Star Trek Fandom, Camille Bacon-Smith and Me

This essay was written in response to a reading assignment for my “Science Fiction and American Culture” class. We read Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth by Camille Bacon-Smith.

December in the late 1980s. My two bellydancing friends/teachers and I were total Star Trek: Next Generation fans!

December in the late 1980s. My two bellydancing friends/teachers and I were total STNG fans!


For those of you who think a writer is someone who gets his name on books, let me assure you that is an “author.” A “writer” is a hapless devil who cannot keep himself from putting every vagrant thought he has ever had down on paper. I am a writer. I write. That’s what I do. I do a lot of it.

— Harlan Elison, Afterward for “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World”, Dangerous Visions

In the book Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, Camille Bacon-Smith looks at, describes and tries to explain a segment of Star Trek fans. This segment is predominately female and writes about the characters from the series in ways that some think are not “in character” for those characters. Writing (and creating in general) is the focal point of the community. Through writing about Star Trek, its characters, and its “universe,” members of the community can share a common base of knowledge, share their feelings about life and discover who they are.

This is what I found most interesting about Bacon-Smith’s book — the way that writing served as a tool for self-discovery. In the spirit of FIAWOL — fandom is a way of life — one can say that writing is also a way of life. Journal writing has often been recommended as a way of helping people sort through difficult times, understand their dreams, and, for writers, a way to practice and to develop ideas. I get the impression that fan fiction is something like an elaborate form of public journal writing.

In the quote that opened this reaction paper, Harlan Elison makes the distinction between an author and a writer. The fans discussed in Enterprising Women are writers, some may go on to be authors as well, but they are writers.

In a way, I speak from experience. I am a writer. I have been writing since I learned how — and I’ve kept at least 95% of all that I’ve written. Writing is such an integral part of my life, that I’ve compartmentalized my journal. I have my daily journal, my writer’s journal and on occasion, I have my dream journal. I not only collect everything I’ve written but all the in-between drafts so that I can go back and look at the development of the stories I’ve written.

At the beginning of the semester, I referred to myself as a “closet Trekkie.” Reading Enterprising Women, and the essays by Constance Penley and Henry Jenkins III, helped me discover what I really meant by that. Jenkins, in his essay “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten,” says “one becomes a ‘fan’ not by being a regular viewer of a particular program but by translating that viewing into some kind of cultural activity, by sharing feelings and thoughts about the program content with friends, by joining a ‘community’ of other fans who share common interests.”

After reading Enterprising Women, I figured that I wasn’t a fan — which made me feel good. I’m very uncomfortable with the term fan being applied to me.1 I’m not fanatical. I have a life beyond any one of my many interests and hobbies. How could I be a fan? No, not me.

But I fit Jenkins definition. Up until 1990, my fan activities were limited to watching Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) on TV, and discussing the episodes with the random friend I could wheedle into the conversation or my mother. But in 1990, things changed. Through the belly dance community I had become a part of I met fellow Trekkies2, and we decided to go to our first convention.

My first convention (held in San Jose, CA) was not what Bacon-Smith, Penley, and Jenkins said other fans thought it was. I thought it was weird. I didn’t feel like I fit in — not really — and I decided never to go to one again. But a year later, I did. Gates McFadden, who plays my favorite female character on TNG, Dr. Crusher, was coming to my hometown. This experience was much better, and with each convention, I go to they continue to be more fun (I’ve gone to two more since then).

But that isn’t what makes me a fan. Much to my chagrin, my friends (from the first convention) and I attempted to write about Star Trek. We came home from the convention and decided to write our own episodes and share them the next week. What’s worse is that they were to be “Star Trek Erotica.” I never finished mine — I wrote a dozen pages and never even got to the erotic part.

I guess, within the larger community, our work would have been considered lay-Data, lay-Worf, and lay-Riker stories. It was weird reading Enterprising Women, knowing in my mind that these people were separate and different from me, only to discover that they were, in many ways, just like me.

What I also found interesting was that all three of the authors we read for this week started out as a fan before becoming the ethnographer. I think it especially showed in Bacon-Smith’s work. She we would often neglect to define terms (often the more obscure), but then she’d go into great detail about others (often the more well-known). I also am quite curious what Starsky and Hutch has to do with Star Trek. I can understand Blake’s 7 and even, with a small stretch of the imagination, Beauty and the Beast, but Starsky and Hutch? Where did that come from? Bacon-Smith mentions the fiction coming from this fandom but never explains why she’s talking about it. I think she might have gotten too close to the community to be able to come all the way back out and see it objectively. But this is another discussion, so I’ll leave it to my book critique.


NOTES:

  1. This may, in part, be due to the press that “Trekkies” get, as mentioned in Jenkins’ essay.
  2. Unlike those referred to in the literature, I prefer “Trekkie” over “Trekker.” “Trekker” makes me think of big, ugly, uncouth truck-drivers. “Trekkie,” for me, brings up the image of fantasy, of being in your head, not in your body, and that’s the kind of fan I am. In fact, I often refer to myself as a “Trekite” — a “Trekkie” who is not like the others, a bit of a loner.