Star Trek is a worldwide phenomenon. StarTrek.com occasionally presents theme pieces and interviews featured in Inside Star Trek Magazine, the official Star Trek magazine of Italy. Today, we're pleased to share a recent Inside Star Trek Magazine feature that explores the differences and commonalities between Trekkers and Star Trek fans. The story below had been translated from Italian into English by the magazine’s editor.
Trekkers and Star Trek fans... Is it the same? What is the difference (if any) between a Star Trek fan and a Trekker?
Words can be just words, but actually it’s about the way we communicate our thoughts; so they cannot always be just words. They have a meaning. Trekkers (or Trekkies, as indicated on many dictionaries around the world) are, by definition, “fans of the science fiction television program Star Trek” and, by extension, “people interested in space travel and in books and films about space.” So “Trekkers” and “Star Trek fans” are synonymous? Well, we can certainly say that all Trekkers are Star Trek fans, but what about vice versa? Are all Star Trek fans Trekkers? And then, what does it take to be a Trekker?
First of all, let’s bust a myth: not all Star Trek fans and not all Trekkers are also science-fiction fans.
Some (not many) are exposed to science fiction only with Star Trek. It might seem a contradiction in terms, but perhaps not so much. There are so many different way to love Star Trek. Surely we can say that that most of the Trekkers are people, as the definition above states, who are interested in space travel and thus in the science and technology that allows that travel. A Trekker prides himself on loving a TV series that helped shape the nowadays reality; we have cell phones because of The Original Series’ communicators. We have USB pen drives because The Next Generation invented the isolinear chips. We can say that the idea behind the GPS localization was imbued in the property of communicators to be a “beacon” that sends out our coordinates. And we could go on mentioning user-friendly touch screens, computer pads, smartphones and many other tech gadgets that we take for granted today.
Many Trekkers are also those who choose to start a career in some scientific field because he or she loves this franchise. The best example is the first Italian female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, who wore Jadzia Dax’s costumes at a STIC convention in her teens and now is about to depart for the International Space Station for ASI. But of course there are countless doctors, engineers and scientists around the world who started to study something scientific because of Star Trek. We can speculate that this particular kind of Trekker is someone who probably would have gotten the scientific bug notwithstanding Star Trek, but in many cases the optimism imbued in the franchise helped them overcome doubts and difficulties in order to pursue their dreams. Not all scientists are Trekkers, though, even if many will see Star Trek as “intelligent” science-fiction. So maybe there’s something else that needs to be embraced to be a true Trekker. Maybe the moral values of the series? To embrace that you don’t have to be interested in science, nor do you need to want to be a scientist at all.
As we all know, although the Star Trek TV series and movies are mainly a form of entertainment, the franchise has always had some morality play quality to it. Like in the best fables, there are messages in many Star Trek stories. As you can see by the few quotes we scattered around these pages, much of the dialogue hides little bits of principles, ethics and ideas, that are true in our today’s human society -- despite being set in a fictional future environment. Equality. You treat people like equals to yourself. A person, no matter what age, color, cultural background, religion or sexual orientation, is not “inferior” or “superior” to any other, and you never ask them to conform to what you think “normality” is. Optimism. That is, to have a strong belief that “there is a tomorrow — it’s not all going to be over with a big flash and a bomb,” as Gene Roddenberry himself said. And quoting the creator of Star Trek again, a Trekker believes that the “human race is improving; we have things to be proud of as humans”.
There is another characteristic that many Trekkers share. They are social people. They like to engage in social activities, conventions, events, get-togethers in order to shares their passion for the franchise, but also – and most importantly – to embrace diversities and forge friendships. Belonging to a group of fellow fans is something that a Trekker strives for, in order not to feel “alone” and “strange.” Among Trekkers you are more likely accepted for what you are, and to watch episodes and meet actors together is also a way of sharing each other’s humanity. Being together, though, is also a way to apply the moral values seen in Star Trek in the everyday life. That’s also why many Trekkers are often engaged in benefit or humanitarian activities: helping others even in the smallest way is part of what a Trekker life is about. Again... not all people who are humanitarians are Trekkers, but – again! – Star Trek was often the spark needed to ignite a drive that was already there.
So far so good, or bad. Because we didn’t really spot that unique quality that makes someone a Trekker. So perhaps there is no one thing that makes a Trekker. Indeed if, during a convention or on a social network or chatting in your living room, you ask fans of Star Trek what it takes to be a Trekker, you will probably receive dozens of different answers...
