Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fan Phenomena: Star Trek

Fan Phenomena: Star Trek
Edited by Bruce E. Drushel
Published by Intellect Books
106 pages
Read: September 8, 2013

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From the back cover:
From a decidedly inauspicious start as a low-rated television series in the 1960s that was cancelled after three seasons, Star Trek has grown to become a multi-billion-dollar industry of spin-off series, feature films and merchandise. Fuelling the ever-expanding franchise are some of the most rabid and loyal fans in the universe, known affectionately as Trekkies. Perhaps no other community so typifies fandom as the devoted aficionados of the Star Trek television series, motion pictures, novels, comic books and conventions. Indeed, in many respects, Star Trek fans created modern fan culture and continue to push its frontiers with elaborate fan-generated video productions, electronic fan fiction collectives and a proliferation of tribute sites in cyberspace.
In this anthology, a panel of rising and established popular culture scholars examines the phenomenon of Star Trek fan culture and its most compelling dimensions. The book explores such topics as the impact of the recent 'rebooting' of the iconic franchise on its fan base; the complicated and often contentious relationship between Star Trek and its lesbian and gay fans; the adaptation of Star Trek to other venues, including live theatre, social media and gaming; fan hyperreality, including parody and non-geek fandom; one iconic actor's social agenda; and alternative fan reactions to the franchise's villains. The resulting collection is both a snapshot and moving picture of the practices and attitudes of a fan culture that is arguably the world's best known and most misunderstood.
Striking a balanced tone, the contributors are critical yet respectful, acknowledging the uniquely close and enduring relationship between fans and the franchise while approaching it with appropriate objectivity, distance and scope. Accessible to a variety of audiences - from the newcomer to fan culture to those already well read on the subject - this book will be heralded by fans as well as serious scholars.

My thoughts:

Fan Phenomena is a series of books published by Intellect Books, in which essays about the fandom of a particular franchise are explored. Other titles in the series include Batman, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Twin Peaks. Star Trek, however, represents the quintessential fandom, an opinion shared by the editor of this collection.

Star Trek pioneered what we think of as "fandom" today.
The book itself is an interesting overview of a number of aspects of Star Trek fan culture. The essays are very respectful of Star Trek fandom, and the book never feels as though it is "looking down" on fans or fan culture. As a Star Trek fan myself, I found that I agreed with a lot of what the essays had to say. A number of issues are discussed, including an overview of the history of Star Trek fandom, the impact of the "reboot" of the franchise by J.J. Abrams and his team, and the role that computer-mediated communication has played in the Star Trek fan community.

Some parts of the book are critical of Star Trek and its role in our society, most notably in the chapter "A Utopia Denied: Star Trek and its Queer Fans." In this chapter, Bruce E. Drushel discusses the ways in which Star Trek has dropped the ball with regards to its portrayal of homosexuality and queer culture in the future. While race, gender, and ideology all get the Star Trek treatment (with sometimes mixed results), sexuality is often over looked, and the future often looks pretty heteronormative. A few exceptions exist (TNG's "The Outcast" and DS9's "Rejoined" come to mind), but for the most part, the article contends, Star Trek has let its queer fans down.

Galaxy Quest, called "the best Star Trek film" by some Trek fans.

Other aspects of fandom touched upon in this book include the live theatre performance, "Trek in the Park," an annual event held in Portland, Oregon (to which this fan would LOVE to go), as well as the cultural impact that George Takei has been able to harness through his use of social media. Another essay discusses the long tradition of fan-parodying, in the vein of films such as Galaxy Quest or Fanboys, and what this means to fans and fan culture at large. In "The Borg: Fan Pariah or Cultural Pillar?," Charles Evans Jones, Jr. presents a fascinating discussion about the Borg and what they may mean for our future, as well as presenting a number of fan opinions that may make the Borg into something more than the black and white villain, as we often tend to think of them. Finally, in "Lost in Orbit: Satellite Star Trek Fans," Bianca Spriggs talks to a number of "casual" Trek fans about their views on various topics in Star Trek and shows us that fans are everywhere.

Star Trek fans can indeed be found everywhere!
I enjoyed the various writers' approaches to each topic. Each of them obviously did a great deal of research, and in many cases, the discussion went in a direction I didn't expect. Star Trek and its fans represent a very diverse segment of our culture, and I would expect it to be very difficult to adequately cover such a wide-ranging topic. However, Fan Phenomena: Star Trek does a pretty good job in giving an overview of a large segment of fan culture.

Individually, each of the chapters in this book is a fascinating insight into a particular aspect of Star Trek fan culture. Taken together, they form a poignant snapshot of Star Trek fandom as a whole. The culture of Star Trek fans is a compelling and fun anthropological study, and Fan Phenomena: Star Trek does a good job of providing an introduction to it. While reading each chapter, I felt compelled to learn more than what was presented. Thankfully, the authors list their sources and recommendations for further reading on the subjects discussed. I think that this book is valuable for both the fan of Star Trek who wants to learn more as well as the more scholarly among us, and even those who live outside the Star Trek "bubble" who wish to learn exactly why this whole Star Trek thing is so big. Each section of the book has something interesting to say about Star Trek fans, and while I love being immersed in the world of Trek, it was fun to look at it with a somewhat more critical eye and examine it from the outside looking in.

My next read:

I've decided to put the second collection of S.C.E. stories on hold once again! Instead, look for my review of S.D. Perry's Deep Space Nine: Avatar, Book One, coming soon.

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