A Tribute to My Favorite Star Trek Character
Note: Spoilers for Star Trek and the feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis, which debuted fourteen years ago. You’ve been warned.
If you didn’t know, I’m a Trekkie. Or, I consider myself to be one. Ironically, when I was younger I thought Star Trek was boring, and I was firmly in the Star Wars camp.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I accidentally caught an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on the SyFy Channel (that’s sci-fi) that I realized just how great Star Trek really was, and I fell in love with it after watching a few more episodes and then eventually buying the Season 5 DVD set; my interest in Star Trek started before the glorious age of internet streaming, so my logic was that if I wanted to get the best possible impression of the show, I should buy a season that was smack-dab in the middle of the good stuff. My family bought me more box sets after that, and the rest is history.
My favorite character in Star Trek is Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge, played by LeVar Burton, an actor for whom I also coincidentally have a lot of respect for because of his activism for literacy. He’s famously known as the blind guy with the wicked cool visor, you’ve seen it a million times, but Geordi’s more than just a pretty face, so to speak. Geordi is my favorite character because he’s such a real character: like many of us, he has problems with his love life, he has corrected vision, and his best friend struggles to fit in and understand societal norms. He’s also intelligent, articulate, and highly observant, maybe to his own detriment. Geordi sees the world differently than everyone else because of his blindness, his visor gives him the unique ability to see wavelengths in lieu of traditional sight, a blessing in disguise and a curse in many cases. In one episode, he describes his ability to see via the visor’s advanced technology by comparing it to a human’s ability to filter out sounds they don’t want to hear and focus on just one thing they do want to hear. When other people see through his visor (this happens in a couple episodes), all they see is colorful gibberish. But Geordi, through sheer brainpower, only sees what he wants to see.
Compared to most Star Trek characters, Geordi is the one that I relate the most to, for all of those reasons and more. Especially since his relationship with Data, the android with no emotions, reminds me so much of my own relationship with my real-life brother. Just like Geordi and Data, both of them engineers on the same ship, my younger brother was my best friend and “partner in crime”, my closest confidant. Geordi observing Data’s childlike curiosity and struggle to be more human, in my mind, echoes my perspective as the older brother watching my younger sibling grow up and learn things for himself. Data’s journey on screen is a fascinating one, often hilarious, and always heartwarming. He experiences everything from sex, parenthood and beyond, and throughout his journey Geordi (among others) is always there by his side to offer him perspective on interacting with people, who are made of true flesh and by extension make Data look a lot like Pinocchio trying to become a real boy. By the end of their story on screen, Geordi, who at this point has new bionic eyes, has to make the tough decision to let Data go and do something he knows he won’t return from: sacrifice his own life to save Captain Picard from his ruthless shadow self, Praetor Shinzon, a truly selfless act that made him more human than he could ever aspire to become. With a bittersweet nod of approval, Geordi, the last person of the Enterprise crew besides Picard to see him alive, watches Commander Data secretly leave the Enterprise against orders and board the Scimitar. It’s one of my favorite little moments of the entire Star Trek franchise. Coincidentally it hearkens back to an early episode of the series, wherein Tasha Yar, the Chief of Security with whom Data also lost his virginity to, tragically lost her life to a monster in service to her fellow crew members.
Going back in time a little, there’s two episodes in The Next Generation that have stuck with me. These two episodes are in Season 3 and Season 5 respectively, and they tell a story about Geordi and someone that made a huge impression on him. In Season 3/Episode 6, Booby Trap, Geordi faces the task of figuring out how to get the Enterprise out of an energy trap that time had forgotten, which leaves the ship stranded and doomed. To troubleshoot potential solutions, he uses the ship’s holodeck, a virtual reality simulation, to recreate a digital version of the ship’s warp engines designer to aid him. The designer, Dr. Leah Brahms, is a brilliant engineer like himself, and together they save the day. Throughout the episode, Geordi and Leah develop a romance of sorts, and the episode ends on a romantic note:
“Every time you look at this engine, you’re looking at me.”
