Star Trek: My Master Class in Humanity
Jay and I are regularly asked why we chose to create an app-enabled Tribble. What is it about Tribbles that so inspired us to set aside hours, weeks, months, years of our life together to pursue this passion project? While the simplest answer is that we wanted one, the actual reason is much more deeply rooted in family history.
My dad was the youngest sibling of four growing up in a farmhouse in a rural small town. He watched a lot of TV. Star Trek had entered syndication by the time he started watching it, and it fascinated him. Not only was Star Trek entertaining, but it inspired his imagination.
Dad with an Enterprise made from a spoon.
Dad tells stories of playing Star Trek, using a board across two tree stumps with a few beer bottle caps for buttons. This was his Enterprise bridge. Star Trek encouraged him to get out and imagine. It also shaped the person he was to become--and the people his children would become.
By the time my sister and I were growing up ,Star Trek was available on demand--on VHS, of course. Dad had every original episode on its own tape. He would pull out the box, we'd select our episode, and our education would begin. At the time, we thought we were just laughing at the rivalry between Bones and Spock, screaming "watch out!" at red shirts, and pretending to run from sickly sweet smelling clouds.
We had our own outdoor Enterprise bridge, although ours was a little fancier than Dad's had been. Eventually it moved into a playhouse structure with a trap door through which aliens could beam onto the bridge to chase us around. Childhood was awesome at my house. What we didn't realize was that while we were playing we were also learning.
Our Enterprise bridge.
We were learning to treat ourselves and others with respect, to tackle problems that seem insurmountable, and to value all forms of life. I remember finishing "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" one day. We had just shared a hearty chuckle, having recognized Loki as the Riddler from Batman (yes, we grew up on that, too!). I will never forget Dad turning to us and commenting how foolish it was that those two men were so determined to kill each other that they would rather destroy the last of their race than overcome their differences.
We immediately agreed that this made no sense. Dad then said something that forever changed how I thought about Star Trek. He told us that those men trying to kill each other because one looked different than the other demonstrated the ludicrosity of persecuting other races here on Earth. This changed everything.
Proud Starfleet officers.
Star Trek became not just a show, but also a master class in humanity. We learned from "The Devil in the Dark" and "Arena" that hostility from another may be the result of circumstances that we do not yet understand. We learned from Voyage Home the importance of conservation for our own sakes, as well as a our planet's. We learned from "The Ultimate Computer" that technology, while useful as a tool, can never and should never allow us to lose our compassion, our intuition, or our human connection. Who could have foretold how relevant that last lesson would be to us as we moved out of the 90's and into today's fast-paced technology-driven world.
Dad reminded us constantly about the foresight and the progressiveness of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. While he loved to point out the various technologies that the show anticipated, he also instilled in us how important it was that the first interracial kiss took place on Star Trek. Star Trek took risks in order to facilitate change. Roddenberry set the show in space so that he could tackle social issues that would not have been allowed on Earth at the time.
He assembled a crew that should not have existed in the 1960's. His bridge crew included a Russian, an Asian, an alien, an African American woman, a southern gent, a Scotsman, and and Iowan--and they all got along. Even more importantly, each celebrated their own individual culture and beliefs, and the crew was stronger because of that celebration. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where it didn't seem like a big deal to me that Earth's races were intermixed on the Enterprise. It wasn't shocking, or even noticeable, that all of these people were part of the bridge crew. But it was a big deal. Star Trek was, and is, important.
Admittedly, "The Trouble with Tribbles" probably has a little less to offer in terms of important social lessons than some of the other episodes. But the Tribbles forged that first bond between young Kayleigha and Star Trek. I have often opined that the reason that episode is so enduring is yes, because Tribbles are cute and kids love them, but also because it introduces you to the relationship dynamics of the Enterpise crew.
Image from the StarTrek.com article about our Tribbles.
In that single episode we see Uhura, a woman, as a respected member of the crew (one who even drives the plot), Scotty as a man of principle, fiercely loyal to the ship that he spends the entire series fighting to hold together, Spock as a conflicted half-human, half-vulcan combatting his attraction to the Tribble even as he attempts to disguise it with logic, McCoy as a curious and dedicated medical officer who is irritated by Spock's affected superiority, and Kirk as a reluctant diplomat forced to set aside his personal feelings despite his understandable irritation with an authority figure. This episode is Star Trek. You never forget your first episode of Star Trek.
Nostalgia is so persistent. Yes, Jay and I made a Tribble because we wanted one. But there's a reason that my desire to own an actual living pet Tribble never faded. We learn in our childhood the behaviors that will shape us in adulthood. We grow and evolve, and our opinions change in the process, but we remain rooted to those experiences which initially defined us. Tribbles are my first point of connection to these stories and this community that have shaped my life from the moment I was old enough to be a participant. So why Tribbles? Because Star Trek.