October 22, 2019

Not a Fan — a declaration of independence

Superhero summer has blasted down among us once again. The past weekend saw some 43,000 Florida Supercon attendees at the Miami Beach Convention Center (established in 2006, it's the largest comic-con-like convention in South Florida). Next week's San Diego Comic-con (the original, harking back to 1970) is already sold out to over 130,000 fans.

While each of these fantasy culture conventions also feature a handful of Star Trek alumni, the 14th annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, coming in August and perhaps the most fanatically attended, boasts 100 Trek celebrities! Organizers say plans are already in the works for official conventions in four cities next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the franchise. And the fans just keep on coming …

Yes, Star Trek fans continue to attend the annual Las Vegas convention, and hundreds of others like it, in record-breaking numbers each year. It's a celebrated American hegira of sorts — not unlike diehard Billy Joel groupies who used to follow his concerts from state to state or “metal head” devotees of heavy metal bands.

My first exposure to the craziness of fandom was back in the '60s when Beatlemania hit our shores and suddenly all my 12-year-old gal pals opted to spend their Sunday mornings behind closed doors…. Pasting pictures into Beatle scrap books, trading Beatle cards, and arguing whether Paul or John was cutest and which of the fab four they'd marry. As if!

Even back then, I considered such idol worship a total waste of free time, and fresh air. I soon abandoned this starry-eyed contingent in disgust to roam the park or, if it rained, lose myself in a good book. And I continue to shake my head in wonder at such single-minded fan devotion to this day.

Apparently, so does William Shatner whose lifetime career was launched by Star Trek and whose 2012 documentary about Trekkies and their conventions, wryly titled, “Get a Life!” re-aired recently. As we seem to be living in an age where nerdiness (as personified by the runaway hit TV show The Big Bang Theory) is considered the new cool, proud Trekkies — or, um, the more serious “Trekkers” — are coming out of the closet in record numbers. And they are flocking to events that celebrate their identification with the fictional series and its extraterrestrial cast.

They credit Star Trek with giving their lives meaning. A common annual goal is to attend a convention catering to their fanaticism where they can revel freely in a pool of the like-minded. Not surprisingly, for many this pool has served as the perfect matchmaking universe; and newly launched couples are often seen returning, after a few years, with (a favorite pun) their “Next Generation” in tow.

The Joseph Campbell Foundation's president, Robert Walter, explained fan-naticism as an intrinsic human spiritual need for hero worship and the desire to identify with higher beings. In this case, Star Trek “saints” are haloed with the show's optimistic message of a more enlightened future.

The God Gene author Dean Hamer, who claims evolution has hardwired us into believing in a higher power, further confirms why so many choose to worship Star Trek figures, music idols, sports stars and — I'd even add to this list — Apple product loyalists. (Why else devote an entire day to camping out in front of an Apple store each year to buy the latest iPhone?)

More prosaic individuals, like myself, may see such rabid dedication as an absurd waste of time … but so what? If the philosophy behind Star Trek relays a positive message, where is the harm? It's not as if celebrating music, sports, or even a love of gadgets actually hurts anyone. If that's what makes your world go round, who am I to complain?

For a while, as long as I wasn't being pressured to conform to another's passion (even if fans gave me dirty looks for my total lack of interest), I figured that was OK … to each his own. Listening to Walter's social analysis of the Star Trek phenomenon was great, for it finally gave me an explanation for what I, at least, considered to be all this weirdness around me.

But then the true danger of our apparently human need for idol worship struck like, yeah, a bolt of lightening from “on high.” Evil leaders have tapped into this weakness in the past, I realized — from Attila to Hitler to Osama bin Laden. The church that grew from the mythology around a simple shepherd named Jesus into an obscenely wealthy, and often perverted, fiefdom is yet another global example of what can happen when self-interest groups of any sort enlist the hidden power of our “God gene.” There was al-Qaeda; now we have Islamic State. And a bare-chested and proud Vladimir Putin as daily proof that Western leaders can still get away with plunder and murder by inspiring homeland adulation.

I realize I may be asking the impossible — “antifans,” as myself, being natural non-joiners. And it would surely be impractical — as we are each “our own leader,” there would never be one singular individual to follow. But independent thinkers do need to band together in some way to expose the often-subliminal dangers inherent in hero worship of all kinds, and then act as a counterbalance to the easily swayed.

I'm calling on all those who don't dream of posing for selfies with a famous actor or sports figure, who collect ideas not autographs, who don't advertise brand names on their clothes and electronic devices … and only care that they do the job. We need to stay alert, to maintain our vigil against all mainstream joiners and fans whose generally harmless need for idolatry can, in the blink of an eye, be redirected into a dangerous direction.

It is up to us antifans to put the brakes on and remind everyone that humanity's ultimate god is our individuality. True independence may be lonely but, first and foremost, we must look for heroes within ourselves.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

Follow Mindy's essays of biting social commentary at: “>https://askmamaglass.wordpress.com