Summary and History of the Trekkies Subculture
Over the past few years, the media has started to become a critical part of our lives. Due to the increasing presence of technology into our social world, our society has slowly adapted to a new lifestyle. As societies change, new cultures and avenues of expression have formed. One example is the emergence of Trekkies.
Trekkie is a term that originated around 1970 as a way to describe fans of the TV show Star Trek who go above and beyond in their expression of admiration for the show. The TV show Star Trek first aired September 8th, 1966 and ran until June 3rd, 1969. Despite its large fan base now, the show got very low ratings when it first aired and was canceled after 3 years. It was not until several years later that the show began to form a stronger fan base. There have been several spin off shows and movies made since the termination of the original series on air. Star Trek is a sci-fi action adventure show created by Gene Roddenberry. It is set in the Milky Way galaxy in the year 2260. It follows the adventures of a starship named the USS Enterprise and its crew’s attempts to explore the galaxy to find other life forms and new civilizations.
The show paved the way in terms of being the first to break the social norms of televised shows. Besides featuring a multicultural cast, the show featured things such as the first bi-racial and the first homosexual kiss. It is this progressive attitude of the show that has fostered a progressive attitude within the trekkie subculture.
Trekkies emphasize acceptance within their subculture in attempts to produce a utopian like environment as seen in the TV show. “Star Trek has always offered a positive vision of the future, a vision of hope and optimism, and most importantly, a vision of inclusion, where people of all races are accorded equal respect and dignity, where individual beliefs and lifestyles are respected so long as they pose no threat to others” (Jusino 2016). Trekkies are often labeled as geeks, nerds, and freaks due to their obsessiveness with the show. The majority of Trekkies tend to have difficulties finding avenues for success in mainstream culture, so they turned to the Trekkie subculture instead (Kozinets 2001, Lopes 2006). Interest in sci-fi does not normally correlate to high social status in the mainstream world. Since the trekker subculture produces such an inclusive environment, it makes it very easy for an aspiring trekkie to adapt to the culture.
Trekkies Subculture and the Media
Despite the media’s portrayal of Trekkies, a majority of them do not dress up in authentic costumes. Authentic outfits are primarily seen at Star Trek conventions where cosplay is part of the event.
The majority of the subculture community interacts online. Since the subculture is based around a media platform, it would make sense that the majority of the subculture is continued on a media platform as well. Trekkies have forums and chat rooms where they discuss things about both the show and their lives. The forum “acts as a strengthening agent … connecting those who may otherwise not be connected” (Gelder 2007). Trekkies are unique in the sense that they foster their subculture around the intention of creating a more utopian like society as opposed to other subcultures, such as skinheads or greasers, who have formed their subcultures as a way to protest against current social situations. Most of the resistance to mainstream society from the trekker subculture appears in the form of expression. Trekkies are not very violent people, and will be more subtle in terms of their resistance against society (Joyrich 1996).
Star Trek is available in many other countries making the Trekkie subculture a global phenomenon. While most of the community is located in the US and Canada (since they were the countries in which the show was first aired), the online forums that house the majority of the communication within the subculture make it easier now to communicate internationally than it would have been several years ago. Not to mention that within the Trekkie subculture it is not uncommon that the members are fluent in the language of Klingon (a language spoken by another species in the show) which would allow people of different cultures and ethnical backgrounds to communicate through a shared language.
Are Trekkies a Fandom or Subculture?
To an outsider Trekkies may seem like a fandom, however, the trekkie way of life goes much deeper than that of just an avid Star Trek fan. Trekkies are a subculture.
The subculture has developed hierarchies within the community that are separated from mainstream’s class distinctions. For example within the subculture, true members who are considered the “hardcore fans” go by the title of “Trekker”, while the fandom or “soft core” fans are called “Trekkies”. Trekkers will take offense if called Trekkies. The title of the subculture should really ten be called “Trekkers”! To go deeper into the language hierarchy, Trekkies are considered a “consumer culture” (Kozinets, 2001). This means that the subculture revolves around the consumption and acquiring of material items. This allows for hierarchies to be formed: those who have the most expensive, original, authentic, rare memorabilia will be placed at the upper end of the hierarchy and will be deemed more authentic within the subculture than those who have simple collections.
Impacts on Mainstream Society
Trekkies are more of a subculture than just a fandom is that they have had major impacts on pop culture. The television show alone paved the way for progressive social change by emphasizing the equality, in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, on the show. By creating a utopian society where all are equal, the Trekkie subculture was able to adopt those ideas and bring them to society. The opening line of the show “to go where no man has gone before” can be applied to the director of Star Trek in the sense that he went where no director had gone before and introduced sensitive subjects such as slavery and warfare in live TV. These episodes and scenes exposed the ideas to the public and while they most likely received negative feedback for being too risky for the time being, they were still successful in terms of progressing society because at least people were talking about these ideas. Even if they were rejecting or nullifying them, they were still being forced to address them.
