What makes Star Trek and the rest attract 'dweebs'?

Star Trek being the most obvious example. Why do some shows or movies develop a rabidly obsessive fan base? The classic is, of course, Star Trek, with an infinite number of conventions filled with nerds (think of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons) pretending to be different characters, yadah, yadah, yadah. This also has happened to the Star Wars movies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Simpsons, and more recently, Harry Potter. What exactly is it that makes somebody so crazy about a show or movie? Why is there no, I don’t know, “Forrest Gump” imitators, or “Home Improvement” conventions? (just picking these out of the wild blue)

(By the way, don’t consider this an attack. I kinda consider myself a Simpsons junkie, as well as an enormous ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ fan, probably bordering on the above descriptions, However, it hasn’t yet taken over my life.)

Hell if I know. I’m still trying to figure out how a show that only lasted three seasons and never made it any higher than #52 in the ratings became a pop-culture icon.

But I must say that Leonard Nimoy looked really hot in that blue shirt with those pointy ears and upward-slanted eyebrows. Of course, he hasn’t aged as well as William Shatner, but then again, I don’t see him doing really stupid commercials for dot com travel agencies, either.

I’m not sure if these qualify, because the rationale of their fans was different, or was it? I’m thinking of “Maude”, “Cagney and Lacey” and “Designing Women”, all of which at one point had cancellations revoked(?) because of feminist protests. I think it boils down to identification and admiration for either the lead characters or the ethos of the program.

That still leaves out cult films like “Eraserhead” or “Rocky Horror…”, which, try as I might, I can’t fit into this definition. The only thing I can imagine that ties their audience together is an aesthetic sensibilty. But while I liked these movies, I haven’t seen either in at least 10 years. I will however, happily watch the same “Simpson’s” episode twice in the same week.

I’m a huge Simpsons fan and I loved the Harry Potter books. As far as I can see it, the commonality of all the examples given is that they were all intriguing, entertaining shows with a lot of detail and development. I can sit around for hours with a fellow Simpsons fanatic and discuss plotlines, in-jokes and references to other episodes and movies. Springfield is a small universe unto itself, like Star Wars and Hogwarts. There’s a lot of vivid detail, like Buzz Cola, Radioactive Man, Duff, Krustyburger, and on and on.

I would imagine it’s much the same for Star Wars and Star Trek fans. In high school, I had Star Wars fanatic friends, one of whom would wear an insignia pin that tied in to it some way or another-I’ve forgotten exactly how. I would think one of the appealing things about joining a following of a show would be the community of other fans.

I think that there are two stages of this obsessiveness. First, when a program or book offers something that nothing else in the popular realm offers, there will be a group of people who REALLY appreciate it. As more people are exposed, it becomes a kind of pass into a subcultural group.

With some of these shows/books, the people who appreciate them are comfortable in a number of social situations, so they remain an addition to the enthusiast’s milieu. I think The Simpsons and Rocky Horror fall into this category. Those who are comfortable in a smaller set of social situations tend to create a more all-encompassing social environment in which all of their social needs can be served in a safe environment in which they know that everyone shares a common interest. Star Trek, D&D, and the Grateful Dead fall into the latter category.

This is NOT to say that everyone who participates in these more developed groups is a social misfit. These movements require a great deal of effort to maintain. The die-hard Trekkers and Deadheads create an evironment that a full spectrum of fans can enjoy as an addition to their broader social connections. I went to Dead shows whenever they were in town, and I really want to go to a Trek convention some day, but I couldn’t imagine giving up the variety of my social experience for the effort reqired to be a true devotee.

Once again, I am not saying that all Trekkers and Deadheads are social misfits, only that the hardcore fan base includes many who enjoy a safe eveloping evironment of shared interests.

How could you have missed one so far? I’ve been to two just by stumbling into them while in a convention center for something else.

Two reasons I can think of:

  1. The “Unknown Worlds” hypothesis. Some works contain within them the ability to take you anywhere you want to go. They’re open to any kind of expression or reinterpretation. In “Star Trek,” you can set adventures on new worlds, add new characters, jump back and forth in time, redefine the characters (“slash” fiction, anyone?). You can do this with poetry, prose, artwork, music, spoken-word, in any fashion.

These are worlds that give your imagination room to roam.

  1. The “Community” hypothesis. There are a lot of people who have a hard time dealing with the quotidian world. Or they’re bored with a life that involves doing the same thing every day until you retire or get a coronary at your desk. For a lot of people, this kind of life is just ducky, but for some, it’s not. They go looking, and they find fandom, which engages the imagination and also gives them an easy entree into a more interesting world. It becomes very easy to talk to other people at a convention, since you already share interests in common. It’s an instant community.

This is not to say tht everyone who attends a convention is dweeby or lacking in social skills, but I’ll bet the percentage is higher, as well as the tolerence for people who are different. That’s another attraction.

pesch wrote:

Yeah, but they basically have to give up dating.

Oh, sure it is. :wink:

But even nerdy fangeeks have groups they will ostricize. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is a pecking order among the fangeeks – there is such a thing as “nerd cool”! And woe betide any nerd that doesn’t measure up to the standards of the rest of the nerd community, because (s)he will be shunned by both the other nerds and by the mainstream community at large.

Not that I’m bitter. :mad:

I like things/shows/etc. without regard to the rest of the population. The cancelled (altho’ on rerun) Pretender series and the old Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan) are 2 that I really enjoy.

Oh, I disagree. There’s quite a bit of dating that goes on in the community. And quite a bit in the way of creative sexual escapades that go on at various CONs.

…the horror.

