Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation, And the Making of Me

As many of you probably know, I'm a graduate student.  And I'm in my last semester, in the process of writing my thesis.  It's coming along ok and it's an interesting change of pace having only this one thing to work on for once, a first in my academic career.  Anywho, over the winter break in prepping for this project I kept being bothered by some very personal reflections that demanded to be written down.  Who am I to argue with my subconscious?  So I wrote them down.  That is what follows.  It's, yeah, very personal, and will be reworked before it's printed up in my thesis pages, but I thought I might as well share it with you in it's initial form to give you a taste of what I'm thinking about lately and why so many of my posts are reposts, links and action alerts.

How did you become the person you are today? This is a question that has been haunting me for the past few years. It is a question that is probably unanswerable, as the events which shape my life slip in and out of what I consciously remember and bubble somewhere beneath the surface of that memory, ready to emerge at (in)opportune moments.

The roots of this question lie in another question, one that all feminist scholars are at some point initiated into: nature, or nurture? Essentialism, or constructivism? I take for granted my own conclusion that we are some combination of both, where what is essential about us can probably never be proved, but where we can trace some of the elements we have taken into ourselves and allowed to change us.

A search for those elements in myself, to better understand myself, my perspective on the world, my attractions, my insecurities, my place and function in the world around me led me back intuitively to television. And not just to television, but to very specific television, to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There are other places I could have landed.  Books I read and re-read like Pollyanna or A Little Princess or the American Girls series' or The Hardy Boys.  I could have gone back to other shows I watched religiously as a child like The Wonder Years or The X-Men or Boy Meets World, or later The X-Files (and indeed The X-Files almost ended up in this project as well).  Or it could have been films I loved like Star Wars or Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid.   Or the music I spent hours upon hours in my room memorizing the lyrics to and in fact still listen to like Green Day or Garbage or Alanis Morissette.  But even as I have thought on all the ways I learned to be who I am today, none has quite the resonance of The Next Generation.

Still, I could easily write another thesis on the complexities of the Disney movies I watched, on the femininity played out there that I adored from afar and felt like an impostor trying to embody, on the years I spent trying to embody it anyway and hating myself and other women for its limitations and my failure to live up to it as the less than graceful tomboy I was and am. But, that is not where I landed in my search. And as I have thought on it, much of these same things were represented on The Next Generation (TNG) too, and in fact they seem to have lodged themselves much deeper in my psyche by virtue of being so.

Perhaps that is because, as I remember it anyway, the watching of TNG was a family event. My Mom didn't care for the show, but my Dad, brother, and I all loved it, and sat down once a week for nearly the whole seven seasons to watch it together. One vivid memory is of my little brother and I flinging ourselves to the sides of the television set as the Enterprise zoomed diagonally across the screen over and over during the now iconic opening credits. I remember us laughing as we pretended the Enterprise might come out of the screen and run us over if we didn't get out of the way. Looking back on it, this moment illustrates well just how real these characters and events were to me, even as I knew they were fiction. No wonder then, that on re-watching the series I would discover such moments as Captain Picard expressing a perspective on knowledge and education that I have long held as my own (“Samaritan Snare”). It is this viewpoint that led me on the educational journey now culminating in this project.