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Entries in Trekkies 2 [2004] (1)

Thursday
Aug112011

Trekkies 2 (2004)

The Rapt of Cons

Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!

--Engywook, The NeverEnding Story

I love Roger Nygard's 1997 documentary, Trekkies, which offered a peek at the lives of die-hard Star Trek fans. Sure, they were presented as rubber-ears-wearing, socially awkward freaks who can likely rattle off the thread count in William Shatner's various Starfleet uniforms, but they also came off as incredibly smart, creative, and kind--living the ethos of the TV universe they grew up with. Trekkies captured convention culture and pop obsession well, and I never got the feeling that Nygard or the film's host, former Next Generation actress Denise Crosby, were making fun of their subjects (okay, maybe there was some playful ribbing, but nothing mean).

Trekkies 2 is at the same time a much weaker film and a more thought-provoking one. I use the term "weaker" lightly because it's essentially the same movie: though Nygard and Crosby present it as a look at global Trek fandom, we spend so much time in America that the international stuff might as well have been a DVD extra. We also learn that, for better or worse, Trekkies/Trekkers in England and Bosnia are pretty much the same as the ones in California or Minnesota.

What's interesting about the sequel is that many interviewees treat it as a chance to enumerate the problems started in the fan community after Trekkies' release. There's an ugly, defensive quality to some of the people featured here that colored my opinions of everyone else who appears on camera.

Full disclosure: I used to collect comic books and go to comic book conventions. Now, I collect movie posters and attend horror conventions where I get them signed by actors, directors, and the like. So, I'm no stranger to the Own Little World mindset. But I've never dressed up as Jason Voorhees to go grocery shopping; nor would I try to convince someone that such an activity shouldn't be frowned upon by "boring, normal" people.

But you'll find a lot of that deluded talk, mostly from Americans, in Trekkies 2 (strangely, the Europeans don't seem to care for Spocking it up outside the confines of a convention hall or their Enterprise-bridge-inspired, custom-designed living rooms--in fairness, I don't recall the subject coming up). There's a defiant, "What is Normal?" attitude that pervades the movie, which would have benefited from either balance or commentary.

For example, we revisit Barbara Adams, a copy-shop employee who gained notoriety in the 90s for wearing her Starfleet uniform while sitting on the Whitewater jury. In the first movie, she was a quirky but self-serious promoter of 23rd Century values. Here, the endearing, outgoing personality is tainted by defensive bitterness. Adams must contend not only with "regular" folks, but also with fans who believes she represents fandom gone too far; in some ways, Adams helped reinforce the general public's perception of geeks as hopeless, overgrown children. Her resentment is both palpable and, I believe, unfounded.

As pointed out by others in the film, people who wear sports jerseys or cowboy hats don't generally turn heads; but showing up at the gym wearing a communicator pin or Borg cables is likely to attract titters and stink-eyes. The difference is that the former mode of dress has become socially acceptable thanks to history and widespread cultural saturation--something that Trekkies/Trekkers desperately want, even if most of them claim to not care what other people think of them.

For me, the challenge was acknowledging that the Star Trek fans are technically right, while also beating back the urge to call them annoying nerds (as I pretty much did at the beginning of this review). It might have helped if Nygard had brought in psychologists or behavioral experts to examine the impulses that cause some people to go so deliberately and publicly against the grain; or, at the very least, to talk about the nature of obsession. One of the complaints about the original Trekkies is that it focused on extreme fans and didn't profile more casual convention-goers with seemingly balanced lives. The same holds true here, and without the benefit of analysis, it's just a freak show.

That's the second time I've used the word "freak", and I don't mean to be derogatory. But there's something decidedly abnormal about a guy whose Trek obsessions have caused him to lose his money, job and girlfriend--all in the name of building a starship bridge in his garage for his son's amateur film. While it's true that in a free society, free people can do pretty much whatever they want to do, sometimes people do really stupid, dangerous things that aren't okay. And by presenting examples like these alongside regular convention footage, Nygard implies a lack of gradation in fandom (a handful of two-second talking-head shots of fans dissing "extreme fans" doesn't count as balance).

There's also a troubling suggestion that dressing in Trek gear makes artist-fans immune from criticism: the film introduces us to several Trek-themed rock bands, whose quality ranges from Passable for a Junior High Garage Quartet to Screeching Showboaters Who Have No Business Being On Stage. And I think Nygard missed a great opportunity to explore the weird nerd narcissism that permeates geek culture. Individually, many of the people depicted here are unkempt, strange-looking and uncomfortable creatures with pale skin and hyper-active sweat glands (before they put on the costumes); but collectively, they gain confidence and a sense of superiority over the outsiders who "just don't get it"--or, more to the point, aren't special enough to "get it".

Though Trekkies 2 is more of the same, that "same" is pretty damned interesting. I love the guy who modeled his whole apartment after the Enterprise, and the kid who turned his love of Trek into a passion for creating CGI mini-movies (his dad is the one who lost everything to help him out, which is both touching and profoundly messed up). I just wish that, for his second film on the subject, Nygard would have broadened his scope, and not just geographically. I welcome a serious look at fandom, one not necessarily limited to the universe Gene Roddenberry created. For now, I'm left with one movie that's fascinating in its introduction to a sizable but not-widely-appreciated community and a follow-up that suggests there's more going on in that community than just people wearing funny costumes. But it's a timid suggestion at best, and I'm waiting for a pioneer to boldly go where Nygard has never gone before.