyborg race that assimilated other beings into their “hive” by giving them cybernetic implants, completely taking over their bodies and minds. The episodes with the Borg also brought up issues of what it meant to be human.
After that came Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise. While they did not gain the popularity of the original or TNG, they were no less significant. They each added richness to the Trek canon in their own way. Recently, we saw newer Trek incarnations, beginning with a new reboot movie in 2009. The movie, merely titled Star Trek, used an all new cast playing the original characters. It was more glitzy and glamorous, with more adventure and less overall character development. Two more Trek movies were released after that with the same starring cast. Star Trek also got a modern look with the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. Discovery is a prequel, set ten years before the original 1960's series. It had moderate success with season 1, but really hit pay dirt with season 2, bringing back new versions of old favorites like Spock, and getting back to more stories about humanity; stories that made the franchise a cultural phenomenon in the first place. There are new shows currently in production, and a new Trek movie is underway directed by none other than the famed Quentin Tarantino, who is also an admitted Trekkie.
With its 7 television shows and 13 movies, Star Trek has had a cultural impact like no other media creation. Klingons, arguably the most well-known race in the Star Trek universe, are a great example. The Klingons have their own real language, and it's spoken by fans throughout the world. There are even translations of literary creations into the Klingon language, including works of Shakespeare. DuoLingo, a popular language-learning app, offers Klingon, too. The Klingon language is even integrated in Bing's language translator.
The Vulcans are another popular and instantly recognizable race from Star Trek. The Vulcan salute, which Leonard Nimoy invented from a Jewish hand salute, is a very well-known gesture associated with Spock and Star Trek. I see strangers do the Vulcan salute when they see me wearing a Star Trek t-shirt.
And who could ever forget the song by Information Society "What's On Your Mind"? The song features a soundbite of Spock saying "pure energy". I've even heard Captain Kirk mentioned in popular songs, such as "99 Luftballoons" by Nena and a remix of "That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain. The '80s pop band T'Pau, with their one hit wonder "Heart and Soul", got their band name from a Star Trek episode.
I love spotting Star Trek references on other TV shows. In my younger days, I used to write down every show that happened to make a reference to Star Trek. The list got so large that I eventually gave up. Too bad I don't still have it! There was the time Frasier spoke in perfect Klingon at his son's Bar Mitzvah. There was the time Seinfeld talked about a "katra" from the third Trek movie. Even NCIS had a character who spoke Klingon! My parents, who had no interest in Star Trek, always recognized Shatner and Nimoy when they were on any show.
Star Trek has invaded pop culture in so many ways. Anyone who is on Facebook is probably familiar with Picard, whose picture is used in several standard memes.Star Trek has made the cover of Time magazine and People magazine, not to mention one of my favorites, MAD magazine! " A model of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek is on display at the Smithsonian. The term Trekkie is even an official word in the Oxford Dictionary. In fact, it's the only word to describe a fandom that is recognized by the Oxford Dictionary
Star Trek is also popular with politicians. Democratic former President Barack Obama has admitted to being a fan, and had a picture taken with Nichelle Nichols. Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich mentioned Star Trek in his lectures at Kennesaw State University as a show about the "spirit of invention and discovery", and he even appeared at a Star Trek convention to talk about the space program. Also, Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, claims to be a fan who knows even the most minute details of Trekdom. Thus, Star Trek even reaches across political parties, gender, and race. It is a show that appeals to, yes, geeks and nerds, but so many others as well.
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original series, at one time talked about quitting the show when it was still in production. Then she met Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she didn't know at the time was a fan. She told him she wanted to leave the show, but he convinced her to stay because her character was an African woman who was an officer on a starship. That's a groundbreaking role. Nichelle was also a role model for Whoopi Goldberg, who saw Uhura on Star Trek and recognized her as a black woman on TV who wasn't a maid. Uhura obviously made waves and changed a lot of lives.
There have been many famous guest stars on Star Trek, mainly because they asked to be on the show. The most prominent was Whoopi Goldberg, who had a recurring role as Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other famous people who were on Star Trek include Kirstie Alley, Kelsey Grammer, Christian Slater, The Rock, Stephen Hawking, Seth MacFarlane, and Mick Fleetwood.
There are many annual Star Trek conventions worldwide. Fandom is still alive and thriving at cons, with cosplayers and autograph seekers never ending. The most visible con is Star Trek Las Vegas, a sanctioned Star Trek convention that always has over a hundred actors from Trek, from the most famous to the ones who appeared briefly on one episode and never had a line. Another huge convention for the fandom is Star Trek Destination, a yearly con in Europe. There is also a Star Trek cruise every year that boasts some of the biggest Trek stars, such as William Shatner and George Takei. Trekfest is held in Riverside, Iowa every year. Riverside, IA is a small town that had itself officially declared the future birthplace of Captain Kirk. (It has been stated on Trek that Kirk is from Iowa, but not where in Iowa.) There is currently a petition to get Bloomington, Indiana named as the future birthplace of Captain Janeway, the captain on Star Trek: Voyager. There is a city in Canada called Vulcan, Alberta that publicizes itself as a Star Trek town, after Star Trek's planet Vulcan. They have regular tourists and a Star Trek convention every year. There are also are a slew of other local yearly Trek conventions across the US and around the world.
Star Trek has proven itself to have staying power. It will live in the hearts of fans forever. With the current and upcoming shows and movies, it will live on to inspire new generations. Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry, and everyone else who had a hand in it, have made something that is not only unique, but something that embraces humanity and the future in a way that nothing else can, and in a way that nothing else ever has or ever will again.