In its day Star Trek transcended the boundaries of mere fandom and became a popular culture icon as legitimate as Elvis or Andy Warhol. In time, interest among fans waned; it became something your parents were fond of and therefore kind of taboo, apart from a certain “so old-fashioned and dumb it’s good” factor. Trek clubs pretty much died off everywhere. Nevertheless, awareness of both the show and its fans persisted among the population at large.
Now an attempt to renew the popularity of the film franchise appears to be working. Who knows? Perhaps the new generation will succumb and Trekdom will escape its ‘nostalgia’ label and become fresh and exciting once again.
You know me, I’m always interested in beginnings. I’m too old, tired, and lazy to keep track of the current evolution of Trekdom, but the question of how it first began still intrigues me.
Of course, I’m also too old, tired, and lazy to bother to do much in the way of original research. I mean, good grief, type a question into Google? I might lose focus on my reflection in the computer screen. Wouldn’t want that to happen… No sir.
But it just so happens I possess an artifact of the first stirrings of Trekdom. Dashed convenient, since I can just flip through it and spout random observations and womp it into some kind of quasi-coherent essay that’ll fool people into thinking I actually have something to say.
I’m just telling you this to give you insight into how we ‘journalists’ really write our columns. We get far too much respect as it is. Time to correct that.
Serendipity, Kismet, Coincidence: the holy trinity of research I tell you.
For example, a while back I came across a Newsweek Magazine article stating the first Star Trek convention was a small gathering at the Newark Public Library in March of 1969. Termed ‘The Star Trek Conference,’ it was organized by librarian Sherna C. Burley.
There were no Trek celebrities involved, as it was a very low key rather localized affair, really just a community event. It featured a slideshow of Trek aliens, skits put on by local fans, and a panel discussion of ‘The Star Trek Phenomenon.’
There was even a program book with the cover depicting, under the title ‘Star Trek Con Script & Program,’ a simple drawing of a Vulcan child putting together a model kit of the Enterprise. Very cool. And having saved the Newsweek article I get to present the gist of it to you as a ‘fun fact’ implying I do research and know my stuff. Also very cool.
Here’s another fun fact: the first Canadian Star Trek Convention was the ‘Toronto Star Trek Con’ of 1976. All culture historians can tell you this is exactly right. When it comes to any American cultural practice, be it a distinct clothing style or drive-by shootings, we Canadians generally don’t pick up on it for roughly a decade. We’re always behind. Which is fine by me. I hate keeping up with trend setters. But I digress.
As I mentioned in my last column, at the Toronto Triple fan Fair in June of 1968 I happened to purchase issue #2 (published the previous April) of SPOCKANALIA. Issue #1 had been published in September of 1967, at that time the very first fanzine devoted to Star Trek. However, by the second issue co-editor Devra Langsam was able to point out:
“Other Star Trek zines are coming thick and fast… We want to call special attention to Juanita Coulson’s ST-PHILE. It is a beautiful thing, done with loving care…”
It is interesting to note that Juanita is credited elsewhere with inspiring Devra and the other co-editor Sherna Comerford to create SPOCKANALIA in the first place. By issue #2 Juanita was still actively involved, singlehandedly cutting 80 illustration stencils for instance, but evidently by then she’d felt the need to produce a zine of her own as well.
Two other Trek zines mentioned as flourishing by issue #2 are WHERE NO FAN HAS GONE BEFORE by Bjo Trimble of LA (Bjo was instrumental in jumpstarting the letter and petition campaign to ‘rescue’ Star Trek from premature cancellation and see it through a third year of production), and PLAK-TOW, a Star Trek newszine by Shirley Meech (another contributor to SPOCKANALIA) out of Newark, Delaware.
I would guess that these and similar Trek zines of the day probably predate the establishment of organized Trekdom (I don’t actually know), but I have no doubt they stimulated and encouraged the creation of such clubs. Certainly one can see in the zines the beginnings of Trekdom as an entity unto itself entirely separate from SF fandom at large. SPOCKANALIA is all about Star Trek and nothing but Star Trek. The birth of a niche fandom.
Amazingly, locs from cast members and crew fill eight pages immediately after the editorial. Apparently Gene Roddenberry picked up a copy of the first issue at the Nycon 3 Worldcon in New York, flew back to LA, and – I suspect – passed it on to the publicity department.
I don’t want to upset anyone, but apart from Fontana and a brief congratulatory blurb from Rodenberry, I believe the letters from Koenig, Kelley, Doohan and Nimoy were probably written by publicity hacks and merely signed by the actors. They don’t ‘feel’ like personal letters. More like typical Hollywood publicity working off the show’s ‘bible’ of character studies. But I could be wrong.
Dorothy Fontana, one of show’s writers, does provide several interesting bits. For instance:
“Spock is in actuality what humans call a given name. The Family name is unpronounceable and can only be rendered in Earth alphabet as a long series of consonants…I have projected Spock’s last name as follows: XTMPRSQZNTWLFB…”
Man, no wonder Spock had a hangdog, somewhat sheepish expression half the time. He was worried someone would try to pronounce his full name!
