Star Trek, Fandom, and Mythos: The Themed Convention

Curator's Note

Star Trek represents modern myth, and as such it legitimizes fan participation in numerous activities, particularly themed conventions. Myth explains the meaning which fans have assigned to both Star Trek and the archetype characters it has createdStar Trek acts as a secular myth for contemporary times by providing cultural symbols and meanings that serve as a model for the formation of a distinct subculture. Themed conventions represent the way in which fans come together to more fully participate in the myth, solidifying the place Trek holds in their daily lives, and allowing for the continued evolution of a vibrant subculture. 1

Myth acts as a model for all aspects of human behavior, all cultural practices, and ultimately assigns value to life. The Trek myth is quite real to members of fandom, and like all myth, it is subject to continued reinterpretation on the individual level at varying points in time by the believers in the myth.  Despite this, it is possible to identify core meanings in Star Trek. The utopian future, concept of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), and the humanistic study of the humanity are ideals shared across fandom. Star Trek is a futuristic portal, allowing fans to learn from the past, make changes in the present, and strive for a Trek future. Fans have found compatibility between the messages of Trek and personal beliefs, incorporating the myth into their daily lives with ease. 2

Themed conventions provide a platform for understanding the utilization of myth. Fans gather and translate the myth into a cultural binding force, legitimizing their subculture. Fans agree that participation is required, that the myth must be experienced.  Fans participate in the myth in several ways.  They create alien personas, take on the persona of their favorite Trek character or species group with whom they identify with ideologically, collect merchandise for the purposes of owning a piece of the myth, perform songs and plays, and seek out their favorite actors in order to complete the meeting of the myth experience. These conventions allow fans to escape the constraints of contemporary society and fulfill their desire to exist in and experience the utopian future of Star Trek.

Star Trek Conventions offer an arena for fans to share their interpretations concerning stories and characters and to more fully participate in the myth. Convention participation strengthens the place of myth in their daily lives. Star Trek as modern myth possesses the power to bring meaning to life and to transform life according to all patterns inherent in myth. Themed conventions are a celebration of that power and of the desire of fans to harness that power to change their world.

Notes

1. For more on myth and the anthropological perspective, see, Claude L`evi – Strauss, Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture.  1979. Shocken Books. New York; Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women: Television, Fandom, and the Creation of Popular Myth. 1992. University of Pennsylvania Press; Wendy Doniger, Other People’s Myths: The Cave of Echoes, 1988. Macmillan. New York. Bronislaw Malinowski, “Myth in Primitive Psychology”, In Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays.1992 [1948]. Waveland Press. Illinois.

2. For more on Star Trek and fandom, see, Peter J. Claus, “A Structuralist Appreciation of Star Trek”, In The American Dimension. Montegue and Arens, editors. 1976. Alfred Publishing. New York; Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. 1992. Routledge. London and New York; John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Dr. Who and Star Trek. 1995. Routledge. London and New York.

Comments

Ian Peters's picture

Modern Myths and Fan Practices

Great piece, Daryl. In a very small space you manage to condense an effective and indepth discussion of Star Trek, as well as the specific aspects of it that inspire fan activities. The notion of mythology and the desire to incorporate its aspects into their own lives is an interesting concept - particularly with a program like Star Trek. The video segment you have selected presents us with a nice selection of visual examples depicting these acts of fandom at conventions.

In regards to conventions, it is always interesting when fans of various programs converge in more generalized gatherings (like Dragon*Con or Comic-Con) and see how expansive many of these practices are. In a soley-Star Trek convention, it would be interesting to see statistics surrounding which characters/aliens tend to be more frequently chosen. I seem to remember a discussion during one of the panels at the 40th Anniversary Trek convention in Las Vegas where people noticed that Cardassians and Vorta tend not to appear as frequently as Klingons, Vulcans, Human Starfleet Officers, and even Andorians.  Do you think that there are certain practical/budgetary restrictions that limit fans from exploring certain characters, or is it because fans don’t identify with those races/characters as much?

Daryl G. Frazetti's picture

Thank you Ian.  To respond to

Thank you Ian. 

To respond to your question, I don’t know to what extent budget is a concern to fans. I have seen some elaborate Borg costuming as well. But I do feel there are reasons why we see more of a particular group than another being represented in costuming.  

Fans are tied to their mainstream cultures and bring that identity with them, as well as their own individuality. That individuality is seeking out something they are lacking perhaps in their own lives, or that they feel may be lacking in mainstream culture.  They want to connect with not only the progressive myth messages of Trek, but are seeking out even deeper meanings that can enhance their lives, and perhaps the lives of those they interact with daily in mainstream culture.  

I have heard many fans state they identify with the beliefs of Klingons or Vulcans. They are attracted to "honor" or "logic".  They see themselves or they see what they would like to be in these groups and characters.  In order to better incorporate this into their lives, they dress as those characters / groups with which they feel such a connection.   They find a sense of security and a sense of self improvement which is often also applied to what they may do at home, the community, or on the job.

Fans are doing far more than participating with the Trek myth, they are participating in the cultures and the myths of those cultures with which they feel a stronger connection. These are what I refer to often as sub- narratives.  All groups combined represent the main, progressive , narrative, while maintaining their own, sub-narratives or the stories of each culture in Trek.

 

 

Curtis Webster's picture

IDENTITY CHOICES

Daryl:

Well, as usual, you and I are pretty much on the same page even though we come at this from different directions and disciplines.  I am intrigued by Ian’s question on why we choose what characters to emulate.  Do we go with like-minded characters and alien species or do we allow something hidden within ourselves to come out?  Why do the aggressive Klingons seem to produce such a resonance with fans who otherwise seem mild-mannered and law-abiding?  Certain characters or species appear consitently to push Jungian archetype buttons and it might make for a fascinating psychological analysis to see how different fans assimilate those archetypes.

Curtis

Daryl G. Frazetti's picture

Yes Curtis, we are pretty

Yes Curtis, we are pretty well on the same page. I believe we are actually on the same page. Yes, we do come from different disciplines, however you are not merely coming from a purely religious perspective, or that of a religious leader. You are coming from a more religious scholar perspecitve, one which has a good deal of social science grounding.  I find that to be the most intriguing aspect of how you view Trek and fandom.   We , you and I , seem to have been converging to this point from two different backgrounds, which is also intriguing.  I think that alone legitimizes Trek as myth, more appropriately, progressive myth.   

I would certainly expand on what I had posted to Ian.  I beleive humans do consciously and subconsciously hide aspects of their identies as they fear rejection in society.  This is the reason we can list an infinite number of subcultures globally.  Trek allows for expression of these aspects of human personas that are not normally allowed to be expressed.  It is indeed an attraction to a sub-narrative in that particular groups / characters are chosen to identify with and emmulate, but also I would agree that there is that need to full express one’s "true self" so to speak, which is often prohibited in mainstream society.  

I also agree with both you and Ian in that further study is certainly needed to determine which groups are more often identified with and which characters the most emmulated, the fans assimilating archetypes.

David Gregory's picture

Thanks to DF

 Thanks, Daryl, for an interesting post and clip.

I’m really enjoying the interplay of comments among this week’s curators; what a great week!

DG

Daryl G. Frazetti's picture

Thanks David!  Had a great

Thanks David!  Had a great time doing this!  Glad I finally had life settle enough where I could get in and do some posting myself!  

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