That's "Trekkers" to You
About 10 years ago, I had my first encounter with the dark side of Star Trek fandom. A bunch of us at work were talking about the new show, Star Trek: Voyager, primarily, which cast members we’d like to see bludgeoned or mauled, when one of us mentioned the legions of Trekkies who’d scream bloody murder at, well, bloody murder.
“Trekkers,” came a rumbling growl from the desk in the corner. Penn, a bear of a man who could easily have snapped any one of us like a twig, glared as if he intended to do precisely that. “We prefer to be called Trekkers, not Trekkies. A Trekkie,” he sneered, “is a geek.” We had no idea Penn was a Trek fan, but obviously he was an angry one, likely to go all Klingon on our asses. None of us dared to say him nay.
The dispute over the proper nomenclature for Star Trek fans may seem trivial to those of us on the outside, but there is a certain sense to it. “Trekkie” has a diminutive ring to it; it smacks of the dilettante. “Trekker” denotes purpose, one who is not just a fan of the TV show and movies but also embarks on journeys of his or her own, even if said journeys are only in the imagination. A Trekkie is a daytripper; a Trekker is in it for the whole five-year mission.
This disparity is the warp engine that drives Trekkies 2, the follow-up to Roger Nygard’s 1996 documentary about the lives and obsessions of hardcore Trek fans. While the first film bore a certain tone of condescension and an air of carnivalesque fascination—that is, viewing its subjects as “Trekkies”—this film is a Trekker, kinder, gentler, and more respectful of its subjects. It’s not as good a film as the first one, but it’s a much better document.
In the first film, Nygard followed actress Denise Crosby (famous for doing one season of Next Generation, killing off her character, then coming back repeatedly in guest shots) around the U.S. as she interviewed people like the dentist who modeled his office after the starship Enterprise, complete with Starfleet smocks for his assistants, and the married couple who participated in Trek fantasy together until he revealed on camera that he wanted plastic surgery to make his ears pointy.
The second film travels with Crosby on a tour of Star Trek conventions and fandom in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Brazil, and Serbia, the last being the first such gathering ever held in the Balkans. Nygard gives us the usual spectacles: the elaborate costumes and makeup of convention-goers; the vast collections of toys, videos, and memorabilia; the universal declarations, in many languages, of liberation through joyful, unabashed freakhood—in the proud words of the bassist for Sacramento’s Trek-themed punk band Warp 11, “It takes serious balls to wear your Star Trek insignia in public.” Underlining the testimonials of many of the international fans, however, is a recurring theme of healing, of recovery and self-actualization in the face of personal pain, that pops up at odd moments. In the middle of a segment featuring a relentlessly upbeat Australian mom with a Starfleet uniform, an embarrassed teenaged daughter, and a healthy lust for Enterprise actor Connor Trineer, her smile suddenly fades as she flashes on abuses she suffered as a youngster at an all-girls school. A man who redecorated every inch of his suburban London flat in 24th-century Modern and then listed it on eBay for $2 million caresses a shiny, blinking console as he speaks of how building it got him through the suicidal days of his divorce.
Most poignant are Crosby’s interviews with the Trek fans of Serbia, all of whom speak of the show with a reverence beyond simple fan loyalty. Series creator Gene Roddenberry often spoke of the show as a model for the future where borders have fallen and divides between races and cultures have disappeared. To a person the Serbian fans describe Roddenberry’s vision as a lodestone to a place beyond the endless civil wars and ethnic cleansing that ravaged the Balkans.
These moments of pathos and hope distinguish Trekkies 2 from its predecessor, which, while celebrated, came under a great deal of criticism from Trek fandom as condescending and hostile. Beneath the end credits of this film runs a montage of such criticisms, and Nygard freely admits that one of his purposes in making the sequel was to show the fans in a more positive light. He documents various charitable causes to which fan organizations contribute, and he interviews the mother of a terminally ill child, whose neighbor, a Trekker, gathered other fans together to raise the funds to pay the child’s staggering hospital bills.
All the gravitas in the world, however, can’t overcome the fact that “fan” is short for “fanatic,” and a central question posed by Trekkies 2 is “How much is too much?” After all, turning his one-room flat into a starship may have helped the aforementioned Brit through the long dark night of the soul, but in the end he still lives in a fake starship. Learning Conversational Klingon may be a feat, but is it an accomplishment? Can one really base a personal philosophy on monologues sputtered by William Shatner? Nygard revisits Barbara Adams, the woman who gained notoriety for wearing her Starfleet uniform to court while serving as a juror in one of the Whitewater trials and, in the original Trekkies, for demanding that her fellow employees at a Little Rock copy shop refer to her as “Commander.” Eight years later, (now Commodore) Adams stands by her contention that wearing the uniform in court was necessary, given her position as an officer in the military, even as she faces a group of other Little Rock citizens bent on convincing her that wishing Starfleet existed confers no such obligations.
And then there are the scads of money and time fueling some fans’ obsessions. Among the Trekkers interviewed are amateur filmmakers making “fan films” with Star Trek properties, such as Christopher Hees of Germany, whose Star Trek: Das Vermächtnis, a tale of a Next Generation starship that picks up a Captain Kirk from the original series and a Mr. Spock from the movies, had run in excess of $20,000 so far, and Brian Dellis of Minnesota, the auteur of The Final Frontier Revisited, where an intrepid Starfleet crew trapped in the Old West (the latter film is included in the special-features section of the Trekkies 2 DVD). Paramount has always been indulgent about the use of the Star Trek characters in fan projects, but it’s startling to see just how much capital, financial and personal, goes into endeavors that can go no further than the convention circuit.
The pivotal question here is to what degree is it rational to immerse oneself in a fictional world of other people’s making? Role-playing is, of course, common practice, whether one’s chosen milieu is Dungeons and Dragons, Rotisserie baseball, adventurous sex, or Star Trek, but again, “How much is too much?” In the case of the Trekkers, if your estimate is low, then Trekkies is your movie, but if your threshhold for extreme fandom is somewhere around L-7, Trekkies 2 is the way to go.