Even though Star Trek was on a notable roll of excellence in the early 90s, nobody told the playground bullies. Being made fun of for constantly talking about Star Trek isn’t something I’m bitter about at all, mostly because, in the end, I proved to be an early adopter of what everyone would soon realize is possibly the greatest thing EVER.
But, I still remember a few teary moments when I wanted to be beamed up by Scotty, Chief O’Brien, or whoever-was-running the beaming on Deep Space Nine—and that’s because I wanted to escape and be accepted and nurtured by all the nice Star Trek people. And even as an adult, I still have teary moments, and occasionally find myself wordlessly whispering that I want to be “beamed up,” to be saved from it all.
Until the terrible epiphany hit me recently. Actually living on the Enterprise would be really depressing.
It doesn’t even really matter which Enterprise we’re talking about, because all of them have the same creepy problems, but it mostly applies to the Next Generation crew, since we saw the most of them over the years.
Let’s start with light. Think about what you look for when you’re shopping for a new apartment/house. GOOD LIGHT. None of that applies to living on the Enterprise. It doesn’t matter if your apartment has as window on Star Trek, because that window always looks out into outer space. It’s night all the time and you’ll get super depressed. Have you ever lived in an apartment without a window, or a room where the window faces a brick wall? Yeah. That’s what having quarters on Deck Whatever Section Who Cares would be like. Exponentially depressing.
And this isn’t just my anecdotal experience of living in a few tricky New York apartments, real science backs me up here. In this jam over on Scientific America from 2008, a bunch of rats were deprived of light and essentially turned out BRAIN DAMAGED. Now, I’m not sure how brain damaged a regular rat is, but if critters that go around eating garbage can get even more depressed than they already are, just imagine what would happen to super-enlightened Captain Picard.
Sure, we’re told in numerous versions of Star Trek that the Enterprise has simulated nights and days, and yet we don’t see any nifty holographic fake suns rising in their rooms or anything. It’s always creepy nighttime or weird light from whatever wacko nebula they’re hanging out near. In the Next Generation era, they’ve got awesome holographic technology, but we never see people sleeping on the holodeck, waking up to simulated sunrises. Instead, every night, Kirk, Spock, Riker, Picard, and sure, Neelix, get tucked into their dark, dark rooms and awake in total darkness. All of these people are probably certifiably crazy. Like, insane.
When we couple this with the super-small dating pool on a starship, the predicament gets really bad. Trek expert and generally awesome guy, Keith DeCandido mentions frequently the hilarious sexual repression pervading Starfleet, and I fear it’s much worse than he thinks. Everytime we see a Starship crew going on vacation of any kind it’s a borderline sex-romp. From TOS’s “Shore Leave,” to TNG’s “Justice” and “Captain’s Holiday,” to DS9’s “Let He Who is Without Sin,” Star Trek people are mega-horny when they get out in the daylight and off the ship.
And poor Wesley Crusher! His hormones are literally raging in a dark, beige world in which there are no fellow teenagers to go neck with on the weekends. If Back to the Future’s Marty McFly were put in the same physical environment as these jokers, he might be just as clueless about sex as poor Wes. Am I accusing Beverly Crusher of a weird kind of child abuse? Yes. Is it her fault? Not really, because as I mentioned, she’s probably 100% crazy because of lack of light and zero sex.
In the real world, the concern of “cabin fever” isn’t just limited to the catchy Muppets song. Back in 2007, the European Space Agency called for applicants to hang out in an isolation tank for 17 months right here on Earth in order to prep for a Mars mission. In 2009, NASA’s Human Research report was similary concerned about people being cooped would start to make all sorts of errors and become mega-space cranky. Funnily enough, the above article on Discovery.com even suggests the need for a Deanna Troi on these missions.
In the Star Trek world, where people have been traveling in space for years and years, I guess we have to assume they go through some sort of program similar to being put in an isolation tank prior to being allowed to do the whole starship thing. But, for us, getting beamed up right now, it seems totally inconceivable. I suppose after centuries of space travel, humans (and humannoids) could evolve to not need regular light every day, but personally, I’m not sure I want to live in that world.
Maybe this is why everyone on Deep Space Nine seems to be having a better time than any version of the Enterprise. DS9 acknowledges people need restaurants, distractions, open spaces so they don’t go totally crazy. And yet, when did Deep Space Nine start to feel more like “real Star Trek?” That would be when they got the Defiant, a tiny, cramped tin-can with probably like two windows. YES. Back to being super depressed! Famously, the most cranky and sexually repressed person in all of Star Trek—Worf—SLEEPS on the Defiant even when he doesn’t need to. Do we need anymore evidence about how insane all these people truly are?
There is also a conspicuous lack of anti-depressant meds in Star Trek. Other than hyposprays full-off-god-knows-what to wake people up, it seems like it’s all organic vitamins and stuff on the Enterprise. I mean, we know Star Trek people love their caffeine, it doesn’t seem like they take any drugs which actually relax them. It’s actually mildly shocking Counselor Troi doesn’t just pass out from sensing all the anxious emotions being projected at her from over 1,000 people who are getting poor sleep, too much caffeine and zero sex. In this way, the most realistic episode of all of Star Trek is “Night Terrors,” in which the whole crew goes apeshit due to lack of dreaming. Nice try Star Trek, nice try. If you really lived on the Enterprise it would be “Night Terrors” EVERY night.
So, the next time you’re getting nostalgic for that utopian enlightened vision of the future, and say to yourself that you’d like to be “beamed up,” go ahead and do it. Have them beam you up.
Just make sure to get dropped off on a real planet right away.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com and still wants to get beamed up no matter what he just wrote.