Unique set of Morals and Values
Lastly, Trekkies live a lifestyle and abide by morals and values that differ significantly form the mainstream society. “Star Trek provides positive role models, exploration of moral issues, scientific and technological knowledge and ideas” through a medium (science fiction television) that most people in mainstream society would not want to relate to (Kozinets, 2001). This is a critical aspect to being a subculture, and by focusing on equality, acceptance, progression, science-fiction, and many other things, they are able to separate them selves and qualify as a deviant group that does not abide by society’s norms.
Themes in the Trekkie Subculture
“CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHY WHENEVER THERE IS A MEDIA STORY ON STAR TREK FANS, THE FIRST PERSON THEY GRAB IS SOMEONE WITH CHEAP SPOCK EARS AND A BAD FITTING COSTUME A TOTAL GEEK, AND PROUDLY SAY “HERE IS A TREKKIE”? It may be an attempt to ridicule Trek fans. The media does that sort of thing all the time when it wants to demonize certain groups of people. On the other hand, it may just be another example of the media always presenting the extremes. A Star Trek fan in a suit and tie or jeans and a T- shirt doesn’t make “good television,” but one in full uniform and makeup does”(Kozinets 2001).
The media uses stigma to label Trekkies as geeks, weirdos, nerds, and any other derogatory term you could impose on a fan of science fiction in attempts to isolate them from “cool” mainstream society. While some Trekkers represent their subculture in all aspects of their lives, some pick and choose when they show their affiliation. A strong reason as to why most do not express affiliation in every aspect of their lives is because of the fear of being stigmatized. Most of mainstream society cannot understand why people indulge in a sci-fi fantasy and so those who do indulge are often suspected of functioning at a lower level than the mainstream population. The mainstream thinks of their life choices as a coping mechanism (which in some sense it is) for their lack of ability to function in mainstream society (Lopes 2006, Cusack 2003). A fair number of Trekkies will hide their dedication to the subculture to avoid these stigmas and inference of mental illness.
“not only identifying the woman with the body but identifying the female body as never quite good enough, always in need of further improvement.” (Joyrich 1996)
While one of the most important guidelines in the trekkie subculture is to foster an environment of equality and acceptance, the subculture can only be as accepting and equal as the TV show. Star Trek was made during a period when blacks and other minorities were segregated against and when women were discriminated against. These social patterns were reflected in the show: a white male lead surround by mostly white men with few women and minorities. Specifically, the presence of females in the show is actually counter productive as to what Roddenberry was most likely trying to accomplish by putting them on the show in the first place. Being a progressive show, the addition of females was to express gender equality in this utopian world, however the show does nothing but overly feminize these women. Gender stereotypes are a social construct and by placing women on the show in low-cut, tight clothing with lots of make-up and hair styling, nothing is being done except for reinforcing the stereotypes of women and preventing them from being equal to men. Yes, their representation on the show is important, but by portraying them on the show the same as they are portrayed in society is taking two steps forward and one step back (Joyrich 1996).
Page by: Andi Leff (Grinnell College, ’18)
- Kozinets, Roberts, 2001. Utopian Enterprise: Articulating the Meanings of Star Trek’s Culture of Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(1), 67-88.
- Joyrich, Lynne, 1996. Feminist Enterprise? “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the Occupation of Femininity. Cinema Journal, 35(2), 61-84.
- Byrd, Patricia, 1978. Star Trek Lives: Trekker Slang. American Speech, 53(1), 52-58.
- Decherney, Peter, 2001. Race in Space. Cinéaste, 26(3), 38-39.
- King, Kim M., 1988. Youth subcultures: A search for style. Abstract
- Bick, Ilsa. 1996. Boys in Space: “Star Trek,” Latency, and the Neverending Story. Cinema Journal, 35(2), 43-60.
- Lopes, Paul, 2006. Culture and Stigma: Popular Culture and the Case of Comic Books. Sociological Forum, 21(3), 387-414.
- Gelder, Kevin. (2007). Subcultures: Cultural histories and social practice. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
- Jusino, Theresa (2016). Star Trek Stars Join Forces to Trek Against Trump. The Mary Sue. September 30th, 2016.
- Cusack, Maurice, Jack, Gavin, Kavanagh, Donncha, 2003. Dancing with discrimination: Managing Stigma and Identity. Taylor and Francis, Culture and Organization, 9(4): 295-310.
Both of the following documentaries take the viewer on a behind the scenes look at the members of the trekker subculture and interviews with those who created or starred in the show.
- Trekkies by Roger Nygard
- Trekkies 2 by Roger Nygard
This website provides a more in depth explanation as to the difference between the terms “trekker” and “trekkie”.
This website provides background information and history on both the show and the trekker subculture.
This website gives a more detailed overview of what is discussed in the Trekkies documentaries.
This website provides a translation of basic english words into klingon.