Those in doubt about the “credibility” of this representation of fan culture need only flip to the cover story of the December 22, 1986 issue of Newsweek to see an essentially similar depiction of a fan convention, though in this case, one which claimed no comic exaggeration (Leerhsen, 1986). (Fans saw little comic exaggeration in the Saturday Night Live sketch, in any case, since Shatner had repeatedly expressed many of these same sentiments in public interviews and clearly meant what he said to his fans.) Where Saturday Night Live served its audience jokes, Newsweek interviewed “experts” who sought to explain “the enduring power of Star Trek”; where Saturday Night Live featured comic actors as stereotypical characters, Newsweek provided actual photographs of real Star Trek fans-a bearded man (“a Trekkie with a phaser”) standing before an array of commercially produced Star Trek merchandise; three somewhat overweight, middle-aged “Trekkies” from Starbase Houston dressed in Federation uniforms and Vulcan garb; an older woman, identified as “Grandma Trek,” proudly holding a model of the Enterprise. The article’s opening sentences could easily be a description of the Saturday Night Live fan convention: “Hang on: You are being beamed to one of those Star Trek conventions, where grown-ups greet each other with the Vulcan salute and offer in reverent tones to pay $100 for the autobiography of Leonard Nimoy” (66). Fans are characterized as “kooks” obsessed with trivia, celebrities, and collectibles; as misfits and “crazies”; as “a lot of overweight women, a lot of divorced and single women” (68); as childish adults; in short, as people who have little or no “life” apart from their fascination with this particular program. Starbase Houston is “a group of about 100 adults who have their own flag, jackets and anthem” (68); Amherst’s Shirley Maiewski (“Grandma Trek”) “has a Klingon warship hanging from her rec-room ceiling and can help you find out what three combinations Captain Kirk used to open his safe” (68); one man was married in Disneyland wearing a Federation uniform and his “Trekkie” bride wore (what else), rubber Vulcan ears. Such details, while no doubt accurate, are selective, offering a distorted picture of their community, shaping the reality of its culture to conform to stereotypes already held by Newsweek’s writers and readers. The text and captions draw their credibility from the seemingly “natural” facts offered by the photographs and quotes, yet actually play an important role fitting those “facts” into a larger “mythology” about fannish identity
(Barthes, 1973). The smug and authoritative tone of the Newsweek article, especially when coupled with countless other similar reports in local newspapers and on local newscasts, lends credibility to the only slightly more hyperbolic Saturday Night Live sketch, until “everyone knows” what “Trekkies” are like and how they would be likely to react to being chastised by William Shatner. These representations won widespread public acceptance and have often been quoted to me by students and colleagues who question my interest in fan culture; their recognition and circulation by non-fans reflects the degree to which these images fit comfortably within a much broader discourse about fans and their fanaticism.