After Hours

Sci-fi rant: When did Trekkers jump the shark?

Once upon a time, Trekkies weren't the poster-children for science fiction fandom gone wrong, but instead were just another obscure subgroup with an immersive hobby. Then, in the mid-1980s, something went terribly wrong, and Trek fandom has been the rightful butt of uber-geek jokes ever since.

TrekkieQ: When did Trekkers jump the shark? A: The Klingon Dictionary

Yes, Star Trek makes the list twice, but in this case we're talking about Trek fandom rather than the franchise itself.

Once upon a time, Trekkers (or, if you prefer, Trekkies) weren't universally mocked as basement-dwelling pointy-eared social reprobates who were more likely to have a working knowledge of fictional faster-than-light propulsion systems than they were the mating rituals of their own species. Though it may be hard to fathom, there was an era when Trekkers were seen as quaintly optimistic hobbyists fascinated by a vision of the future that saw mankind as better off socially, intellectually, and technologically than it is now, and who supported an amusing little sci-fi show that had a good heart and was boldly ahead of its time in social commentary, if not production values. Trekkers were no more unusual than folks who passionately followed a sports franchise or popular musical act, though they probably had better costumes.

Klingon DictionaryThen came The Klingon Dictionary, and Trek fandom went beyond mere idiosyncratic subculture and morphed into those reality-detached uber-nerds who get married dressed as aliens and actually spend time learning to speak a fictional language that was dreamed up as a promotional gimmick follow-up to The Search for Spock.

That was 1985. In December of 1986, Trek fandom had devolved to the point that William Shatner was dissing Trekkies on Saturday Night Live. In the 20 years since, despite some really solid TV from The Next Generation, Trekkers have continued their downward slide in the cultural caste system largely because they take themselves—and their show—way too seriously.

Whitewater TrekkieThink it's just a perception problem? Then I'll refer you to Exhibit A: The juror in the Whitewater case who insisted on wearing her NextGen uniform in the courtroom. She seemed honestly baffled by the problem, as if her faux getup from an academy that doesn't exist should have equal standing with any other military uniform. Exhibit B: Even though General Chang in Star Trek VI was something of a Shakespearean aficionado, that doesn't excuse folks actually trying to perform a Klingon version of Hamlet. (At least not un-ironically.) Exhibit C: Building a Star Trek-themed home theater room? Sort of okay. Redesigning your entire apartment to resemble the set of Voyager—and starting a home decor business on the promise of doing the the same to other people's houses? Actually very creepy.

Even The West Wing took time out to lecture Trekkies and I'd be the first to repudiate the show for its haughtiness except - as it rightfully points out - there's a difference between being a fan and having a fetish. This is the image, in many ways rightfully earned, of Trek fandom.

The Klingon Dictionary blurred that line between pastime and obsession. And while this may earn me the title of bIHnuch ghobe' hoghobe'r, I can live with it. (No, I'm not translating that. Trust me, there are plenty of Trekkies out there who can explain it.)

Sure, if you're 12 years old and haven't discovered dating yet, learning a few Klingon phrases, mapping out the decks of an undescribed obscure class of starship, or just conjuring up the backstory of an unnamed background character from episode 38 is a bit of harmless pseudo-intellectual fun. If you're still doing it in your late thirties at the expense of holding down a job or developing a meaningful relationship, you need help. The kind the Klingon Dictionary just can't provide.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox