I ingest a lot of news during the course of my day (duh), so when I go home at night, I usually ingest an absolute ton of entertainment via my TV and laptop. I should probably get out and exercise more, but I love getting sucked into a good TV show or movie.
Some of what I watch is truly mindless entertainment. But some of it, even when it’s fictional, is truly important and inspiring, to the level that it creates tangible ripples in the real world.
One of those shows — Star Trek — turns 45 years old today.
A lot of people will always remember Star Trek for its technological impact: Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone, which is basically James T. Kirk’s communicator only better. We built the shuttle to blast off into space and return (and we named the prototype Enterprise). We’re working on inventing Geordi LaForge’s ocular implants from Star Trek: First Contact.
I think all that’s awesome, but I think what’s even better and more important is the cultural impact Star Trek has had.
When Kirk and Uhura kissed — one of the the first interracial kisses on TV — it was blacked out in parts of the south. Think about that, compared to where we are now. Star Trek didn’t prompt the civil rights movement, of course, but it used its platform as a show about the future to send a message: In the future, no one will care about this. It was the same way when it came to casting the bridge crew. It didn’t matter that the U.S. and Russia were locked in the Cold War with each other in 1966; Chekov was Russian and it was 2266, and all that stuff happened hundreds of years ago. Get over it.
(Side note: I wonder what it would be like if a new Star Trek TV show in 2011 featured a Middle Eastern crewmember.)
But here’s what the ultimate lesson and legacy of Star Trek is to me: When Star Trek was at it’s best, these characters weren’t just coworkers; they actually worked together out of necessity to solve problems. If we’re going to take anything from Star Trek in 2011 — and if there’s one thing I’d love to see focused on in Star Trek 2.1 — it should be that. A lot of what I ingest during the day right now consists of partisan political strife, either in Washington, D.C., or among average people in other parts of the country. It’s comforting to go home, flip on something like Star Trek or Glee (which I think is one of the only modern shows carrying the “work together” torch effectively) and feel like I’m somewhere where things are better.
That’s really why fiction is so important. Fiction takes us from the reality we exist in to the reality we can create if we try.