Back in the 1990s, there was no superhero more beloved than Wolverine. Thanks to the cartoon series, Jim Lee’s insanely popular X-Men run, some video games, and endless action figures, everyone adored the growling clawed anti-hero. It was likely the characters obscene popularity at the time that helped get the first X-Men movie off the ground in an era when Blade was the only successful Marvel movie. The search for an actor to play Wolverine was long and arduous. In the end, fans cried out, “who?” when Australian Hugh Jackman was announced as the heir to the adamantium, and cried foul when they learned his most successful previous role was headlining a revival of Oklahoma. Meanwhile, when Patrick Stewart was announced in the role of chrome dome X leader Charles Xavier, nerds everywhere rejoiced. Both ended up being ideal choices for the X-Men’s live action cinematic endeavours and this week both actors bid farewell to their iconic roles in the suitably sombre farewell picture Logan.
This weekend a new Star Trek flick is hitting screens. On top of that, it’s also the weekend of the geek mecca known as San Diego Comic-Con. In theory this should be a massive confluence of events set to blow the minds of nerds worldwide. Yet, it’s just kind of a coincidence. A strange thing has happened over recent years. While Star Trek was once the nerdy property that brought the most passion out of a wild fanbase, it’s now just one of many—and not even the biggest anymore. Cons used to be known primarily as Star Trek conventions because the franchise so thoroughly dominated the market. Then somewhere around the last Next Generation movie and the cancellation of the last Trek TV series, that all slowly faded away. Trekkies insisted on being called Trekkers to get away from the negative nomenclature and gradually con culture moved on.
That’s not to say that there’s no place for Star Trek on the convention circuit anymore. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s always at least a few Star Trek cast members at any given con. However, you don’t see the fleet of hardcore fans in Starfleet uniforms or homemade Klingon outfits anymore. Now, the floor is filled with homemade superhero, Star Wars, or anime cosplayers. There will be more people lined up to hear about future Marvel movies in San Diego than fans actually going to see the con’s screening of Star Trek Beyond. Sure, the blockbuster will likely do well, Paramount already has plans for an additional sequel and there is currently a new Star Trek TV series in production. However, these are but blips on the Internet’s nerdy news cycle and not the geekgasm events that they once were.
It probably all comes down to market saturation. As recently as the 90s, Star Trek and Star Wars were really the only massive science fiction movie franchises that had reached iconic status. To be a participant in the nerd community, you had to pick a side between those two series—only one could be your favourite. That’s as far as it went (No, Babylon 5 doesn’t count. Don’t be absurd). Now, Trek is merely one of many of properties in that realm and seems positively quaint by the standards of mainstream nerd entertainment. After all, Lord Of The Rings is mainstream fantasy fodder now and not even Led Zeppelin could make that happen in the past. Adults gleefully catch Pokémon in public without a shred of irony. Now that niche culture has taken over the earth, the brainy thought experiment sci-fi of a gang of explorers broaldly going where no one has gone before seems like the sort of thing your grand pappy would consider cool.
It’s also no longer strange to embrace some sort of pop culture property to the degree that you’d want to travel long distances to meet actors while dressed in handcrafted versions of their old costumes. That’s pretty much a family outing now and everyone in the fam will have their own franchise to represent. Hell, even a stoner cult comedy like The Big Lebowski is enough to get people on the road to specialized fan fests. Star Trek used to be the one genre property everyone could turn to if they wanted to join a fan community. Now it’s tough to find a TV show or movie that doesn’t have a devoted online fanbase who likes to meet up and swap memorabilia. There have even been enough nostalgic Space Jam events and blog posts that Warner Brothers is relaunching that franchise. Space Jam? What’s wrong with people?
So, we now essentially live in a world where everyone is a Trekkie, just not for Star Trek. We all have our own cherished pop culture universe to obsess over. Even those who think they don’t are likely obsessed with the hard fantasy series Game Of Thrones because it wooed them in with jiggling genitals and decapitations. In a space like that, Trekkies are just a face in the crowd and not the dominant market that studios feel the need to placate; it’s strange. This is the series that essentially emboldened fans and brought convention culture into the eyes of mainstream media. Now most kids think of Patrick Stewart as Professor X and William Shatner as a Family Guy punch line. Not even the captains have command of the nerd world.
Of course, pop culture tends to move in waves. Perhaps we’re just in a quiet valley of Star Trek fandom before it takes over the world again. It’s possible. However, there is a chance that we’ve all just moved past this series and soon it’ll be as old timey as Westerns. It wouldn’t be too surprising and as a guy who picked the Star Wars side of the playground wars years ago, I can’t even pretend to care all that much. It was never my bag. I just feel bad for those who dedicated their lives to Trek so many moons ago and now have seen it fade away to the back of the pack. Oh well, at least tattoos aren’t permanent, right?
Well, another Toronto Festival has come and gone.