Watching the original Star Trek series has been akin to uncovering a Rosetta Stone of pop and geek culture. Every tumorous cliche I thought had just developed gradually within fandom over the decades –sudden personality changes, mirror universe goatees, body swaps, “X is now a vampire,” et cetera– all can actually be found not only in the early fanzines, but the show itself.
In its defense, a lot of the rotten, silly, campy-as-hell writing in Star Trek, especially those episodes located in the early first season and most of the third season, is only perceived that way now because of how vastly influential (or at least widely imitated) it has become. It says a lot that I went into this show (or even the Abrams reboot, which I actually watched before any of the original episodes) knowing the names of the entire main cast and most of the gadgets and lingo. We fetishize the hell out of this series, so much so that even if you don’t know a thing about it, you know a lot about it. Especially if you’ve spent any amount of time in women-dominated fan circles. After spending my summer browsing through page after page of Sherlock fanfics about sudden telepathy, brainwashing, werewolves, age regressions, genderswaps and Western re-imaginings, the purple prose and awkward sex scenes, I looked askance at TOS and knew exactly where it all came from.
More to the point: it doesn’t matter what lens you use to study it; Star Trek is a goldmine. And as a lot of my recent study has focused on apparatuses of playful engagement and branded media, it seemed inevitable that I’d get out the leftist academic monocle for Trek eventually.
I had half the work done for me, thanks to one of Kirk/Spock’s most outspoken academic shippers, Henry Jenkins, being one of my professors this semester (we had a shipping conversation on the first day of class… sometimes, my life can be really cool). But far be it from Star Trek to remain the darling of fan studies– it’s also the position of several within otaku studies, namely Hiroki Azuma and (since I like to namedrop him here) my games studies professor William Huber, that Star Trek fandom shares a not-insignificant degree of kinship with otaku, via something that Kojeve calls “animalization.” And that’s what I ended up being drawn toward as a subject: Star Trek as a sociological artifact and my own inevitable relationship to it.
I’ll warn you in advance: this got long.