Captain’s log, stardate, uh, 1986.
In honor of the latest Star Trek film’s imminent arrival, I decided to revisit its past. Though it’s a sci-fi TV/film series about people flying around in space, Star Trek can find a home in San Francisco, where Starfleet resides. In The Voyage Home, the crew finally touches down on Earth…and in the 20th century no less.
In order to save Earth as he knows it, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) has to find himself some whales. (Heroes got it all wrong: save the whales, save the world.) Of course there’s got to be some liberal, animal-loving propaganda here.
Because the whales are extinct in the 23rd century, the crew must slingshot their way around the Sun and into the 20th century, where whales (though poached) still roamed free. And it just so happens there are two perfect specimens across the bridge in Sausalito, where Kirk meets cetacean biologist Dr. Gillian Taylor.
To say nothing of her driving a beat-up truck (who needs to drive a truck in San Francisco?), Gillian is the city’s authentic bleeding heart whale lover. Yes, she eventually cries over her two whales, who are soon leaving her museum. She’d even be a good candidate for a vegan except for the fact she orders a pizza. Plus it’s totally not in vogue yet.
But enough ribbing–let’s get down to brass tacks. It makes sense that San Francisco would be the focus of Kirk’s quasi animal rights campaign. With UC Berkeley to the east and UC Santa Cruz to the south, animal rights activists have easy access to whatever research lab they’d like to firebomb. Or researcher’s/professor’s house they’d like to stake out. I mean, just google “animal rights San Francisco.” It’s a slow news week indeed if we don’t hear about some activist’s court date, right?
In researching this film and looking up its story, I came across the names of the whales, George and Gracie. They sounded so familiar. Where had I heard of this pair before? People older than me would point to the comedic duo Gracie Allen and George Burns, of which Gracie was a San Francisco native. But being the youngun that I am, I immediately turned to BART. Yes, BART.
Meet George and Gracie, the automated voices you hear announcing the trains’ ETAs. They’re not particularly funny. I have convinced myself, therefore, that some ardent Trekkie decided to name them after the Star Trek whales. After all, you’d imagine that whales would sound like George and Gracie if we could translate their songs into speech. Though in real life, humpback whales have yet to save the entire globe (so far as we know), at least the Bay Area’s George and Gracie let us know when exactly the San Francisco-Millbrae train will be approaching.
Maybe whale activism isn’t all that hot in San Francisco, but it’s true that we care about our environment and that, for some vocal groups, animal rights is a priority. People outside of San Francisco obviously think we care about whales, and our tourism plays to that in the summer months. Save the whales? Sure, as long as charging more than $100 a tourist to maybe see a whale keeps our local economy afloat.
Starring San Francisco is Appeal culture reporter, Christine
Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a
locally-set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at firstname.lastname@example.org.