The Generation After Next
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4, KJV)
One curious truth to being a Star Trek fan is the attachment fans possess to one portion of the franchise or another. Some fans enjoy only the original series (TOS, TAS), some only 1990s Trek (TNG, DS9, VOY), some the early 2000s Trek (ENT), and now that there is new Trek (Discovery, Lower Decks, Picard, Prodigy), some mainly watch these new shows. Some even admit to liking all of it.
Yet there is also a portion of TOS fans that never liked anything post-TOS. And some prefer 1990s Trek and nothing else, perhaps allowing for TOS, but emphatically not enjoying ENT. Others (strangely enough) like ENT and VOY, and nothing else. I find myself in the camp of staking my claim to everything 1990s and ENT, with very little patience for anything before or after.
But an important question that comes from these preferences is this: What is it that makes fans become fanatical (the definition of the word “fan”) for one show or another within the same franchise? After all, shouldn’t the whole Trek notion of IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, allow for a pronounced toleration of aesthetic difference and taste at the very least?
Starting with TOS, fans have created their own attachments to the Trek they grew up with… or grew older with. Additionally, each Trek is modeled after the ethos of the age. TOS came out of the 1960s, with Kirk as an authority figure who constantly questions authority, TNG and 1990s Trek was launched in a period of post-colonial sentiment — explaining the extreme significance of keeping the Prime Directive, even to the point of absurd non-interventionism when planets self-immolate. This is a point even the Ferengi of early TNG make, time and again.
Then there is the critical gaze of new Trek, a new Picard who takes Starfleet to task for its failure to intervene in the Romulan crisis, a Michael Burnham who spends most of her time living off the grid or away from Federation service before returning to rebuild the system. And then there are a couple of animated series, seemingly nothing like TAS or the live-action Treks.
Without sharing my personal judgements on why I prefer the Trek that I do, I will pin the tail of this reflection squarely on the donkey of the new generation of audiences. There must always be a new storied generation, a new cycle, a new period of rebirth, since the targeted 18-45 advertising demographic and their tastes are always in flux. In another 10-15 years, the next generation of fans may very well claim they dislike Discovery and Picard primarily for the very self-same reasons that the current generation enjoys those shows. Why? Because it might pay attention only to them and largely ignore the others, and because a new generation follows this one, but the franchise abideth forever.
Samuel Stinson is Assistant Professor of English with Minot State University, where he also serves as the director of the Northern Plains Writing Project and coordinator of the English concentration in the M.Ed. program. He also serves as a list manager for the WritingStudies-L listserv and currently co-coordinates the Writing About Writing special interest group with the Conference on College Composition and Communication. His research interests are in professional writing, multimodality, game studies, and pedagogy. His current research focuses on writing transfer and online platforms. Along with Mary LeRouge, he edited the collection Embodied Environmental Risk in Technical Communication for Routledge. As a long-time Trekkie, he most recently has served as narrator and voice of the series for the second season of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission.