ICK searches for meaning

Tue, 28 Nov 2000 09:08:36


"More Vital Observations from the Oracle of Complaints"


Tonight's episode: #8 - "A Communion of Geeks"



Under attack this month:

TREKKIES, Monotheism, procrastination, etc.


Hi folks. Been a while...been married, traveling, struggling and burnt out; been worrying about the future, panicking about money and wondering how I'm supposed to be satisfied with my life once I get it. My car died its final death - an event I'd hoped to incorporate into my next no-budget film - and I had to postpone the movie shoot to get the corpse off the street, raise more money and get my life together. I barely see my friends anymore and my brain has again turned to mush through disuse. I might blame married life for my dilemma, but I've felt this way on and off for five years and I've only known my wife for two. Marriage is mostly great, in fact. Everything else has a lot of catching up to do.

Yet time lurches on and civilization pisses me off every step of the way. We're racing into an era wherein every city block looks the same and the only difference between holidays is the shape of the cookies. Myths used to be the voice of collective experience projecting our deepest knowledge of ourselves onto a magnifying canvas - or so it seems in hopeful retrospect - and now our common visions are commercial messages that give us a universal inner language with a focus on hamburgers and shampoo. If we had set out deliberately to replace our dreams with compulsions sold to the highest bidder, we could not have done any better than we already have.

So, hungry for community, a vision of truth and a fulfilling use of my time, I go out to rent more videos and share my arrogant observations as if I were staring into the crystal ball of true societal fortune. Am I doing something wrong?



Imagine that you had spent the last ten years living on the recently discovered mainland of Planet Earth, no longer a citizen of your former continent but still an outsider amidst the warbling blue tentacle-creatures native to this newfound place who have only distant knowledge of a language called "English" or the humans primative enough to speak it. (For some reason, you've been able to pass for one of *them* so far, which probably speaks well for nobody.) Now, imagine you sit with your lovely (if tentacled) wife and your adored (blue) mother-in-law watching a documentary about the beasts who speak English and walk on legs - in *public* - and do so without regard for the shame or hilarity of their actions. The film would reveal a world of aliens...in front of the camera, behind it, gathered together to point and laugh...and to be pointed and laughed at.

Well, that's what I recently experienced watching "Trekkies" with my wife Aidan and her mother in the in-laws' Missouri home. The film documents an eccentric subculture of rabid Star Trek fans, following several dedicated souls through the stations of grand obsession, from the trading of merchandise to the proud wearing of Starfleet uniforms and Klingon costumes in everyday life. My companions - my *wife* - observed the strange creatures with distant, horrified fascination. Yet in watching tribes of Klingons lumber down suburban streets, in hearing ordinary citizens use an imagined starfleet rank to describe their own hard-earned place in society, I knew I was watching my own eccentric brethren; I knew I was witnessing a reflection of myself.

And so I'm tempted to offer a warning, geeks and muggles: IF YOU ARE A GEEK, DO NOT WATCH "TREKKIES" IN THE PRESENCE OF THOSE WHO DID NOT GROW UP WATCHING STAR TREK. The deepest oceans of mutual understanding between fans and non-fans will part like the Red Sea during this well-balanced documentary...you think high school was alienating? Try to explain the appeal of a three-day weekend spent in a precisely accurate Federation uniform to someone who's never even seen the original show. Those who grok Star Trek will see in this film an endearing glimpse into an intelligent, evolving subculture; those not of the body will be convinced that syndicated television has spread the culture's most irritating brain disease. And there will be little reconciliation between these two views, for both are correct.

Don't get me wrong. Star Trek fanatics are just as capable of pointing and laughing as anybody else; they just focus their energies on other subclasses of uniformed nerds...heavy-metal fans, perhaps, or yuppies. Every subculture, in fact, is a hall of mirrors: the inside offers a vital, insular refuge to those who need it, while the outsiders see only their own safety as all enthusiasm and transcendent vision is concealed behind a shroud of "normal behavior". Adversity only works to reinforce this dynamic...if you make fun of a Star Trek fanatic, she'll just struggle to improve her costume. (Note: same goes for punk rockers, heavy-metal fans and young professionals in suit and sunglasses.)

All that said, this documentary offers something for every viewer to scoff at, from whole families in Star Fleet uniform to weeks-long courses in conversational Klingon, a recently invented language that might have been called "Attack Yiddish" for its assortment of hard K's and angry "gch" sounds. Non-trekkies can make fun of those who pay huge auction prices for ridged Klingon headpieces made of latex; dedicated enthusiasts can still chuckle at the lost souls who embrace Star Trek's codes of conduct as a personal religion; and even those committed eccentrics may shrug at the weirdos who carry tricorders to work and consider the Star Trek uniform dignified attire for any formal occasion. They had to wind up somewhere, and they did.

Anyway, no need to argue; Star Trek fans who do wear the uniform mostly do it because it's fun, and most people wouldn't know fun if it waddled up and smacked them with a dork mallet. Yes, something is clearly wrong when Amnesty International can't drum up support for tortured political prisoners while TV show cancellations are challenged by campaigns of activists from across the nation. But then...we all need our passions.

So, here's an alienating thought: what if we recognized that all that stuff that each of us do everyday *is* our religion, while those procedures that require a church and a crowd are mostly just community outreach? There are certainly worse religions than Star Trek fanaticism; their guns, after all, are made of plastic and they organize mostly for purposes of autograph collecting. If it's the whole vacuous direction of our culture that needs to be re-thought, then let the re-thinking begin; many Trekkies would say they're among those doing the work. Many others would interrupt with a Klingon obscenity and get on with their goofy lives while the weekend is still young.

Meanwhile, the search for significance in our lives and actions goes on. Pretty much a waste of time for me to ramble on about it, in fact: another prayer service in the church of procrastination. Mass is ended. Go in peace.


Copyright 2000 Betsy Shebang


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