Trekking through politics

Trekking through politics

By Jennifer Ruggiero

Professor W.D. Kay doesn’t like referring to himself as a “trekkie,” the namesake most commonly associated with die-hard Star Trek enthusiasts.

“‘Trekker’ is the preferred term these days,” he said.

The political science professor is currently finishing his third book, “The Politics of Star Trek,” in which he acutely blends the cult science-fiction phenomenon with government policies.

Kay said although it could be viewed as an unconventional approach to teaching political science, the book’s intent is still to provide the same insight into government and world affairs that any other reference text would offer.

“It’s still going to talk about federalism, it’s still going to talk about political institutions, so [they may learn from it],” he said. “I mean, if you absolutely hate it, then it’s probably not the way to go.”

Kay’s inspiration for the novel came from his already deep-seated interest in viewing political science through the lens of pop culture.

“I do think all the time about how political matters show up in popular culture,” Kay said. “There’s something called the law of the instrument. If you give a little child a hammer, he decides that everything in sight needs hammering, so everything in sight is political to me.”

The book plans to nitpick “Star Trek” inconsistencies, while also correlating the show’s fictional events to reality. Kay said he wants students to think critically about the future by studying the past and preparing accordingly.

“How are we going to deal with new stuff as it happens?” Kay said.

He related the book’s concepts to Napster, the now-defunct file sharing program created at Northeastern, which he described as an instance when “new technology was incorporated in existing laws.”

“Napster was a Northeastern thing,” he said. “This guy [Napster creator and former Northeastern student Shawn Fanning] was getting all kinds of lawsuits, and that is just a tiny taste of what awaits the inventor of the Replicator,” referring to an invention within the “Star Trek” series that is able to reproduce any item – clothes, food, liquor, instruments – instantaneously and at no cost.

“Overnight you put every single manufacturer out of business,” he said. “So what Napster was going through [would] multiply a millionfold here.”

The release of the book, which he expects to finish by the end of the semester and have published next year, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the show this fall.

“There are a lot of institutions where this sort of thing would not be all that well regarded, but I think Northeastern is going to like it,” he said.

Kay maintained that one of the main reasons for writing this book is “to teach government using an example many people love,” And although he wouldn’t assign “The Politics of Star Trek” as a sole reference guide in his classes, he’s thought about utilizing it as a supplement with another text.

Kay received his undergraduate degree from Rice University in political science and economics and received his master’s and doctorate degrees from Indiana University.

He said his interest in science and technology as well as “government policies and programs that promote research and development” have caused him to extensively analyze the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and write two books on the space program.

Kay stressed that although he has always been an avid follower of “Star Trek,” he would never categorize his interest as an obsession. He started watching the show in syndication, but he has never attended a “Star Trek” convention.

But Kay is not the first person to write a book combining “Star Trek” with a real-life topic. His inspiration came from reading the 1995 book, “The Physics of Star Trek,” written by Lawrence M. Krauss.

But even though he realizes “Star Trek” is not necessarily the hippest subject to base a book on, he said those closest to him expected it.

“My wife once commented to Professor [Michael] Dukakis that, yes, she married a serious nerd,” Kay said.

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