Creating people's geographies
ABC Australia :: Last Update: Sunday, August 20, 2006. 10:46am (AEST)
Thousands of people have beamed into Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Trek, the enduring science fiction television franchise whose cult appeal transcends boundaries of space and time.
Though originally considered too brainy for American network television in 1966, Star Trek has proven to be one of Hollywood’s most durable products, with film grosses of $US1 billion and a total of 726 television episodes in five series.
The original series, starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Doctor Spock, both now 75-years-old, ran only for three seasons. But the show developed a devoted cult following in syndication, and today “trekkies” are the only fan group listed by name in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Gene Roddenberry wrote the original Star Trek pilot in 1965, the same year as the first US spacewalk, and pitched the show as “a wagon train to the stars” because westerns were popular in Hollywood at the time.
The show follows the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise on its mission to “seek out new life forms and civilisations,” but fans say Roddenberry’s vision examined earthly social issues with an unparalleled sensitivity.
The Enterprise crew was the first television presentation of a multiracial cast and the first televised interracial kiss was on Star Trek. Cloaked in 20th century mythology, Roddenberry took aim at racism, class struggle, and imperialism.
“Star Trek was a show not only with vision, but with principles and ideals,” said George Takei (Sulu on the original Star Trek) to a packed Las Vegas ballroom.
“Roddenberry believed that infinite diversity in infinite combinations is what makes the world beautiful.”
The Trek franchise has attracted legions of fans from all over, unified by their affection for the Roddenberry vision.
“Star Trek tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s,” Kerry Ferris, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University, told AFP.
“The Trek philosophy was inclusive and non-discriminatory. It invites the outsider, the other, and it has inspired fans to live out these principles and do some good.”
But costumed, convention-going Trekkies have long been ridiculed for their devotion to a space aged science-fiction world populated by Klingons, Vulcans, and Borgs.
“It’s really just like any peer group following their interests,” said Mr Ferris. “It’s no different from a bowling league or a gardening club.”
Now in its 40th year, the Trekkie community is decidedly international.
Two young Israelis, interested in developing Trek conventions in their own country, inspected the memorabilia on sale on Saturday, their eyes still red from a long flight.
“It excited my imagination when I was young because of the effects and the technobabble,” Nadav Bruchiel told AFP.
“But as I got older, I saw that it is a very deep show. Our world is divided into states and nations, but Star Trek is a global and interplanetary vision with everyone working together for peace.”
Mr Brucheil and his friend rushed off to check out a merchant hawking custom sculptures that transform fans into Enterprise captains or aliens for around $US1,000.
“Something to pass on to your kids,” said the sculptor.
Trekkies filled the ballrooms at the Las Vegas Hilton, a hotel and casino with an interactive Star Trek museum where some fans choose to get married. They endured long lines for autographs and the chance to question their favourite actors on stage.
“I’ve travelled back in time to come see you,” Cathy Le, a computer programmer from Australia, told Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager).
“When I discovered Janeway, it changed my life. I had the strength to come out as a lesbian.”
“Well, just look at these numbers,” said William Shatner as he scanned the capacity crowd of adoring Trekkies. “Nobody can believe the life that Star Trek has shown.”