(Please take a moment to enjoy this beautiful rendering of the space ship from the television show Firefly.)
Nerds surround me. I think “nerds” is the proper verbiage. But it might be geeks. I’m not sure.
My sister, my best friend, my new next-door neighbor and many other friends of mine are really into the genre of science fiction. The two most glaring examples of this nerdy fandom are displayed by my best friend Miranda (you can visit her blog here), who knows every line of every Doctor Who episode, as well as which episode into which the line was written and . . . wait for it . . . my sister Jennie who actually got the Star Trek emblem tattooed onto her body. (Incidentally, the Star Trek emblem has a proper name, or so I am told. It is called a Starfleet Delta. And I am sorry I know that.) To be perfectly fair, the tattoo is really beautiful and when she explains why she chose this design, her words are filled with thoughtful detail and wonderful memories from her childhood. Still . . . nerdy. And both these women are highly intelligent, functioning members of society.
What is it about the science fiction genre that draws people? For someone who cannot tell the difference between a Wookie and an Ewok, and who just two days ago learned what a “TARDIS” is (and no, it is not a derogatory word for someone who is mentally challenged—I had to learn this the hard way) I am truly perplexed. During an in-depth conversation with Miranda about why she loves science fiction and what that says about her, I began to ask myself, “Why don’t I like science fiction and what does that say about me?” As an experiment, I began to watch the new Doctor Who series on Netflix. I have watched a total of 2 episodes so far. Through my limited knowledge I will begin to explore this question.
Growing up, my first stepdad watched Star Trek. A lot. As a child I didn’t like the environment depicted in the show. It is stark. The lines are clean and sharp—the image currently being projected into my mind is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I think: the bald captain wearing the red uniform and a pale-faced guy who spoke like a robot and wore yellow. Anyway, the world is plain and filled with primary colors and weird voices. It is totally unrealistic . . . I know, I know. That is the point. For some reason, I just could not invest in the fantasy. It wasn’t helpful to me in real life. I did not assume I could learn anything truly valuable from a TV show based in outer space because I couldn’t relate to the environment and I did not look up to any of the characters on the show. There were no role models for me in space.
My childhood TV role models were probably much worse. I loved Janet from Three’s Company. Now THAT was a world I could appreciate. Do you remember Jack Tripper, played by the late John Ritter? That guy was hilarious and the antics he and his buddy Larry would get themselves into seemed like legit adult fun! I feel I would be remiss if I did not admit that my mom basically forbade me to watch that show but from the wiles of my rebellious 9-year-old heart, I found a way (sorry mom).
Another of my childhood TV friends was Punky Brewster. She was the sassy and sweet orphan who was taken in by Henry, the older gentleman with the eyebrows. She had it all: a dog, a best friend with a cool name (Cherry) and pigtails to die for! She was real and her situation tugged at my heartstrings and tickled my funny bone. To be honest, she also became an imaginary friend for me during her off-hours at the television studio. We shared adventures together in my backyard, like two realistic children trying to learn about the real world: earth.
The shows to which I gravitated were sensible in nature and I felt that if they were magically turned into real life stories, I could find my place within their scenarios. I connected with the camaraderie, the relationships and the stability of the locations in which these stories unfolded.
The Cosby Show, for example. (For a few minutes let’s un-know all the things we now know about Bill Cosby for the sake of my blog). That family never moved out of that house! Even after the family grew and they brought in the troubled teen girl, the house held them all. My childhood was good for the most part but there was an element that I think drew me out of real life and into television sometimes: inconsistency. We moved a lot. When my mom and I moved from Missouri to California at the ages of 25 and 7—and I could no longer see my grandma and cousins everyday—I found comfort in other people’s grandmas and cousins . . . The Golden Girls (another show I wasn’t supposed to watch but did), Full House, Charles in Charge: these were realistic family members that brought me comfort. The world felt stable to me when I could relate to the stories they were telling.
It is interesting to me. You would think I would have enjoyed an escape to outer space from time to time but I knew I would never get there in real life so why bother with the charade? As a child I was too interested in learning how to live in real life. As an adult, I am more open to the idea of dreaming. Well, that was a depressing statement, somehow. (Sorry mom). As an adult watching Dr. Who I am really trying to just accept the givens of the make-believe world and invest in the story. I really do like it so far! What I like is the relationship between Rose (the main female character) and the Doctor (who somehow regenerates and lives forever, or so I’m told). It kind of bothers me that they are going to be in different environments every episode. But I will try to stay in the moment with them. Come to think of it . . .
I don’t even like when the characters on my absolute favorite television show, The Office, leave their environment. And they don’t even go to outer space, or anything! There is one episode where they leave the office to go to a work picnic along with the rest of the Dunder Mifflin employees from other branches. I skip that episode on Netflix every time! And on Parks and Recreation, when Leslie Knope and her team travel to London, I skip those episodes, too. I JUST NOW REALIZED THIS! There is something about the stability of the environment that comforts me! It draws me in. No wonder I don’t like science fiction! Those people can’t stay in one place to save their lives. They can’t even stick to a race of living beings: they’re all over the place with aliens and Jabba the Hut and black holes and the dude with a giant worm for a head. Pick a lane people! Those of us who crave stability are being stressed out by your inter-galactic tomfoolery!
So. I learned something about myself just now. I’m not sure whether to take in a nice, deep breath of revelation or call my counselor. Either way, I suddenly have a substantial respect for the nerds who have the mental freedom to lose their imaginations to the anti-gravity of space and who actually care that there is a difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. I think their minds might be broader than mine in certain ways and, perhaps, their imaginations are more expansive. I am tempted to create a simile between their brains and the far reaches of space but that would make me a nerd, too. I feel like it’s too early in my exposure to science fiction to go around creating space-related similes.
I am going to continue my foray into the world of science fiction and while I am there I am going to look for the lessons to be learned. Not necessarily lessons about why the Doctor, who is a Time Lord and can regenerate himself before he dies is actually the only Time Lord who survived his planet being blown up, or why Yoda looks like he descended from reptiles, but lessons about accepting the worlds of the stories as they are. Not getting attached to certain planets or only one space ship, but suspending my disbelief in a way that welcomes the chaos instead of trying to control it.