New Mexicans look back at 'Star Trek's' influence on their lives.
This year the legendary television series Star Trek celebrates the 50th anniversary of when it first aired on NBC in September of 1966.
The show eventually spawned a massive cult following, 10 movies, four spinoff series, dozens of video games, action figures and even a fully developed language.
Albuquerque novelist Bob Vardeman wrote two official Star Trek spinoff novels, “The Klingon Gambit” and “Mutiny on the Enterprise.” He said the franchise’s early popularity had a lot to do with the era in which it debuted.
“Star Trek aired during a period between the JFK assassination and the serious escalation of the war in Vietnam,” he said. “If nothing else, it assured viewers that the future would be better, much better, not only technologically, but socially, while satisfying humanity’s urge to explore and discover throughout the galaxy.”
While giving hope to viewers in uncertain times, Star Trek also featured television’s first interracial kiss, between the characters Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), which challenged social norms during the Civil Rights Movement.
The show initially had a core following, but declining ratings. But when NBC announced the cancellation of Star Trek after the second season, fans took up a letter-writing campaign to save the beloved sci-fi drama.
In a 1968 article published in the Oxnard Press-Courier, journalist Vernon Scott wrote: “The show, according to the 6,000 letters it draws a week (more than any other in television), is watched by scientists, museum curators, psychiatrists, doctors, university professors and other highbrows. The Smithsonian Institution asked for a print of the show for its archives, the only show so honored.”
The then-unheard-of movement was successful, and Captain Kirk’s crew returned for a third season.
Santa Fe author and screenwriter Melinda Snodgrass, who wrote several episodes of the 1980s hit spin-off “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” said Star Trek was a show that attracted people through its portrayal of a universe that was both similar to and better than reality.
“A number of scientists at NASA, JPL, etc., have said that they were inspired by Star Trek to go into the sciences, to try to make the promise of humanity’s place among the stars a reality,” Snodgrass said. “Star Trek also offered us the possibility of a world without national borders or limits because of your gender, race or creed,” she said, repeating the fact of “the first interracial kiss.”
This belief in a better version of humanity is something that resonates with fans, as well. Cree Myers has become a popular name amongst Albuquerque cosplayers (short for “costume play” — think of it like Halloween year-round, usually at charity events). She first became serious about cosplay when she heard about the annual Miss Klingon Empire beauty pageant.
“Star Trek in its various incarnations was a huge part of my childhood,” she said. “Star Trek isn’t just science fiction — it shows us a possible future where many of humanity’s best hopes and dreams have become a reality.”
Myers flew to Atlanta to compete, and was crowned Miss Klingon Empire in 2014.
“Watching a show that was diverse and included women in leadership and scientific positions helped me see beyond what society often still expects of young women,” Myers said. “Participating in the Miss Klingon Empire pageant was an extension of that.”
Fin Martinez is a freelance arts and entertainment reporter.