Living with Star Trek: American Culture and the Star Trek Universe

By Hersch, Matthew H. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview
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Living with Star Trek: American Culture and the Star Trek Universe


Hersch, Matthew H., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Living with Star Trek: American Culture and the Star Trek Universe Lincoln Geraghty. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.

From 1966 to 1969, seventy-nine hour-long television episodes introduced Earthlings to the crew of the 23rd-century starship USS Enterprise, a naval vessel dispatched by the United Federation of Planets on a "five-year mission" to explore "new worlds." The show died before the five years were up but lingered in the hearts and minds of its enthusiasts, who catapulted Star Trek to cult status and supported a generation's worth of collectibles, novels, motion pictures, and spin-off shows, most notably the highly-watchable Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). The latest volume on Star Trek's cultural potency comes at an unfortunate but not unusual time for the franchise: well-regarded but moribund, with no new media products to sustain it. Then again, as the thoughtful Lincoln Geraghty notes in Living with Star Trek, the franchise has always grown best on the enthusiasm of fans mesmerized by reruns and after-images.

Star Trek has attracted some noteworthy commentators over the years who have found much in the franchise to talk about, from geopolitics to homosexuality. Geraghty is deeply indebted to these scholars but seeks to ride his own transporter beam, mostly by examining Star Trek's legions of "passive" fans-those who might never step foot in a convention hall but have proven prodigious letter writers. Before dealing with these sedate "Trekkers," though, Geraghty, in the first of the book's three parts, locates Star Trek's mythology in the pompous moralizing of Puritan utopianism. The original series pitted Enterprise (led by the intrepid Captain James T. Kirk) against a slew of morally bankrupt alien worlds vaguely reminiscent of Earth's own history. Encountering these civilizations, the mostly human crew confronted its metaphorical past, settling scores with sermons and phaser blasts. Indeed, while technology runs amok in Star Trek, a smug Yankee humanity emerges as the franchise's real hero.

Science fiction fans, Henry Jenkins has noted, are known for their reinterpretation of the objects of their enthusiasm; neglected by most commentators, Geraghty asserts, are aficionados whose affection for Star Trek never rises to that level. Rather, he finds in Star Trek fandom a loose community of well-wishers sharing the characteristics of both a civic association and a support group, making it unique in modern American society. Examining fan correspondence, Geraghty takes a closer look at the more recent additions to the Star Trek canon, the final series, Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) and the satirical 1999 film Galaxy Quest. With Enterprise, Star Trek's British fans struggled with an America-focused prequel increasingly alienated from the original's internationalism.

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