Well, we just pulled up to the old Muir homestead here in North Carolina, after a long weekend in Virginia and a morning on the highway.
But yesterday, I spent a delightful day at the gorgeous Hampden-Sydney College campus, meeting with faculty and students, guest-teaching a few classes, and then presenting my afternoon lecture, Space: 2011 – American Culture and the Final Frontier.
I started the day by sitting in on an Honors Seminar about Star Trek, and discussing my status as a kind of “lapsed Trekker.”
We spoke about Star Trek as a possible “faith,” and I described the context in which I discovered Star Trek as a kid, back in the 1970s. The teachers in this seminar were absolutely amazing, and I only wish I had been able to attend a seminar like this as an undergraduate twenty years ago.
And yes, I’m that old.
Following the Trek seminar, I attended a film studies course, and was thrilled to discuss with the students the four Alien films, and the various decades in which they first appeared. This was another really terrific class, headed by an extraordinary teacher with deep knowledge about film and film history. I’m only sorry I couldn’t be present to listen in on the upcoming lecture on No Country for Old Men.
Then, I headed into a general Astronomy class in the Gilmer Building and discussed with the students the scientific errors featured in some famous science fiction movies and television programs, and debated the line between scientific accuracy and imagination/artistic license.
In this talk, I opened with the Han Solo “parsec” line from Star Wars, and then introduced Isaac Asimov’s three criteria for errors in science fiction productions (from his editorial, “Is Space:1999 More Fi Than Sci?”): errors of dramatic necessity, errors out of commercial consideration, and errors out of ignorance. We talked about Space: 1999, Star Trek, Battle LA, and much more. Again, I enjoyed getting to spend time with this particular professor, who is a brilliant guy and a great gentleman to boot.
At about noon, I sat in on a two-hour lunch with another dedicated and stimulating group of students and professors. We talked everything from philosophy in science fiction and Robert Heinlein to Land of the Lost, to the role of women in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Then, come the end of the day, at 4:30 pm, I presented my public lecture about American culture and outer space TV series. I opened with a quote from Solaris (1972) about humans not really wishing to see something alien in space, but instead hoping to countenance “mirrors.”
In other words, films and television shows are mirrors on our times, our fears, our hopes and our potential.
Then we went decade-by-decade, discussing the historical and cultural contexts of Star Trek, Space:1999, Battlestar Galactica, V, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica (remake) and V (remake).
There was some great back and forth in the discussion, with audience members asking terrific questions about the artistry of video games, the different nature of American versus British sci-fi TV, and even a query about how “on the nose” recent productions like BSG and V seemed in comparison to the more allegorical, subtler shows of yesteryear.
To cap off the day, Kathryn, Joel and I were treated to a wonderful dinner with two amazing professors who I am very proud to call friends, where the discussion ranged from Star Trek and Space:1999 to Red Dwarf, The Starlost and even Buck Rogers.
So I enjoyed my day at Hampden-Sydney College tremendously, and was highly impressed by the caliber and intensity of the students (some of whom were tackling a philosophy paper related to identity and the Farscape episode “Eat Me”), as well as the kindness, generosity and expertise of the teaching faculty.
All in all, it was a pretty spectacular day, and one I won’t soon forget.