(The idea for this post was in my mind on May 23, 2021 and the actual writing is just filling in the details and the usual, limited tangent-hopping.)
May 23, 2021: The twenty-year anniversary of the original airing of the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
I worked for the Census in 2020 as a field agent, and it was really rewarding work but also usually physically exhausting. After finishing some days, I started watching episodes of this show again, not thinking much of it. But the foray began a re-ignition of interest, picked up from about where I left it off at age ten, maybe eleven, in the late 1990s.
I was eight years old when the show first aired in 1995. I remember excitement around it at the time. I had forgotten that it aired on UPN, which I do remember being a fan of in the late 1990s and 2000s. What I also didn’t know is the original episode of Star Trek: Voyager aired the opening night that UPN was on the air, as a new broadcast-tv channel. Voyager was, I learn, by fan UPN’s best-performing show, drawing over millions of established Star Trek fans to its new episodes and reruns. (I don’t know if UPN is still around in some form, but in the long run the attempt at a new broadcast television channel was clearly doomed.) I hear Star Trek: Voyager is still airing somewhere on TV in rerun form, even into the 2020s.
I got my views on such things as what kind of TV show to be interested in via a very limited window of perception. (About the same time, I was a subscriber to the print-magazine Nintendo Power, and the idea of a print magazine shipped to people’s homes to talk about video game stuff seems terrible anachronistic now.)
I feel certain I was influenced in being an early fan of Voyager by my half-brother, ten years my senior, and who was hanging around at the time. I think I remember watching the first episode, but don’t know for sure if it was on the original broadcast or on a rerun. The original episode straddled the line between movie and TV, for they took more month to produce it and it was double-length, two hours of TV time (minus commercials at 1h30m ore a little more). In the 1990s there were still only several channels on TV and cable existed but was not really mainstream. I remember perceiving cable as exotic, maybe decadent, and unnecessarily expensive, which is roughly how cell phones were perceived at the time. (I had access to neither a cell phone nor cable all through school days; I think I got a cell phone first in my last year of high school.)
The premier of a much-anticipated new series was a big deal. When I recently watched the first episode, a scene involving drinking water stands out; I know I had seen it before, but I was just a child. In 1995, and probably 1996 and 1997, I think I was a casual fan, but I don’t know how many episodes I ever really watched. I remember being intrigued when my half-brother wrote and submitted a script in either summer 1995 or summer 1996. Star Trek had an open submission policy. I remember some of the plot of his script, which leaned absurdist but any Star Trek could be characterized as absurdist, except the played it straight and waved away problems with the magic of future-scene (“technobabble”). He never heard back from them on his script, one of hundreds that never made it.
There is a lot to show about this show. I don’t want to go on too long here except to note the anniversary of the show’s ending. Children are sometimes Star Trek for very different reasons than adults. Both appreciate it. It’s been called modern mythology, or American mythology (but the series may be as popular outside America), an update of the legends of pantheons of gods of yester-millennia. It’s also basically utopian, a fantasy presented within a certain set of firm, reality-seeming bounds. People have written a lot about this over the years, back to the 1970s when they first started observing that Star Trek had attracted an unusually devout fan base, and in the early 2020s we are at roughly the fifty-year mark of the social phenomenon.
I have never counted myself a Star Trek fan. I occasionally watched the show in reruns, with The Next Generation (late 1980s to early 1990s) being more the standard-bearer than the Original Series (late 1960s).
A culturally literate American born between the 1950s to 1990s knows Star Trek references well, for they became well-embedded in popular culture by the 1990s and even those who never saw the show soon acquire by osmosis certain ideas or references.
The set of assumptions behind Star Trek is also profoundly set in most popular culture, going back many generations, the religion of Progress, unstoppable progress, which of course would put us zooming across the galaxy by the 2370s (when Voyager is set).
The 2020s is 350 years from the 2370s, the time-setting of Voyager. Reversing chronological course in the other direction, we get the 1670s. (By coincidence, the 1670s is an era I have for several year taken interest in for very different reasons, the subject of a long unpublished post on this blog related to Amerindians in the Potomac area, a project I abandoned but recently revived in Microsoft Word form and which I hope to bring to a form of completion.)
I am really writing this to note the anniversary of the end of Star Trek: Voyager, which probably formed a bigger part of my understanding of the world than I knew at the time, in my formative years. I have enjoyed watching the old shows, and for a while was even reading multi-thousand word reviews someone had written in 2017-18, but eventually grew tired of them because they were repetitive. (No one can write a cumulative hundreds of thousands of words on a television series without getting seriously repetitive.) In the past few weeks I’ve started listening to a podcast by two of the actors, The Delta Flyers. (Late in the series the ship developed a small vessel called the Delta Flyer for small “away missions.”) The two, who played two young-male officers on the show, do a good job with this podcast, and have such good connections with the other actors that they often get them on, too.
I had completely lost interest in Star Trek: Voyager by the time its final episode aired in May 2001, as is usual for people in the age range I was in at the time.
The show is underrated and worth watching again, for all kinds of reasons for insights into baseline of American/Western attitudes towards future, past, and present. In the quarter century since Star Trek: Voyager came on, I don’t know that I thought about it much before about summer 2020 when one day I sought it out again. I appreciate its role in my own life, as minor as it was, I remember being captivated and inspired by it.