The changing face of mainstream: who’da thunk it?
In which we try to step back, get a big picture, and realize how much things have changed in just 10 years.
Well, it’s October. This is supposed to be football season, but from where I’m perched it still looks like con season—and I do mean the convention kind, not the swindle kind. Fan confabs are still very much in full swing…
And for Star Trek, that’s a very good thing.
I mean, I just got back from the New York Comic-Con—and no, my arms are not tired. My senses, though, took in how NYCC is still a bastion of print purists, not yet as affected by “celluloid” mania as its brethren out west in San Diego and elsewhere. Even so, judging by all those who actually stopped me to chat, Star Trek was everywhere.
And that’s what’s amazing: I was at yet another comic-con in all my Trekland glory—and there was a reason? I mean, how did THIS happen?
Now, those of us who keep Trek cons and fandom on short-range scan 24/7 have been intrigued for years now: How would genre market forces, the economy, and the fickle finger of fame all play their unpredictable game with Gene Roddenberry’s universe? Star Trek and its fans have been such a monolith, such a mainstay since the 1970s—and one that only grew in one direction!— that the “retrenchment” of the past few years has stirred more than one trendspotter’s curiosity.
We knew it was both silly and naïve for some doomsday-naysayers to declare Star Trek “dead” when Enterprise was cancelled in 2005—the end of 18 straight years of Trek on TV. But still, how would the franchise react? Or to the point: how would fandom react? That’s what finally drives both the fun and the financial end of things: product sales, online pages, books and comics, and all kinds of other barometers.
Hollywood marketing gurus are great with those numbers, but there’s one sure marker in “our” world that most of them have no handle on: convention turnout and trends. That’s why, after an unusual year of tabling and panel-izing at a string of fan “shows” I never thought I’d set foot in, I’m really seeing a trend:
You can get an awful lot of Star Trek just about anywhere.
It didn’t use to be this way. Time was when you had to go to a Star Trek con to get your Star Trek fix. Science fiction cons have been around since illustrious First Fandom folk gathered for the very first WorldCon in 1939, of course. But the modern monster called “genre media fandom” that Star Trek invented and unleashed had nothing much to do with book-minded WorldCon after Gene Roddenberry screened his new baby there at the 1966 and 1967 editions. Ditto for most all the local litcons across the country—and then, just as quickly, Star Wars burst on the scene and became the second media fandom frenzy; more would follow, of course. Narrowcasting to a single focus became the way to go for media cons to serve up actors, their writers and designers, and the fans who followed them all.
Of course, nothing will replace the Vegas Creation show, its smaller versions… or the homegrown Trek fan cons large and small, like Baltimore’s Shore Leave and Denver’s Starfest. Or all the rest that have lived long and somehow prospered. There’s still nothing like an all-Trek show for the purity and details the true fan loves.
But then, as controversial as it still may be to the hard-core, J.J.’s 2009 alternate-dimension Star Trek proved brilliant in one major respect: it got butts into the theater… and mentions into the media.
As in, “mainstream.” On both counts.
The film and its masterful marketing jump-started Star Trek’s street cred, even among the mundanes… and the results have been on view all year—at all these multi-genre shows. It was such an about–face that The Onion popped off a typically hysterical mock news report, tweaking the hard-core for supposedly complaining how Star Trek had left the nerdy faithful behind to go over and sit with the popular kids.
Well, no one can ever accuse comic fans—or anime, or gamers— about being mainstream, even after Hollywood‘s “infiltration” over the past decade. But in reality, these nerd-nest gatherings have suddenly become headline news in their own right—thanks to these same fan-beloved shows and films taking over the Top 10, turning into gold for their makers. (Big Bang Theory, anyone?)
And all that has simply opened the door even wider to a fellow “basker” like Star Trek. At any of the comic-cons, check the panel list, check the dealers list, see the cosplayers in their costumes: Those mushrooming numbers that first hit San Diego—the granddaddy of all comic-cons in size, if not longevity—seem to be spreading out everywhere now. I’ve seen it first-hand in Seattle, San Francisco and now New York. And there’s been room in all of them for even more green Orion slave girls and mini-skirted yeomen, to name but a few. (And that’s another thing: the geekgirl phenom has swept over Trek every bit as much as any other genre—a revolution in itself.)
But, I mean—really? Five comic-cons this year—and all viable for Star Trek?
Well…. I guess I heard it, all right.
I simply could not believe my ears.