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Live Long and Prosper: Pop Culture Conference Celebrates 'Star Trek'

​It seems ironic that a television show based on going "where no one has gone before" has been revisited again and again since it first debuted in 1966. The original Star Trek series spawned six more TV series, with another in the offing for 2017, as well as 13 feature films. On the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the perennially popular science fiction saga was the only logical subject of DePaul's annual Pop Culture Conference. "A Celebration of Star Trek", held "stardate" May 7 at the Loop Campus, is the fourth such pop culture enterprise helmed by Paul Booth, associate professor of Media and Cinema Studies in the College of Communication.

A full roster of Star Trek creatives and academicians participated in the conference, including Brannon Braga, who created, wrote and executive-produced more than 300 episodes for Star Trek series, starting with The Next Generation; Lisa Klink, a writer on Star Trek Voyager, and Lincoln Geraghty, reader in popular media cultures at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. About 250 people attended the full day of panel discussions, seminars, screenings and vendor displays.

Seminars included "History of the Klingon Empire" and "Learn Klingon". Panels took up such topics as "The Federation: Politics and Star Trek", "The Future Is Here: Science and Technology in Star Trek", and "Star Trek and Gender". The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series is less discussed than other versions, but the "Reevaluating DS9" panel called it the one that remained closest to series creator Gene Roddenberry's humanistic vision of the future, with Captain Benjamin Sisko, the only black captain so far, providing commentaries on race, religion, politics, leadership — and baseball.

John and Maria Jose Tenuto, sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., who use Star Trek to explore sociological concepts with their students, gave a moving tribute to Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, who died in 2015. They said that Nimoy, a first-generation American whose parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants, felt the sting of anti-Semitism as a boy, and this experience informed his portrayal of Mr. Spock, the half-Earthling/half-Vulcan officer who symbolized the outsider at the core of the Starship Enterprise's leadership.

Booth said, "I love seeing everyone having a really good time and having interesting conversations about things they really love. One takeaway was just how powerful a work like Star Trek can be. It has affected the way technology has developed, how people think about the world today, how we live today. It's a mirror to our culture. There is an endurance to those iconic images and phrases, but at the same time, every iteration of Star Trek has kept up with the times."

Originally published in DePaul Magazine