A Trekkie or Trekker is a fan of the Star Trek franchise, or of specific television series or films within that franchise.
- Trekkie vs Trekker
- Other names
- Whitewater jury
- In popular culture
- Actors and comedians
- Hollywood movie and television directors and producers
- Politicians and world leaders
- Science fiction writers
- Scientists engineers and inventors
- Astronauts and NASA personnel
In 1967, science fiction editor Arthur W. Saha applied the term "trekkies" when he saw a few fans of the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series wearing pointy ears at the 25th World Science Fiction Convention, on the day series creator Gene Roddenberry showed a print of "Amok Time" to the convention. Saha used the term in an interview with Pete Hamill that Hamill was conducting for TV Guide concerning the phenomenon of science fiction.
The first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia, appeared in September 1967, including the first published fan fiction based on the show. Roddenberry, who was aware of and encouraged such activities, a year later estimated that 10,000 wrote or read fanzines. Many early Trekkies were also fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964–1968), another show with science fiction elements and a devoted, "cult"-like audience.
Perhaps the first large gathering of fans occurred in April 1967. When Leonard Nimoy appeared as Spock as grand marshal of the Medford Pear Blossom Festival parade in Oregon, he hoped to sign hundreds of autographs but thousands of people appeared; after being rescued by police "I made sure never to appear publicly again in Vulcan guise", the actor wrote. Another was in January 1968, when more than 200 Caltech students marched to NBC's Burbank, California studio to support Star Trek's renewal.
The first fan convention devoted to the show occurred on 1 March 1969 at the Newark Public Library. Organized by a librarian who was one of the creators of Spockanalia, the "Star Trek Con" did not have celebrity guests but did have "slide shows of 'Trek' aliens, skits and a fan panel to discuss 'The Star Trek Phenomenon.'" Some fans were so devoted that they complained to a Canadian TV station when it cancelled a show in July 1969 for coverage of Apollo 11.
However, the Trekkie phenomenon did not come to the attention of the general public until after the show was cancelled in 1969 and reruns entered syndication. The first widely publicized fan convention occurred in January 1972 at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York, featuring Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov, and two tons of NASA memorabilia. The organizers expected 500 attendees at the "First International Star Trek Convention" but more than 3,000 came; attendees later described it as "packed" and like "a rush-hour subway train". By then more than 100 fanzines about the show existed, its reruns were syndicated to 125 American TV stations and 60 other countries, and news reports on the convention caused other fans, who had believed themselves to be alone, to organize.
Some actors, such as Nichelle Nichols, were unaware of the size of the show's fandom until the conventions, but major and minor cast members began attending them around the United States. The conventions so grew in popularity that the media cited Beatlemania and Trudeaumania as examples to describe the emerging "cultural phenomenon". 6,000 attended the 1973 New York convention and 15,000 attended in 1974, much larger figures than at older events like the 4,500 at the 32nd Worldcon in 1974. By then the demand from Trekkies was large enough that rival convention organizers began to sue each other. The first UK convention was held in 1974 and featured special guests George Takei and James Doohan. After this, there was an official British convention yearly.
Because Star Trek was set in the future the show did not become dated, and by airing during the late afternoon or early evening when other stations showed news programs it attracted a young audience. The reruns' great popularity—greater than when Star Trek originally aired in prime time—caused Paramount to receive thousands of letters each week demanding the show's return and promising that it would be profitable. (The fans were correct; by the mid-1990s Star Trek—now called within Paramount "the franchise" and its "crown jewel"—had become the studio's single most-important property, and Paramount sponsored its first convention in 1996.)
The entire cast reunited for the first time at an August 1975 Chicago convention that 16,000 attended. "Star Trek" Lives!, an early history and exploration of Trekkie culture published that year, was the first mass-market book to introduce fan fiction and other aspects of fandom to a wide audience. By 1976 there were more than 250 Star Trek clubs, and at least three rival groups organized 25 conventions that attracted thousands to each. While discussing that year whether to name the first Space Shuttle Enterprise, Jim Cannon, Gerald R. Ford's domestic policy advisor, described Trekkies as "one of the most dedicated constituencies in the country". "Unprecedented" crowds visited a 1992 Star Trek exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, and in 1994, when Star Trek reruns still aired in 94% of the United States, over 400,000 attended 130 conventions. By the late 1990s an estimated two million people in the United States, or about 5% of 35 million weekly Star Trek watchers, were what one author described as "hard-core fans".
