I suppose that just about everyone has a “ST saved my life” story. Every Trek fan, anyway. So here’s mine.
I wasn’t very happy as a kid (who was?). I always sort of drifted along in my own imagination, augmented with many, many books.
Then something pretty damn awful happened to me, something over which I had no control. Instead of drifting into another world, I broke for it at a fast clip.
Didn’t help. The awful thing stuck around, and I became more and more…unhappy? doesn’t seem quite the right word. Despondent, maybe, if a kid can become such a thing.
There wasn’t one moment when I discovered ST; I wasn’t suffused by a bright light after watching “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Rather, as the world in which I was trapped made less and less sense, I began unconsciously turning to ST as a concrete, knowable, tangible place in which fundamental things never changed: Kirk always stumbled into a new problem, Spock always helped him figure out how to solve it, and Bones always bitched at both of them until the damn thing was settled.
I don’t know–something about that styrofoam, plastic, and yet incredibly human story-world spoke to me. I’m not sure what it said, exactly, but it comforted me. ST gave me a place to go–through a novel, a film, an episode–that was safe to explore, in which the Enterprise would always save the day (more or less) and everybody who mattered would always make it home.
In retrospect, I’m bothered by the show’s dismissive attitude towards (most) women; with rare exceptions (I’m looking at you, Romulan Commander), the women on the Enterprise and those that the boys always seem to run into are portrayed, at best, as delicate–at worse, as childish and ruled by emotion, especially “love” (example A: Marla McGivers in “Space Seed”). As a kid, though, I wasn’t aware of that; I latched onto K/S/M–especially Spock–because they were the most interesting characters to me, period.
So ST sustained me for a long time. Some of the odd knowledge that I acquired during that period sticks with me–I can still recite ST IV: The Voyage Home almost verbatim, much to my spouse’s amusement–but, after high school, the urgency it once held for me, the need that it filled, I suppose, faded.
I didn’t need ST in college. Indeed, I don’t know that I ever thought about it.
Then September 11th happened. (How many stories from people my age begin this way, now?)
Before September 11, I was a news fanatic. I had CNN on all the time, a habit left over from the first Gulf War.
After September 11, my spouse and I reached a point where neither of us could watch the news anymore. After about 72 straight of Peter Jennings and Aaron Brown, the darkness of that day had finally sunk in, and neither of us wanted that darkness looking back at us night after night.
So I changed the channel.
2001 was the 35th anniversary of ST: TOS. In honor of that anniversary, the Sci-Fi Channel was running all of the TOS episodes in order and uncut, with bumpers that included interviews with some of the cast members.
By this time, it had been years since I’d sought out ST. I remembered it with affection, I suppose, but I hadn’t needed it in a long time.
But I needed it now, and once again, ST offered a safe (if always ridiculous, overwrought, and wonderful) place to spend time. We even named our newly-adopted blond tabby cat “James T. Kitten.”
So. ST is back in my life–but now, our relationship is different. The ST ‘verse still fills a need for me, but that need is less urgent. Now, rather than filling an absence, ST is a presence in my life. I watch the episodes, I watch the films, I read the novels and now I read the slash. Constance Penley’s very excellent NASA/Trek showed me that I could apply much of my damn education to reading and re-appraising ST, opening up a whole new space of inquiry for me.
So. Everyone has a “ST saved my life” story. This is mine.