Las Vegas, the city of sin, excess, and desert heat; and the location for the 49th Star Trek Convention.
The guest list would make you excited even if you’re not a big Trekkie. Here’s a sample of the guests. They claim that next year will have over 100, for the 50th Anniversary.
William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, Alice Krige, George Takei, Kate Mulgrew, Joan Collins, Jeri Ryan, Olivia D’Abo, Walter Koenig, Michael Westmore, Tracee Cocco, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Tim Russ, Terry Farrell, Robert Picardo, Max Grodenchik, Denise Crosby, Ethan Phillips, Nicole de Boer, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Robert Beltran, Alexander Siddig, Rene Auberjonois, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, Bryan Fuller, and Brannon Braga.
I thought I was a fan. I know the characters from several TV series and films, I’ve watched some of it over and over again, I can quote lines, and remember certain episodes. Wil Wheaton was my spirit animal in TNG.
And then we went to Las Vegas and saw the most incredible display of fandom I’ve ever seen. In full costume. There’s nothing so surreal as walking through a Las Vegas casino, filled with smoking gamblers, only to bump into Darth Vader imagined as though the Borg had assimilated him. Or waiting in line for a taxi outside the Rio, with George Takei and his husband Brad, waiting in line behind us.
It was overwhelming in a lot of ways. There are only four days, and the main theatre can seat over 4000 people. It was packed for Shatner and Takei’s respective appearances. From an actor’s point of view, I can see why they do it.
The lines for the photo ops and autographs were crazy. Sir Patrick Stewart was selling his scribble for $150 a pop. Shatner was selling his ten-second photo op for $100. These conventions make it worth their while to come out, while seeing their fan base, making them seem more approachable.
Aside from the gross commercialism on display, it was evident that this community of fans has built up a friendship over the years. Three generations of Trekkies travelling together to meet their favourite actors (we met Alice Krige, Jeri Ryan, Kate Mulgrew, Shatner and Takei, for instance), and generally a friendly atmosphere of people who love something so much, that they will keep it going for years to come.
All from a television show that originally only lasted three seasons! That for me is the most remarkable thing about it. Fifty years after Star Trek’s first pilot episode, thousands of people converge on the Rio hotel in the middle of the desert, in 105 degrees (I’m using Fahrenheit here because it’s ‘MURICA).
William Shatner touched on it during his appearance, saying that the community is a really big part of why the convention exists, that everyone aspires to embrace the ideals of living harmoniously in the future.
We attended another panel, where the guests spoke about the Smithsonian’s restoration of the Starship Enterprise original model. The museum has a new display, dedicated to the history of flight, and a fictional television show’s shooting model, incomplete on one side, is being treated with the same reverence and respect as a legitimate piece of aviation history.
That’s the impact of Star Trek. Not the cheesy dialogue, not William Shatner’s delivery (though if you watch carefully, he hardly ever blinks on camera as Kirk), and not the really horrible storylines of TNG’s first season. It’s a cultural touchstone that lets us look forward, hopeful of the future when the world is going mad around us, recognising that humans are only a small part of the universe.