Friday, February 17, 2012

The Shifting Sands of Culture and Popular Interest, or A Trekkie's Realization

I work in a call center. It's the kind of job that requires a whole lot of sitting and mindlessly talking into a foam-covered microphone which is tethered to my head (talk about a yoke of bondage). Sometimes it's nice to have a little escape from such an environment while strapped in for a long shift. For me that comes in the form of a book or magazine, preferably one with pictures and short blurbs of text because it's hard to focus while being yelled at by over-entitled monsters.

Yesterday before my shift I spent a couple of hours searching local dens of randomness and obscurity for a copy of a Star Trek magazine or reference guide. I was driven to this by the realization that I have a life of love for Trek but really nothing more to show for it than toys and some random novelizations. The mission objective was very clear: get Jonathan some Star Trek textual mind candy so that he won't blow a gasket at work and lose his job because he called some upper-middle class lady in Ohio a cunt rag (trust me, she would have had it coming).

The first stop was a little overstock discount bookstore which at one time housed a plethora of Trek books. I walked in feeling more than hopeful and maybe a little bit giddy as my eyes adjusted to the florescent lighting and my nose to the smell of the ghost of a spurt from an aerosol air freshener which faded away to reveal the familiar odor of aging paper. My feet took me to part of the store where I was sure the books still lay. There was a terrible sinking feeling when I discovered that not only were the books missing from there long-time home in the back corner but the store had absolutely nothing related to Star Trek. They didn't even have a single, crummy novel about how Kirk gets cloned or Picard's Mirror Universe self enters our universe and wreaks havoc (stories I know some fan is dying to tell). Walking out I found that my hope had diminished but it had not yet expired.

On to the next field I thought as I found my hunter's spirit causing my heart to furiously pound. Time was running out as I pulled into yet another parking lot and shot from my car into the bowels of yet another book store. I dug through the new book section. I pored over the used book section. There was a surprising lack of Trek in both. The magazine racks were my last hope and I rushed to them to dig. There was plenty of Entertainment Weekly-like magazines for geek and pleb alike, but there was not a cover that bore the two words I desperately sought. Realizing the time, I shuffled back to my car and allowed internal combustion and the marriage of tire-to-asphalt to whisk me away to a boring night at a hellish job.

Later that night I spent time reflecting on my disappointment and something greater, and personally far more disturbing. Star Trek had become another faceless science-fiction series. In spite of the most recent film and its short-lived marketing boom, the franchise had disappeared from all but the most specialized and geeky of shelves. The last store I ran through had maybe five novels on the series shelf of the science-fiction section. Their magazine area had mostly comic related entertainment rags and, for once, Doctor Who Magazine (this would have blown my mind ten years ago, hell, even back when I was five!). How crazy is it that I can now find Doctor Who material almost everywhere I go but Star Trek is hidden away behind dusty boxes and under mysterious tomes? The popular focus has really shifted, though it's good to know that the genre of science-fiction in general wasn't crushed under the wheels of this most recent change. It still astounds me, and probably always will, just how much things have changed. I grew up in an era of Trek conventions and people who dressed up like they were in Starfleet. Now everyone is wearing a TARDIS shirt or even boasting about their love for Battlestar and Cylons. Really?!

It's amazing to me as I look back on the things I loved as a child and follow them up to the current. I remember the years and years, and there are still days and days, of geeking out in front of a television, now a computer, and soaking up the wonder that beamed out from the screen. A screen which displayed scenarios and portrayals which swelled my heart with love for the genre SF. Star Trek held that screen most often. It is a series that will always hold a special place in my heart and will never truly die. Then again it's possible that I'm being overly dramatic and I just ran around yesterday in a section of the universe that wished to hide Trek from me and just make it available everywhere else. Perhaps it was my own personal corner of that mischievous region known as the Twilight Zone. There are probably stores out there that have so much Trek lining their walls and covering their shelves that it's painful to behold the innards of their establishments. I could take some of that pain right about now.

Anyway, work was work and I eventually arrived home again to restore my humanity, my sanity, and to apply the escapist's balm that is Star Trek. The familiar music, the continual hum of the engines, and the characters and alien species I deeply care for were there to welcome me back. It was my day's equivalent to a stop into Ten Forward to break up the monotony of yet another period of pulling seemingly endless duty. I kicked back and resumed the soaking in of SF entertainment, unconsciously aware of my honoring a tradition I've kept since I was a little boy who clutched at action figures as epic adventure tore across the tube. Maybe I'll dig out my Enterprise D this weekend and play with it while watching season one of The Next Generation. No, not maybe. Definitely!