by Michelle Erica Green
The untold want by life and land ne'er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.
Now voyager, lay here your dazzled head.
Come back to earth from air, be nourish-ed,
Not with that light on light, but with this bread.
People are always asking me where we got the name for this fan club. No, we're
not named after Now, Voyager, the Bette Davis movie--we couldn't be if we
wanted to, since Ted Turner holds the copyright. We couldn't name a club after
Star Trek: Voyager either, since Paramount owns the trademark. I thought "Now
Voyager" was a clever comment on Kate Mulgrew's career--she may be doing
Voyager presently, but that's certainly not all she's about, so we didn't want
to make it sound like her current role was our only interest.
I suspect that neither Kate nor Kathryn Janeway would object to being called a
voyager. I did a quick scan of the thesaurus for synonyms for that term, and
came up with "traveler, tourist, explorer, trailblazer, pioneer"--each apt in
both cases. Yet in some ways these words seem contradictory. I think of a
tourist as passive--observing and learning, but not leaving a mark behind, nor
changing internally from the experience. A trailblazer by definition does the
opposite: boldly goes where no one has gone before, leaving a path for others
to follow...not always in keeping with personal parameters or noninterference
directives, for better or worse.
I've been thinking about "Sacred Ground," by far my favorite episode of the
new season because it showed us Janeway confronting the contradictory meanings
of being a voyager. She expected to take one sort of journey and discovered
that, when one sets out with a rigid set of assumptions, one tends to have
those assumptions met. It was moving to watch her recognize the narrowness of
her perspectives, and how her certainty in her own beliefs limits her. It was
enlightening to see her grow beyond them, at least for a time.
So I was distressed to hear that reactions to this episode were not
universally favorable. A member of Now Voyager's electronic mailing list
pointed out that some fans found the show a bit ponderous--particularly her
adolescent male friends, the very people at whom the violent, sex-filled
previews of this season are being targeted. Since "Sacred Ground" was really a
second-season episode held over from the spring, it's unlikely that the
producers would even have considered doing such a show now. Instead they seem
determined to portray Janeway as aggressive and decisive even when that means
she'll look rigid and pushy. There must be a middle ground.
Look at the two "now voyager" quotes above. The first, by America's most
celebrated poet of our expansive 19th century, was originally part of the opus
Leaves of Grass, in a section called "Passage to India" which is devoted
to themes of exploration. Whitman sounds very active and progressive: if you
don't find what you want in your present moment, go look for it elsewhere.
Ideally, this is what the crew of Voyager should be doing--not just looking
for a way home, but trying to enjoy the journey.
By contrast, the Sarton poem seems almost counteractive, asking a voyager to
stop searching the stars for inspiration which may reside closer to home. This
domestic sensibility pervades the rest of the poem, asking the subject to turn
around, look inward, not sacrifice the present for a future that may never
be--no wait, that was Chakotay in "Resolutions," but the sentiment is similar.
Admittedly the voyage home is not the theme I think of when I first think of
Star Trek. Yet most of my favorite Treks--The Wrath of Khan, "The Inner Light,
" "The 37s"--focus not on the endless journey, but on the connections forged
along the way. I'm one of the people in the diverse audience who watches not
primarily for the science, the action, or the adventure, but to see how the
characters learn from those things. Maybe I'm as reactionary as Sarton's poem,
but for me, Trek is about the people boldly going, not the strange new worlds.
Sarton asks her voyager to return to a point of origin, to "lay down the fiery
burden." I wouldn't want to see our voyagers do that completely--like Whitman,
I want to watch them seek and find. But I wonder whether, like Janeway at the
start of "Sacred Ground," our explorers aren't going to find exactly what they
seek...nothing more. There has to be a compromise between being limited by
one's roots and plunging heedlessly into the thrill of the unknown. Like that
old saying, "You have to know where you come from to know where you're going,"
I want them to recognize their human limitations, which can be liberating,
since it establishes a context for growth.
Janeway's most compelling when she fulfills both Whitman's and Sarton's
dictums: exploring and changing, but not losing touch with her humanity, even
her failings. I'd hate to see her shut down as a pioneer, but I'd also hate
for "starship captain" to encompass all she ever can be. Isn't there a
compromise between the two sentiments, expressed so poetically, and sadly
reflecting the predictable gender split? A lot of people watch Trek to see the
balancing act between alien exploration and retaining our humanity, reflected
by the characters' experiences. Some of the viewers get more excited about new
technologies, some about new conflicts, some about new interpersonal
interactions, but there's no reason these can't all co-exist on one show, as
they did during the best TOS episodes.
Which brings me back to season three, and the parameters Voyager's producers
need to define. If they ignore the demographics, obviously the series is going
to end up in big trouble. But if they target a show for a specific audience,
using the expected limitations of those viewers to decide what they will or
won't film, they're going to get exactly what they sought--in this case, a
rigid audience that wants nothing but the action sequences and sexy babes
promised in the previews. That's not a Trek which is going to grow
philosophically or demographically. If the franchise is to survive, it has to
balance the interests of all of its audiences. Ironically that might also the
best way to make a balanced, dramatic Voyager which has engrossing characters
and entertaining plots.
Which poem do we take our name from? Both of them. I wouldn't settle for