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Whenever someone asks me, "do you like Star Trek?" I feel that I must construct my answer very carefully so as not to give the wrong impression about myself. There can be such a negative stigma associated with being a Star Trek fan. I would never want the person to think that I am some sort of obsessed fanatic who attends Star Trek conventions, learns to speak Klingon or wears Spock ears. I will rather reluctantly admit that, yes, I do like Star Trek and hope that the coming response is not entirely negative. Although my liking of Star Trek does not extend to the lengths that Dawn Hanna's does, I felt an emotional and nostalgic attachment to what her essay entitled Hooked On Trek had to say about Star Trek. In this paper I will demonstrate that Dawn Hanna, in her essay Hooked On Trek (1994), is able to justify her addiction to Star Trek by revealing the program's capacity to engage in serious issues, its equivalency to modern mythology and ability to make her think. Hanna makes an emotional and nostalgic connection with the reader, enabling the reader to justify his or her own liking of Star Trek, thereby strengthening her point.
When I was a child, I'm sure the appeal of Star Trek had more to do with the space ships, aliens and phasers than anything else, but as I grew up, the subject matter of episodes I had already seen came into my focus. Although the original Star Trek series definitely has a strong cornball element, with bad acting and even worse special effects, the subject matter was almost always of some serious nature. I can recall episodes that dealt with complex sociological issues such as euthanasia, homosexuality and racial prejudice. Some episodes dealt with technological premises and scientific principals that I do not even grasp and simply have to take for granted that the show's writers do. Hanna defends the original series as being "a show which dealt with the big questions and topical issues of the time: whether it was Spock dealing with a Vulcan-bashing crew member or Capt. Kirk coping with his animal self. Or Dr. McCoy facing the prospect of life with a terminal disease" (83). Television is filled with endless amounts of situation comedies and now reality programming. As far as fictional programs are concerned, most of what is on the television is simply fluff.
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As a further justification for her dependence on Star Trek, Hanna makes the assertion that Star Trek is beyond simply being a science fiction television program. Hanna claims that the universe of Star Trek is akin to a modern mythology. Mythology helps define what a society considers its norms, values and what is right and what is wrong. Often mythology is in the form of tales, which have morals or endings, which are concrete and established. Many of the functions that are provided by mythology can be found in Star Trek. In our modern world where many people no longer practice organized religion or belong to a particular faith, there is a strong need for mythology. In the same way that the gladiators in ancient Rome replayed the battles and myths of gods in front of an audience or how today thousands of people watch professional wrestling, all the while knowing all the time who the victor will be, Star Trek revisits timeless themes that act as a reassurance to today's faithless and provides a reenactment of Good triumphing over Evil. This idea of Star Trek being like modern mythology is very inciting to me. The connection between popular mythic themes and Star Trek leads me to a personal justification for my Star Trek appetite. Hanna states that Star Trek acts "as guidelines, as metaphors, as clues to the potential of human life" (84) in the same way in which myths do. Hanna shows that Star Trek fulfills all of philosopher Joseph Campbell's criteria for the function of myths. She contends that star Trek is a "blueprint of an idealistic future" (84) and "serves as an example of how to live life" (84).
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of Star Trek is that while it is thoroughly entertaining, it is not the type of entertainment in which you can shut off a part of your brain to simply coast, as some entertainment is. Much of Television requires very little thought and can be more of a way to unplug yourself from reality for a little while and not utilize any higher functions of the brain. While I believe this has its benefits and may be enjoyable, sometimes I desire entertainment that is more engaging. Star Trek requires that one pays attention and actually uses their brain. Hanna is able to further justify her addiction to Star Trek by claiming that it has the power to engage her in intelligent thought. This draws me into Hanna's argument more than anything else. Often after reading a good story or watching a good show or movie, I will find myself thinking about some aspect of the plot the next day or even several days latter. Sometimes I do not even realize that I really enjoyed the book or movie until this has occurred. Perhaps my mind does not process the information in only two hour or however long it takes to read a particular book. Some things I watch or read make so little an impression on me that I forget that I even took the information in (if I ever really did) and will begin to watch or read them again before realizing that I already had. Some things that I see or read may stay on my mind and cause me to think for days if not weeks. Whether or not a program or book has this effect on me plays a large role in my judgment of that program. As Hanna does, I really value a program that can really make me think. Star Trek Achieves this for me. Very few fictional programs on television have the power to make me think. Star Trek does not need to be an embarrassment or something I need to keep secret because Hanna proves that Star Trek is worthy of my attention because it requires that I make an effort to understand and process the information, rather than just droning out. In pointing out the power that Star Trek has to make me think, the show's status has been elevated in my eyes. Hanna uses the fact that Star Trek makes her think about possibility that time is not linear, about the concept of an infinite number of realities at once or about what are the requirements for life to justify her addiction for Star Trek. She claims, "at its best, some TNG [The Next Generation] episodes make me think" (84). Possibilities that she would never have considered are brought to her attention through her interaction with Star Trek.
Maybe now if I am asked what my opinion of Star Trek is, I will not hesitate to freely answer. I am assured by Dawn Hanna's essay that my liking it is completely justified and I should have no worries that I am some kind of science fiction weirdo. Hanna has made me comfortable that my fancy for Star Trek is perfectly rationalized by the fact that it is such a good show. Hanna has made me remember episodes, which had content of various social and technological issues making it a show of elevated status compared to other fictional shows. Hanna has intrigued me by presenting evidence to show an equivalency between modern mythology and Star Trek. The fact that Star Trek has, over the years, made me think convinces me that the show is certainly worthy of my watching it. It was not time wasted. Hanna has made an emotional a nostalgic connection for me to the show. My watching it is justified, but I still do not want people to think I'm a Trekie.
Hanna, Dawn " Hooked On Trek." 1994. Landmarks: A Process Reader. Ed. R. Birks, T. Eng and J. Walchli. Scarborough, ON. Prentice-Hall.