George Takei learned everything he knows about democracy from his father, a man who experienced first-hand the cruelty of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. But his father’s faith in the American system held strong, and this had a great impact on the young Takei.
“He could have become very embittered, but he had faith in the American system, and so what he taught me about American democracy had enormous credibility — him having suffered under the fallibility part of American democracy,” Takei said in an interview with the CU Independent. “So I will talk about the importance of having that kind of understanding as well as faith in our democracy.”
In between photoshoots, interviews and Star Trek reunions in England, Mr. Sulu himself spared a few moments to talk with me about his much-anticipated visit to the University of Colorado Boulder. As the CU Distinguished Speakers Board’s first speaker of the year, Takei will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26 in Macky Auditorium.
It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek — a series that was considered at the time to not be a success, as Takei points out, when it only finished three of its slated five seasons. But, as it turned out, you couldn’t get rid of this entertainment phenomenon that easily. Thirteen movies, four additional TV series and heaps of Star Trek books later, anyone who dares to call Star Trek unsuccessful would be a fool indeed.
For Wednesday’s event, all topics will be framed under the giant Star Trek umbrella. But rest assured, Takei — a political and social justice activist — will be discussing much more than just Klingons and Tribbles. Instead, Takei will take social issues and look at them through the scope of the sci-fi genre’s ability to make metaphors out of these problems.
“The core idea is the Star Trek idea of recognizing our diversity and strengths and working within the context of American democracy, and making [it] a better and truer democracy,” Takei said.
He went on to describe Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s original premise for the show. “[Roddenberry] used science fiction as a metaphor for current issues of the time, certainly back in the `60s, but also those same episodes apply to a vastly changed American society today. It still resonates with our society.”
Takei also plans on further delving into Japanese Americans’ treatment in the 20th century, spreading awareness of the experiences these Americans had to go through during the World War II internment camps.
“That was an egregious violation of the American Constitution,” Takei said. “But, alas, it’s not something most Americans know about and our educational system is rather neat on that chapter of American history, which I think is vital for Americans to understand both the strengths and fallibility of our democracy.”
Takei is not only a defender of Japanese Americans’ rights, but also of the LGBTQ community.
“I also happen to be gay, but was closeted for most of my adult life simply because I wanted to have a career and it would have been impossible,” Takei said. “I draw the parallel between the imprisonment of innocent people who happen to be of Japanese ancestry and the condition of LGBT people in the time I was growing up and where we are today with LGBT equality. And this is an example of how we all must participate actively in the process of democracy to make it a much more equitable and truer democracy.”
Takei expects politics, as well as this year’s controversial election, to come up during the Q&A portion of his lecture.
“It’s certainly a very important campaign, a historic campaign,” he said. “I frankly think that on Nov. 8 we will be celebrating the election of the first woman as the president of the United States.”
Shifting gears, Takei talked about the original cast of Star Trek. Since many of them are well into their senior years, Takei said reunions with the remaining members are more difficult to arrange. But many of them did recently get together in Birmingham, England for a Star Trek 50th anniversary convention.
“Bill Shatner was there, I was there and Walter Koenig, who plays Chekov, was there. The only one missing was Nichelle Nichols. She’s slowed down a bit.”
Sadly, very few remain of the original cast. Takei spent some time talking warmly about the late Leonard Nimoy, describing him as an “important, central pillar of Star Trek.” Takei went on to reveal that it was Nimoy who actually came up with the idea for the iconic “Spock pinch” one day on set.
“When we celebrate 50 years of Star Trek, we also remember friends and colleagues that have gone, and pay tribute to them,” Takei said. “So it’s a great celebration of Star Trek, but it’s also a reminder of the mortality of all of us.”
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Xandra McMahon at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @xanmcmahon.