Vocal minorities tend to lead perception. It’s not necessarily because they are right, but because they are loud, consistent in message and sometimes the only mouthpiece. Lately however, that vox populi has taken its gripes and issues to an entirely new level; one that ridicules, mocks and bullies creators online, as well as posting critical and negative comments to anything and everything covering something that supposedly brings these fans great joy. All of these behaviors can easily be attached to countless fandoms currently occupying the zeitgeist, yet sadly it seems to have taken a firm hold on Star Trek, which is disappointing considering what the franchise represents.
Enthusiasts of Star Trek know the story all too well, how when the franchise debuted on September 8, 1966 with “The Man Trap”, viewers witnessed something they had never seen before on broadcast television – a diverse group of people working towards a common goal. What’s more, the crew of the starship Enterprise, or planet Earth as George Takei has explained, were not identified or labeled by their race or gender, but by their abilities. They were equal members of a crew that represented a better future with collaboration, personal fulfillment and the realization not to force their beliefs on other cultures and individuals.
Impressing his ideology of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC) on the masses, Gene Roddenberry continued to expand his notion of how humanity could behave in the future with each new Star Trek story in which he was associated. Conflict would no longer be something that would define people, nor would the acquisition of wealth. While the former made for boring dramatic storytelling according to some, it also gave humanity something in which to aspire; a team of individuals working as one to solve the unknown with “strength in unity.”
Ideas of a non-dystopian future and peaceful coexistence with others, as well as observing a brighter future while working towards the betterment of humanity, is the reason fans have allowed the franchise to endure for an unprecedented 50 years in popular culture. Imagine if a better future began today with that positive group of supporters, who celebrated Star Trek for what it means to them and shared their eagerness for the next new installment. Trekkies can still nitpick the details, but can do so without being rude and offensive – for instance, debating the way a piece of technology works or whether an event is canon in a constructive conversation. However, posting comments like “I won’t take my children to see Star Trek Beyond now that Sulu is gay” is not in the spirit of what Star Trek is, and should be, about.
Noting that humanity is “an incredible species” in his Hollywood Walk of Fame acceptance speech on September 4, 1985 (31 years ago), Roddenberry added, “we’re still just a child creature, we’re still being nasty to each other. And all children go through those phases. We’re growing up, we’re moving into adolescence now. When we grow up – man, we’re going to be something.” Inspirational words for sure. For evidence that humanity still has a ways to go one need only look at the current political climate assaulting our world – isolationism, bigotry, hate, all of which are perpetuated by the globe’s chosen leaders. It’s no wonder people are so negative.
Here is the rub however: Star Trek should offer relief from negativity and hate. Roddenberry’s vision is much more than mindless entertainment. While fans have every right to embrace Star Trek for what it means to them, it is still important to realize, understand and accept that ultimately Star Trek is about a philosophy of a positive future. Star Trek reveals a better way, and suggests that there are more intrinsic goals society can and should welcome.
Change begins within each individual towards that better way of life, while promoting respect to the world, its cultures and ideas. This is what defines Star Trek and is what Roddenberry aspired for in his franchise: instead of homogenization and jeering, acceptance and understanding should be the rule of thumb.
The implication that Star Trek fandom is the only community witnessing such behavior would be a misrepresentation . Detractors to Avengers: Age of Ultron attacked Joss Whedon on social media as well as chased a storyboard artist behind the popular Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe after her portrayal of LGBT characters. Time magazine even devoted attention to the toxic effect the vocal minority is having on all of fandom in a Joel Stein penned article.
I’m not suggesting that fans drink the Kool-Aid and accept everything the studios and networks have to offer. When art is in the public eye, consumers have every right to analyze and criticize it. But that does not mean those same acknowledged fans need to rip apart Rick Berman, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Fuller every time news of something they do not want to see is going to be included. IDIC is about embracing different ideas and cultures, and Star Trek is that vehicle in which people are exposed to those concepts.
Discussing Roddenberry’s code of IDIC at a recent press conference in Seoul where Star Trek Beyond was about to premiere, the film’s co-writer and star, Simon Pegg, discussed a future, “where we all live together with total tolerance, total acceptance. That should be our goal as a species.” While this objective seems to be one shared by most Star Trek fans, the vocal minority is the one that takes to the message boards to denigrate and disparage (especially recently with news of the next oppressed and poorly represented group in popular culture, the LGBT community, being included in the next iteration of Star Trek). Star Trek fans should be embracing these differences and allowing them to make the group stronger, not weaker.
Never has there been a better time to be a fan of popular culture, including Star Trek. Yet, with all the new material dropped in fans’ laps to absorb, and the ability to instantly and continuously make your voice heard on the Internet, fandom is more judgemental and more unwilling to allow the art to breathe and even exist. Instead fandom wants stories catered to them as individuals. Imagine if Roddenberry attempted to create Star Trek or The Next Generation today? Would he be one of the creators who would take a self-imposed exile away from the fans in which he was trying to connect? How would his vision change?
While this phenomenon is widespread across many fandoms, shouldn’t Star Trek stand for something more? Imagine if the Star Trek masses, not just the vocal minority, but all, descended upon the message boards to share their love and joy of Roddenberry’s vision – the negative voices would be drowned out by appreciation. In the end, negativity thrives on attention. Snuff out its air like oxygen to a flame, and there is nothing left. Sure, there will always be dissenters, but those proclamations will have less of an impact than they do today.
Imagine a Star Trek fandom that truly embraces the ideas that IDIC represents. Now that is something towards which all Star Trek fans should aspire. Hopefully one day all Star Trek fans will no longer define others by the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their gender, but instead by their accomplishments and character. But for now it appears the human adventure is still “just beginning”.