How ST:TNG taught me that rules were made to be broken
I am a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan. I’ve been watching the show religiously since I was about twelve years old. “…to seek out new life and new civilizations… to boldly go where no man has gone before.” It always thrills me when I hear this. Having the entire series on Netflix means I can revisit episodes and appreciate them on another level, at my own pace.
I love how the show (as well as the original and it’s successors) continued to give examples of ideal realities, such as a time when men and women are treated equally, when racism (in the Federation, anyway) is a thing of the past, and gender and sexual variance is embraced. The show, on a small but powerful scale, inspired me to believe that things will one day change for us on earth and that I could be a part of that change.
Part of what made the Enterprise’s mission successful was rules. There were MANY rules on the ship — rules on how you greeted your commanding officer, rules about safety, and even rules about who could go on what decks (for a long time ensign Crusher couldn’t even go on the bridge). People followed the rules because it kept them safe.
But at certain points throughout the series, almost every character on that ship broke a rule. Usually it was tied to an urgent need to save something or someone, and their transgression was forgiven.
The show itself broke rules at times, in an almost cavalier way. In the episode “Ship in a Bottle,” a holodeck character with artificial sentience we wants to leave the holodeck and take his “beloved” with him. Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (one of the engineers on the ship who goes to repair the holodeck) says that this is impossible.
Leave the Holodeck? No, of course not. You can only exist in here.
The rest of the episode is about the holodeck character Professor James Moriarty tricking the crew into thinking he did leave the holodeck, until Data discovers this and ends up tricking Moriarty into thinking he escapes, when in fact he just leaves a holodeck inside the real holodeck. They keep him locked up in a program on an infinite loop exploring the galaxies, without knowing the wiser. The rules of space/time/science won’t ever allow him to leave the holodeck, which is part of the bittersweet ending to this particular tale — true freedom comes from within your own mind.
What this episode taught me is that it doesn’t even really matter what your external reality actually is;Â if you believe something (good or bad), it IS real — for you. It also established a rule (nothing lives outside the holodeck) that gave an added dimension to what it means to form relationships/attachments inside the holodeck.
Flash forward to episode “Angel One.” In this episode, Wesley and his friend are taking skiing lessons on the holodeck. He has a snowball fight with the holodeck doors open, and when Picard walks by with Lieutenant Worf, a stray holodeck snowball flies through the open doors and hits Picard and Worf. A hologram, in this episode, is somehow able to exist beyond the confines of the holodeck.
I loved how creator Gene Roddenberry knew and appreciated his audience. It’s almost as if he’s challenging the viewer to question the value of rules, even within the context of show continuity.
You need to question every rule in your life and how each empowers, protects, AND binds you from your own growth. Sometimes we allow rules to keep us from taking the risks we need in order to grow.
This TNG-inspired ramble may not make sense to those who don’t know the show, so here’s some personal context. Â I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally if I hadn’t broken some rules and taken risks in the process. Here’s an example:
In 2005 I gained a lot of experience as a production assistant for several TV series. One of them was a show on MTV called “Miss Seventeen,” which was a “Real World”-style reality show with a competitive twist. House members competed in challenges in order to escape being eliminated, all for the goal of winning an internship with Seventeen magazine. I was a show PA and had a mixed bag of duties. Some days I was driving cast and crew around in huge crew vans and cube trucks. Other days, I was restocking the kitchen or making runs for supplies. Sometimes I helped the art department style different areas of the house, which was the most fun.
On one particular evening, I was tasked to stay very late and keep an eye on the girls via the control room. I basically got paid to sit in a “Big Brother”-style room, complete with switchboard and a wall of monitors that were recording everything in that house. I was supposed to watch the girls sleeping and report on anything show-worthy that might happen overnight for the producers.
While I watched, I would sneak into a nearby edit bay and chat with the night editor. He was very kind to me and encouraged my interest in Avid, the editing software he was using. Technically I was breaking a rule by visiting him. They weren’t paying me to learn Avid, they were paying me to essentially baby-sitÂ these girls and write a report for the producers. I was still able to successfully do that and get to know the night editor.
The second rule I broke on that show was getting promoted in a roundabout way. When a production manager hires a PA, she certainly isn’t expecting or encouraging her PAs to go for a promotion on a job that only goes 4-6 weeks. When you’re a PA on a show, you’re a PA until the end of the show. This rule makes sense, but I broke it. And I am very glad I did, because that act of rule-breaking changed my life.
During another evening of cast babysitting, the night editor told me he was going to need the show producers to hire him an assistant. The volume of work for him was out of control. He needed someone to work nights and digitize tape while doing spot logs and stringouts. I didn’t know what any of this meant at the time, but it sounded challenging and fun and I wanted to do it. The night editor asked me if I would be interested in being his assistant. I gaped, knowing full well he knew that I wasn’t qualified. Luckily, this editor was a badass, cool dude who was a rule-breaker himself. I said yes and as they say, the rest is history. He took a chance on me and told our production manager that he wanted ME, not anyone else, to be his assistant.
The next thing you know, I’m making twice what I was making before and learning a crucially important skill — assistant editing. The production manager who originally hired me was NOT happy about the change. She had called me her “best PA” and was aggravated that she had to replace me and was unhappy with the performance of that replacement. My rule-breaking was a pain in her ass.
Other crew members dropped a few hints that what I had done had broken some sort of unspoken rule, but I didn’t care. So what if getting promoted on a short-term gig is weird? The universe brought me this opportunity, so I took it and didn’t look back.
With the knowledge that I gained on “Miss Seventeen,” I stopped working as a PA and became an Assistant Editor. I joined a union and eventually ended up at a company in midtown in 2006, assisting on several shows. While I was there, I realized I was no longer interested in just helping an editor do his job. I wanted more knowledge, more experiences. I wanted to be a producer.
Some of my colleagues there were against this. I was advised to just stick with what I was doing and eventually transition into being an editor. I was already anÂ anomaly; there was only one other female editor on staff and zero female assistant editors. The media manager was a woman, but it was obvious she her own professional frustrations. It was very much a boys club, despite the kindness of several of the AEs. Despite their kindness, my dream to produce was definitely not encouraged.
I decided that even though I had only been there for three weeks, it was time to move on. Professionally, this could have been damaging. It’s not a good idea to job hop and be known as someone who quits just three weeks into a gig. That’s a definite rule you don’t want to break, but I did. I accepted a Rich Media Editor assignment with MTV News and eventually transitioned from a temp freelancer to staff.
I applied for the job (assisting during the MTV Video Music Awards) even though the description stated they wanted someone with a college degree. I didn’t have one, but I knew I could do the job and had the required skills. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to apply for a job if you don’t meet all the requirements, but I didn’t let this stop me from trying.
If I had simply followed all the rules I was given when I moved to NYC in 2004, I think that I would be very unhappy and professionally frustrated today. I’m not advocating for a world where people disregard all rules or not see the value in them, but I do think that it’s always a good idea to consider how some rules are more like guidelines and often only exist to maintain the status quo.
edit: My NY BFF’s reaction to this post ^_^…
This is geekier than Worf-printed boxer briefs (a thing that, by the way, should exist). And now for some reason I really want to rent Galaxy Quest.