Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on this day, 30 years ago. Yep, thirty years. Which means I was thirteen when I watched the first episode and that I am quite old now. Let me reflect a bit on exactly how old I am.
When Star Trek: TNG first aired, I was thirteen, but already into science fiction. I’d read Issac Asimov and Frank Herbert in paperback copies my dad brought home from the airport when he traveled. I waited for each new book in the Dune series and went to buy them at the Waldenbooks in the mall, because back then, that was the only place to buy books if you lived out in the burbs/farmland like I did. Really. The only place. No Amazon. No Barnes and Noble. Just a tiny little bookstore next to the Spencer’s and there were SO MANY books they didn’t have. But if they didn’t have them and the library didn’t have them, you were out of luck.
I had been reading science fiction for a while and watching Doctor Who on the local PBS station, which was channel 48. Dr. Who came on Saturday nights and my dad must have gotten me into that, too. “This is where Star Trek got all their ideas,” I remember him telling me. I fell in love with Tom Baker. I wanted to be a companion. The Waldenbooks had ONE Doctor Who book, an illustrated guide. I bought it and studied it closely. That was what fandom looked like back then. No one else to talk to. No chat rooms. No Tumblrs. Just you and the one book they had at the mall.
You COULD NOT bring the science fiction books you were reading to school with you. You COULD NOT talk about them to anyone else. You COULD NOT mention Doctor Who, not because people would think you were a geek, but mostly because no one knew what it was. When Star Trek: TNG came on, you couldn’t admit that you watched it. You couldn’t tell any of your friends that you watched it religiously. Greedily. You could not tell anyone.
I never watched the original Star Trek, though of course, I knew what it was. My cousin had an old Star Trek playset. He had a Spock doll we would play with. I don’t think we ever pretended to beam Spock up and he was too weird to make out with the Barbies.
But I was prepared for TNG because as Saladin Ahmed pointed out on Twitter, sci-fi was rare and hard to find back then. It was a big deal. At least where I grew up, there was nothing cool about liking science fiction.
So I remember the first episode of TNG. I remember being freaked about by Picard’s bald head. I remember watching it every single week. I fell hard in love with Data. I wanted to be an android, too. It would have made being a teenager so much easier. The world of TNG was one of the most important landscapes of my imagination. I made up stories to insert myself into the narrative, because that was what fanfiction looked like back then. But I still kept that all to myself.
In college, there were clearly other kids who had watched TNG, but I didn’t hang out with them. And I’d learned my lesson. It was okay to read X-MEN comic books. And in rooms with closed doors, you could talk to a few close friends about TNG. In graduate school, I ended up in an apartment all by myself and late at night, I would watch re-runs of TNG over and over again. But I didn’t talk about it.
Last week, the newest Star Trek franchise premiered. My husband and I recorded it, but we haven’t watched it yet. He watched TNG, too. It’s cool. I know it’s cool. I know that if I mention episodes of TNG when I’m teaching, no one will laugh at me. I believe that’s true, but it’s hard. A friend told me once (he watched TNG, too, and sometimes we would talk about it) that as we grow up, we don’t change so much as add layers on top. The 13-year-old is still inside there hidden under the layer of the 20s and 30s me. She’s whispering, “Don’t talk about it. Don’t!”
But here I am doing it anyway. I am old and the greatest gift of being old is running out of fucks to give. Also, that the world changes and suddenly, it’s okay to like science fiction. It might even be cool. The old cast members have millions of followers on Twitter and when I see them talking to each other, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. They are good people to have spent your adolescence with.