Right before I left for Comicon, one of my coworkers asked me why I was going.
‘Are you kidding?’ I replied. “I get to spend 5 days amongst my own kind. No more pretending to care about the Chiefs or Kansas basketball. Just me and 100,000 of my closest friends geeking out over sci-fi and superheroes. I’m going to the promised land to be with my people.’
Yes. I really am that melodramatic sometimes. Suck it.
In the lead up to the con, Gonzogeek was invited to a screening of William Shatner’s thought provoking documentary ‘Get a Life’. Thought provoking? I know. I was surprised as well. But bear with me.
‘Get a Life’ takes its name from a now infamous Saturday Night Live sketch. Shatner, playing himself, snaps at a Star Trek convention, exhorting the crowd to ‘Get a Life’ after being quizzed on the minutiae of the show and his personal life. It’s strangely cathartic and funny and sad at the same time. Trekkers do have lives, you realize. This is it.
Ostensibly, ‘Get a Life’ is an examination of the enduring legacy of Star Trek. Here’s a show that barely lasted three seasons on NBC 45 years ago, yet has spawned four spin off series, 11 films, and a multi-gazillion dollar knick-knack business. People flock to conventions. They dress up like their favorite characters. Hell, you can even take classes in Klingon.
But why, Shatner asks.
It seemed to me to be pretty straight forward. We liked the show.
The documentary is comprised mostly of fan interviews. Shatner introduces someone, and we find out why they like Trek. Typically it goes something like this:
“I grew up watching the show and love to come to the conventions.”
“It is something both me and my wife enjoy.”
Then, about four of five interviews in, somebody pisses in the pool.
“It’s about myth.”
The first time one of Shatner’s subjects veered into the realm of ‘human experience’, I rolled my eyes. It was a show for crying out loud. People liked it because it was cowboys in space at a time when going to space was really new and cool and exciting. It was on in the afternoon when we got home from school. Thanks to reruns, I’ve watched TOS off and on for the last 35 years. Why do we like it? Because we grew up with it and it’s fun. Why is there always someone trying to make it more than it was?
Just can’t stop yourselves, can you?
Shatner then introduces us to a few more fans, people who turned to the show for comfort in response to tragedy. Who found in Trek a world of acceptance and hope. I have to admit, I’m a pretty hard-hearted cynic, but I caught myself tearing up in a couple of spots. But just so we’re clear, if you try and call me on it I’ll tell you it was from all the dust and mold in my basement.
Okay, Bill. I’ll give you that one. It’s more than cowboys in space…to some people. You still haven’t explained why it’s still here.
Enter Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell was a mythologist, whom many of us learned about in a high school literature classes. In the short, uncomplicated version, Campbell put forth the idea of the ‘monomyth’,or ‘the hero’s journey’, which basically says that all ‘heroic’ mythology follows a rigorous, unchanging structure that results in hero worship. When I was in school, they called it the ‘universal myth’ and they dumped it on us right before we read Gilgamesh. Compare and contrast with Odysseus, Hercules and the Lone Ranger, kids! Enjoy!
PS: Pay close attention to the chapters on ‘ritual’.
When Shatner threw Campbell out there, I did a double eye-roll and a spit-take. Star Trek as myth? Give me a break. Space cowboys, dammit. I was ready to throw down. This was nonsense. I took a mythology class. This was crap. But that class was a long time ago, and I pretty much forgot that Campbell wasn’t just about the structure of myth. There was that whole ‘function’ of myth thing I disremembered. The part about how myth affects us. So while Bill and the professor discuss the hero’s journey, the winner of the costume contest gushes about being the face of Trek fandom for a day. While Bill and the professor discuss ritual and renewal, the interviews become more intimate and personal. Themes start to emerge.
Oh shit. It really is about being with ‘my people.’
Star Trek endures because it’s not about the show anymore. It’s about us. The fans.
And the lives we got because of it.
Get a Life Premiers July 28 at 8pm EST on EPIX
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