Sunday, February 20, 2011

Star Trekkin' (Commercial Success, part 3)

You can tell the age of this cartoon, which came out soon after William Shatner started hawking Promise Margarine. Today, Shatner would be quitting to become the Priceline Negotiator. This after having been TJ Hooker and having hosted Rescue 911. He's also Dad in Sh*t My Dad Says, but we'll forgive him for taking on a role that was clearly meant for Danny DeVito.

East Campus was where Star Trek was watched. In the various West Campus dorms, Monty Python's Flying Circus captured everyone's attention. Star Trek was kind of a touchstone for us in our undergraduate days. The show had already been in reruns for eight years, but it was still Must See TV for us. It was kind of the gateway to the evening's activities - dinner, usually awful, served in Walker Memorial right after the last class of the day let out, followed by Star Trek at 7. The sun had long gone down, so we'd gather in the East Campus lounge in front of the big color console (although we could gather in the Goodale Lounge on Second East and watch the black and white set if we didn't feel like going all the way across to the other parallel). Then we'd all split up - some of us settling in for a long night of problem sets and term papers, some of us departing the building to partake in some extracurricular student activities and some of us sticking around for the prime time line-up. There were even those who'd start in on card games, though the real serious card playing did not begin until after the news and the Carson monologue at 11. Depending on the day, I might join the guys playing cards or spend the evening in the thursday office transcribing articles for the newspaper or, more likely, shooting the bull with Dave Schubert and Tom Ginden until all hours.

Star Trek also held a certain fascination for the members of the Ayn Rand Worship Society. In Ergo, when they weren't extolling the virtues of selfishness, composing paeans to the magnificent music of Richard Wagner and the romantic images of 19th Century literary classics, and saluting the steadfastness of Boston University Chancellor John Silber (who had been run off the University of Texas campus on a rail), they would wax eloquent over the parallels between individual Star Trek episodes and Objectivist thought. Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock were their philosophical heroes, which is odd, because the fourth Star Trek movie, directed by Leonard Nimoy, would celebrate saving the whales a la Greenpeace.

Indeed, none of us could foresee that the three-season oeuvre that was the original Star Trek would grow into a vast enterprise (heh!) in the '80s and '90s. There would be the next generation television series (at least two of them), complete with new characters, the movies and even the song parodies. Meanwhile, the high technologists are busily scrambling to invent devices that replicate those early Star Trek gadgets - wrist communicators, wands that can measure vitals when waved over a body and even phasers that you can set to "stun". Anti-matter has been detected and catalogued, cloaking devices that can bend light rays around objects are being designed, and there are people who are convinced that transporters will eventually be able to beam us from place to place. And the age of the flip-top communicator has come and gone; remember the Flip-Phone and the folding cellular phones that followed a generation later?
By the way, a true Trekker knows what's wrong with the above strip. The correct expression is, "Beam me aboard, Scotty" (and actually it's "Beam me up, Scotty", as in "Beam me up, Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here", usually said of Earth).

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