If Star Trek has any relevance left, it's not in NASA visions, alien linguistics or the idea that life would be just peachy if an interstellar United Nations ran everything. Those are distractions. Star Trek's real gift to the world is the image of Trekkies, which has become the template for angry pop culture fandom. This template has little to do with Star Trek itself or most of the people who enjoy it. But the Angry Fans are with us like syphilis, and here's why.
A Delicate Question
We're at Blizzcon 2009, the ultimate place for all things Blizzard. The conference hall at the Anaheim Convention Center is packed. Onstage is a panel for World of Warcraft, the most popular online roleplaying game on the planet. The panelists are very smart people. They spend their entire lives thinking about and creating World of Warcraft. As question time arrives, they're willing to talk about nearly anything - vision, strategy, influences, possibilities, you name it. This panel is a window into the soul of another universe, and you can ask whatever you want.
A large guy in a black T-shirt stands at the mic. He's nervous and sweaty, but he's got his question ready. The panelists lean forward as he begins. It's a detailed question. Very detailed, on a minor point of game mechanics that black T-shirt guy isn't happy with. He demands to know how they're going to fix his problem. He wishes they'd done it four months ago. The room squirms. The Blizzard panelists take a breath and dive in.
Behind black T-shirt guy's excitement and body odor is a paradox. He loves World of Warcraft, but this isn't about that: The key is that he desperately wants something from the panelists - not the answer to his question, but something much deeper and harder to define. Yet no matter how they reply, they can never give it to him. On a basic level he knows this, and it makes him angry. He's angry at the creators of the thing he loves.
Consciously or not, black T-shirt guy is acting out a scene from the sci-fi documentary Galaxy Quest, itself based on the Star Trek cast and their encounters with fandom over the years. The Angry Fandom template says: If you crush things to death, they'll never leave you.
William Shatner's got a lot to answer for.
Image Becomes Reality
Trekkies themselves were never that numerous or important. Fans of the original TV series brought it back from cancellation in 1968 through a letter-writing campaign. Some used to wander around sci-fi conventions with costumes and pointy ears. This was nothing new - dorky group behavior has been a staple of sci-fi fandom since the first conventions in the late 1930s. Trekkies grew in number after the original series ended, but they were really just one more weird group in an era - the late '60s/early '70s - that specialized in crazy cults.