Passions, Puzzles and Pipes (S01:E06)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Lonely Among Us

While transporting two warring races to a peace conference, the Enterprise passes through a seemingly innocuous gas cloud. But crewmember after crewmember start falling prey to blackouts and strange behavior.

The plot of this episode is a standard mystery, and not one of their best. What I got out of this ep was a fleshing out of the ethical landscape of the crew. Picard and Riker are incredulous that the two races on board would fight viciously over “differing customs, god concepts and… economic systems.” They gave me the idea that it was possible to move past tribalistic thinking… though they don’t explain how. Riker mentions to one of them that “humans no longer enslave animals for food purposes”, which may well have been my first ethical examination of dietary issues that are still important to me (I’ve been vegetarian or pescetarian for most of the last 20 years). This is certainly the first mention I’m aware of coming across that suggested there were ethical implications to my food choices.

Two other, interrelated elements of this show would have an effect on my internal landscape and sense of self:

1) At someone’s mention of Sherlock Holmes, Data immerses himself in both study and embodiment of Holmes… complete with pipe, melodramatic vocal cadences and Holmesian catchphrases. It’s the kind of experimentation with selfhood that kids (and, I’d argue, many adults) crave as a healthy part of their development, and it’s something I didn’t really have permission to do in my family of origin. It had a positive effect on me to see such enthusiastic exploration in a “serious” setting like the Enterprise (and further endeared Data to me). Part of what Data seemed to relish was solving a mystery – pushing back against an unknown to see what could be discovered about it.

2) Picard’s deep love for exploration was highlighted here, his sense of scientific curiosity and feelings of wonder at the awe and majesty of the universe. That mirrored the only outlet I had for mysticism in my upbringing: awe at learning about our universe. I was labeled a smart kid and encouraged to do well in school. I had few role models, though, for those that truly loved learning for learning’s sake, as a sacrament. Picard was a model for that.


Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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