On Saturday, I went on a fan pilgrimage with Patrick Presto– we took a trip to the Paley Center to visit their new exhibition, “Transported: Paley Center Salutes 50 Years of Star Trek”. Although I have many friends who are Trekkies, I’ve never been one for the series myself. I’ve seen two of the new movies (and don’t like them very much) and a handful of episodes from the Next Generation, but to call me a fan would be a stretch. I’m reasonably capable of pretending to be a fan– Presto accused me of being one after I recognized a Tribble– but genuine fandom is beyond me.
With the new TV series coming out, though, I’m somewhat interested in being a fan– Bryan Fuller will be the showrunner, and I’m a big fan of his work. I thought it would be a good time to immerse myself in some Trek fandom.
The Paley Center’s celebration encompassed more or less every type of fan activity, but we would take part of only a few. The bulk of the exhibit revolved around content making: the Paley had 50 pieces of fan art on display on the first floor.
Kids who visit the Paley could take part in Star Trek related arts and crafts: we walked by some kids creating Trek hand puppets out of paper bags.
The Paley also had some evangelization events: not necessarily of Trek specifically– being a fan of Trek is almost assumed of its visitors– but we narrowly missed a roundtable discussion of which Trek captain is the best. That’s classic fan evangelization for each Trek captain. Although no rituals were created at the exhibit– as far as I knew– rituals were sustained during it, including the classic greetings of the Vulcan salute.
The Paley, as any museum would, also had a Trek-related gift shop. Presto and I failed to buy anything. No performative consumption was done; no posters were signed by the artists present.
More than anything else, though, the Paley exhibition was a pilgrimage, and a pilgrimage we went on. We have the pictures and video to prove it.
(This is apparently a boomarang. I don’t understand apps nowadays.)
Observing all of the fan art in general did not trigger very many fan feelings in itself– I didn’t think that Trek fandom was a utopia, nor did I feel belonging. I sensed a bit of social hierarchy within the fan group: fans who could produce such art are at the top of the social chain and I, mere mortal, appear below them. Observing the credit panels for the fan art triggered a different feeling though: the classic Trek feelings of utopia came about, because the fan artists came from all sorts of backgrounds and from everywhere in the world. Anybody could be a Trekkie, and they could all belong in this gallery.
I didn’t feel belonging though, so I tried to engage in a bit of socialization by talking to people in the gallery about some of the art (as well as Patrick, but since we were both outside observers it didn’t feel like a fan interaction.) What did people think of the art? Could they please explain this cryptic art to me? Nobody was able to explain the vulcan head giving birth to a baby vulcan to me (I unfortunately neglected to take pictures of this), so I didn’t feel fanlike feelings about this socialization. Just discomfort about a fan culture that could produce such art.
On the other hand, the kids making their paper bag puppets felt like a utopia again. There was a lot of mixed feelings.
Patrick and I then attended a session to teach the audience how to speak Klingon– engaging in a mass attempt at impersonation. A speaker from the Klingon Language Institute, Elizabeth Lawrence Faber, handed out pamphlets on Klingon grammar and taught us some of the basics.
I tried earnestly to pronounce some of the words, but couldn’t produce the guttural noises despite my efforts. I honestly felt like I didn’t belong: people, including a particularly clever little boy, would ask insightful questions about Klingon and Trek that wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. They’d pronounce things better than I could, and overall seemed more engaged– Patrick and I were both falling asleep during parts of the session. Plus, the introductory video was far from utopic nor welcoming: it was footage of Klingons spying on the Federation, and doing ill (as far as I could tell.)
Furthermore, at the end of the session, I felt the social stigma deeply: our instructor ended by trying to lead us in singing a Klingon lullaby.
It was awkward. Nobody else was confident enough in their Klingon to try it, and she wasn’t singing on tune. Ending with this session left my visit on a sour note: I thought Trek was sorta cool during the fanart, but the Klingon lesson just reminded me of the time and effort that I could not see myself devoting to the fandom.
The cereal was cool, though.
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