For example, some may say that a Trekker is someone who tries to show non-trekkers how deep and important the themes conveyed by the TV series are. Or it’s someone who gathers people around in a club in order to make conventions. He (or she) is a collector, or a cosplayer, or a fan fiction writer, or an amateur artist.
A Trekker is no different from a Whovian (fans of Doctor Who), an Otaku (fans of Japanese anime), a Ferrarista (fans of Ferrari cars), but if you want to be a true Trekker you have to believe in the brand that you like, so you can’t just watch an episode or a movie once in a while, as much as you can’t call yourself a Ferrarista if you watch a Formula One Grand Prix if you just stumble on it zapping on TV.
A Trekker is someone who is fan of Star Trek because this franchise allows competent, passionate, honest and respectful confrontations among fans over details and major issues of episodes and movies, but may discuss in equal terms about Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. He/she may also think that there are no other “intelligent” science fiction television series but Star Trek.
A Trekker is someone who says “Beam me up, Scotty,” “He’s dead, Jim,” “Engage!,” “Shaka, when the walls fell!,” “Qapla!” and discover a fellow Trekker with such sentences simply because it’s a common language that’s just for the initiated. A Trekker loves the depiction of characters in the franchise – as flawed human beings with the inner need to befriend others and have a strong desire for knowledge.
He/she started seeing the franchise with The Original Series... No! He/she started with Star Trek: Voyager... No, he/she started with the reboot movies and rediscovered all the rest later... No, he/she started with...... (fill the dots accordingly).
What a Trekker loves the most in the franchise is the action / the characters / the special effects / the stories / the actors / the starships / the technology / the science.
A Trekker knows that there is a difference between the science-fiction that you simply watch and like, and the science-fiction in which you can identify yourself.
A Trekker is... well, you get the idea: we could go on and on and on listing everything that a Trekker thinks a Trekker is or should be.
But at this point a doubt rises. Is there or is there not something that makes a Star Trek fan a Trekker? Maybe the answer lay not with the Trekkers, but within the franchise? Assuming for a moment that Trekkers are the “template” for the future human beings, how is this future humanity depicted in the various movies and episodes? They are certainly explorers at heart: “We explore our lives day by day, and we explore the galaxy trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge,” said Sisko in “Emissary.” And knowledge is something basic, as Tuvok says in Voyager episode “Innocence”: “We often fear what we do not understand. Our best defense... is knowledge.” And indeed “Fear exists for one purpose: to be conquered.” says Janeway in one of the most intriguing Voyager episodes, “The Thaw.”
In the end, possibly the best suggestion comes from Zefram Cochrane, the character who invented warp drives. In First Contact he says, “Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its own judgments.” Just a man that is a decent and honest human being. So being a Trekker is no different from being... a decent human being. And any decent human being can be a Star Trek fan. Once again – there is no real difference.
Maybe the only difference... is about differences?
IDIC, of course.
Actually we could say that being a fan of Star Trek is fairly easy: you like the technology, or the humanity of the characters, or the adventure in the stories. But if you want to be a Trekker you have to believe in IDIC. For a Trekker “other” truly becomes “me” and the differences are welcomed.
IDIC is the acceptance of diversities. Paraphrasing a famous proverb, IDIC is just like saying “the universe is beautiful because it is varied”. Not just in colors of skin, or clothes, or hairstyles, or languages, but also in opinions, point of views, in how another being thinks.
The power behind this idea is that – in order to live it in the here and now without waiting for a future utopian world - you don’t have to do much. You don’t have to wait for any scientific discovery or technological invention to apply IDIC in your everyday life. To respect and endorse other people’s way of thinking, all a Trekker needs to have is the will to do it. It’s as simple as that!
So here we are. Finally we discovered the litmus test of a Trekker: respecting other people’s opinions.
It may not take just this to be a true Trekker, but accepting a different opinion is certainly the first step, and the hardest one, to truly embrace the Star Trek “vision.” The really difficult thing to do is to cross the threshold between enduring a different opinion and endorsing a different opinion. Trekkers can be respectful of a frame of mind that’s not like theirs, but are they capable of supporting it in a debate as it was their own? Can they do as the famous Voltaire sentence (although he actually never said it): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?
In defending and endorsing those who think differently we’re actually defending and endorsing our own right to think and speak differently. And that’s another step toward the utopian future Gene Roddenberry imagined almost 50 years ago, a future where the human race has become adult, leaving behind the troubled time of adolescence.