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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Everyone's A Superhero, Everyone's A Captain Kirk

Well, the 40th Anniversary Star Trek Gala Celebration has come and gone. Last evening's Main Event was a sit-down banquet featuring roughly 250 celebrities, sci-fi fans, Hollywood industry types, with a smattering of actual rocket scientists, and at least one bona fide Internet Gazillionaire in attendance. I was seated with a very charming elderly couple from Canada, the wife whom we learned is the cousin of one Martin Cooper, who you can either credit or blame, as you will, for inventing the portable cellular telephone. Also at my table was a couple who brought their teenaged daughter, whom they had named after a character from a "Star Trek" episode (although I forget which one); as well as a very nice young woman, a fundraiser for the local ACLU chapter, and her neice, an attorney. It should be noted that none present at my table came in costume, but more-or-less (with me definitely on the "more" end of the spectrum) observing the formal dress code "suggested" by the event organizers.

Although I didn't go in for the full-immersion experience this weekend, having an actual life, not to mention other social obligations, I think I got enough of a "taste" of how these things go to make a few notable observations. Firstly, although they kept emphasizing this was NOT a "convention", I for one, not having any basis for comparision, would be hard-pressed to delineate what about this event would differentiate it from such, except perhaps in terms of sheer size. It's my understanding that a typical Sci-Fi convention can draw on the order of several thousand attendees, while this event was strictly limited to, at most, a few hundred. But, otherwise, it seemed to have all the requisite trappings: lots of the faithful showing up in costume; an endless procession of both major and minor celebrities with whom one could (for a "nominal" fee, naturally) have ones picture taken or who would autograph various and sundry marketing paraphenalia; a set schedule of speakers sessions focussing on such arcana as, "The Soul of 'Star Trek'", "The Age of Space Tourism", and "Four Decades of Fandom"; screenings of several fan-produced films; and of course, "the dealers room", where those fortunate enough to still have disposable income after paying as much as $1,000 for the three-day conclave & special events could purchase the obligatory props, jewelry, photographs, models, etc., etc. (Please note: my total expenditure for the Friday session, the Gala and the Banquet came in at $255).

Frankly, the organizers might have been shy about calling it a duck, but from my perspective, it sure walked and quacked like one would imagine such a waterfowl would do.

The most interesting thing about the whole shebang, so far as I was concerned at least, was the very curious and strange relationship between the fans and the performers themselves, and how it plays out under these kinds of circumstances.

The typical fan tends to fall into one of two distinct categories, the first and foremost being the True Believers: the ones who dress up in the costumes and treat the actors with the sort of adulation generally reserved for political or religious leaders; and secondly, the Inspired, those who, while no less respectful of the performers talents and accomplishments, tend to view them, not as being inherently worthy of adoration for their own sake, but because of the example they have set that these fans have applied to their own lifes and ambitions. The former admires the performer simply for being the character, while the latter admires them for having brought some personal quality or trait to their depiction of the character.

One easy way to spot the difference between the two groups (aside from dress): the uberfan willingly stands in long lines, and pays exhorbitant amounts of money for an autograph or to have their picture taken with one of the celebrities, while the other group simply catches said celebrity in a candid moment, makes some brief expression of how they inspired them in their own life, and then asks to have their picture taken, or to have their program signed.

The performers themselves seem to take both types equally in-stride. They seem to have an innate recognition (although probably formulated over several decades of repetition) that the most fanatical fans have made their success possible in large measure, while by the same token, the less exhuberent fans tend to communicate how the performer has served as a role model or inspiration, thus lending credibility and relevence to their position. So, on the one hand, they give validation to one type of fan, and receive validation from the other. Yet in both cases, there is some basis for a transactional relationship: in one it's simply exhanging currency for access, while in the other the medium of exhange is on the order of a personal testimony to the performer's ability to inspire others to achieve personal goals.

Like I said, its an interesting phenomenon to observe, and makes me a bit curious as to whether anyone has actually made any sort of formal analysis of these types of transactional relationships, because, although I think some of the individuals involved probably have some awareness as to exactly how all this plays out, there seems to be a lot more going on than most appear - on the surface at least - to acknowledge.

And for the record, apparently I don't fit into either of these categories, seeing as I neither paid for, nor asked for any pictures or autographs - although, as someone "in the industry", I'd like to rationalize that as professional courtesy, nothing more.

Oh, and in case all this heady commentary has you wondering - yes, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Posted byCOMTE on 5:23 PM

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