The Trek fandom was notably fast to use the World Wide Web. The Guardian's Damien Walter joked that "the 50% of the early world wide web that wasn't porn was made up of Star Trek: The Next Generation fansites".
There are some fans who have become overzealous. That can become terrible. They leap out of bushes, look in windows and lean against doors and listen.
Since only about a dozen quarterbacks are selected during the typical draft, a 64-quarterback draft board transcends "thorough" and reaches "fetishistic." This is the stuff of Star Trek conventions. In a few years, the football equivalent of "Mr. Shatner, why didn't the Enterprise use antimatter to destabilize the alien probe in the Tholian Web?" will be "Coach Coughlin, what do you think of Scott Buisson?"
As early as 1975, a journalist described Trekkies as "smelling of assembly-line junk food, hugely consumed; the look is of people who consume it, habitually and at length; overfed and undernourished, eruptive of skin and flaccid of form, from the merely soft to the grotesquely obese". He noted their fixation on one subject:
The facial expression is a near sultry somnolence, except when matters of Star Trek textual minutiae are discussed; then it is as vivid and keen as a Jesuit Inquisitor's, for these people know more of the production details of Star Trek than Roddenberry, who created them, and are a greater authority on the essential mystery of Captain Kirk than [William] Shatner, who fleshed it out.
In December 1986, Shatner hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. In one skit, he played himself as a guest at a Star Trek convention, where the audience focuses on trivial information about the show and Shatner's personal life. The annoyed actor advises them to "get a life". "For crying out loud," Shatner continues, "it's just a TV show!" He asks one Trekkie whether he has "ever kissed a girl". The embarrassed fans ask if, instead of the TV shows, they should focus on the Star Trek films instead. The angry Shatner leaves but because of his contract must return, and tells the Trekkies that they saw a "recreation of the evil Captain Kirk from episode 27, 'The Enemy Within.'"
Although many Star Trek fans found the sketch to be insulting it accurately portrayed Shatner's feelings about Trekkies, which the actor had previously discussed in interviews. He had met overenthusiastic fans as early as April 1968, when a group attempted to rip Shatner's clothes off as the actor left 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He was slower than others to begin attending conventions, and stopped attending for more than a decade during the 1970s and 1980s. In what Shatner described as one of "so many instances over the years" of fan excess, police captured a man with a gun at a German event before he could find the actor.
The Saturday Night Live segment mentioned many such common stereotypes about Trekkies, including their willingness to buy any Star Trek-related merchandise, obsessive study of unimportant details of the show, and inability to have conventional social interactions with others or distinguish between fantasy and reality. As with all stereotypes, these views were not completely inaccurate; Brent Spiner found that some could not accept that the actor who played Data was human, Nimoy warned a journalist to perform the Vulcan salute correctly because "'Star Trek' fans can be scary. If you don't get this right you're going to hear about it", and Roddenberry stated
I have to limit myself to one [convention] in the East and one in the West each year. I'm not a performer and frankly those conventions scare the hell out of me. It is scary to be surrounded by a thousand people asking questions as if the events in the series actually happened.
A Newsweek cover article, also in December 1986, also cited many such stereotypes, depicting Star Trek fans as overweight and socially maladjusted "kooks" and "crazies". The sketch and articles are representative of many media depictions of Trekkies, with fascination with Star Trek a common metaphor for useless, "fetishistic" obsession with a topic; fans thus often hide their devotion to avoid social stigma. Such depictions have helped popularize a view of devoted fans, not just of Star Trek, as potential fanatics. Reinforced by the well-known acts of violence by John Hinckley, Jr. and Mark David Chapman, the sinister, obsessed "fan in the attic" has become a stock character in works such as the films The Fan (1981) and Misery (1990).
Patrick Stewart objected when an interviewer described Trekkies as "weird", calling it a "silly thing to say". He added, "How many do you know personally? You couldn't be more wrong." (According to Stewart, however, the actors dislike being called Trekkies and are careful to distinguish between themselves and the Trekkie audience.) Asimov said of them, "Trekkies are intelligent, interested, involved people with whom it is a pleasure to be, in any numbers. Why else would they have been involved in Star Trek, an intelligent, interested, and involved show?"
The central trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was modeled on classical mythological storytelling. Shatner said:
There is a mythological component [to pop culture], especially with science fiction. It’s people looking for answers – and science fiction offers to explain the inexplicable, the same as religion tends to do. Although 99 percent of the people that come to these conventions don’t realize it, they’re going through the rituals that religion and mythology provide.
