I’m the resident nerd at Woolly Mammoth and I’m proud of it. It’s a component of who I am and how I relate to the world. As a participant in the culture of fandom I can provide you with a unique perspective into what it means to be a fan of a television show that was cancelled in 1994, (18 years ago). This summer marked the 25th anniversary of that show’s premiere and ten years since the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie ran in theatres. This summer I attended the Phoenix Comic-con in order to participate in that 25th anniversary celebration and perhaps also to figure out what motivates us nerds.
Why do people choose to be fans of things like Star Trek, Buffy, or Thundercats? Specifically, why do they choose to express themselves in such odd ways at conventions? I actually had the opportunity to ask numerous people that exact question as I walked the floor at the Phoenix Comic-con.
“Why are you dressed up like Liono from the Thundercats?… no really, why?”
“Why are you sitting in line for the 25th anniversary Star Trek: The Next Generation panel four hours before it starts?”
“Why are you attending the con?”
Universally the answer I was given to these questions was simple, they felt a connection to these characters, stories, and the experience at the convention helped them to celebrate those feelings. Generally speaking fans enjoy making connections with their icons because it validates their celebration of those characters and stories. Dressing up and attending conventions justifies the time spent watching and talking about these materials at length. But there’s more to it than that…
As I sat in the convention hall awaiting the start of the Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary Panel with Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton I kept asking myself why I was there, and why I’d chosen to attend this particular panel. In the course of considering my own motivations I kept coming back to one answer: Love. It’s crazy… I know… but I love that show. I really love those characters. I respect them. They represent an ideal of how life should be, and what we as humanity should aspire to become in our future, and generally they inspire me to be a better person. Star Trek: The Next Generation and the characters played by those actors are a part of who I am. Their struggles, successes and failures, heart breaks and love stories—they’re my stories. They’re the stories that tie fans together and give us common ground.
During the Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary panel, one of the audience members asked the actors who their heroes are and their answers are less important to the context of this blog post than the question itself. “Who are YOUR heroes?” implies that they are OUR heroes. That alone illustrates the role fandom plays in people’s lives.
We nerds, geeks and fanboys (and girls) choose to celebrate our love of these characters by participating in conventions, panels, and photo-ops with the people who made these shows possible. We obsess over the details of these shows to further our understanding of them and in doing so develop a greater appreciation for the material in question.
If you need any better illustration to help understand the relationship between fans and their heroes simply look at a catalogue of photo-op pictures of fans with their favorite actors and celebrities from their favorite shows. Look at the faces of the fans. The actors understand this relationship better than any of us—they pose for these pictures because they know that for their fans it’s important, it’s meaningful, and that whether they intended to or not, they impacted all of these people’s lives.
On the last day of the Phoenix Comic-con I got to meet Morgan Gendel, the writer of my all time favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘The Inner Light’. At Mr. Gendel’s table he was selling signed copies of his original script and a replica of the prop flute played by Captain Picard during that episode. I kid you not, I spent $100 on a tin whistle, $50 on a signed copy of a poorly bound script, and the thing I valued most from that experience was shaking Mr. Gendel’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated his work on that episode. The fact that the episode went on to win a Hugo Award is of little consequence. It was important to me and I chose to celebrate that by buying everything Morgan Gendel was selling at his booth, I attended his panel on the episode, and I will never forget getting the opportunity I got to shake his hand and say thank you, and I meant it.
At the end of the day we are all fans of something and we celebrate that passion in different ways. Fandom is usually portrayed by fans of science fictions, fantasy, comic books, and other general nerdery. I tell you now that we, the nerds, readily admit to our fandom. We celebrate our nerdiness and in the spirit of Woolly’s current show, Mr. Burns, a post electric play, I can honestly tell you that if the lights went out tomorrow I would be a member of the Star Trek troupe… and I wouldn’t need to buy lines.
My last stop of the Con was at the booth of Phil Ortiz, one of the original cartoonists who drew for The Simpsons during the first few seasons. As part of his booth he was drawing portraits of attendees and “Simpsonizing” people for a nominal fee. I told him about the show at Woolly, and he proceeded to draw me with Mr. Burns looking over my shoulder. As a note on the popularity of Mr. Ortiz’s booth I can tell you that the line was quite long, and people were being turned away near the end. The Simpsons has been on the air for 23 years and their fans are still excited about the show. Check out my Simpsons portait below.
~Zacory Boatright, Director of Business Development