Star Trek’s 43-year journey into math journals, cake designs and our society’s warp and weave

By Jean Latz Griffin

Starting at midnight tonight, millions of people spanning generations are expected to make their way to movie theaters across the nation and settle into plush seats to see the back story of a 43-year fictional narrative and franchise that shows no signs of abating – the saga of Star Trek.

Movie number 11, Star Trek, is a prequel and James T. Kirk is a young man just entering Star Fleet and trying to buy Uhura a drink. We meet Bones when he warns Kirk that “space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” And when young Spocstartrek1k and young Kirk meet, the ego clash needs no extra special effects. It is hoped that this movie, with a tone and setting suited to the Millennial Generation, will extend the story’s reach. A sequel is already planned.

So as we begin a day when a new generation may get hooked on a sci-fi classic, let’s take a look at some of the places Star Trek has gone that its creators doubtless didn’t envision.

Since the Star Trek Original Series began in 1966, the mission “to boldly go” has spawned much more than TV shows and movies. It has provided a rich source of archtypes, spin-off products and even academic research. In a diverse country of nearly 306.4 million people, it has done what shared narratives have always done for civilizations – provided a unifying thread, however silly some of it may seem.

  • Collectors and fans have given Star Trek paraphernalia a good chunk of the $1.4 billion collectible industry. An example is the collection of visual journalist, teacher and blogger Charles Apple. Apple has posted photos on his blog. Be sure to scroll down to the customized Borg figures.
  • Star Trek-themed cakes range from a simple wedding cake design to a complete Enterprise. Instructions for a Star Trek Wedding can be found online, as can (of course) videos.
  • Star Trek icons can be downloaded for free; screen savers and other images are also available.
  • Academic research includes that done by Sarah Hardy and Rebecca Kukla, English and philosophy professors from the US and Canada. They analyzed how the specific configuration and abilities of the Enterprise changed with each TV series to reflect the changing political climates in the real world. Since the original series emerged from a Cold War ideology, the first Enterprise was designed for battle, they say. Ten years later, The Next Generation “reflected a new ambivalence about militarism,” … and its starship could only be used for war as a last resort. By 1995, the stranded Voyager ship had no mission to explore or conquer, but just to return home.
  • References to Star Trek include two in The College Mathematics Journal in 1984. Included in “Additional Perspectives on Fractals,” was a mention by science writer Martin Gardner of the short fractal sequence at the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, released in 1982.  Two pages later was  an explanation of it by Loren C. Carpenter, then a member of the Graphics Project Team at Lucasfilm, who later co-founded Pixar. Carpenter, who helped create the sequence, said it was the only time (thus far) fractals had been used in a feature film. He said he’d been able to just use a low resolution because the animation didn’t require high resolution. “You can see little triangles if you look carefully, but most people never saw them,” he said.

Borg figures, cakes, political ideology and fractals – in addition to the movies, TV shows and books. Not a bad 43- year run for a 1960s TV show that only had 79 episodes plus the pilot over three seasons.

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About jeanlatzgriffin

Jean Latz Griffin is the owner of CyberINK, a small business that produces quirky skeleton-themed products. She has finished the first draft of a historical fantasy and received comments from her agent. She has turned to Orson Scott Card for tips on the second draft. She is author of "In the Same Breath," and "One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century." She has a certificate in creative writing from the University of Chicago's Writers Studio. Griffin is a member of the growing community of former Chicago Tribune reporters, enjoys Weekend Writing Warriors and the Story Studio in Chicago. Her Sheltie, Thunder, likes to "type" on her computer keys, and Dr Wu, a Weimaraner, likes to lick her ear when she is trying to think. Her husband passed in June of 2011. Her three fabulous grown sons live nearby. She plays violin in an amateur string orchestra.

1 Response

  1. That McCoy quote (“space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence”) really underscores an important theme of the original series: we don’t know what’s out there, but whatever it is can probably kill you. In the 1980s, when the Enterprise was turned into a big flying hotel in Next Generation, with families along for the ride, that danger and darkness was lost. Thankfully the introduction of the Borg helped shake Trek: TNG out of its comfortable, complacent rut.

    …but I’m still no fan of the 24th century.

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