I'm going to preface this article with a warning: I don't know a lot about Star Trek. I respect it, I do the Vulcan salute more than I'd like to admit, and I'm a big fan of the Family Guy spoof episode. But other than that, well, I had to Google U.S.S. Enterprise, to give you some idea of my ignorance.
I found two Star Trek fans through a Facebook post where I begged for someone to step forward and let me in on the Trekkie secret. How do I become one? Do I have it in me? And, most importantly, is it too late to get in on the action? As all true Trekkies know, my gracious new friends assured me that it's never too late to be a fan.
Star Trek fans are the real deal — heck, they're the only sci-fi fans that have their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are even two documentaries dedicated to this legion of super fans: Trekkies and Trekkies 2. I figured the best place to start is at the beginning, so I watched some of Trekkies before interviewing Charleston's Star Trek Fans. The genuine, sincere love of the sci-fi franchise befuddled me, and I needed to talk to real people to see if this crazy love was actually real.
Travis Lyon, a local product specialist for Hubbell Lighting and self-proclaimed Star Trek fan says, "Star Trek is my most beloved intellectual property." This guy means business.
Lyon has a degree in electrical engineering, and it was Star Trek's attention to technical details that first lured him into the franchise. "A lot of stuff in Star Trek has become a reality. Sci-fi is based in fact," he says. But it was Star Trek's message that kept Lyon coming back for more. "People work together to better themselves," he says. "It's cool to see what we're capable of if we're not trying to kill each other."
Lyon is not alone in his love for the franchise. Michael Clayton, a local comedian, has been watching Star Trek since he was about 10 years old. "I would catch various episodes out of sequence," he says. "As a result, I became a fan." And he's not just a follower of the various TV shows — he says that Star Trek films are some of his favorites (there are 12 movies in all, with No. 13, Star Trek Beyond, coming out this July).
Clayton emphasizes that following a series in chronological order isn't necessarily the most important facet of the Star Trek universe. Rather, like Lyon, Clayton stresses the importance of the show's message. "As you get older, you notice the social commentary. It discusses racism and politics. It's more thoughtful than other sci-fi," he says.
When it comes to other sci-fi, I have to ask Clayton about Star Wars. Is there beef between fans? Can you like both? Clayton admits that he loves Star Wars, too, but that the films are more of an escapist indulgence. "Star Trek always puts society under a microscope," he says.
Clayton also says that some areas of fandom have died down in recent years. "Viewing parties have been killed by the fact that it's on Netflix," he says. But he adds that movie releases are still fun, and while he doesn't go full-on cosplay, he does like to bring some inside jokes to his attire. "I wore a red shirt [to a movie premiere]. In Star Trek if you wear red, you're gonna get killed. It's a running joke," he laughs. And now I'm in on it too.
While Clayton downplays his Trekkie memorabilia, Lyon is shameless about his. It's hard not to be when you receive a model spaceship twice a month. "They're made by the people who originally designed the show's ships. They're very high quality," Lyon says. He currently has about 40 ships, and when it's all said and done, he plans to display 100 ships in his house, which raises the question: How does your wife feel about all of this?
Lyon's wife, Karen, had never seen Star Trek before meeting Travis, and even after almost 10 years together, she's kept her distance from her husband's first great love. But after getting Lyon a remastered DVD set of Star Trek: The Next Generation for Christmas, she slowly started to watch the series. "Now we can have conversations about the characters," Lyon happily announces. "She didn't expect to get into it as much as she did."
That said, there's a fine line between fan and fanatic. An ongoing lawsuit proves that the Federation isn't all utopian bliss: Paramount Pictures is currently suing Axanar Productions, which crowdfunded a fan-made Star Trek film, Axanar, for copyright infringement. Whoops.
I feel like I should pick a side on this debate, what with my newfound Star Trek knowledge. But I can't quite muster the energy to feel one way or another about some silly lawsuit — aren't there bigger things going on? It's like when Lyon talks about light travel, "It's about exploring the unknown. What can humanity do?"
And my mind is racing, wondering how much awesome I've missed all these years by not letting Star Trek help me answer that question. I'm still a Star Trek newbie, but I think I'm starting to get all the hype. I've found a new world, like when humans first meet Vulcans. Says Lyon, "Once people realize they're not alone, it changes everything."