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Friday, September 15, 2006

Why are Trekkies weird?

Not everyone is given to fanaticism. However there’s a sufficiently large portion of society that is.

Consider Bob. Bob is in his mid-thirties. He is married and has two children. He has a full-time job in middle-management at a mid-size company, and earns a comfortable salary.

Bob religiously watches his favourite shows on television. Even though he can’t really afford it, he is a DSTV subscriber… essential in order to watch those shows. He’s bought some of the better ones on DVD and proudly displays them next the television amidst a virtual shrine consisting of all sorts of memorabilia: posters, commemorative crockery and an assortment autographed items, some of which cannot be identified by the casual observer.

Whenever he can, Bob gets all dressed up in a special outfit, disguises his features with outrageous makeup and goes off to meet up with many other like-minded people to discuss these things and act rather silly. Even more frequently he invites his like-minded friends over to watch their favourite shows on the big-screen TV he can’t really afford.

As you may have deduced, Bob is a fanatic. He likes to label himself with the euphemistic abbreviation: ‘fan’. But despite what you may suspect, Bob is not a Trekkie. Bob is a Rugby Fan.

Just about everyone knows somebody like Bob. The sort of guy who lives rugby. He knows the names and careers of every important rugby player in the country, possibly the world. He knows the scores of all the major rugby games for the last twenty years, and can probably give you a play-by-play account of each one from memory. He’s the sort of person who will leave a family wedding (or funeral) early so that he can go home and watch the rugby on his far-too-expensive TV.

Bob isn’t unusual at all. I would say a significant portion of South African white males are like Bob… to varying degrees. In some white-male dominated companies it is taken for granted that no-one will be expected to work overtime (or even regular time) if there is a rugby game on.

I suspect that it’s as a result of the sheer number of such people that it has become socially acceptable. Some people think it is endearing or amusing. Others find it tolerable. Those who find it ridiculous daren’t say so in public, lest they offend someone.

I too am a fanatic. I don’t hide behind euphemistic language, although my specific brand of fanaticism carries a unique label: Trekkie*.

I too religiously watch my favourite shows, although most of them aren’t on TV anymore. I’ve had to acquire them on DVD. I display them proudly throughout my home in a virtual shrine alongside a variety of memorabilia, most of which cannot be identified by the casual observer.

I like to put on my special outfit at every available opportunity and attend conventions where I lecture and play Star Trek games. I know the names and histories of every important Star Trek character. I can name every episode for the last 40 years, and give you a play-by-play account of each one from memory. However I am not the sort of person who would leave a family wedding (or funeral) early to go home and watch Star Trek on my girlfriend’s modestly-sized TV. (Even if Trek was on TV, we have a VCR and I could easily record it.)

Very few people know someone like me. There are very few people like me, especially in South Africa. My fanaticism isn’t met with admiration or fondness… it’s more likely to meet with ridicule. People are far from discreet about their derision of my kind. I often have it delivered to my face (If I hear that goddam joke about Klingons and Uranus one more time...). It’s sometimes a source of shame for my loved ones, and that hurts.

But that’s nothing new. When you’re the sort of fanatic who latches onto the intellectual stimulation of Star Trek instead of the mind-numbing repetition of a sport, and you grow up a male in this country, you learn to deal with that kind of reaction from people. In high school I lived in constant struggle against the ruling ‘Sportocracy’, who believed that no activity other than sport was worthy of mention.

I enjoy being a Trekkie. I’m proud of it. Sometimes I even enjoy the fact that it’s seen as weird. But what annoys me a lot of the time is that I’m not all that different to your average rugby fan, yet I am not accorded any of the respect that they are.

It’s the injustice of it all.



*The “-ie” at the end is clearly meant to sound diminutive, which is why a number of us prefer the term ‘Trekker’. But, like the African-American and homosexual communities have done, many of us have decided to take ownership of the derogatory term used to describe us, and now proudly introduce ourselves as Trekkies.