It amazes me to reflect on the degree of cultural impact a relatively short-lived phenomenon can have.
Consider Star Trek (the original series). Many Americans at least have a tacit familiarity with Captain James T. Kirk (known throughout his otherwise dubious movie career as “William Shatner”), Dr. Bones, or surely, Mr. Spock and his famous, finger-flexing salutation “live long and prosper.” If not these, then perhaps people have heard the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” or dreamt of flying through space with Mr Sulu at warp factor 8.
That TV series aired in the late 1960s…over 50 years ago. Any idea how many seasons it lasted?
Just three. Three years of airtime, a total of 80 episodes and a half-dozen movies (which came in the 70s, 80s, and 90s)…and our culture has been forever impacted.
How about one more example, just for fun.
I recently acquired Season 2 of the original Zorro series. Is there any little boy who hasn’t held a stick and waved it in the air in the form of a Z, perhaps cutting little holes in a black sock to wrap across his face in order to disguise his identity as he liberates California from Spanish tyranny?
And when did this show air? In the late 50s! For how many seasons? Three also (but 82 episodes).
In the grand scheme of television history, these shows really only appeared for a blip of time, but their impact continues to ripple throughout our culture, the characters and stories becoming a part of the lore that we pass along to future generations.
Spock said, “live long and prosper”–but Star Trek prospered long after it appeared to live. In fact, it lives on in another sense: not in the production of new episodes and stories, but as part of our vocabulary and cultural consciousness.
Where does such significance come from? Surely, not every three-season show has such lasting effect.
It’s not amount of time. Is it quality? Originality? Scratching the itch of the audience? Going where no one has gone before?
Every author, screenwriter, and artist hopes that their work will have cultural impact. Even as normal individuals (i.e. not swashbuckling vigilantes or starship captains), many of us hope to make a difference, to leave a legacy, to end with things a little better than when we found them.
How do we do this? Is it quality? Originality? Scratching society’s itch? Going where no one has gone before?
I don’t know what the key is–I suppose each of these components is a significant ingredient. But I do want my life to be a season of impact; not that I need to become a cultural icon, but I would like the lives of my viewers to be a little better than they were before we found each other.