According to Michael Jindra of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the show's fandom "has strong affinities with a religious-type movement", with "an origin myth, a set of beliefs, an organization, and some of the most active and creative members to be found anywhere." While he distinguishes between Star Trek fandom and the traditional definition of religion that requires belief in divinity or the supernatural, Jindra compares Star Trek fandom to both "'quasi-religions,' such as Alcoholics Anonymous and New Age groups"—albeit more universal in its appeal and more organized—and civil religion.
As with other faiths, Trekkies find comfort in their worship. Star Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss stated at a convention:
The show is important psychologically and sociologically to a lot of people. For the unusual people at this convention, it's a big part of their lives, a help to them. I'm glad there are people who need something important in their lives and I'm glad they've found it in our shows. I don't want to elaborate on that; there are just some special people here who need the show in a special way.
The religious devotion of Star Trek's fans began almost immediately after the show's debut. When Roddenberry previewed the new show at a 1966 science-fiction convention, he and his creation received a rapturous response:
After the film was over we were unable to leave our seats. We just nodded at each other and smiled, and began to whisper. We came close to lifting [Roddenberry] upon our shoulders and carrying it out of the room...[H]e smiled, and we returned the smile before we converged on him.
The showing divided the convention into two factions, the "enlightened" who had seen the preview and the "unenlightened" who had not. The humanist Roddenberry, however, disliked his role as involuntary prophet of a religion. Although he depended on Trekkies to support future Star Trek projects, Roddenberry stated that
It frightens me when I learn of 10,000 people treating a Star Trek script as if it were Scripture. I certainly didn't write Scripture, and my feeling is that those who did were not treated very well in the end ... I'm just afraid that if it goes too far and it appears that I have created a philosophy to answer all human ills that someone will stand up and cry, 'Fraud!' And with good reason.
Religious aspects of Star Trek fandom nonetheless grew, according to Jindra, with the show's popularity. Conventions are an opportunity for fans to visit "another world...very much cut off from the real world...You can easily forget your own troubles as well as those of the world", with one convention holding an event in which a newborn baby was "baptized" into the "Temple of Trek" amid chanting. Star Trek museum exhibits, film studios, attractions, and other locations such as Vulcan, Alberta offer opportunities to perform pilgrimages to "our Mecca". A fan astounded Nimoy by asking him to lay his hands on a friend's eyes to heal them.
Fandom does not necessarily take the place of preexisting faith, with Christian and New Age adherents both finding support for their worldviews.
Star Trek writer and director Nicholas Meyer compared the show to the Catholic Mass:
Like the mass, there are certain elements of Star Trek that are immutable, unchangeable. The mass has its Kyrie, its Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Dies Irae, and so on... Star Trek has its Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Klingons, Romulans, etc., and the rest of the universe Roddenberry bequeathed us. The words of the mass are carved in stone, as are fundamental elements—the Enterprise, Spock, the transporter beam, and so forth—in Star Trek.
Meyer has also said:
The words of the Mass remain constant, but heaven knows, the music keeps changing... Its humanism remains a buoyant constant. Religion without theology. The program's karma routinely runs over its dogma.
From before Star Trek's television début, Roddenberry saw the show as a way of depicting his utopian, idealized vision of the future. According to Andrew V. Kozinets of Northwestern University, many Trekkies identify with Roddenberry's idealism, and use their desire to bring such a future into reality as justification for their participation in and consumption of Star Trek media, activities, and merchandise, often citing the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Such fans view Star Trek as a way to be with "'my kind of people'" in "'a better world'" where they will not be scorned or mocked despite being part of "stigmatized social categories". Shatner agreed: "If we accept the premise that [the Star Trek story] has a mythological element, then all the stuff about going out into space and meeting new life – trying to explain it and put a human element to it – it’s a hopeful vision. All these things offer hope and imaginative solutions for the future." Richard Lutz wrote:
The enduring popularity of Star Trek is due to the underlying mythology which binds fans together by virtue of their shared love of stories involving exploration, discovery, adventure and friendship that promote an egalitarian and peace loving society where technology and diversity are valued rather than feared and citizens work together for the greater good. Thus Star Trek offers a hopeful vision of the future and a template for our lives and our society that we can aspire to.
