Fan Phenomena, Star Trek – A Book Review

by Sanja Döttling 

Fan Phenomena is a book series published by Intellect. The website states, ‘The series aims to ‘decode’ cult subjects in terms of the appeal and far reaching connections each of them have in becoming part of popular culture’. Presently six volumes have been released, covering fan cultures including Star Wars, Batman and Doctor Who.

The volume, Fan Phenomena, Star Trek, edited by Bruce E. Drushel offers a look into the fan culture surrounding Star Trek and its influence on popular culture and other fandoms.

The first chapter by Elizabeth Thomas sees Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon. It gives a short overview over the most important happenings in the history of the Star Trek fandom.

After the historic point of view in the first chapter, the second concentrates on more recent events; the movie Star Trek XI (2009). The author, Catherine Coker, argues that the movie updates the story and highlights contemporary problems of loss.

In the third chapter, Editor Bruce E. Drushel describes the relationship between the LGTBQ fans and the producers. LGBTQ fans have fought for decades to be recognised in the Star Trek canon. While Star Trek has always been a contemporary model for treating questions of race; gay people were and still are absent from the Star Trek universe.

Chapter four, written by Michael Boynton, examines the closer relationship between fans and theatre performances. Boynton talks about the “Trek in the Park”, which stages episodes of Star Trek in public parks. This chapter shows the unique bond and the community that can form during a live performance.

Fans form another kind of community online. In chapter five Kimberly L. Kulovitz links the theory of computer-meditated communication, developed by Joseph Walter, to two Star Trek discussion boards.

In chapter six author Bianca Springs collected quotes from “satellite fans”; who she defines as fans that enjoy Star Trek privately but do not participate in the active community.

Paul Booth has a closer look at the parodic movies Fanboys and Galaxy Quest in chapter seven. He takes the notion of “hyperreality”, developed by Jean Baudrillard, and links it to the disguised stereotypical treatment of Star Trek Fans in both movies.

The gay actor George Takei has been confronted with stereotypes on his Facebook page. Nathan Thompson and Kenneth Huyuh show in chapter eight how the Star Trek actor uses his diverse fan-group to initiate discussions about topics such as race and sexuality.

The last chapter of the book, written by Charles Evans Jones, analyses the Borg’s philosophy of assimilation.

Review:

Intellect describes the series as below:

“We are fully aware that these are not meant to be comprehensive, weighty tomes on the subject – rather a series of ‘handy’ books that each include a fascinating collection of essays which explore a particular area or aspect of the subject’s ‘universe’ in each chapter”.

The series makes academic essays accessible for a greater audience; purist academics may be disappointed.

The essays in the Star Trek volume were all shorter than academic journal articles. One could argue that the shortening of

the essays deprives them of depth and thoughtfulness. Although short, the essays express their interpretation in a convincing manner. Throughout the book, the essays are well structured and encapsulate the essence of the topic in a simple and appropriate style. Even though the style and length of the essays differ from academic standards, all authors are academics. They developed surprising links between theory and practice and contributed well-researched articles.

Catherine Coker’s essay about the new Star Trek movie highlights the most recent development in the fandom. While academic literature is rarely up to date, this short essay offers an insight into new research territory.

Chapter Six, a collection of quotes from more passive “satellite fans”, is one of the weaker chapters. It does not analyse the subject matter; it is merely an accumulation of quotes. However, this chapter offers some unfiltered opinions that help understanding the way fans celebrate their fandom. Still, the topic of “satellite fans” requires further research.

Booth’s analysis of the treatment of Star Trek Fans in parody is maybe the most interesting theoretical article. The notion of “hyperreality” makes readers more aware of the way in which fans are portrayed in media. A more negative presentation of one fan group can hide the stereotypical or unproportional treatment of another group. As a consequence, readers – or fans – can better understand stereotypical portrayals in media texts.

Résumé: 

The book Star Trek published in the series “Fan Phenomena” is a wonderful piece of work that offers fans and interested readers new and interesting insights to one of the most powerful fandoms. The book takes an academic standpoint without losing itself in long, complicated explanations and reasoning. It is fresh, up-to-date and closes the gap between the ordinary fan and the academic universe just a little bit more.

 

picture: flickr/jdhancock (CC BY 2.0)

front cover: copyright by Intellect

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