Star Trek: Mission New York
is a reminder of what has changed and what hasn’t in this nerdy corner of geek culture that finds itself riding a wave of popularity
went to my first Star Trek convention 15 years ago, when I was 13. It went pretty much exactly how non-Trekkers might imagine a I Star Trek convention to go.
My family’s trip to a dimly lit, musty-carpeted convention center in Long Beach, California, was an extreme novelty: we didn’t dress up. Other attendees, though, wore costumes ranging from the handmade to the extremely expensive, ordered weeks in advance.
Every stereotype you can possibly imagine was present in that hall, from public displays of conversational Klingon to earnestly specific questions asked of cast members. One man asked Brent Spiner, who played the android Data in the Next Generation franchise, the real gender of his characters cat Spot. As a result of problems with continuity, you see, it often varied.
Kaitlin and Sarah cosplay at the convention. Photograph: Devon Maloney for the Guardian
Star Trek: Mission New York convention, held at the Javits Center in Manhattan, was a vivid reminder of what has changed and what has not in a particularly nerdy corner of geek culture which has now
existed for 50 years.
Organized by Comic-Con promoter ReedPop, by the end of the Labor Day weekend the event will have hosted cast reunions from at least three series; demonstrations of forthcoming mobile and VR games; screenings of a new directors cut of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and For the Love of Spock, a documentary produced by Adam Nimoy, son of late actor Leonard Nimoy; and exhibits and presentations from both Nasa and the Postmaster General.
The halls are filled with easy-order Halloween costumes and mass-produced toys, thanks in large part to JJ Abrams 2009 franchise reboot. Attendees are no longer simply geeks who argue openly about the canon, although such individuals certainly still hold dominion over a place like this, and rightfully so. Some look as though they wouldnt have been caught dead at a convention like this even five years ago, let alone 10 or 15. Star Trek has never been so accessible, or so cool.
Ive been waiting 30 years for this, said Briahna Gray, who came with her mother and brother. Its easier to be a fan now that its become more popular Ive always happily leaned into geek culture, but its easier when everyones seeing posters and advertisements for things you love every year. People get your references more: people used to think we named our dog Mr Woof when his name was
Elyse Rosenstein, Joyce Yasner, Stuart Hellinger, Linda Deneroff and Devra Langsam were among the organizers of the first Star Trek convention, in 1972.
At a panel on Friday, they recounted underestimating the number of fans who might show up, preparing for 1,600 but welcoming more than double that, thanks to some felicitous press coverage. Totally unpaid, the organizers resorted to DIY, crafting convention badges from basic office supplies.
None of us did this to make money, said Langsam, explaining that they eventually stopped hosting fan-run conventions due to issues affording the cast and crews speaking fees and a refusal to turn them into a legitimate business. I think over the years I made about 12 cents an hour.
Yasner added: In fact, when fanzines were originally published, it was looked down on if you made money your zine. [Conventions] seem to have gotten very commercial, impersonal. We didn’t even think of doing it for profit. We did it for love.
Convention panel: from left, Devra Langsam, Elyse Rosenstein, Stuart Hellinger, Joyce Yasner and Linda Deneroff. Photograph: Devon Maloney for the Guardian
Yasner recounted a moment during one of the first conventions when Leonard Nimoy made a surprise appearance. The guy who was in charge of the [exhibition hall] got up, took the microphone and said, Spocks here! The entire room cleared out in about three seconds flat leaving many sellers with unfinished transactions on their hands.
It was more of a community [then], said Hellinger. Theyre big events now. We came out of general sci-fi fandom, and we applied the community aspect of that, but even that’s changing, and not always for the better.
Of course, commercialisation hasnt destroyed all personal connections in the fan community. It has also strengthened them: during the committees panel, a young woman came to the microphone to explain that she had been on a panel this weekend as well, and pointed out how rare women have been on convention panels at events like Comicon.
Thank you for the tradition you started, for making this visible: women’s participation in Star Trek fandom, she said.
[Fandom] become popular culture, Deneroff said later. It makes it easier to explain to people why you’re interested in weird things. Theres no sense anymore that it’s a lonely thing to be a fan.
The sentiment was shared by many attendees, including Grays mother Leslie, a former psychologist and current employee of the United Nations who remembers watching the original series as a child, even being nicknamed Bones, after the shows doctor, by her father.
Can you imagine what its like to be [a Star Trek fan] experiencing this with your kids? she said. I was all alone in the 60s and 70s. There were so few Star Trek fans, especially in the African-American community, you were extra square, an uber-geek if you liked Star Trek.
But then my kids started watching it; my son became a Star Trek savant, with a Klingon dictionary and everything. We lived in Nairobi in the 90s and people had to send us Betamax tapes they were so precious to us. We all can’t believe were here together now.
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