You may be wondering what I could possibly mean from the title, but this relates to one of my favourite franchises, though you might have encountered in something else. It is the idea of the ‘true fan’; a notion I find all too similar to ‘true faith’. The fanaticism on display is frighteningly similar. A case in point being Star Trek: Discovery.
I am a long-time Trekkie. I am a complete and utter geek and I don’t care who knows it. Star Trek first came into my life via my mother, a first generation Trekkie, so I am a proud second-generation fan (my eight year-old daughter is so far, completely uninterested, though she is wearing me down with My Little Pony). My earliest memory of properly watching Star Trek comes in the form of The Next Generation: sitting on the sofa with my mum and catching the very first episode, ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, which kick-started my love affair. It’s possible (in fact it’s a certainty) that I’d seen The Original Series and some of the movies beforehand, but my memories are fuzzy and I may not have understood them for what they really were. Once I was properly immersed in The Next Generation I was able to fully appreciate The Original Series; from there, I took in Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Strength in Diversity
Star Trek taught me many life lessons: we are better off when we work together; war is something to avoid; different cultures and societies can not only co-exist, but thrive together. There is also no reason to wield race, ethnicity, sex/gender or religion as weapons against one another, or as excuses to discriminate. As the internet blossomed into a means of chatting to fans all over the world, I was blown away by how many others felt the same way. Alongside all of that came stories that weren’t afraid to hit you with political and social messages, something that Star Trek has become famous for. There was also a great deal of interesting science fantasy (important note here, I am not one of those fans who considers Star Trek scientifically factual – a few nuggets here and there, but largely, completely inaccurate), which ignited a passion for the stars and planets – and there was a darker side to it all.
Embrace it All?
It would not be a stretch to say that with so many different varieties of Star Trek, not all of it would appeal to everyone. I for one, did not warm to Enterprise, whilst the last few years of Voyager felt like a slog to sit through. Discovery was slow to start off, though it did grow on me, but as with any genre that introduces new elements there won’t be harmony within the fan base. When I used to post on the now-defunct Star Trek.com forums, there would be people who insisted Enterprise should be watched by every fan, out of loyalty and in order to keep Star Trek on air. My personal view was, why would I watch something I felt was of poor quality and hurting the franchise, especially in order to keep it on air?
On the flip-side, when J.J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek movie laid out its stall of an alternate timeline, there were fans on the forum who were outraged at the film’s mere existence. They also took it as a sign that the rest of the shows would suddenly mean nothing and be scrubbed from canon, as it were (which was never the case, but arguing the point was futile). My humble view? The 2009 movie took a franchise that was dead on its feet and got people talking about it again – to the point where two more movies would follow and a new TV series. It did exactly what it intended to do. Of course, not everyone liked it and the Kelvin-timeline movies (as they have come to be known) have had the difficult job of trying to appeal to existing fans whilst getting new fans in as well, something that is never easy. The problem begins when some ‘fans’ try to force other fans into liking or disliking something, condemning those who disagree as ‘not worthy’.
I’ve searched for the best way to describe the problem of self-anointed gatekeepers in the Star Trek fandom. I think I can sum up it up very simply: they have opinions they feel should be regarded as fact. In their personal headcanon, Discovery isn’t a part of the Star Trek continuity, it’s a full reboot. Some even go a step further, couching this in quasi-religious terms – ‘true Trek‘ is one term I have seen used to describe the ‘Prime’ timeline, yet the hidden meaning is in fact, quite obvious – replace ‘Trek‘ with ‘faith’ and you have the argument of a religious fanatic. These same gatekeepers will use colourful terms like ‘civil war’ to suggest the fandom is fractured and that Discovery is the cause. The reality? Neither case is true. This all boils down to opinion and the mysterious idea that some opinions count for more than others. Already this strange idea of gatekeeping is threatening to poison the well (before the well has even been built) in respect of Sir Patrick Stewart’s announcement of a new Trek series involving Jean-Luc Picard. It is baffling that a show constructed around ideals of cooperation, diversity, tolerance and kindness can produce fans who somehow manage to miss all of that.
If you’re a gatekeeper and reading this, I’ll leave you with this final thought – if you are using the abbreviation STD to describe Discovery, despite being fully aware that no other Star Trek series has been referred to as ‘ST’ anything, then perhaps you are contributing to the problem, rather than helping it.