“No one loves to hate Star Trek more than Star Trek fans.”
It’s a statement I’ve seen used time and time again. Unfortunately, it rings true. From Star Trek: The Next Generation to the upcoming Star Trek: Picard series, each new iteration of Star Trek brings as much criticism as applause.
A 1990’s news article titled “New Star Trek Crew Flies Into Trouble From the Trekkies” reported that fans were ” . . . outraged that Roddenberry is dragging the beloved Star Trek name through the mud.” Star Trek: The Next Generation would go on to win nineteen of the 58 Emmy awards for which it was nominated and is now a favorite among multitudes of Star Trek fans.
Yet, only three months away from the return of Captain Jean Luc Picard, fandom is once again divided . . . or so it seems. Despite criticism from fans who find Star Trek: Discovery lacking in Roddenberry’s trademark vision of optimism and hope, a third season is filming in Toronto while a direct spin-off focusing on Section 31, led by Michelle Yeoh’s character “Philippa Georgiou” is said to be in development. With the announcement of several more series and some projects yet to be announced, the newly branded “Star Trek Universe” is alive and well.
Like many other Star Trek fans who joined the community after the premiere of Star Trek (2009), this is my first time experiencing what’s become known as “toxic fandom” firsthand. Although I watched Star Trek: Enteprise as it aired, I wasn’t involved in fan communities at the time. I was, however, very active in the comic book community and no stranger to this type of divide. The truth is, no one likes to hate anything about ANY fandom more than its fans.
One of my favorite traits of fans of any kind is their passion for what they love. Listening to someone speak with enthusiasm about Captain Marvel or a certain Cardassian tailor is something that I’ll always find empowering. Fandom is highly personal and I’ve spent a lot of my time as a Star Trek fan learning about those personal connections. It’s understandable that our own intimate relationships with fandom drive our passion to share – and to defend.
Online communities are volatile, filled with people from around the world with their own unique perspectives and opinions. I believe that Star Trek fans, maybe more than others, truly want to reach Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a shared, peaceful humanity. Free of conflict, founded on respect and compassion, it’s a goal that I strive to accomplish even in my daily life. In my world, to be a Star Trek fan is to be an ambassador for its fandom, but that’s not true for every fan and shouldn’t be expected. That’s how we make fandom our own.
But it’s difficult to see that shared vision when fans seem to want to tear each other apart. Whether referred to as outrage or cancel culture – or just people not getting along – the propensity towards mob mentality sometimes seems greater than the desire to get along. While not all fans participate, at some point or the other it seems that most will encounter harassment or bullying. A small few, like myself, may find themselves at the center of a horde.
(It’s not fun.)
In June, I awoke to almost 200 comments to a tweet I’d made before going to bed the previous night. If you haven’t heard about the drama, feel free to google “Shatner Death Threat.” It wasn’t a death threat. I did not wish that Shatner was dead. It was a poorly written, poorly worded, extremely regrettable tweet that I had trouble apologizing for while I was busy blocking almost 1,000 comments repeating my words back to me and calling me a terrible person. A domestic violence victim, my PTSD was triggered and I was a deer frozen in headlights. I don’t recommend it.
I never intended Mr. Shatner to see the tweet. (I should have been more thoughtful.) In my head, the tweet wasn’t about him; it was about how much I missed Leonard Nimoy and the unfairness that he’s no longer here. (That’s why I only tagged Mr. Nimoy) but someone else made sure it was seen by Mr. Shatner.
The tweet evolved from a thought bred of despair to a “death threat” fed by false claims that I’d threatened Mr. Shatner before. Any person I’d pissed off in the past ten years was sure to come forward and call me a bully or shame my podcast network for having hosts with “mental health problems.” (It’s NEVER acceptable to refer to mental health as a degradation.)
I did make a statement that Mr. Shatner would never see; only my followers were privy since I had to temporarily lock down my account. By that time, I knew an apology wouldn’t matter – I was terrified to go through what I had again and afraid that my apology wouldn’t be enough. Months later, I was still receiving hateful comments about the situation. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to apologize to Mr. Shatner a few months later at the Official Star Trek Las Vegas convention. He graciously accepted my explanation and apology and kindly went to Twitter to ask his followers to stop the harassment.
For so long now I’ve watched Star Trek fans attempt to bridge the divide. So many of us believe that if we had the opportunity to speak face to face we’d be able to work out our differences. While we may disagree, we can coexist peacefully and create the Utopia of Star Trek’s future. Sadly, that isn’t the case, and after celebrating a decade of Star Trek fandom this summer, I’ve started to accept the truth – whether the divide in fandom is truly driven by Klingon baldness or Vulcan politics, for some fans there is no bridging the divide. I’m sorry to say it, but in these cases any attempt at reconciliation is futile.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen another surge of fandom divide after Mr. Shatner condemned a Star Trek fan for “calling women names and making fun of the new series.” As my name was mentioned directly in the tweet (the individual Mr. Shatner called out was complaining that I’d blocked him after having recently unblocked his account), I reached out to clarify.
Mr. Shatner responded with some good advice:
“Block him permanently”
Friends, and those reading who are not my friends, can we please take Mr. Shatner’s advice? Can we lay our phasers down and leave one another alone? A Starfleet Captain will always admire the brave hearts who yearn for peace, but there are simply some boundaries that can’t be crossed. We must respect the Neutral Zone of fandom and agree to let one another live. Whether your fandom oozes positivity or is a reflection of your distaste, can we step away from this ongoing battle and at least live peacefully in our own quadrants?
I’m not advocating for the block; I’ll always be the person who wants to work towards that hopeful future of the Federation, but I do beg of you – in times when you’re driven to defend or condemn – please ask yourself . . .
“What would Shatner do?”