When Annalee shared her tale of how Star Trek changed her life on Wednesday, it paved the way for many other such recollections. Holster your snark phasers and see how Gene Rodenberry's creation affected lives.
I can say that Ben Sisko changed my life; he was so different from either of the captains showcased before him.
Whereas Kirk treated his underlings like utter shit, and Picard... well, hell, the man could make you feel bad, like you let down your father or something, Sisko was an entirely different beast. He was a father himself, and he treated all of his crew with respect and understanding, even when the people on the station tested his limits, he rarely lost his cool completely with someone.
He was far more diplomatic than anyone I had ever seen, and it molded me into a pretty diplomatic person myself. These days I think pretty hard before speaking (in the real world, of course,) and I always try to find a way out of a situation that will be mutually beneficial for all parties involved.
Here's to you, Sisko.
I spent several years at alt.startrek.vs.starwars, and it shaped my outlook on life immensely. It taught me that some people are just too wrapped up in their own little worlds to consider alternate perspectives - and also helped me take things less seriously.
Furthermore, the stories in Star Trek are one of the few areas where you win by solving a problem as an adult, instead of punching and kicking. Too much sci-fi is aimed at the lowest common denominator, and tries to capture the high school jock demographic.
Star Trek (especially TNG, DS9 and Voyager) totally changed my life. I think it did so because of how old I was at the time and that it was exactly what I needed at the time to develop a positive sense of self.
It was late 1993 and I was 12 the first time I encountered Star Trek. It was a TNG novel dealing with Klingons and a subplot with Wesley Crusher. Being a geeky kid I felt calmed by the idea that there were smart kids in the future and that, in the Star Trek world, being geeky wasn't a bad thing. This is why, crappy writing for the character in most episodes aside, that character will always be my favorite. When I started watching DS9 and TNG on the little b&w set my mom had I just fell in love with the shows. Here were people who were smart and adventurous and I spent a lot of time modeling my attitudes based on what I learned from Star Trek. I, too, learned from Star Trek what I wanted my friendships and relationships to be like in the real world. Also, the multicultural love fests (in regards to actors and character backgrounds) that were DS9 and, eventually, Voyager really made me happy and feel that it was okay to look different than 95% of my peers. In the future, I thought, life would be good, and not so sucky as my real life was at the time. There were heroes, like Picard and Sisko and Janeway, who were good and smart and I wanted to be just like them.
The casts became like a family to me, in a "I know it's just a tv show and the actors don't know me personally" kind of way. I still choke up momentarily when I attend a convention with an actor present who I've never met before. Star Trek gave me such a sense of self that it's hard not to be overwhelmed. Watching Star Trek back then sometimes meant more to me than being with my real family.
It was TOS for me, in 1966 when I was ten years old. My parents had divorced and the world seemed strange and scary (Vietnam on TV, and the atomic war drills in school—they actually had us bring in blankets and glass jars for water, I kid you not, and taught us how to duck down when the sirens wailed, and the civil rights struggles and all of it)—and Star Trek gave my small self a real hope and comfort that people could be different: rational and caring and yes, as you talk about, in a community. The relationship between Kirk and Spock and McCoy fascinated me and in some way made me feel better about my life. And Spock inspired me to embrace rationality and logic with a true passion—not to mention the ideals of equality and tolerance which were just imprinted on my young mind (never to fade).
But for Star Trek I would have grown up a happy, open-minded, liberal, unwitting racist. I grew up in a pleasant, happy, liberal(ish) enclave where there were certainly people of color, I just didn't know them. So despite my parents best efforts, I must have figured that being black (or whatever) did not make someone unequal, it was just something polite people didn't notice. Not an outright handicap, more like a birthmark or something. Dianne Carroll, Nat King Cole and Harry Belafonte were popular on television, despite (I must have thought) the minor disadvantage that there were to be congratulated for overcoming.
Then came Uhura.
She was African (no hyphens), she was manifestly competent (arguably the most emotionally stable person in sight), she was an officer respected by everyone (the white boys jumped when she gave an order - happily so, see previous), didn't apologize, didn't explain, she was a perfect example of 'do the work.' Two particular moments stuck in my head: one where an alien in the form of Lincoln addressed her as 'a charming negress' and I had to have that word explained to me. She responded with admirable grace, and a remark about the power of words that I carry with me to this day.
Then of course there was the time Sulu, deliriously D'Artagnen, fencing sword in hand, came up to her declaring 'I'll protect you, fair maiden!' to which she tartly replied: "Sorry, neither." I had to have that explained to me, too.
Anyway. The message penetrated that not only was she exactly who she was, but no one on the Enterprise was politely ignoring anything (such as her race), the entire notion of 'acceptance' or 'tolerance' would have baffled them. (One recalls the episode with the two fellows with black/white face paint. On occassion, The Message was writ quite large.) Meanwhile, Spock's race was only an issue because he frequently made it one (or the writer's did).