Rather than "sit[ting] here and wait for the future to happen", local fan groups may serve as service clubs that volunteer at blood drives and food banks. For them,
Star Trek provided positive role models, exploration of moral issues, scientific and technological knowledge and ideas, Western literary references, interest in television and motion picture production, intellectual stimulation and competition through games and trivia challenges, fan writing and art and music, explorations of erotic desire, community and feelings of communitas, and much more.
Despite their common interests fans differ in their levels of—and willingness to display and discuss—their devotion because of the perceived social stigma, and "[o]vercoming the Trekkie stigma entails a form of freedom and self-acceptance that has been compared to homosexual uncloseting." To outsiders the wearing of Starfleet uniforms, usually devalued as "costumes", is a symbol of their preconceptions of and unease with Trekkies. Kozinets cites the example of a debate at a Star Trek fan club's board meeting on whether board members should be required to wear uniforms to public events as an example of "not only...the cultural tensions of acceptance and denial of stigmatized identity, but the articulation and intensification of group meanings that can serve to counterargue stigma."
Despite fans' stated vision of Star Trek' as a way of celebrating diversity, however, Kozinets found that among the Trekkies he observed at clubs "most of the members were very similar in age, ethnic origin, and race. Out of about 30 people present at meetings, I noted only two visible minorities." Also, "the vast majority of the club's time was spent discussing previous and upcoming television and movie products, related books, merchandise, and conventions", and club meetings and conventions focused on consumption rather than discussion of current affairs or societal improvement. (Perhaps appropriately, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" originated in a third-season episode, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?", in which Roddenberry inserted a speech by Kirk praising the philosophy and associated medal. The "pointless" speech was, according to Shatner, a "thinly-veiled commercial" for replicas of the medal, which Roddenberry's company Lincoln Enterprises soon sold to fans.)
While many stereotype Star Trek fandom as being mostly young males and more men than women watch Star Trek TV shows, female fans have been important members since the franchise's beginning. The majority of attendees at early conventions were women over the age of 21, which attracted more men to later ones. The two most important early members of fandom were women. Bjo Trimble was among the leaders of the successful effort to persuade NBC to renew the show for a third season, and wrote the first edition of the important early work Star Trek Concordance in 1969. Joan Winston and others on the female-dominated committee organized the initial 1972 New York convention and several later ones; Winston was also one of the three female authors of "Star Trek" Lives!
While men participate in many fandom activities such as writing articles for fan publications and organizing conventions, women historically comprised the large majority of fan club administrators, fanfiction authors, and fanzine editors, and the Mary Sue-like "story premise of a female protagonist aboard the Enterprise who romances one of the Star Trek regulars, [became] very common in fanzine stories." So many single women left fan activities after getting married that one female fanzine editor speculated that the show was a substitute for sex. One scholar speculates that Kirk/Spock slash fiction is a way for women to "openly discuss sexuality in a non-judgmental manner."
Trekkie vs. Trekker
There is considerable disagreement among Star Trek fans over whether to use the term Trekkie or Trekker. Some say that Trekkie is "frequently depreciative", thus, "not an acceptable term to serious fans", who prefer Trekker. The distinction existed as early as May 1970, when the editor of fanzine Deck 6 wrote:
... when I start acting like a bubble-headed trekkie (rather than a sober, dignified — albeit enthusiastic — trekker).
By 1976, media reports on Star Trek conventions acknowledged the two types of fans:
One Trekkie came by and felt compelled to explain, while paying for his Mr. Spock computer image, that he was actually a Trekker (a rational fan). Whereas, he said, a Trekkie worships anything connected with Star Trek and would sell his or her mother for a pair of Spock ears.
In the 1991 TV show Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Special, Leonard Nimoy attempted to settle the issue by stating that the term "Trekker" is the preferred term. During an appearance on Saturday Night Live to promote the 2009 Star Trek film, Nimoy – seeking to assure Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, the "new" Kirk and Spock, that most fans would embrace them – initially referred to "Trekkies" before correcting himself and saying "Trekkers," emphasizing the second syllable, with a deadpan delivery throughout that left ambiguous whether this ostensible misstep and correction were indeed accidental or instead intentional and for comic effect. In the documentary Trekkies, Kate Mulgrew stated that Trekkers are the ones "walking with us" while the Trekkies are the ones content to simply sit and watch Star Trek.
The issue is also shown in the film Trekkies 2, in which a Star Trek fan recounts a supposed incident during a Star Trek convention where Gene Roddenberry used the term "trekkies" to describe fans of the show, only to be corrected by a fan that stood up and yelled "Trekkers!" Gene Roddenberry responded with "No, it's 'Trekkies.' I should know — I invented the thing."
