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Peterson: Mission: To explore strange new worlds, old TV shows

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 11:12 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 30, 2014 12:35 a.m. CDT

I’ve always been a fan of “Star Trek,” but, please, don’t call me a Trekkie.

I was introduced to the TV series “Star Trek,” which was first broadcast in 1966, in the early 1970s when I was a lonely freshman in a new high school in a small town in Iowa, Donnellson. As the sad story goes, “Star Trek” was on at 4 p.m. on one of the three channels we got, and I got hooked.

In the greater scheme of things, it wasn’t such a sad story because so much good came out of it – a lifelong fascination with Capt. James T. Kirk, first officer Mr. Spock and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and their mandate from Starfleet Command to conduct a five-year mission to “seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.” (Cue up the theme song.)

It was the first real science fiction series on TV that would stand the test of time, unlike “Lost in Space.”

The idea of “Star Trek” was so enduring that it spawned other Starfleet series and motion pictures, the most recent being last year’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the 12th installment of the movie franchise, according to the Incredible Internet. I haven’t seen it, but it is in the Netflix line of must-watch movies.

Like so much that is old on TV or in the movies, a lot depends on having a vivid imagination. The scariest movie I’ve ever seen is “The Exorcist” with Linda Blair as 12-year-old Regan who was possessed by the devil in 1973.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school for eight years, the last year in 1972, and in eighth grade, we learned about exorcisms. I took it to heart. And when I watched it – what was I thinking? – I was scared blue. I came home the night after seeing it with friends, and it was about midnight, and the house was dark and eerily quiet, and I wasn’t about to go to bed in my dark room. So I sat in the kitchen and contemplated exorcism.

All of a sudden, I hear this thud and something falling down the stairs leading to my bedroom. I gasped. I sat there another half hour, wondering what to do. Was our house possessed? I convinced myself it wasn’t, and I made my way to the bedroom.

What had happened was the shade for the window above the landing of the stairs somehow had fallen, dropping 15 feet with a crash. To this day, I have no explanation for how and why that happened. But I was certain it was a sign from God that I had sinned in watching “The Exorcist,” and this was just a reminder to be careful. Certain movies are sins to watch for Catholics, and “The Exorcist” made the list.

Now, 41 years later, my kids laugh when they watch “The Exorcist.” They tell me the special effects are crude, making the movie impossible to take seriously. Yes, they actually laugh and can’t believe I am afraid of it.

Oh, the lack of imagination. Movie special effects have become so good that they rob us of our imagination, the suspension of disbelief we are supposed to enter the theater with.

The same goes for the original “Star Trek” series. The special effects and the sets are laughable – if you let them be.

When I last watched the series, I was in high school, and I watched it in black and white. And it seemed like a pretty good depiction of science fiction, if you let your imagination wander. It provided hours of entertainment. And it was long before anyone had thought of calling fans of the show Trekkies.

The poor Trekkies. An article in 1992 in Psychology Press derides them for “their willingness to buy any ‘Star Trek’ related merchandise, obsessive study of unimportant details of the show, and inability to have conventional social interactions with others or distinguish between fantasy and reality.” Egad.

Maybe I won’t mention that I bought a model kit of the U.S.S. Enterprise when I was in high school, years ahead of any notion of Trekkies, the poor, deluded saps stuck on a silly TV show. But the communicators, the phasers, the tricorder Dr. McCoy carried, the transporter, deflector shields and warp speed? What’s not to like?

I don’t subject my good wife to “Star Trek.” I reserve it for nights when she is working or is in class. She came home earlier than expected one night, took a look at the TV screen and mocked the furniture. Mocked it! She obviously didn’t realize this is the 23rd century, and things will look a little different then.

I’m only through the 12th episode, and I am happy to report I still can distinguish between fantasy and reality. I am ready to boldly go where no man has gone before. Or where I haven’t been in 40 years.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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