And over in the gender studies department, there were times when Ms Nichols was expected to say 'Captain, I'm frightened,' and though her mouth pronounced the words her eyes said 'You know, if it were me in the captain's chair instead of your horny butt, we wouldn't be getting shot at by an armada of angry fathers'... Thus staking out a place in my tiny whitebread mind for women in positions of authority. Captain Janeway was a long time coming.
Without Uhura, I would have been a subtle bigot, because I wouldn't have thought I was one. "I treat all people as if they were equals", I would have said, not realizing that I was nonetheless thinking of women or non-white people as 'Other.' I thank Star Trek, and Ms Nichols, for giving me a good lecture and a hard shake both directly and by example. It stuck.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Star Trek had a huge impact on my life. I watched TNG as it aired in the 80's, and I was six years old. Since then I knew I wanted to be an engineer or a scientist. I was living in the middle east at the time and things were quite rough, needless to say, TNG made me stick with it, and I graduated as an engineer and now I am a scientist. I still remember the starry night I walked back home from watching Star Trek First Contact, thinking to myself, warp drives are exactly what I want to do with my life. That lead me to study numerical relativity and sure enough I ended up across the world working and studying as a scientist at a research center.
That being said, the moral questions, the sense of wonder and awe at the universe, the quest for knowledge and truth, the philosophical questions the crew of the Enterprise tackled every week, it gave me hope of a better future, of a humanity where you are judged based upon your merits and shortcomings as an individual (not if you have the "force" on your side). The vast universe stretched further than our eyes can see in a million years just begging to be explored and charted. All we had to do was lay the building blocks in science and engineering, and perhaps one day, we might get there. In the meantime, we will watch re-runs :)
Star Trek had a definite impact upon my life. I was an ADHD kid in a small rural school system back in the mid-70's. There was no diagnosis available at that time that would explain to my parents and teachers why I was such a hyperactive child. So those feelings of alienation weighed upon me when I discovered Star Trek in re-runs Monday through Friday at 6pm on a cable channel. I was immediately drawn to these characters and the universe they inhabited where every person was of value. The crew of the Starship Enterprise were wonderful role models for me as it was a show that celebrated the best aspects of humanity coupled with the exploration of the Final Frontier. So I was relieved to find that even troubled kids like me had a place in the future.
The movies with the original cast were very enjoyable as I was hungry for further adventures with these family members. I was 14 when I went to see The Wrath of Khan in June of 82. The story of how important the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was appealed to me. They each possessed aspects of behavior and thought that were made whole when they were together. Spock's death as he sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise viscerally hit me at such a primal level that it took about an hour after the movie ended just to stop crying. The theme of friendship and loyalty resonated with me as I internalized the values espoused in the series and these movies.
I had been ill in high school and as time passed I kept getting worse but the doctors I saw weren't able to diagnose me. I finally became so ill I was rushed to the ER and then hospitalized. While I was waiting to find out what was wrong, I watched episodes of TNG as often as possible. They were halfway through the pivotal 3rd season while I was in the hospital. That helped keep me calm as I awaited the news. I was finally diagnosed with Crohn's Disease.
Since that diagnosis in 1990 I have had 4 bowel resections, other surgeries, a multitude of invasive tests, hospital stays and numerous complications. My constant companion over the past 19 years has been the stories of a better future on TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. For that one hour each week I was transported away from my earthly problems into a reality where so many of the things I valued were explored in continuing voyages of each crew.
Star Trek has helped me battle my depression as I struggle with Crohn's and my difficulties in maintaining relationships. Gene Roddenberry's vision of a secular, science and reason based Earth that sends out explorers to seek out new life and new civilizations fires my imagination and encourages me to do what I can in the here and now to lay the foundation for that imagined Star Trek universe. I have been a fan of this franchise for so long, now 25 years, I can not remember a time in my life when Star Trek wasn't there.
Star Trek has evolved with the various incarnations and with the release of the new movie, it has made a quantum leap back into the national zeitgeist. Star Trek has become relevant again in our culture and the old school die-hard fans are no longer an endangered species. Like any great mythological tale, Star Trek has been and will continue to be many things to each fan. For me, the boundless optimism that humanity will unite, progress and finally leave the cradle of Earth to explore a universe teaming with sentient life forms makes me a better person in the here and now. Rather than destroy our world, we will evolve to a higher level of awareness and have a higher purpose than the current obsession with material goods and religious/cultural wars. The journey to get to that Utopian future I know we must act now.
So I cannot imagine how different I would be if I had never discovered Star Trek. I would not have learned to appreciate Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. I wouldn't have learned that it doesn't matter what we look like, where we are from, how different we are to each other, it is the content of our character that is important. All we have is this one life so we better make the best of it while we can. "To Boldly Go" isn't just about exploring space, it is about exploring ourselves. I just wish I could live to see the world imagined by Star Trek become reality. Now that would be my idea of heaven.
No cheap commentary from me, for once. Thank you, everyone, for sharing, and may the force be with you all. Wait, wrong franchise.
(Okay, one cheap comment. I can't go entirely cold turkey.)