When Trekkie Met Buffy

The galaxy, or at least the hotel, makes room for fans of television's cult hits at Vulkon

When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek with a vision of the future that included all of humanity and alien worlds, it is likely he knew his rendering of outer space would become a metaphor. On the USS Enterprise, a community of outsiders became insiders. As such the ship's outpost community provides an invisible blueprint or stage blocking that the promoters, vendors, guests, and fans roll out along the floor of this hotel. A whole social dynamic is erected as soon as fans enter; they've been perfecting their roles for the past three decades, after all, and they waste no time getting started.

Inge Heyer is attending this Vulkon's Star Trek convention as both a fan and presenter. A senior data analyst at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Heyer analyzes data retrieved by the Hubble telescope. She is also one of the organizers of Shore Leave, a fan-run convention held in that city every year. On a projection screen in the dimmed main ballroom, clusters of stars and space flash on and off as she narrates a slide show with German-accented breviloquence: "Now the Orion nebula has appeared in both Star Trek and Star Trek V...."

After her presentation, Heyer sets up her own shop at a card table in the hallway, arranging stacks of photos taken by Hubble: The Cone Nebula. The Whirlpool Galaxy. She grew up in occupied Berlin, she says during a quiet moment. Her parents divorced when she was in grade school, and she went to live with her father, a chemist, who remarried. "Our household was rather restrictive. School, come home, do homework -- that was it. I didn't see the center of my own city until I was well into my teenage years."

Jonathan Postal
From top to bottom: "Nadine," "Teri Leigh," and 
Christine Evans are dressed as Orion slave women. A 
Vulkon participant appears as a casually attired 
member of the United Federation of Planets. Members 
of different "crews" look over designs for various 
spacecraft depicted in the Star Trek series, including 
specs for the Starship Enterprise. Star Trek fans: The 
Next Generation. A fan dressed as a Klingon enjoys 
some Romulan ale.
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
From top to bottom: "Nadine," "Teri Leigh," and Christine Evans are dressed as Orion slave women. A Vulkon participant appears as a casually attired member of the United Federation of Planets. Members of different "crews" look over designs for various spacecraft depicted in the Star Trek series, including specs for the Starship Enterprise. Star Trek fans: The Next Generation. A fan dressed as a Klingon enjoys some Romulan ale.

Heyer's father bought the family's first television when Inge was about nine. With the television came Star Trek, and with Star Trek came realizations. "One was the idea of future -- that there is not just tomorrow and next month and next Christmas, but there are years down the road. And two, whatever that future is for you depends on you. On this starship, you saw all these people, and they were all very well trained. Clearly, they had all gone to school for a very long time. So going to school and learning a lot is very valuable because if you do and amass knowledge, you can do cool things with it.

"The other thing that it taught me," she continues, "the whole thing of multiple cultures, multiple races." To the young German, Star Trek was something of a window to the rest of humanity: "Obviously, in my head, I knew, 'Okay, there are not just white people, but there are black people and there are Asian people.' I knew that because we learned that in school. But I had never seen a black person or an Asian person in my life. Nichelle Nichols as [Lieutenant] Uhura was the first black person as a person I ever saw. The same for George Takei as the first Asian person I ever saw." If it weren't for Star Trek, she says, "I'd probably still be in Germany working some boring job."

Saturday's itinerary highlights the actors' presentations. Fans will fill the ballroom while stars take the stage to field questions and flash bulbs. Lee Stringer, Corin Nemec, Teryl Rothery, and the much aggrandized Michael Dorn (the Klingon Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation) are the guests this weekend. Afterward, in discussion rooms, they will autograph publicity stills. As was the case at the Buffy con, their signatures come at varying costs.

Vulkon provides fan-participation activities in the smaller rooms of the convention wing: "Panel Discussion: Ethics of Prime Directive." "Starfleet Academy Bowl Quiz Show with Roger." "SeaTrek Presentation." "Kids' Space Crafts with 'Aunt Heather.'"

"11:00 a.m. Klingon Room Opens."

T'pau to the people

"tIn'HIch' nuj" (pronounced tin hik nu j) stands six feet tall, a vinyl-and-latex warrior in the hotel hallway between the main lobby and convention center. Between his eyes, a prosthetic ridge protrudes with all the authority of a mountain on a relief map. For allegiance to the Klingon Empire, he wears a pin on his collar. For battle with his enemies, he dons a body armor of black and gray vinyl. For his allies, he extends his hand in a gesture that ends with an embrace of the elbow.

"Qapla'! I am tIn'HIch' nuj!"

"Qapla'" (pronounced kap la) means "success," and on this morning, the Klingons have had it. They've constructed something of a den in a small discussion room near the gift shop -- blacked out the lights and lined the walls with homemade Klingon insignia banners. Atop a folding card table are reams of fake fur, signifying a Klingon's primal hunting and battle prowess; atop the fur, a skull and "torches" illuminated with paper flames.

In this "altar" room, the Klingons begin a simulation of the Rites of Ascension -- the Klingon equivalent of a bar mitzvah. None of the members is actually undergoing the rites; it is supposed to be educational to the growing crowd of "flatheads" (Klingon slang for "humans"). Then the Klingons move into the hallway for an actual "promotion" ceremony. Across the country, Klingons segregate themselves into "ships," and most participate in some form of volunteer work and often raise money for charities, including Doctors without Borders, the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, and the Shriners Hospitals for Children. A few ships have undergone group CPR and emergency relief training. To be promoted here is a reflection of the Klingon' s participation in this context, as well as a measure of the Klingon's contribution during role-play battles with other ships. Today, tIn 'HIch' nuj is being promoted to captain of his ship near the pay phones and an ATM, and to a chorus of Klingon "ooohs" and "ahhhs."

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