Star Trek fans who hold Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to be the best series of the franchise adopted the title of "Niner" following the episode "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", in which Captain Benjamin Sisko formed a baseball team called "The Niners".
There are many Star Trek fan clubs, among the largest being STARFLEET International and the International Federation of Trekkers. Some Trekkies regularly attend Star Trek conventions (called "cons"). In 2003, STARFLEET was the world's largest Star Trek fan club; as of January 1, 2011, it claimed to have 4,145 members in 228 chapters around the world. Eighteen people have served as president of the association since 1975. Upon election, the president is promoted to the fictional rank of Fleet Admiral and is referred to as the "Commander, Starfleet". Since 2004, the president has served a term of three years. Wayne Killough became the association's president on January 1, 2014. April 17, 2016 marked the first time a Commander, Starfleet died while in office. The late Wayne Killough was succeeded by Robin Woodell-Vitasek.
There is a persistent stereotype that amongst Trekkies there are many speakers of the constructed Klingon language. The reality is less clear-cut, as some of its most fluent speakers are more language aficionados than people obsessed with Star Trek. Most Trekkies have no more than a basic vocabulary of Klingon, perhaps consisting of a few common words heard innumerable times over the series, while not having much knowledge of Klingon's syntax or precise phonetics.
Another fan activity is filking, that is playing, singing, or writing music about Star Trek.
During the 1996 Whitewater controversy, a bookbindery employee named Barbara Adams served as an alternate juror. During the trial Adams wore a Star Trek: The Next Generation-style Starfleet Command Section uniform, including a commbadge, a phaser, and a tricorder.
Adams was dismissed from the trial for conducting a sidewalk interview with the television program American Journal. The major news media reported (wrongly) that she was dropped for wearing her Starfleet uniform to the trial. However, Adams noted that she had been dropped because she had spoken to a reporter of American Journal about her Starfleet uniform and not anything about the trial. Even though nothing she had said was deemed a trial-enclosure violation, the rule had been clearly stated: No juror was to communicate with the press in any manner whatsoever.
Adams stated that the judge at the trial was supportive of her. She said she believed in the principles expressed in Star Trek and found it an alternative to "mindless television" because it promoted tolerance, peace, and faith in mankind. Adams subsequently appeared in the documentaries Trekkies and Trekkies 2.
In popular culture
Trekkies have been parodied in several films, notably the science fiction comedy Galaxy Quest. Actors such as Stewart and Jonathan Frakes have praised the accuracy of its satiric portrayal of a long-canceled science-fiction television series, its cast members, and devoted fans known as "Questerians". The main character Jason Nesmith, representing Shatner, repeats the actor's 1986 "Get a life!" statement when an avid fan asks him about the operation of the fictional vessel.
Star Trek itself has satirized Trekkies' excessive obsession with imaginary characters, through Reginald Barclay and his holodeck addiction.
One episode of Futurama called "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" was dedicated to parodying Trekkies. It included a history whereby Star Trek's fandom had grown into a religion. Eventually the Church of Star Trek had grown so strong that it needed to be abolished from the Galaxy and even the words "Star Trek" were outlawed.
The 1999 film Free Enterprise chronicled the lives of two men who grew up worshipping Star Trek and emulating Captain Kirk. Most of the movie centers on William Shatner, playing a parody of himself, and how the characters wrestle with their relationships to Star Trek.
A Trekkie featured in one episode of the television series The West Wing, during which Josh Lyman confronts the temporary employee over her display of a Star Trek pin in the White House.
The 2009 film Fanboys makes frequent references to Star Trek and the rivalry between Trekkies and Star Wars fans. William Shatner makes a cameo appearance in the film.
The Family Guy episode "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven" features a Star Trek convention and many Trekkies. One Trekkie comes to the convention with the mumps, and upon Peter Griffin seeing him, he impulsively pushes his daughter Meg into the Trekkie and forces her to take her picture with him (believing him to be in costume as an alien from Star Trek). Since Meg was not immunized, she catches the mumps from the Trekkie and ends up bedridden.
On the CBS-TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the four main male characters are shown to be Trekkies, playing the game of "Klingon Boggle" and resolving disputes using the game of "rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock". Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame has made multiple guest appearances playing an evil version of himself. LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Leonard Nimoy (as a voice actor), and George Takei have also appeared on the series.
There was also the 1997 film Trekkies and its 2004 sequel Trekkies 2 that chronicles the life of many trekkies.