A couple of months ago, I was ambushed in my kitchen by a large group of friends. Since I had a major birthday coming up, they figured out the best way to surprise me. This would, of course, be to plan something to happen many months before said birthday. Thus ensuring surprise and delight on my part. And they succeeded! I was surprised, I was delighted. I was also a little bit nervous. What they had planned for me was an activity that I had thought of doing for many years, but never actually had the courage to book. Fear of feeling silly, of looking ludicrous, of seeming like an over-grown child. All these concerns held me back from attending an event that I hoped would fulfill all my childhood fantasies of invincibility… I am referring, of course, to attending a Star Trek convention.
As a teenager, Star Trek caught my imagination. Presenting an ideal world where oppression and prejudice were unheard of.
A world where humans were enlightened, kind and scrupulously fair. Presented in bright colours and simple lines, Star Trek’s technology had solved all our practical problems. Thus allowing humanity to blossom into the altruistic saints that, deep in my soul, I knew we actually were. Growing up in South Africa I had been faced with the less salubrious aspects of humanity from a young age. My angsty teenage soul ached to see something better in those around me. The nobility of The Next Generation’s characters seemed a worthy goal to work towards. Proof, no matter how fictional, that we could be better than this!
Later, living in semi-hiding in Ireland, having no money for anything other than rent and food, I found comfort in late-night re-runs of Voyager. The crew’s effortless, upright morality, together with their unfailing belief in each other and the Federation, impressed me anew. Here, I thought, was how things were SUPPOSED to be. Watching the whole of the seven series back-to-back over a 5-month period gave me a touchstone. A belief in good triumphing over evil, something I was sorely lacking at that point in my life.
At various points in my life, I have had the opportunity to attend a convention, but never worked up the courage to go.
As a younger woman, I feared looking silly, not being geeky enough to fit in. As I got older, my fears became more about being seen as sad. Just an old relic who can’t let go of the shows of her youth. All ridiculous fears, you might say, wholly rooted in my own insecurities. You would be correct.
Because the thing that I seem to have missed, through all these years of being a fan, is that there is space in the Star Trek universe for everyone.
The dedicated, geeky fans who own blueprints of the Enterprise’s Jefferies Tube system. People who dress up in complex cosplays, resplendent in lipstick, latex and lycra. Earnest middle-aged men and grinning teenagers and people of colour and people with physical challenges and kids as young as 6 or 7. And, inevitably, ladies of a certain age who try to dress just a little bit like Federation crew, but with an edge of normal. So as to pull that off in the U-Bahn going there and back.
Everyone is warm, everyone is welcoming, everyone is thrilled to be there.
In three days of wandering around the exhibition centre in Dortmund, not once did we see a sneer of superiority or hear a titter of ridicule. People queued to meet with and get signatures from their favourite actors. They all seemed to be unfailingly polite, no matter what their private feelings may have been. One or two of them genuinely seemed to thrive on the attention and adoration being directed at them from the fans. But not in a creepy, egotistical way. Instead it seemed like they were acknowledging the rectitude of what the fans felt and were reacting accordingly.
As with everything in our commercial, capitalist world, the organisers of the conference clearly saw the fans as sheep to be sheared of every cent. Outside of the signatures, panels and photos guaranteed by our respective packages, every activity was charged for. Having said that, the organisation was seamless and the staff friendly and helpful. The facilities were clean and well-organised. And the food and beverage stand, while a tad limited and hideously expensive, served good quality food and cold beer. I would, I must admit, have liked to see more stallholders than the handful of traders who were there. However, the biggest disappointment was that the book-stall had only German-language books on offer! Granted, it was a German Con, held in Germany, but there were quite a few international fans there. Consequently the lack of any books for the international crowd was frustrating.
There were initially a good number of big names from the Star Trek universe planning on attending this Con.
However, several of them (not least, Jerry Ryan) dropped out at the last minute. Many fans were upset by this, but the actors who did attend seemed to put extra effort into making sure that the fans got as much value for money as possible.
Attending the panels was a revelation – all questions were asked with an innocence and genuine fascination normally only seen in kindergartens. The actors answered them all patiently, even if they had been asked them many times in the past. There was lots of good-natured ribbing and interaction with fans brave enough to stand up and address their heroes. The discussions weren’t just limited to the Start Trek universe, either. Many fans asked about the actors’ other roles, their personal lives and beliefs and more than one political discussion ensued. Normally a huge no-no, these political chats happened organically and nobody took offence or got agitated.
Just another example of the one thing that binds all Trekkies together.
The basic assumption, displayed in almost every episode, that humans are moral, upstanding creatures. To quote Elana Gomel, Associate Professor at the Department of English and American Studies at Tel-Aviv University:
“The boundaries of the ethical have traditionally coincided with the boundaries of humanity. This, however, is no longer the case. Scientific developments, such as genetic engineering, stem-cell research, cloning, the Human Genome Project, new paleontological evidence, and the rise of neuropsychology call into question the very notion of human being and thus require a new conceptual map for ethical judgment. The contours of this map may be seen to emerge in works of science fiction (SF), which not only vividly dramatize the implications and consequences of new technologies and discoveries, but also exert a powerful influence on culture, creating a feedback loop of images and ideas.“
This “feedback loop” that she refers to is a perfect example of the influence that Star Trek has had on my life. And, I think, the lives of many others all over the world. It has always presented humanity in the best possible light, while not glossing over its flaws and foibles. It has consistently shown us that we can be better, that we should be better. And my experience of the Dortmund Con has shown me, most powerfully, that I am not alone.
I will definitely be doing this again!