Published May 19, 2011
Trekland, Supplemental #6 - When Is a Fan Not a Fan?
Trekland, Supplemental #6 - When Is a Fan Not a Fan?
By Larry Nemecek
Can there be such a thing as a fan who’s not “fan” enough?
Or better yet, to steal an old philosophical poser: “If a fan fell in the forest and there was no one to hear it, would he/she still make a fan noise?”
I think we all know there’s diversity (ahem) in Star Trek fandom, as in the great world of sci-fi/genre followers in general.
But news reports spawned by some polls and survey results in recent weeks have sparked an interesting reaction from some in my circle when the results challenged traditional thinking about Trekfans. More females than males? Fan majorities who did not view wearing fan costumes as typical? Surprising results, yes?
But I soon got to be far more intrigued with the reaction of mainstream fans to those accounts, as to the results themselves— and even a little amused. One even told me that, even if such fans existed, they were obviously so far off the radar that, well, who cares?
In other words, the most intriguing, underlying —and apparently disturbing— question is: What if everything you thought you knew about Star Trek fans was wrong? Or even skewed? What if your own “lyin’ eyes” are not enough?
Now, even legit or academic polls of individual Star Trek fans can be sketchy, and depend upon methodology for any grounding, of course. And they can all be done with the best of intentions and planning and “survey math.” In the lay world, my mind goes back to the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” premature headline and the telephone polls of voters that set up the expectation —until someone realized later that, in 1948, a lot of folks still just didn’t have phones. And, apparently, in key areas a lot of those “invisible” folks without a phone voted for “Give ‘em Hell” Harry. The lesson: Not owning the media channel in play did not make one less of a voter, much less a stake-holder.
So —have we at last, thanks to the Internet, been able to tap into the great body of what I call “armchair” fans? Up til now, the only measuring stick anyone at the top of a pop culture enterprise had available —say, the Star Trek franchise in this case— were the raw numbers of simple TV viewer ratings and demos or box office receipts, refined in ever more niche-ier ways by retail sales figures for various model kits or action figures, or even convention tickets.
As Star Trek and geek culture go more mainstream, for good or bad many such surveys can be taken more easily and in more detail on-line by self-volunteered fans; they are hardly the pre-selected “scientific sample” type often seen in political polling, for instance. Or even for consumer trends.
But does that negate the finding when done over a broad scale? Especially for those fans who self-report as “not active”? And then, what does that mean? Some are mere viewers, some are on both the high and low end of the spectrum for buying books, DVDs and other merchandise —but all quietly.
Again, my point is not so much the veracity or standing of individual poll results —but just being open to the idea that, just as with Amazon or Arctic explorations even today, there may be still new species of critter yet to be discovered.
Years ago, the literary sci-fi fan world would get into debates about defining “true” fans —with the litmus test being whether or not they had read certain science fiction classic authors or novels. In Trekland, we bemoaned for years the lack of reality and respect showed by local TV stations nationwide who always popped up to “cover” a local convention in its dying hours —and then invariably grab only the overly costumed and made-up alien folk to go on-camera as the “face of fandom.” Over the years, that old hack has even colored how otherwise devout Trekfans measure their own “fannishness,” according to some of these surveys.
So, is a true Trek fan one who remains glued to their screen, talkative to their friends, but “invisible” to convention photogs and fan club charity drives? I threw out this question re: the truth and even scope of “invisible” fans to my online Twitter and Facebook Trekland community: One thought you had to be a fan of more than one series to be a Trekfan, beyond one’s lone fave series —unless it was Classic Trek only, and they never returned, which it made it OK as the pioneer. And so it goes.
If nothing else, this whole subject does do a great service by holding up a mirror —to our assumptions, if not our faces. Respected folks I know in Trekland seem to dismiss the possibility —or even the worth or value — of knowing about “invisible” fandom out there if it doesn’t cross into more commercial, and thus, identifiable aspects. Or doesn’t look “typical” even when it does —as one well-dressed, Steve Madden-heeled woman did as she Tweeted to me her last action figure buy at her local store. Another simply posted that perhaps being a “true fan” meant not being ashamed to admit you like Trek.
I used to refer to those of the convention-shy, club-averse corner of Trekworld as simply “armchair fans,” but maybe there’s a far more vast “cloaked” fandom out there than even those who will see this blog online, much less respond.
What say you? Does that Trekfan falling all alone in the forest really make a noise? Is that you, or someone you know? Or should anyone really care?
I’d love to hear from the “silent majority”!
Larry Nemecek, author of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Star Trek Magazine columnist and longtime editor of Star Trek Communicator, most recently appeared in Biography Channel’s The Captains of the Final Frontier two-hour special. Larry shares his years as Star Trek author, historian, consultant and insider online at conventions and on larrynemecek.com. Check out his commentary, and original video chats with all your favorite Treklanders at his own Treklandblog.com, plus @larrynemecek on Twitter and Larry Nemecek’s Trekland on Facebook.