Trekkies Are Beaming Up to Enroll

What a Cosmic Drama Has to Say About Life in America Becomes the Focus of a Summer's Academic Inquiry

by Fernando Quintero

Berkeley Summer Sessions instructor Joe Sartelle isn't expecting students to show up for class donning pointy ears, Starfleet uniforms or Klingon masks.

But it could happen.

This summer, Sartelle will be teaching American Television 117, a Mass Communications course that offers an interdisciplinary survey of various theoretical and methodological approaches to the social, cultural and political dimensions of American television.

The focus for this season's class will be "Star Trek" as a case study.

As anyone familiar with the show knows, followers of the sci-fi classic and its subsequent syndicated TV spinoffs and feature films can be quite a fanatical bunch.

"I'll have to make it clear up front that the course is an introduction to theories and methods in study of American television, not just an opportunity for people to exchange personal insights about their favorite episodes," said Sartelle, a programmer/analyst for the division of Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies and a doctoral candidate in English.

He's worked as a graduate student instructor since 1990.

Sartelle said "Star Trek" is ideal subject matter for looking at contemporary American culture as reflected in popular culture and the media.

"'Star Trek' has provided an ongoing cultural conversation about the political, cultural and social state of the nation," said Sartelle, 34.

"The show has been popular for so long because it has distilled certain kinds of core principles about American society."

For those who have spent the last 30 years living under a rock, legendary futurist Gene Roddenberry created the science fiction-based television series in 1966.

It lasted three seasons on NBC. Then, "Star Trek" segued to the big screen with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," which grossed more than $112 million at the box office.

The film's success inspired six equally successful sequels.

In 1987, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" premiered and went on to become the most popular syndicated program on television. The show has since spawned two other television shows, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager."

For the most part "Star Trek" and its various incarnations deal with the prosperity of the human race.

The original television show presented an idealized portrait of American life in the 24th century, which reflected the optimism of the late '60s, Sartelle said.

In contrast, the latest "Star Trek" series, "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," Sartelle called "bluesier, more dark."

"With the newer shows, you get the idea that the universe is not going to be as reasonable a place as we once believed," said Sartelle. "Contemporary versions of 'Star Trek' are more suspicious of the human condition.

"There are more internal conflicts. The characters' flaws present more of a contemporary outlook."

With enrollment figures for Summer Sessions already projected at 7 percent over last year, Director Gary Penders said the program is "proceeding at warp speed."

Summer Sessions, which is divided into five sessions ranging in length from three weeks to 10 weeks, began May 27 and has attracted a mix of students, Bay Area residents and international visitors.

Some 11,000 students are expected to enroll in summer courses this year.

Penders said the biggest enrollment gains were made by the Haas School of Business, which doubled the number of students attending.



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