COMES NATURALLY #85 ("Trekkies" Review)
July 2, 1999
Copyright © 1999 David Steinberg
CELEBRATIONS OF DIVERSITY
There's a documentary quietly making the limited release rounds that is a bold, thoughtful, and gloriously human statement for diversity in another form, a film that sheds light on yet another group of souls both ridiculed and reviled for daring to differ from the mainstream. The 90-minute production by director Roger Nygard is called "Trekkies," and I'm serious when I say that you should make a serious effort to catch this film before it disappears. No, I'm not some kind of Star Trek fanatic myself. But "Trekkies" is a brilliantly made exploration of the Star Trek counterculture, and it has a lot to say about such fundamental issues as being public about deviance, the wonders of obsession, and the importance of standing up for being who you really are, no matter what the people around you may think.
Of course Trekkies (or Trekkers, as many Star Trek fans prefer to be less derisively called) are hardly in the same boat as gays, lesbians, or transgenderists when it comes to social persecution. Trekkies don't threaten the sexual or gender bedrock of the nation. As a result, as far as I know, no one is getting bashed or murdered for having the nerve to display their Star Trek fascination in public, which means that making derogatory jokes about the get-a-life set is not the same as making derogatory jokes about queers.
But the film rises above a myriad of cheap-shot possibilities and touches on issues of acceptance and diversity that have significance far beyond the realm of Captain Kirk and his admirers. Instead of confirming my preconceptions, the film got me to acknowledge (and even identify with) Star Trek fanatics as delightfully warm, caring, enthusiastic, creative -- if definitely eccentric -- folks, committed to an alternative lifestyle and banding together to develop the heart and soul of their common passion in the face of grand ridicule from dismissive outsiders.
To its credit, "Trekkies" neither minimizes nor sensationalizes its subjects -- some of the more colorfully obsessive members of the far-flung Star Trek family. We meet Barbara Adams, the Arkansas Whitewater juror who boldly wore her Federation uniform to court every day because she felt she owed it to herself and her fellow crew/club members to be her true self while discharging her civic duty. We watch Orlando dentist Denis Bourguignon and his assistants competently work on a patient's cavities, dressed in full Vulcan uniform, in the context of the elaborately theme-decorated office that Bourguinon calls "Starbase Dental." We listen in on a group of students conjugating verbs in Klingon. We accompany a group of elaborately costumed Klingons as they descend on a local McDonald's, fully enjoying the opportunity to have every day be Halloween. We are escorted through a Star Trek convention by charming, 15-year-old Gabriel Koerner, who shows us his special world of meticulously-designed uniforms and collected memorabilia with completely lovable (and articulate) adolescent fervor, while his father beams with paternal support and pride. We hear the members of one Trekkie club explain with genuine humor and warmth what a good time they all have, getting together -- adults and kids -- to indulge their mutual obsession.
What's wrong with being different? these people ask, again and again. And what's wrong with being obvious about being different in public? If it gives people pleasure, if it doesn't hurt anyone, if it is grounded in warmth, compassion, creativity, and imagination, why all the ridicule? And if it brings a sense of personal fulfillment, isn't it important to transcend the ridicule and proudly celebrate being who you really are?
While "Trekkies" shows some fans who get rather glassy-eyed about their particular Star Trek niches, most of the people just seem to be enjoying their obsession without any grand loss of social perspective. For the most part, it is a film about real heart, creativity, interpersonal connection, and the fulfillment that comes from embracing one's passion to an extent that outsiders are likely to find extreme and discomforting.
We see parents loving their kids, kids appreciating their parents, all sorts of people essentially being very good to each other and enjoying the pleasure of each other's company. We see people understanding that, when you're radically different from everyone around you, it's a good idea to gather together for both interpersonal and cultural support. We see cheerful, intelligent, creative people who not only have lives but who clearly have lives that are richer and fuller because they have chosen self-expression and personal fulfillment over social acceptance and conformity.
All in all, the principals in "Trekkies" come across as courageous rather than pathetic, complex rather than simple-minded, committed rather than commitable. They seem, for the most part, to have their passion in perspective, to have both their obsession and their lives in the world. They are able to laugh good-naturedly about themselves and the unusual places their world takes them, and also to laugh or sigh at the closed-minded outsiders who simply don't understand what they feel obliged to deride.
"Trekkies" probably won't be around very long -- no one seems to be making much of a fuss about this film. But if you miss it on the big screen, it's the sort of no-frills film that will be perfect to watch on video. As Castaneda's Don Juan was fond of saying, in the end all paths lead nowhere, so the real question is whether a path has a heart. Much to this non-initiate's surprise, the Trekkie world seems to be full of heart indeed, with a strong lesson about the celebration of difference.
[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see www.spectator.net). If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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