No one on the Star Trek television show ever said, "Beam me up, Scotty."
If you know this, and other crucial bits of info such as Captain Jim Kirk's middle name is Tiberius, Mr. Spock has sex once every seven years and Lt. Uhura speaks fluent Swahili, you are probably one of the thirty million people around the world each week who watch some incarnation of Star Trek.
You might even be a Trekker. Or a Trekkie.
The difference between a Trekker and a Trekkie is subject to much intergalactic debate among devotees to the show. The distinction is largely the degree to which one is involved in the Trek universe. Trekkers are big fans. Trekkies have adopted it as a way of life. For example, a Trekker might have a sticker from Starfleet Academy (the imaginary alma mater of the Enterprise crew) on the back windshield of his car. A Trekkie is working on his application for admission.
A Trekker might dress up in a uniform for fun. A Trekkie is bitter that he hasn't been promoted. At least that's the way I've seen it explained on a few of tens of thousands internet web sites dedicated to Star Trek.
The Star Trek phenomenon, based on a TV series which was canceled after three seasons thirty years ago, and its movie and "Next Generation" television successors, is huge. Even bigger than Elvis. Every weekend, there are three Star Trek conventions (called TrekCons to the cognoscenti) going on in somewhere in the world. Attendees go to these events where they buy, sell and trade official merchandise, listen to guest speakers and debate the eternal question: Who is a better starship captain, Kirk or Picard? (Kirk, of course).
TrekCons are the subject of a new documentary film called "Trekkies" and a book entitled "Get a Life" penned by William Shatner, AKA Captain James T. Kirk. The movie, narrated by Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar of Star Trek – The Next Generation), introduces us to several people who, well, let's just say they are into this stuff pretty heavily.
The movie spends some time with Dr. Denis Bourguignon, a Florida dentist, whose office is called Starbase Dental and is designed to resemble the interior of a starship. Dr. Bourguignon, his wife Shelly and his entire dental staff wear "Star Trek" uniforms while working on their patients. Dr. Bourguignon and Shelly tell us that for fun, they pretend they are various Star Trek characters while being amorous.
Theater-goers also to meet a man who legally changed his name to James T. Kirk, a guy who dresses his cat up like Dr. McCoy, and a middle-aged woman who hosts a nationally-syndicated radio talk show called "Talk Trek and Beyond." And then there is the Star Trek cultist who has spawned a mini-cult of her own, Barbara Adams.
Adams is the Commander of the Little Rock Star Trek Fan Club. She was the focus of much attention a couple of years ago when she was called as a juror for the Whitewater trial and insisted on wearing her uniform, complete with communicator, tricorder and phaser, to the trial.
"I am a Star Fleet commander,"Adams tells Crosby in the film. "I wore my uniform during jury duty, as anybody in the military would."
Shatner's book also shares some insights from Trekkies and Trekkers as well as the experiences of various cast members attending the TrekCon circuit. Shatner explains that for the first twenty-five years or so after the series ended, he would occasionally address a convention but would jet in, give his talk, and head back out. Something recently awakened in his psyche that urged him to learn more about why all these people continue to gather.
Unable to walk unimpeded through a convention hall as himself, Shatner donned a rubber alien mask and blended in among the Romulans, Klingons, Ferengui et. al. He writes, " I could sneak up and surreptitiously interrogate scores of unsuspecting conventioneers without any of them ever realizing I was anything more than a slightly eccentric fellow fanatic. It was sneaky, and rude, and completely unethical. I was a hideous monster, manipulating and secretly interrogating innocent victims. I'd become Linda Tripp."
What is striking about the folks in both the movie and the book is that, other than their "hobby," they all come across as bright, thoughtful, decent and relatively normal human beings. And as good an explanation as any for their devotion to Star Trek is the optimistic view of the future it portrayed.
In the Star Trek stories, both sexes and all the races get along and share equal positions of authority. Mankind possesses enormously powerful weapons, but uses them only when necessary for survival. Money and materialism are things of the past. Loyalty and self-sacrifice twine through every plot.
I was watching an episode the other night (for research purposes only, of course) where Kirk faces a court-martial charge falsely engineered by a rival. I've seen this one so many times I can recite some of the dialogue, but this was the first time I took note that the admiral presiding over the proceeding was black. This was some pretty progressive anti-stereotyping back in 1967. Colin Powell was still a lieutenant.
In ways like that, Star Trek really did boldly go where no man has gone before – to a world better than our own. Maybe that's why so many people, however vainly or in their imaginations, seek to travel alongside the gallant crew of the Enterprise. Maybe it's a little goofy, but their voyage is one of hope.
I want to go, too. Mr. Sulu, warp speed ahead.
July 29, 1999