World's Trekkies beam into Las Vegas

Thousands beamed into Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Trek, the enduring science-fiction television franchise whose cult appeal transcends boundaries of space and time.

Though originally considered too brainy for American network television in 1966, Star Trek has proven to be one of Hollywood’s most durable products, with film grosses of $1-billion and a total of 726 television episodes in five series.

The original series, starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Doctor Spock, both now 75 years old, ran only for three seasons. But the show developed a devoted cult following in syndication, and today “Trekkies” are the only fan group listed by name in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Gene Roddenberry wrote the original Star Trek pilot in 1965, the same year as the first United States spacewalk, and pitched the show as “a wagon train to the stars” because westerns were popular in Hollywood at the time.

Star Trek followed the adventures of the crew of the starship Enterprise on its mission to “seek out new life forms and civilisations”, but fans say Roddenberry’s vision examined earthly social issues with an unparalleled sensitivity.

The Enterprise crew was the first television presentation of a multiracial cast, and the first televised interracial kiss was on Star Trek. Cloaked in 20th-century mythology, Roddenberry took aim at racism, class struggle and imperialism.

Star Trek was a show not only with vision, but with principles and ideals,” said George Takei (Sulu on the original Star Trek) to a packed Las Vegas ballroom.
“Roddenberry believed that infinite diversity in infinite combinations is what makes the world beautiful.”

The Trek franchise has attracted legions of fans from all over, unified by their affection for the Roddenberry vision.

Star Trek tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960s,” said Kerry Ferris, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University. “The Trek philosophy was inclusive and non-discriminatory. It invites the outsider, the other, and it has inspired fans to live out these principles and do some good.”

But costumed, convention-going Trekkies have long been ridiculed for their devotion to a space-age science-fiction world populated by Klingons, Vulcans and Borgs.

“It’s really just like any peer group following their interests,” said Ferris. “It’s no different from a bowling league or a gardening club.”

Now in its 40th year, the Trekkie community is decidedly international. Two young Israelis, interested in developing Trek conventions in their own country, inspected the memorabilia on sale on Saturday, their eyes still red from a long flight.

“It excited my imagination when I was young because of the effects and the technobabble,” Nadav Bruchiel said. “But as I got older, I saw that it is a very deep show. Our world is divided into states and nations, but Star Trek is a global and interplanetary vision with everyone working together for peace.”

Bruchiel and his friend rushed off to check out a merchant hawking custom sculptures that transform fans into Enterprise captains or aliens for about $1 000. “Something to pass on to your kids,” said the sculptor.

A group of 10 university students from Taiwan trolled the convention in hand-tailored Enterprise uniforms based on those worn in the film Star Trek: Nemesis. The garb they find in Taiwan is second rate, “like cheesy Halloween costumes”, so for their first convention as a group, they had their own made.

Star Trek unifies people from all different cultures because we all hope for a peaceful future,” Kevin Pwu said. “It’s so exciting to see all these fans in one place.”

Trekkies filled the ballrooms at the Las Vegas Hilton, a hotel and casino with an interactive Star Trek museum where some fans choose to get married. They endured long lines for autographs and the chance to question their favourite actors on stage.

“I’ve travelled back in time to come see you,” Cathy Le, a computer programmer from Australia, told Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager). “When I discovered Janeway, it changed my life. I had the strength to come out as a lesbian.”

Inspired Trekkies snatched up a wide variety of memorabilia, from Russian nesting dolls, hand painted in the likenesses of the original cast members, to particle pistols and patterns for sewing Starfleet uniforms.

Martin Netter, a vendor from Berlin who says he owns the only shop in Europe devoted entirely to Star Trek collectibles, has been selling at conventions for 30 years. “I grew up watching Kirk and Spock with my father,” Netter said. “Star Trek is timeless because it’s about peace, and the show also had many nice girls.”

The auction house Christies displayed a portion of props from the Paramount collection that will go up for bid in October. Dr Spock’s “Vulcan Kolinahr necklace” is expected to fetch upwards of $2 000, and bidding for a model of the starship Enterprise used in special effects in the feature films will start at $15 000.

“Well, just look at these numbers,” said William Shatner as he scanned the capacity crowd of adoring Trekkies. “Nobody can believe the life that Star Trek has shown.”—Sapa-AFP

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