Everything I needed to know in life I learned by watching red shirts die.
So I spent all last week at the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas and can highly recommend it as an experience. It was totally fun and cool with a lot of extremely nice fans and amazing costumes. While there I saw several variations on the t-shirt “Everything I Know in Life I Learned from Star Trek.” For the most part they are filled with noble thoughts like “Non Interference is the Prime Directive” and “Seek Out New Life and New Civilizations.” I appreciate the nobility of these sentiments and wish I could have picked them up as a child.
However, the issue here is that these concepts are really more the lessons my parents and teachers really would have hoped I could have learned from the show. They are the the 70′s equivalent of wishing your child would play peacefully with his or her stuffed animals and not use them as a club to bludgeon the child next to them with. This is not how we learn lessons, unfortunately. Not the lessons that are ingrained into our psyche. Those lessons are always learned from pain and stupidity, either experienced or observed.
What do I mean by that? The lessons most strongly remembered are the ones where you feel the need to put your hand in a fire and learn the hard way that that is a stupid thing. If a child has a natural inclination to lick power outlets and does so, assuming he survives that is a lesson he or she will never, ever forget (as an aside, I do recommend parents all baby proof their houses. If you have a more Darwinian approach to parenting (like my own parents did) I’m sure your surviving children will reach adulthood with some important life lessons imparted upon them).
Thus we come to Star Trek. Most of the episodes might have had an esoteric lesson on non interference and peaceful contact with aliens, but they were all pretty hard for me to grasp at age 7. What was easy for me to understand was the 1-6 horrible Red Shirt deaths in each episode (Ensign Riley image courtesy of the Television T Shirt category). What, then, are the hard core lessons ingrained into my very fiber from this show? Here are a few:
1. There is no kill setting strong enough for my phaser.
2. If you are ever told to guard a corridor/door/cell/alien/robot by yourself or with just another hapless minion immediately request backup. Never do anything by yourself.
3. While on guard duty of any kind keep your back against a wall and your eyes on the creature/doorway you are supposed to be guarding.
4. It is never too early on an away mission to “accidentally” sprain your ankle and be ordered to report to sick bay.
5. If you spot something unusual duck behind cover BEFORE yelling out your report (or using your communicator).
6. Never volunteer for anything.
7. Any normal seeming job given to you by your superiors while they stand around watching should be approached with extreme caution.
8. Any creature that can be completely and accurately described with a noun followed by the word “monster” should be considered extremely dangerous (lava monster, tar monster, sucker monster, etc.). Remember lesson number 1.
9. If an alien seems surprisingly confident when faced with your phaser, force field, or otherwise seemingly superior advantage take a few steps backward.
10. In a group never be the first or last man to do anything.
11. If an alien tells you to stand in a certain place a moderate distance from the rest of the group consider just punching him.
12. Try to never leave the ship.
13. If given orders that almost certainly lead to your horrible death remember that mutiny and fragging are always options. I think you will find the captain goes down to a phaser blast a lot faster than a blood sucking gas cloud.
14. If you get back from an away mission and you even have the sniffles immediately see a doctor.
15. If any of your friends are ever possessed by evil murdering aliens it might be necessary to beam them out into open space.
16. It might be worthwhile to keep a backup phaser in your boot.
17. If an alien looks like it can kill you, assume it not only can but seriously wants to. Remember lesson number 1.
18. If you are ever being chased by giant alien creatures remember you don’t really have to outrun them. Just the slowest other red shirt.
19. If you are ever ordered to collect some kind of sample remember that modest scientific advancement is not really worth your life. Find a nice rock wall to lean against and “lose” your collection equipment at the first opportunity.
20. If any creatures, human or otherwise, are acting strange, speaking slowly, and not really answering any of your questions do not let them come within reach of you. Also remember lesson 1.
I think you will find that these lessons, in addition to being more deeply ingrained than the noble ones espoused by the more enlightened Star Trek fans, will also have many more useful short and long term applications in your day to day life. I’m not saying to give up on the high value ones from the intellectual part of the show. Just that these may be much more useful on a personal basis.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twiiter @Nerdkungfu. If you have comments or questions on this piece post them here. Off topic questions or suggestions for other articles can be emailed to email@example.com. I’ll watch something tonight and review it tomorrow morning. Talk to you soon.