In honor of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, Sarah Kremen-Hicks writes a personal ode to Space Joy, the cathartic power of “badass hot Jew” Leonard Nimoy, and passing her TOS love to her young son.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off: I’m firmly convinced that your first Trek, rather like your first Doctor, is the model that all others fail to live up to, and I’m a TOS girl all the way. More specifically, I’m a Spock girl – give me a raised eyebrow and understated sass, and I’ll sit through the most ridiculous plots you can throw at me. (Final Frontier, anyone? “Spock’s Brain?”)
As of today, Star Trek is 50 years old, which means it’s always been a cultural touchstone for me. I honestly don’t remember a time when I haven’t loved it, although growing up before the age of the geek meant I sacrificed some pretty serious social capital by admitting that. In contrast, today my Facebook feed is a mass of “to boldly go” frames and Vulcan salutes, so I guess I’ve finally found my nerds (screw you, high school!).
I caught the tail end of the Cold War as a kid, which means I went from 1980s pessimism pretty seamlessly into 1990s cynicism, and I was hard-pressed not to drink it all in. First we were going to die because of nuclear proliferation and holes in the ozone, then later we were going to die of heroin overdoses because it beat waiting for the world to fuck us some other way.
Through all of that, I was watching this weird show that told me that the galaxy was a big, fascinating place full of wonder – and, yeah, maybe danger sometimes, but in the end it wasn’t anything you couldn’t talk your way out of by the end of an hour, if only by reciting the Constitution really passionately. A childhood full of Star Trek left me with a sense of Space Joy that I’ve never been able to shake, the sense that as a species, we had something to look forward to out there. I won’t say it saved me – certainly I could (and can) angst with the best of them – but it did give me something to counteract the sense of doom that seeps in from stories about global climate change and Trump’s surging poll numbers. Space Joy meant that a species that interacted through what seemed like primarily military means might one day establish an organization devoted to exploration and diplomacy, to mapping the galaxy through sheer sensawunda, just to see what was out there.
I watched it, first on a tiny black and white set on my bedroom floor (it took me a long time to understand the redshirt jokes), then down in the basement on a glorious 16-inch color set, complete with 13-point turny dial and useless rabbit ears. When Voyager came out, I was near the end of high school, and I finally got to watch it upstairs with my mother and stepfather on the slightly larger TV with (wonder of wonders) a remote. In hindsight, I suspect they may have just been humoring me as a way to stave off the looming empty nest.
Honestly, though, it’s those early episodes in black and white that have stuck with me. I was maybe eight years old, and I felt like I was getting away with something, lounging on the hardwood floor with the boneless comfort of childhood, sitting way too close to the screen, staying up too late. It wasn’t just a hunger for adventure that kept me watching, it was a sense of connection. My mother had met a new guy around that time, and suddenly we weren’t going to shul anymore, and I kept hearing about Jesus, and we’d moved away, and I had no idea how to be the only Jew in my world.
And then there was Spock. Played by badass hot Jew Leonard Nimoy (seriously, watch him in that episode of Lock Up if you don’t believe me), flying around the galaxy flashing the blessing of the kohanim, and being the only Vulcan in a ship full of illogical humans, and not compromising his principles. He was glorious, and a far cry from the Tevyes and Yentls that made up the rest of the MOT in my parentally approved media diet. And if it didn’t give me back Shabbat dinners and Purimspiels, at least it made me believe there was a way to navigate my own weird, half-breed identity in a world that didn’t offer much outlet for my omphaloskepsis.
It wasn’t perfect: for every “Mark of Gideon” with Kirk shouting down proto-pro-lifers, there was the ridiculousness of Kirk’s claim in “Metamorphosis” that male and female are universal constants, even among bodiless energy beings. It gave us a lot more Uhura-sitting-around-while-the-menfolk-hero than it did Uhura pulling a knife on Mirror Sulu and saving the day. But, damn, it was what I needed then. And now, raising a son who seems determined to fuck up gender norms six ways from Sunday, I can watch him take in Kirk’s use of femininity as a diplomatic and investigative tactic, the epic Kirk/Spock love story, and the three-season love letter to completely fabulous eye makeup, and I can believe that he, too, is finding something he needs in this weird space show.