Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably my favourite Star Trek series. It’s the wonderful crew. It’s the moral, the hope for a brighter future. Especially in season 6, episode 20 “The Chase” this hope is portrayed beautifully. It’s about the hope that one day we will all get along, not just on Earth but with everyone in the galaxy. That we’re all one, all made with the same seed. Of course, that didn’t land well among the humans, Cardassians, Romulans and Klingons when they found out together. Still, at the end of the episode, this hope glimmered again. “Maybe one day.” Maybe one day.
The Next Generation is probably also my favourite series because it came out when I was a teenager and it has guided me along some difficult teenage years. I’m nearly finished rewatching this show a good 30 years later and I still love it for all the reasons already mentioned. I remember that as a teen I didn’t like the Wesley Crusher character but I now realise that it was because he was a teenager on a starship, being incredibly bright and heading for an amazing future in space. And I, well, I knew that would not happen to me. I didn’t really like William Riker either. It took me 6 seasons to figure out what it might have been. I think it was his smirk, and him being the ladies’ man.
That I love captain Picard goes without saying. The man with reason. A good leader. A kind-hearted man. An intelligent man who wants to solve with reason and not with conflict. Is he my favourite captain? Yes, I believe he is. Though Captain Kirk is mean competition of course. The development of Worf throughout the series is fantastic. Troy and doctor Crusher get stronger through the series and with that they became strong role models. And of course, there’s Geordi LaForce, engineer extraordinaire who knows how to lead his team to hold the Enterprise together. His rescue mission with no other than Montgomery Scott is one of legends.
But already in my teenage years (I’m 43 now), Data was my absolute favourite. Data, the android who tries to understand human behaviour and finds his way in living more and more like a human, with his superhuman abilities. As a teenager, I could relate to Data. I felt for him and with him. Of course, he was funny too, but I loved his intelligence and his constant urge to explain to the extreme. I could so relate to him. Also, he loved cats. How he takes care of Spot is incredibly well portrait and yes, that too I could relate to. Cats to me were the beings that did understand me.
Looking back it may sound rather disturbing to have an android as your most relatable character. But reaching season 7 in my rerun 30 years later, I have to admit, he still is. He is still the character I relate to the most. Not sensitive Troy (I’m not even half as gorgeous), not smart ass Wesley Crusher, not angry Worf, not weird but wise Guinan, but the confused about humanity android Data. And is that disturbing or weird? No, actually it isn’t. It isn’t at all.
I never fitted in. As a kid, I was a loner. Other kids didn’t quite know what to do with me and some reacted to that and bullied me. But mostly I was left alone and I actually didn’t mind that much because I didn’t understand them either and I liked being left alone and doing my own thing. Which was something most kids didn’t do anyway? I didn’t understand the structure of human behaviour, often I didn’t even approve of what society expected me to be in the first place. I also didn’t quite approve of how society is. Instead, I dreamt of the stars. I wanted to meet other civilizations and to know that life could be better if only if we could get along.
Data is the only android in Starfleet. As human as he looks, he is different. And you know he is in the way his eyes are and move and in the way he talks. He doesn’t understand jokes and is terrible at creating his own. He doesn’t need sleep. Sarcasm is alien to him. He doesn’t own any emotions (as a default). He often misreads the emotions of others. He possesses more strength than others and he knows everything. When asked, and when not asked, he is handing out detailed information, often a little too detailed. He, however, is not offended when his crew members tell him it’s enough and to shut up.
I love these traits. Okay, I need sleep and sarcasm is my second language, but other than that I feel Data. You could see how he was processing everything around him. I did the same thing. I felt how he was lost among human emotions. I loved his knowledge and logic. He tried to fit in and I loved how his crewmates didn’t reject him but instead helped him. They explained to him what sarcasm is, what practical jokes are and, the most endearing of all, how to let go and play like a child. Data searched for who he was, connected to his creator Dr Noonian Soong who he called his father, and even to his evil brother Lore, even though he also knew was wrong. He even created his own offspring, a daughter names Lal, because that’s what people do, they reproduce. He just wanted to live with humans, after who he was created.
