I have to make the confession that I am a nerd. To those of you who know me this should not come as a surprise.
What spurs this confession is that I have been watching a lot of Star Trek on DVD since I was injured four months ago. My viewing has ranged across all the series, from The Original Series to Enterprise, with generous helpings of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
I remember reading an interview with the actor Ben Vereen many years ago when The Next Generation was ending its run. He had portrayed Geordi LaForge's father in that series, and the way he had come to that part was interesting. Vereen had himself been struck by car while walking along the Pacific Coast Highway near his home. He watched a lot of Star Trek during his recovery and when he was well enough he was cast as LaForge's father in one of the episodes of the final season of The Next Generation.
What Vereen said about Star Trek has stayed in mind since then. He credited the series with aiding in his recovery. Although I was a fan of the show at that time (I have actually been a fan of the shows since The Original Series was first aired in the late 1960s), I attributed Vereen's remarks to the hyperbole of someone who was grateful to have recovered from his injuries. I believed that watching Star Trek raised his spirits, but I was dubious about the healing effects of the show(s).
Well, twelve years later I have spend four months stuck in a wheelchair after being struck by a car. This experience has been trying. I have have a hard time keeping my spirits up, especially as each additional week in the wheelchair passes. Although I have watched several different television shows on VHS and DVD during my convalescence (including such favorites as The Avengers and The Mary Tyler Moore Show), none have given me as much pleasure as Star Trek. And nothing I have watched, be it television or film, has been able to raise my spirits as Star Trek has.
I believe that what accounts for this is that Star Trek has always presented a hopeful vision of the future. There is a comfort in the idea that humanity will prosper peacefully in the future. If that were all there were to Star Trek, however, it would be pablum. What makes it a compelling ongoing story is that the characters stuggle to live up to their ideals. And their ideals are often in conflict, as in the case of Mr. Worf, one of the most interesting characters on the shows. They never give up the struggle to do the right thing. And that, perhaps, is what has given the shows their enduring appeal. It is also, perhaps, what gives the shows their healing power.