outer space

Why Star Trek compelled me to humiliate myself and why it matters

Zoe Weil is a blogger for Psychology Today, and we share her blog posts here.

When I was 15 I asked William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek series, to kiss me. He had given a talk at a Star Trek convention, and when he opened for questions, my hand flew up in the air. He called on me (which I’m sure he later regretted), and I shouted down from the balcony, “I’ve seen you kiss so many girls on Star Trek, and I’ve always wanted to be one of them. Will you kiss me?” 

He declined, joking that he had trench mouth.

I had better luck getting attention from Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock. When he starred in the play Equus on Broadway, I purchased the front row, center seat for the opening show. Leonard actually spit on me during a soliloquy, which was more thrilling than disgusting. After the show was over (and even though I still had braces on my teeth), I pretended to be with People magazine so I could go backstage and get his autograph, which he graciously gave me. For the record, I didn’t ask him for a kiss. That would’ve been inappropriate. He played a Vulcan, not a galactic womanizer. 

Most teenagers try to avoid public humiliation, but Star Trek eclipsed such instincts in me, which begs the question: Why were Star Trek and its characters so important to me that I’d willingly court such embarrassment? When I stumbled upon Star Trek at 13, it was after a back injury had upended my life. I’d been a gymnast who trained most afternoons. Now I was home after school, in pain and depressed. Star Trek offered both a reprieve and a vision beyond myself. In the Star Trek future, we’ve solved our earthly problems. Our nations are at peace. We’re no longer prejudiced, cruel, or myopic, and our planet is alive and well. We’re even part of a United Federation of Planets.

That Star Trek vision has kept me going when I’ve felt despondent about the state of the world, a justified emotion on a quickly heating planet where species are disappearing at a rate we can’t even quantify; where racism, sexism, and other forms of systemic oppression persist; where a billion people don’t have regular access to clean water, and millions are trafficked as slaves; where a trillion nonhuman animals are brutalized and killed to feed an insatiable and growing population; and where respect for science seems to be in decline.

psychology today