Data succeeded for a great deal because he was accepted for who he was. Remember the hope I spoke of that Star Trek gives? It was that too. Data gave me hope that I too could belong somewhere and be who I was among the others, without even knowing where I belonged to. Data knew he was different. I just thought I was different. But plot twist, I too am different after all. I’m not female, nor am I, male. I’m neither. I never believed in gender roles, never wanted to conform to the gender norm that was assigned to me. When I learned that I wasn’t just being difficult, but in fact agender, everything fell into place. My love for Star Trek even made more sense from then on and flourished again.
When I confessed why the android Data is my favourite character, I half-jokingly added: “Well, that’s kind of disturbing right, to feel connected to an android?”
I say half, but by then I kind of thought it was not that normal after all. But then my partner, my own Geordi La Force, said the most amazing thing. “I don’t think it is. I think it actually really makes sense.” And the more I think about it, the more it indeed makes sense. Data may be shaped male with all-male attributes functioning, he doesn’t act a specific gender. That in itself is liberating. And let me remind you that Star Trek has a great history of addressing social issues that other shows didn’t want to touch.
Ever been who you aren’t? Well, spoiler alert, we’re not Data and the world around us is not the Enterprise. Still, having a character you can relate to and see a world in which minorities are accepted is important. To see a character struggle with themself and having their friends help them and support them is also important. In the end, it is about your actions. It’s one of the key messages of The Next Generation.
Unlike Data (for most of the series) however, I have no desire to be like other humans in society. I studied society enough to know that I don’t fit in what is called the norm. I think this norm is a ridiculous concept. I don’t believe in gender diversion, whether you’re female, male or non-binary, just do what you want to do. We all are made of stardust and we all ought to have the same rights and chances to reach the stars. We all should be able to live the lives we want and spent it with whoever we want. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works right now.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the entire universe for that matter, has shown me a society where all this is possible. You can be who you are, do what you want most (if you work for your goal), reach out to the stars. It doesn’t matter what species you are and who you love. You can love an entirely different species and it’s all ok. It has shown me that once humanity steps over its own ego after many wasted battles and wars, we can do so.
Once we were shown we weren’t the only intelligent species in the universe, humanity jumped forward in its development. And landed in yet another war, because not everything in the Star Trek universe is of course perfect. Different species mean different means of interest. No matter how far in the future you’ll go. Season 3 of Discovery will give us a look into an even more distant future and I’m more than curious to see how humans, Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Ferengi, Bajorans, Andorians and the Borg have evolved. And how many androids coexist among humans and other species. An android Klingon isn’t that far off.
So I may not have succeeded in fitting in, I learned how to live among others. I’m still fascinated by human behaviour even though I’ll never understand certain actions. I’m okay with who I am and know how to survive. And I still love Data. I love the fact that his character exists. Data has shown me what is possible and that it’s worth fighting for. And that what you wish for may not always be the easiest thing to possess. I’m worth being me. And I will show you who I am. Thanks to Data I know it’s okay to babble on and I know it’s okay to be bewildered. I also know it’s important to relax and to never let go of your inner child. That voice that tells you to roll down the hill.
Star Trek has been a great support for all kinds of nerds and outcasts for more than 50 years now and we all have that character we can relate to or are inspired by. It’s the power of this wonderful universe. And whether you’re new to this world and still exploring all the series and characters, or know every person ever appeared in the universe by name, species and rank, we all experience this magic alike. For that, I’m not just thankful for Data, but for Gene Roddenberry and everyone who kept the universe alive, This includes the fans. We are all part of something special.
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About The Author
Mel Marcik (b. 1975) is a nonbinary introvert who loves writing. This shows in running a space and alien blog (http://progressie.blue-lemons.nl/) and writing science fiction stories. They also so some social media volunteer work for the Dutch Space Association and actively care about animal and LGBT+ rights. They live with their wife in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, together they have a cat named Shepard and hamster named Mercury.
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