Fontana also writes:
“At no time did we say a pon farr overcomes a Vulcan at any specific age or at any specific interval… due to his half-human heritage, Spock will probably not live as long as most Vulcans… Therefore it may be logical to assume that his half-human heritage may also pull down the age at which his pon farr may occur…”
Fascinating… In “Revisit” co-editor Sherna considers the bizarre pon farr instinct and the plak-tow madness associated with it. She puts considerable thought into her analysis:
“If Vulcans were as truly rational as they claim to be, they would simply agree to dump tradition and put every pon farr male into a padded cell, with his woman, as soon as the first symptoms appeared.”
The point being that Vulcans did NOT have complete logical control over their own instincts and relied on ceremony and ritual to make it appear that they did. Quite delusional when you think about it.
John Mansfield (possibly the legendary Canadian Fan of that name who later chaired the Conadian 1994 Worldcon in Winnipeg?) contributes a delightful article purporting to be excerpts from a Klingon instruction manual for interrogating captured Vulcans. Sample advice:
“…the pon farr Vulcan finds that his interests lie in areas other than military information. It may take some effort and subtlety to turn his attention to our wishes…”
“As the prisoner in plak-tow is incapable of speech, and will invariably die without recovering this capability, such a prisoner is to be destroyed at once. Failure to do so may be fatal to the interrogator.”
According to John the Klingons are under the impression that Vulcans regard humans as a slave race and because of this have inserted officers into Star Fleet the better to manipulate and control it. Consequently Klingons have come to believe their own mission is to save humanity from the evil Vulcans. Interesting insight into Klingon motivational propaganda, or… perhaps… the truth?
Here I should point out the basic premise of SPOCKANALIA is that the Star Trek universe actually exists and the zine itself is a part of that universe.
One particularly insightful article, by E.A. Oddstad, titled “The Man in the Hero Suit” opens with a quote by Spock:
“Captain, you should make a very convincing Nazi…”
And goes on to point out:
“Kirk is obsessed with the Enterprise, its crew, and his position as Captain. He’s forever talking about “my ship” and “my crew.” In his mind, they belong to him, and he belongs to them. Without them he cannot be The Captain. His first concern is not his duty, nor the public good, but the Enterprise. He has risked the lives of an entire colony to save the lives of nine or ten crewmen…His fears of becoming an ordinary slob, of no longer being the famous Captain Kirk, is something like a Ruling Passion… Kirk’s zipped himself into a hero suit and now the zipper’s stuck. He can’t get out, and nobody else can get in.”
This analysis is bang on in my opinion. Other contributors offer equally valid interpretations of the characters of Scotty, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, and Spock.
And then there’s the question of the lack of truly alien aliens in Star Trek. There are some, like the Horta, but most are humanoids. Of course if Star Trek were a TV show this is because creating a mask or slapping makeup on actors is a lot cheaper and less time consuming than creating an alien out of whole cloth, so to speak.
But since Star Trek is a documentary series about the real universe, researchers Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt go to a great deal of trouble examining all episodes in the series to date. They claim to find evidence within the show that the universe had been dominated 800,000 years earlier by a single race from which all modern humanoid races, including humans, are descended. The evidence offered is convincing, the logic of interpretation impeccable. Now we understand why the universe is predominately populated by humanoids and not just a hodgepodge of incompatible entities.
On the lighter side, there are samples of graffiti from the Enterprise washroom:
“Why doesn’t Star Fleet get us seat belts?” … “Sarek is a Romulan spy.” … “It may be logical but is it fun?”
And a cheeky newsletter published by the engineering department which argues ‘the bridge’ is a myth.
Throw in several more articles I haven’t even mentioned, numerous poems (one of them by Poul Anderson), and even a song (with music notation), and in just 114 gestetnered pages you’ve got several hours of intellectual entertainment well thought out, carefully reasoned, beautifully packaged, and of a high order of intelligence.
Beats me where some SF fans got the idea that Trek Fandom consisted of mindless media fen incapable of original thought who had somehow ‘betrayed’ SF fandom.
SPOCKANALIA proves that “Trekdom” set a high standard right from the get go, and if it sometimes failed to live up to that standard bear in mind the same can be said for all other SF fandoms.
To my mind Star Trek is science fiction, and its fans science fiction fans. Trek fandom helped SF and SF fandom break out of the “sci-fi ghetto” and evolve into mainstream popular culture. I happen to think that’s a good thing.
And it all began with SPOCKANALIA.
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- ‘Spock’ cover – Kathy Bushman
- ‘SNAFU’ – Janie Bowers
- ‘Yoyo’ – Sherna Comerford
- ‘Salute’ – Alexis Gilliland
- ‘Spockanalia back cover’ – DEA
(Editor’s Note: Here’s the famous Shatner Saturday Night Live skit in which Bill famously tells his fans to “get a life!”)