My first STAR TREK convention reminded me that fandom is awesome

My first STAR TREK convention reminded me that fandom is awesome

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point during my recent Twitter career, I began to really dislike fandom. It probably started back when some GHOSTBUSTERS fans so publicly messed themselves when it was announced that the new cast would be allowed to bust ghosts without penises. The crusty stench of entitlement from white men in their thirties who claim to be guardians of a childhood-defining franchise while also pimping their low-grade fan fiction became overwhelming. Later, when BATMAN AND SUPERMAN MAKE A PORNO came out, I was frequently accused of not really being a Superman fan – and even a Marvel shill – because I disliked that movie. SUICIDE SQUAD fans who hadn’t actually seen the movie attacked critics who had – accusing them of Marvel bias without a single hint of irony.

The list of examples is long (recently I have been dismayed at “film twitter” deciding to tell people they had incorrectly built their #7favemovies – as if you can lecture people on what they love) and I would like to direct you to Devin Faraci’s excellent piece on fan entitlement over at Birth. Movies. Death – an essay with which I wholeheartedly agree. The internet has empowered the most toxic corners of fandom and I can’t imagine what it must like being a new young fan when there are so many gatekeepers ready to slap you down for not knowing enough, or not expressing it in the right way.

Which brings me to the 50th Anniversary STAR TREK Convention held this month in Las Vegas. I have been a STAR TREK fan for pretty much my whole life but for whatever reason, I had never felt motivated to attend a convention. It was only thanks to the surprise planning of my wife, and the promise of meeting a long time internet friend that I braved the trip (and risked my pasty celtic complexion) to the Nevada desert and attend my first one. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. Was I a big enough fan to attend? Would I be sneered at for only attending my first one at 35? What are Trek fans like en masse? Are we weird? Exclusionary? What happens if I reveal I actually LIKE parts of ENTERPRISE? Will I be hit with Klingon pain sticks? Are fans going to be dicks in person the way so many of them appear to be online?

I. Fucking. Loved it.

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What a warm, celebratory, and welcoming environment it was. At the beginning of the weekend I was nervously approaching cosplayers – meekly asking permission to have a photo taken with them. By the end I was hugging a Captain Kirk like we were best friends. I argued (respectfully!) about fan film guidelines with an English bloke who lives in Arkansas, I swapped head shaving tips with a spot-on Ilia cosplayer, and I was yelled at by a Klingon for complimenting his make up (“Make up? What make up you puny human?!”).

I am not one for public speaking. At work, I often have to psych myself up to address my own team, but in Vegas I was lining up behind a microphone to tell a room full of strangers why the absence of “Far Beyond The Stars” on the Trek top 10 episodes list was criminal. Why? Because it felt safe. Fun. Because everyone in the room was there because of something they loved.

I saw such diversity. STAR TREK, often thought of as being the grazing patch for overweight bald men in their thirties (like me) is in fact populated by all walks of life. Children, old timers, men, women, large, thin. Everyone was the same because everyone was different. As this is my first Con I honestly can’t tell you if these demographics are new or if Trekkies have always been so diverse. But I can tell you that this year was the first time make up manufacturers MAC set up a large and elaborate booth in the vendors room, because research told them that Trek fandom is around 50% female. I loved that people of all shapes and sizes wore the revealing costumes of the sixties – free of judgement not only because of the shared sense of community, but because everyone looked freaking awesome.

With the various panels of actors and creatives, it was a real joy to experience the simple process of watching those inspired by the work of others, be able to tell their heroes so. Among the countless examples of this, the two which stuck out to me occurred at the panel for Kate Mulgrew. A formidable stage presence, she was approached by a father of an eight year old girl (delightfully named Ezri) who said he was there to submit a question on her behalf because she was too shy. Almost the instant he finished his sentence Mulgrew calmly told him he was wrong. She wasn’t too shy. She called the girl onto the stage to ask her question and I swear, you could see the girl’s feet lift off the ground with joy and confidence.

Later, a woman told Mulgrew how watching VOYAGER had allowed her to stave off depression and reject suicidal thoughts. I felt 5000 people swallow a lump in their throat as Mulgrew declared that no, Janeway hadn’t saved the woman – her own love of life had.

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I’ve met a few famous people over the years, but watching Nichelle Nichols leave the MAC stand surrounded by adoring fans was something else (and this was after having heard Whoopi Goldberg talk with incredible passion about the significance of  Uhura showing her and other black children that black people would make it to the future). When Nichols left, she mirrored the crowd by doing the Vulcan salute. Frail and looking smaller than ever, she is still a striking and formidable woman, and as she passed me she gave me a Vulcan salute high five. An icon of the sixties, of pop culture, of feminism, of social justice high fiving…me?  I tried to text my mate afterwards to tell him, and I am not embarrassed to tell you my hands were shaking a tad.

Speaking of Goldberg, out in the communal area, they had erected a large billboard of Anton Yelchin, and fans were invited to write their tributes on it. Goldberg did so as well and by the end, the entire thing was covered in ink. Another expression of fan love and loyalty.

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If those moments felt charged with significance and occasion, I also attended the unbridled joy of KLINGON KARAOKE. Let me type that again just in case you think your brain checked out of this self indulgent waffle and inserted the most awesome thing it could think of. No dear reader. You read it correctly. Klingon. Karaoke.

Below is the grouchy yet lovable Martok – Klingon of DEEP SPACE NINE. He’s in make up because he and fellow Klingon actor Robert O’Reilly host Klingon karaoke in one of the main halls. He’s holding a feather duster because that was what he found to sub as a guitar. Imbibed with alcohol (one assumes blood wine) Martok and Gowron oversaw a procession of Trekkies who came up and performed various hits – sometimes with a Trek twist (You haven’t experienced “I will survive” until you’ve experienced it as performed by a red shirt)

Beer in hand, and unironically enjoying the warblings of my fellow nerds, the tantrums of gamergate and ghost bros seemed such a long way from those halls. I attended with a friend of mine (of this very parish) who is, if you can believe it, even nerdier than me. Sharing all this with him – with someone who loves this shit just as much as I do and would dig me in the ribs to point out some obscure costume pass us by in the corridor, only made it more special.  It reminded me that loving something is fun, but sharing it is even more so.

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Which leads me to some kind of conclusion. When I took over this site I was asked to come up with a strap line. I wanted to choose something which felt inclusive and welcoming. One which would be the opposite of the gate-keeper mentality. One which would say that even if your only experience and love of Superman is found in SMALLVILLE, or the animated series, or even just the Seinfeld ads – come on in. You’re a Superman fan just like us, and you are most welcome.

I installed it, but to be honest pretty much forgot about it. After STAR TREK Las Vegas, I am going to try and live by it a bit more. Have it run through the DNA of this blog, this site and our forum.

“People who like liking stuff, and like liking stuff together”

Posted by Matt