COLUMN: Where No Nerds Have Gone Before

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“Fascinating.”

—Spock

All you need to know about the boyish adulation I held for my cousins Vincent and Michael when I was a strapping young lad is in the names I gave my two sons. They are named Vincent and Michael.

Vincent, the older of the two brothers, was a Trekkie. For those who have been living in a cave in Tibet for the last half century, Trekkies are fans of the franchise Star Trek. Most Trekkies were born from watching episodes from the television show, which has now been retroactively titled “Star Trek: The Original Series”.

Vince was a fanboy of the show before that slang term became an acceptable addition to the American lexicon. Back then, those rare breed of Trekkies who had all the books based on the original show’s episodes, schematic maps of the U.S.S. Enterprise and wore shirts emblazoned with the emblem from the United federation of Planets went by a different name.

Nerds. Trekkies were often called nerds. Geeks, too. Dweebs, dorks, eggheads and poindexters were acceptable pejorative nicknames. What made this ironic was that “Star Trek” was not in production when it gained cult status in the mid-1970’s. The show’s original run started in 1966 and ended in 1969.

In fact, the original television show debuted 50 years to the day of this column’s publication: September 8th, 1966.

Most Trekkies fell in love with the show thanks to reruns. In an era where cable television was just starting to become a thing, UHF channels—those under the age of 35 can ask one of us oldheads what that is—would often show incessant reruns of old shows daily. “Star Trek” was a huge draw for unpopular kids who did not go out very much on weekends. My cousin was one of those kids.

So popular was the original show that plans were in the works to bring back the cast for a TV sequel, which had the working name of “Phase II”. Then on May 4th, 1977, the world changed. That was the day “Star Wars” came into our lives, irrevocably and forever.

Entertainment moguls clamored to make as much money off the sci-fi genre as they could. A television producer named Glen A. Larson came to the fore during this time. In television, he brought forth two shows that were directly inspired by “Star Wars”. The first was “Battlestar Galactica”, which was a favorite of mine. It would take me two decades to figure out that show was actually subliminal Mormon propaganda. The second was “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, which did nothing except implant in my mind a prepubertal fetish for women in spandex pants.

Neither show lasted long. Movies fared slightly better. The gatekeepers of the James Bond franchise switched the order of the books that were to be made into films. “Moonraker” was bumped up and hastily filmed. It made money, but most Bond enthusiasts put it down at the bottom of the list of 007 films.

And that is where “Phase II” soon became “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Like other ripoffs, this film was not thought out. It was long and boring. Only the most hardcore Trekkies had anything nice to say about this tepid offering. A second film was green lighted on a shoestring budget. That film, “The Wrath of Khan” is the standard by which all things in the “Trek Universe” are measured.

More films came. The highly popular second show, “The Next Generation” became a hit during the golden era of syndicated television. More spinoff shows, more movies, more conventions. Trekkies lived the high life…as they understood it. But there was one problem. They were still outcast nerds.

And that brings us back to the early 1980’s. My cousin was definitely a nerd. I think Vince will readily admit that. He came of age living in an area of New Jersey where nerds were often hunted for sport. Once captured and given multiple atomic wedgies, the nerds were often left for dead deep inside of the Pine Barrens.

Many were never found.

Places that might seem innocuous to Millennials, like school buses and cafeterias, were minefields of perpetual persecution for the nerds that came before them. To survive unyielding abuse, most nerds had to rely on savvy, cunning and guile to make it to 3 PM unscathed. It was a much harsher time for the unpopular kids back then.

And then a funny thing happened. The pitiless dweebs that grew up watching “Star Trek” used the inspiration from that show to become techies, scientists and other professionals who make tons of money. They invented the internet, smartphones and pumpkin spiced lattes.

The kids who once were beaten up for their admiration of Kirk, Spock and the Klingons were building spacecrafts that they named for characters within the Star Trek canon. They brought forth the technological advancements that made nerdy television shows, games and other pop culture motifs profitable. Nerds were the new cool kids.

My sons are nerds. This summer, I took many walks through Logan with them to go have lunch together. Listening to them discuss some dorky anime show they watch on YouTube or Netflix would make me smile. And that is the world that I argue the Star Trek franchise has helped to bring to light over the last half of a century.

We should all be thankful for “Star Trek”. What started out as a quirky sci-fi television show that was a conduit to discuss controversial social issues of the 1960’s has done more than we recognize. It spawned a generation that made the world better through invention. It allowed for kids who dressed a little different, acted different and were considered socially unacceptable to find their place in a society that has changed to be more like them.

Our world is more nerdy. For that alone, the 50th anniversary of the original “Star Trek” television show is a legacy worth commemorating. Live long and prosper.