In a world where there was no Star Trek, what becomes of the post-Trek cultural artifacts that range from Galaxy Quest to The Big Bang Theory to catch phrases to television tropes to William Shatner doing Priceline.com commercials? He’s not getting that gig because of T. J. Hooker or that one episode of The Twilight Zone.
What does the world look like without Star Trek’s influence?
I know, Star Trek feels dated.
The pilot for the original series was done and rejected before I was even born. The series itself had run its three seasons and was cancelled before I even old enough to know it was a thing.
But then, somehow, it stayed alive. It ran, and remained popular, in syndication for years and year. I and millions of others watch those re-runs and the follow on animated series. Before Star Wars could have an expanded universe there was already a pile of Star Trek novels available. There were models and costumes and board games and books just about the phenomena that was Star Trek. There was even a store over at the San Antonio shopping center at one point called Starbase One or some such. It sold other science fiction stuff. You could find a battery powered Robby the Robot or a model of an Eagle from Space 1999 or a few Lost in Space related items, but most of the place was just stacked up with Star Trek related items.
There was a time when having a store dedicated to Star Trek seemed like a sound business decision. And I used to just nerd out in there when I wasn’t over at the Hobby Shop.
I’ve even written about the first computer video game I ever played, which was, of course, Star Trek.
Star Trek was a big freakin’ deal. And it was cemented into my consciousness before Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or Alien or any number of other science fiction franchises.
It wasn’t high art. The original series could be groan inducingly bad at times. The third season especially seemed to have trouble finding decent scripts. And it hasn’t aged very well. It feels awkward and self-conscious today.
But at the time it filled a need. It was water on a desert. It was optimistic and hopeful and showed us a future that looked pretty damn cool. I wanted to be on the Enterprise, to be a part of that crew.
And the cornerstone of that crew was the half human, half Vulcan Mr. Spock. I do not think Star Trek works without him and his exotic look and pointy ears and oddly compelling logical view of the universe. Yes, sometimes emotion would win out, but only when it was logical for it to do so. No character so well defined the series (or was so completely abused in the subsequent flood of novels) than Mr. Spock.
I remember once, back in the early 90s, explaining to a co-worker about Star Trek. She grew up overseas and emigrated to the United States as a graduate student and then stayed on, marrying a fellow immigrant and settling down in Silicon Valley. She was (and remains) very smart and was interested in various cultural things. One day we were giving the Live Long and Prosper sign in the lab and she wanted to know about it.
So I gave her a little background on Star Trek and then tried to help her get her hand to do the sign, which she couldn’t quite manage. Then her husband showed up to pick her up on the way home from his job, and when he walked into the room I turned to him and gave him the sign… and he put his hand up and returned it, causing his wife to boggle in disbelief. She practically shouted the question, “How do you know that?” It was a beautiful moment.
Being able to do that was the universal nerd secret handshake and high sign at the time. If you were in the club, you practiced making that sign until you could do it without hesitation. And if you couldn’t do it, you weren’t in the goddam club. But he was in the club. We were all in the club around those parts.
I know that this is a bunch of silly, half thought through, semi-connected statements, but it represents the rush of emotion that ran through my brain when I read today that Leonard Nimoy had passed away at age 83. He and his character were an unreasonably big part of my early life.
And I know he was more than just Mr. Spock, that he played more roles and had a wider range of interests and a life outside of all of that.
But Mr. Spock was important to us and he got that and he played the role long after many people would have tired of the whole thing because he got how important it was. And through that he will have achieved a sort of immortality. Mr. Spock lives on.