D’awwww. That’s sweet, isn’t it? They share a passionate kiss, and he ends the holodeck program. Geordi feels like he’s in love! His luck is getting better, the beginning of the episode had him go on a failed date with another crew member, which ended with him asking the ship’s bartender, Guinan, for advice (another great character, played by Whoopi Goldberg, but that’s another blog for another time). Luckily, in Season 5/Episode 16, he gets to meet Dr. Leah Brahms. Much to his surprise however, Leah isn’t at all what he expected. Compared to the version he met in the holodeck a couple years back, the real Leah is an absolute boar. She’s rude, has her nose in the air, is overtly professional, and is extremely protective of her designs and identity, not at all like the sweet and cooperative Leah that the computer designed for him. The computer’s version of Leah was designed to assist him and was basically the woman of Geordi’s dreams, a shockingly “real” person that Geordi could interact with on the holodeck. But the really real Leah is completely antagonistic towards Geordi and is greatly offended by his time spent with “her” in the holodeck.
Adding insult to injury, the real Leah is also married, dashing any hopes that they can have a relationship, albeit they do become friends later on because they have to work together to save the day again. Suffice to say, when all is said and done, Geordi is alone but learns that real people are much different than idealized people. In an alternate timeline explored in the series finale, Geordi and Leah do get married and have children, but it’s a sweet dream that will never happen.
Geordi. Geordi, Geordi…..Geordi. My man. I know exactly what you’re going through. I had to learn that same hard lesson in my own life. Women aren’t ideas, they’re people just like you and me. They have flaws, faults, and imperfections like all humans do. That’s a lesson that goes vice versa for everyone as well: there are no perfect people, your future (or current) partner, man or woman, is not perfect.
It’s not just in relationships either that we idealize people, it’s in our entertainment as well. The concept of the idealized person is a cancer, if you will, it permeates our culture, influencing young people and inspiring some to take on their attributes for better or worse. Even in the world of video games, some gamers prefer to play as characters that represent an altogether different person than themselves. Take the Mass Effect franchise, for example. A large portion of the fanbase sees the female version of Commander Shepard, the main character in the first three games, to be the superior and ideal Shepard. Just ask around and you’ll find that it’s true. In reality, the fanbase is divided pretty much evenly between the male and female versions, but it’s easy to see that FemShep is lauded as a fan-favorite. Why is FemShep such a hit? Let gamers create a woman that they think is beautiful, add in one space marine, a few cups of good science-fiction, a lovely voice, fantastic story, dash of imagination, a little romance, and a whole lot of hero worship….you’ve got yourself a winner! One commenter on a Reddit thread simply describes it as thus:
“ I’m a dude, and I only play femshep. Love her voice acting and I prefer the romance options. Also, the idea of a badass female commander is cooler to me than male Shepard.”
To each his own, I suppose. I’ve played as female characters in the past from time to time, but generally I prefer to put myself into the game, creating male characters that look and act as much like me as possible.
I want to be the star of the show and live in the world of the game. It immerses me in the game and makes me feel emotionally invested in its world. That’s why my romance with Tali meant so much to me in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, and why I truly felt bad that Ashley Williams and I, from the first game, were separated by unfortunate circumstances in the second game. Chris Shepard, your adventures were epic.
There are endless examples of hero worship in today’s world, some of them have dug themselves into the very fabric of society, such as James Bond the gentleman spy. On a more personal level, single people often dream of their future significant others in an idealized way, giving them impossibly high expectations both physical and intangible. Comedian Bo Burnam’s advice to single men, and women, is this, “Lower your expectations a few/a lot” and “If you want love, just pick a girl and love her”. That’s sound advice, Bo.
Hopefully, our friend Geordi LaForge isn’t single forever. The series ends on an optimistic but poignant note at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, which is arguably the entire point of Star Trek as a franchise. So, what do we do with our society of silly dreamers and lover worshipers? I guess we take a page from the Star Trek handbook: love and recognize people for who they are and where they’re at, send them on their way with with a simple nod of encouragement, and try to keep reality in check while we’re at it. Sometimes, we may only see what we want to see. Thanks Geordi, for showing us the value of real people.