If Only, If Only…

24-Oct-07 11:15 AM by
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Today, on the anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's passing, StarTrek.com has a thoughtful tribute to the legacy of Star Trek's creator:


… with Star Trek he created an iconic mythology which has succeeded in providing popular culture with a common reference point for all things futuristic and achievable. ("Achievable" being what distinguishes Star Trek from Star Wars.) Because Star Trek has become so firmly planted in our collective consciousness, far-reaching ideas can more easily bubble to the surface and gain acceptance, as the optimists among us push forward to realize that vision of the future. Replicators, tricorders, bio-beds, cloaking fields, transporters, and even warp drive are all concepts being pursued today by scientists and innovators, even when overwhelming conventional wisdom would dismiss them.

The article goes on to posit that humanity could realize its great potential if we would set our sights on the stars and not on petty terrestrial squabbles over land and oil. I suppose that's what makes Star Trek science fiction…

TNG at 20: The Human Condition

25-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 5 comments.

Star Trek is a tale not of aliens, technology, and anomalies, but of humanity. However evolved the future's citizens claim to be, they still find ways to learn and and places to grow. Though Worf or Data or even Wesley may've developed the most over The Next Generation's seven years, the hero I found to be the deepest, most complex, and most intricate was their guide through the stars: the very human Captain Picard.

As many commanding officers do, Jean-Luc Picard initially came across as a stiff and remote authority figure: barking orders, didactically lecturing his crew, and providing an extremely straight man for the tomfoolery of Q. But when Picard was given the opportunity to not be a foil but take the center stage for himself, his humanity truly shined.

Though we met almost everyone else's parents and children, Picard had neither. Yet it was his estranged relationship with his brother Robert that we found most empathetic. This wasn't an unknown child appearing on his doorstep or a licentious mother causing him embarrassment; it was two siblings — one who stayed in the family business, the other a prodigal son. That very basic bond is one with which many of us have struggled, and though we'd hope to overcome such issues by the 24th century, it gives us hope to see a man as great as Picard overcome them.

It is one of many trials Picard faced in his time aboard the Enterprise. He lived decades in an unreal life — separated first from his starship family, then from the one he came to love. He was given the chance to put right what once went wrong, only to see the entire tapestry of his life come unravelled. He loved one woman, only to have duty take her away; he loved another, only to give her away himself. Despite a broken heart, he was held prisoner, tortured to the point of a broken mind.

And, of course, there was Wolf 359: where he was a mere onlooker as his own mind and body were used to send hundreds of his fellow Starfleet officers to their deaths. How does any man — not an android, not an empath, but just a man — overcome so much tragedy?

I don't know — yet Picard did so, and somehow became stronger for it. And he showed his unwavering spirit in his love for Shakespeare, archaelogy — and his crew. The most brilliant Star Trek short story I ever read was "The Promise", by Shane Zeranski, which I will spoil for you by quoting Picard's breakdown when he realizes, after thirty years, he may never leave Kataan:

I loved them… and I never told them. I never told a one! Not Data, not Worf, not Riker… not even Beverly. And now they're gone and I'll never see them again! I always — expected that… that I might, but — but I won't… If only I could see them — just once more, just… once… more! They were my family… my family… and I've lost them.

I can hear each of these words come from Jean-Luc's mouth, and they speak of a man wracked with a despair that can come only from a deep and powerful passion. Picard engages in the full range of human experiences, from joy to sorrow; it is this fearlessness with which he faces his own nature that exemplifies Star Trek as an exploration not of mapping stars and studying nebula… but of charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

The full breadth of Picard's character is demonstrated in the videos presented after the jump:

(more…)

Life moves pretty fast…

20-Sep-07 4:13 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

…if you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it."

As a teacher, I used films to teach my students important life concepts. Why did it never occur to me that such wisdom could come from the mouth of Ferris Bueller?

Over at The Sydney Morning Herald (with a tip of the hat to Tech_Space) is a thorough analysis of what makes Ferris Bueller's Day Off more than just another teen movie, and its hero a model for daily living: "Ferris Bueller pretty much embodies everything I believe a man should be: a little dangerous, immensely charming, funny, an optimist, adventurous, challenging, a bit dodgy, curious, subversive, latitudinarian and a dab hand with the sheilas… Everything you need to know about life is contained in the 102 minute running time of this '80s classic." And not routine, day-to-day life, but the vibrant energy with which so few of us imbue our waking moments.

But it wasn't always that way. Ferris Bueller's Day Off embodies the rebellious, free-thinking spirit that so many of us slowly let die as we assimilate into adults. Ferris opens the film by observing, "It is a beautiful day in Chicago," and seeing the opportunity therein. We the audience empathize with him, but only because in reality, we represent the tide he is swimming against: those who too often go through the motions and let each day slip by, just to bring another paycheck. What happens to us? If life is a carousel, whyever did we choose to get off? Our lives are not Ferris Bueller's, and we are rarely as brave as Cameron Frye. Why do we let reality define us, instead of vice versa? Is there an age at which we turn off our imaginations and stop struggling?

I should've shown this film to my 11th-grade students and let it infuse them with ideas with which to run amuck in the other teachers' classrooms. It's too late for me to do them this service — but while you read Sydney's lengthy blog post, which is worth every second, perhaps I can go watch the film myself, for the first time in over a decade, and be depressed at what I've lost… or inspired at what I might regain.