Many of us enjoy watching Star Trek for the incredible characters, unbelievable technology, and stories of far-off places that humans can only dream of. But have you ever considered those stories as a way of learning to be a better person? Can Trek show us how to treat others more kindly, almost pointing humanity to a Prime Directive of action here on Earth?
Author Hrisoula Gatzogiannis certainly thinks this is the case. Her new book, “What Star Trek Taught Us,” gives examples of how episodes from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager have hidden meaning and tie into a larger theme.
For Gatzogiannis, getting deep into the Trek world is an easy thing. In essence, she’s been a fan since she was a child and said that TNG might have been the first television show she ever watched.
“I was five years old when it premiered, and I remember so many episodes,” says Gatzogiannis. “Over the years, I’ve re-watched TNG dozens and dozens of times, but to this day, I’m so grateful I grew up with [that] show.”
Gatzogiannis works in digital strategy, is author to other books, and is a student of history in general. So for her, writing a book about Trek was a pretty simple decision.
“One day, after coming home from work, I stumbled upon a Next Generation episode “Where Silence Has Lease” — there’s a scene where Picard explains death,” she remembers.
“I sat down and said to myself, wow, Star Trek doesn’t shy away from literally any topic, and in the process, it teaches us something,” Gatzogiannis says. “I started going through (in my head) all my favorite episodes and realized there are lessons and teachings that you can adopt and take with you into your daily life.”
Those thoughts became the basis of the book, “What Star Trek Taught Us.” Gatzogiannis says that as she watched some of her favorite episodes, she noticed a thread of meaning, which ran through all of them. Even though they were created and written by different people in different decades, there was something about the shows that connected and is purposeful.
“I think each and every episode gives us something tangible, something to take with us and use in our everyday lives,” says Gatzogiannis. “They can get very specific on an episode-by-episode basis.”
““Darmok,” for example, is all about the importance of communication. DS9’s “Call to Arms” shows us that sometimes you have to cut your losses. I’ve found a few universal themes: difficult situations arise — it’s how we deal with them that matters, always have hope, rely on those who have your back, and think about how things ought to be, not how they are, and see if you can do something to change that.”
When looking at Trek through a historical lens, Gatzogiannis says that she can definitely see where the writers use our past to tell meaningful stories of a possible future.
“History is a glimpse into human nature, and Star Trek does an amazing job of making the different alien races relatable, and the events that transpire significantly — the Dominion War, for example,” says Gatzogiannis.
“On a more granular level, I can definitely see which groups emulate either nations or even concepts,” she says. “For example, the Borg symbolize our love for technology. The Cardassians show us that greed/military focus in society often doesn’t end well.”
Trek fans debate which series is the best, with many standing behind DS9 as the finest in the franchise. While not intentionally meaning to do so, Gatzogiannis revealed her favorite of the three by her chapter choices.
“The characters are very relatable, everyone has struggles, no one is good or bad, they’re all decidedly flawed, and yet they do the best they can. Even our “villains” (Dukat, Weyoun, Damar — for a while at least, before he switched sides) are complex characters.
“When you watch DS9, you start to feel as though you’re part of something,” says Gatzogiannis. “It also never shied away from the difficult subjects — religion, war, politics, inner turmoil, or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In a way, “What Star Trek Taught Us” is a love letter to the shows that Gatzogiannis grew up watching and learning from. She says that Star Trek gives all of us something to aspire to, no matter where you are in life or your background.
“[Trek] really instills in you the fact that we can be better, do better,” says Gatzogiannis. “There’s a philosophy there that’s priceless.”
“What Star Trek Taught Us” is available for purchase on Amazon.com