Roughly four years and three months ago, something happened in Portland, Oregon (and on the internet). Something… Wunderful.
The Oregonian reported on it at the time: “Google Maps prank officially renames Portland’s Tilikum Crossing after Captain Picard.” And a few months earlier, the likely inspiration for this act was documented in the Portland Tribune: “Should we boldly go where no bridge has gone before?”
I bring this up because today, June 16th, is Captain Picard Day, and earlier this year saw the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. Whatever your feelings about the new series, there’s no denying that the title character has become a true icon.
Portland also has some interesting history related to Trek fandom. Floating World Comics hosted a Captain Picard Day art contest for a few years, likely inspired by Trek in the Park, which started small and got so big that the fifth and final year’s performances were regularly drawing crowds of more than two thousand people to Cathedral Park. Voyager cast member Garrett Wang showed up and played a redshirt one year; writer David Gerrold came that last summer to see his TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” re-created live and say a few words.
Those were some great summers. But they’re in the past now, the world is not doing very well, and with Picard, even Star Trek has turned explicitly dystopian. I’m not necessarily complaining about the latter point; any long-running soap opera is going to change narrative priorities as the culture in which it exists evolves over time, and as a writer, it’s (to coin a phrase) fascinating to observe the franchise reinventing itself for modern audiences.
As I told a friend last week, it’s really all fanfic at this point. So many different people have contributed to Trek that it can’t possibly remain the singular vision of one creator. By all accounts, that ship sailed back in the third season of TNG, when Gene Roddenberry gave up creative control of his (wait for it) enterprise to new showrunners. Most fans agree that the series really grew into its own after that and found a foothold with mainstream TV viewers.
I still vividly recall the start of my senior year of high school, when my band teacher welcomed us back from summer vacation by saying, “All is right with the world–Picard is no longer a Borg.” Let me repeat that: my high school band teacher cared about the “Best of Both Worlds” cliffhanger. That’s how good that third season was.
One of my high school friends recently posted on Facebook, noting that he was now the same age as Patrick Stewart was when TNG premiered. I looked it up, and it’s true: my high school friend and I will both turn 47 this year, which is also an auspicious number for other fannish reasons.
So what have we learned, Charlie Brown, in the last thirty years? Right now may be an inopportune moment for historical retrospective, but on a personal level, I’ve definitely come a long way. After graduating high school, I attended a decent four-year university, completed a decent bachelor’s degree, worked a variety of tech jobs in Silicon Valley, and then resettled in Portland with my little family. Here we’ve found a great community, made some new friends, and built a good little life for ourselves. I also eventually figured out how to write decent fiction, and some of it has even been published!
I have also, for the last twenty-ish years, been in one kind of leadership role or another at all times. Sometimes that was day-job-related, but mostly it’s been volunteer work and nonprofit organizations. And when there is no financial incentive to motivate people (you know, just like in Star Trek where they don’t have money), it becomes even more of a challenge to get large groups comprising different personality types to cooperate. You may all agree on the top-level goal, but everyone still needs to work together effectively in the trenches (so to speak) in order to gain ground on that target.
Watching TNG during my formative teenage years and having that time to study Picard’s command style taught me a lot about being an effective leader. I haven’t always measured up, but don’t let anybody tell you that fiction is only for entertainment and escapism. Stories help us make sense of the world. The best stories also help us figure out what we want to do in the world–to make a difference, to make it better, to strive for justice and excellence and compassion.
And that’s what Captain Picard Day is all about.