For many pre-teen boys (and those of us who are ... um ... much older) science fiction TV shows and movies are exciting fare that are almost required watching. How can a young man (or older one) get through life without knowing who Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, Han Solo, Marty McFly or The Doctor are?
For quite some time now, thanks to the Internet, I’ve been educating my sons on these sci-fi classics.
To some degree, it’s been pretty easy. They took to the Star Wars movies very quickly and have watched each of the six movies more than once. They were also fans of the now defunct Clone Wars animated series and are looking forward to new movies and TV shows in the franchise.
During the last year or so, I’ve introduced them to other shows and movies that they’ve also come to enjoy. I’ve been a fan of the British import Doctor Who since my teens and spent the early part of this year running through the entire “modern” series (2005 and forward). My younger son, Caleb, even tried watching some of the classic episodes from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but decided he didn’t like them as much.
Both he and his brother, Joshua, are very excited at the news that they will be able to see two of the Doctors together (former 10th Doctor, David Tennant and the current Doctor, Matt Smith) in this Thanksgiving’s 50th anniversary episode. They’re also looking forward to seeing Matt Smith’s Doctor regenerate (just go along with this if you’ve never watched the show) into the 12th Doctor, to be played by Peter Capaldi.
More recently, I finally got the chance to have them watch the Back to The Future trilogy. I had forgotten about some of the language, but it’s still a great trio of movies. What’s neat is that they get to see (through the eyes of Hollywood, of course) life in the mid-1980s as well as the fantasy of traveling to the future and the past.
Of course, the Big Kahuna of science fiction for us is Star Trek. Just the other night, we finally finished watching the original series from the 1960s. One of the hallmarks of the series was its ability to reflect then-current social issues and get people to think about what was happening then without being too preachy.
From these episodes, they learned about honor, bravery, respect, friendship, loyalty, teamwork, and what it takes to be in command of any ... ahem ... enterprise.
Yes, they also learned that William Shatner is a ham (but a good one) and that people dressed up in funny costumes don’t really look all that scary.
But they also learned about creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where humans have matured past prejudice, global violence and most forms of material gain. They even got a few lessons in psychology and sociology along the way.
For example, in the first season episode “The Enemy Within,” Kirk is split in two -- two identical looking persons, one “good” the other “evil.” In reality, one is compassionate where the other is rage and jealousy. It turns out the two halves need each other to be complete. So it is with all of us.
In the award-winning episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” (also from the first season), making the right decision is crucial -- even if it means sacrificing one’s own wants. Kirk, First Officer Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy are thrust back to pre-World War II New York and meet a woman who, if allowed to live, will change the course of history -- for better or for worse is the question.
Perhaps the most notable second season episode is “Patterns of Force.” An observer from Earth decides the only way to save the planet is to invoke a Nazi-like regime. It’s one of the series toughest episodes, subject-wise, but instructive on everything from why such regimes are -- to put it bluntly -- evil, to why advanced groups like those on the Enterprise shouldn’t get in the middle of another culture’s own evolution.
Several episodes in the third season really shine in regard to prejudices, and I hope my sons picked up on the lessons. I won’t go through all the episodes, but several of them deal with appearances and how we react to them.
An ambassador is so “ugly” as to induce madness when seen, but is “emotionally beautiful” on the inside.
A race of people with telekinetic powers force the crew to “entertain them,” culminating in the first interracial kiss in TV history between Kirk and Communications Officer Uhura.
Two beings -- one half-white on the right, the other half-white on the left -- are so consumed with prejudice for each other that they hunt each other across the galaxy for 50,000 years.
A beautiful cloud city hides the truth: those living on the planet’s surface are doomed to developmental delays -- all because they are forced to work in mines where an invisible gas lingers.
All of these storylines and more show us that, as Spock’s Vulcan people like to say, we should celebrate “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” rather than blindly hating those who look, act or believe differently than we do.
We next moved through the six original cast movies in short order. They enjoyed each of them, despite the unevenness among the odd-numbered films. Next, we move on to episodes upon episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and then the Next Generation and J.J. Abrams films.
I hope my sons will learn more lessons -- from more recent years -- of how to live and treat people as we continue these fictional journeys.
Oh, one problem, though: they still say “yuck!” when anybody kisses on screen.
On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing.