Everything I need to know in life, I learned from Star Trek
Well, maybe not everything, but certainly many of life's important lessons. The 1980's poster was meant as a joke, but like all good jokes, there was more than a little bit of truth in the claim. For the first generation of latch-key children in the 70's and 80's, afternoons were spent in front of the TV absorbing whatever syndicated filler was available. For many of us, this meant at least one to two episodes of Star Trek—The Original Series a day.
And so, in lieu of guidance from our own parents, the Enterprise became our galaxy-traversing classroom where we learned that, often, having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting, humans are highly illogical, and Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a very good thing indeed. In addition to raising up a generation of geeks, the show also offered us important lessons about tolerance, racism, xenophobia, nationalism, and colonialism — and taught it far better than those Saturday morning shows that were still required to provide us with explicit moral lessons.
Furthermore, this was no accident. Gene Roddenberry had, from the first, intended to use Star Trek to show us a better future than the one we were facing in late 60's. In the middle of the Cold War, two years after the Watts riots, and at a time when the less than half of all women worked outside the home, he assigned the Enterprise a Russian navigator and a African-American, female communications officer. He gave us the first scripted interracial kiss on American television. And he showed us a world with no religious prejudice—no religion at all, in fact (he fought NBC execs hard to keep any mention of religion out).
And while I do not deny other forces at work on our young minds, what we learned from Star Trek was powerful, primarily because it was, above all, really entertaining.
There's nothing new about that, of course. Plato and Jesus were teaching through storytelling two thousand-plus years ago, and anthropologists tell us that humans in all cultures pass on knowledge through narrative. Scientists have even gone so far as to tell us that that we are actually wired to make sense of our past and present through narrative.
Jane Espenson (writer and producer of Torchwood: Miracle Day, Game of Thrones, Firefly) and YouTube sensation Cheeks have their own lesson, and like Roddenberry's, it's effective precisely because it's so entertaining. The two have penned and produced an eleven-episode webseries, Husbands, which catalogs the trials and triumphs of the first federally recognized gay marriage.
Of course, the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" is still, currently, the law of the land, so the webseries is set, like Star Trek, in the future where certain obstacles have been overcome. In Husbands, Cheeks (the name of both character and writer/actor) and Brady (played by Sean Hemeon, True Blood) have gone to Vegas to celebrate the recent passage of the law granting marriage equality to gays. When they awake the next morning, they — and the rest of the world — discover that they not only got drunk the night before, but married.
As a recently out professional ball player and a B-level actor, Brady and Cheeks find the eyes of the world (including those of Nathan Fillion, in a brief cameo) on them and themselves under pressure to not be the first gay divorce as well. They decide to give their quickie marriage a go.
If it sounds like you've seen this before, you have…and haven't. As Cheeks put it, "Straight people do this all the time. In fact, if we weren't gay, this would be a hackneyed premise." Such meta-winks are common in the series, and give it a smart, witty, and self-aware quality.
But what is less common and surprisingly successful is the way that Husbands both plays with gay stereotypes, alternately indulging and mocking them, while smartly engaging not just the homophobia from straights but the differing attitudes within the gay community itself towards both marriage and identity. The characters Cheeks and Brady each personify, to a great extent, that split, one which Cheeks described at this year's San Diego Comic-Con:
"The gay community is very divided in the people who want to show that gays are just like everyone else. Therefore, we wear suits and ties and are normal, we're not feminine and we're not affected in some way that is inauthentic to who we are. And then there's the other half who's like ‘Screw that! I am who I am, and that's who I'll be, whether you like it or not.'"
And thus, the two struggle to find a way to be themselves as individuals, and to discover who they are as a couple…much as straight newlyweds do. The webseries also brings home the greatest gift of marriage — gay or straight — as Espenson points out:
"It ends up not being about the PR (around them) so much as being about two vulnerable people in a marriage, saying, 'we're going through tough stuff, and we're actually really glad we're married because now we can rely on each other.'"
The idea that such comfort should be the sole province of the straight has no place in our mutual future.
Funny, touching, intelligent, and irreverent, Husbands is the best kind of education — so pleasurable, you hardly notice that you've learned something new about the world. Roddenberry would be proud.