Yea, you have not lived till you had some goofy Klingon chicks try to ravage you in the Klingon way. Sorta the opposite of a gang of steelworkers looking at a pretty girl (except you do not know what they are saying, only you know that it is naughty by the way they say it)

I felt so cheap…

For your info, I was selling stuff there and like Star Trek but do not consider myself a FAN.

Lord of the Rings has all the markings of generating the same kind of phenomenon.

I quoted it in another thread, but it was funny at the time and bears repeating:

William Shatner at at Star Trek convention as portrayed on SNL:

“Wake up, you losers! It was a stuipid TV show! Get a damn life!”

First of all, the phenomenon goes a lot further back than this. Sherlock Holmes fans were the original “Trekkies” – they used to mob the offices of “The Strand” (which published most, if not all, of the SH stories) whenever a new SH issue came out. Fans used to write to Doyle, always asking questions. Doyle came to hate Holmes, and killed him off in the relatively early story “The Final Problem”. (Just like Spock in Star Trek III). But there was too much demand for the character, and Doyle needed the money, so he resurrected him in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and later, for real, in “THe Adventure of the Empty House”. (Just like Spock in Star Trek IV). Fans went to London, looking for 221B Baker Street (which didn’t exist). They formed organizations, many of which exist to this day. They publish fanzines like The Baker House Journal and The Sherlock Holmes Journal.

Obviously, I’m a Holmes fan to even know all of this.
I don’t know if this phenomenon existed before Holmes – probably, but I don’t know of any examples.
As for why it attracts “dweebs”, I think you’ve got your classic self-fulfilling prophecy there. You’re not interested in this, so those who are must be dweebs. Your interests, on the other hand, be it a particular sport, Sea Stories , Hunting, Camping, Needlepoint, Ballet, or whatever, attracts aficionados. Sportsmen/women, maybe.
When D&D first became popular, a lot of people were decrying this awful development – not the people claiming it was satanic, but the more reasonable commentators, who wondered why young people had to turn to such fantasies when Real Lifge should be enough. They even made that TV movie “Mazes and Monsters” (starring a young Tom Hanks, showing how D&D wrecked a young life, a la “Reefer Madness”). Why watch a fictional movie, one might as well ask, when Real Life ought to be enough?

People always look askance on an addiction that is not their own.

Lots of fine answers here. Frank, from your OP examples of fantasies conducive to a following vs. those that aren’t, the difference is that the do’s all are quite apart from the everyday world. They allow the mind to play and explore areas away from the normal humdrum. “Dweebs” might be also described as people who are plenty intelligent, but aren’t satisfied with the regular fantasies offered by the society they live in. The intrigue of odd worlds creates a more enjoyable space to play.

IMHO, the world needs more space for this. Creativity is the best aspect of this ol’ Homo Sapien mind, and we’re usually asked to fit into an easily manageable mode. It doesn’t hold well with people who think beyond that mold, so dreams of space flight, wildly adorned abandonment, and wise-ass cartooniness are going to garner a more gleeful entourage. We all love a parade, and the more masks, the merrier!

PS: Cal, Wow! I suppose that much of the appeal at the original time with Sherlock Holmes was that his mystery engaged reader’s minds in a novel way that they didn’t want to give up. Wish Mr. Doyle could see what expectations his stories have created of late!

BTW, I’d like to point out that there are many sports fans who are as obsessive as your typical ultra-Trekkie. Y’know, people who have memorized reams of sports stats and info about their favorite teams or players. For whatever reason though, people don’t tend to look askance at them in the same way.

Being a fanatic of the Steelers, Star Trek, Babylon 5, D&D, several computer games including Quake 2, etc… None of these takes over my life.

For a little while I can escape the mundane world of disappointments and setbacks while I enjoy activities with friends who like the same things. It’s like Halloween time at conventions- people can step out of their lives and try something different. With TV shows and movies, you can live vicariously through the characters. It’s a matter of escapism- you don’t have to worry about anthrax, terrorists, the economy (unless you want to!)

I could never play football at a pro level, but I feel like I’m there with Jerome Bettis as he breaks through the line when I watch a game.

But escaping for a while does not mean I don’t have a life.

Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop” featuring “Little Nell”, published as a magazine serial in the 1840’s. As ships came into port, fans thronged the piers asking disembarking passengers about the latest installment, and whether Little Nell had been killed off.

A common thread that I have noticed in the fans of Star Trek, Star Wars, Twin Peaks, Harry Potter and other “cultish” sorts of things is that they often attract people who enjoy messing around with codes and sets.

These are people (I’m one of them) who like arranging things and rearranging them. Who like to make categories and subcategories, and lists, and groups. That’s why it’s fun to organize star ships (what kind, how fast, how big, how old, etc), and alien races (good, bad, smart, not so smart, green, sort of like people, sort of like insects, sort of like fish), and planets, and quidditch teams.

At the same time, codes are fun. All of these cults can be seen like a puzzle, if you put the pieces together in different ways, you get different results. Some are supplied by the source material, and some by the imagination of the fans. The more you master your sets, the easier it is to compile the code (even when the creators assert that there is in fact no “answer” to the puzzle). This personality trait is also responsible for why so many fans of these cult things will agonize over apparent mistakes and contradictions in the source material, and invent ways to make the pieces fit.

Something like Forrest Gump just doesn’t have enough stuff in it to make arranging it fun.

I’m sure plenty of fans will not fit this description, however, I believe that many, if not most, fans will display this inclination to some extent. I would also speculate that the more hard core the fan group, the more they will engage in this endless codifying.

In my role of armchair philosopher, I would also assert that this personality type existed well before even the esteemed Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Back in cave days, there were probably some people on the fringe who liked to sort their rocks – by size, color, general shininess, etc. and left the rest of the cave population scratching their heads and wondering what could possibly be so interesting about putting rocks in different groupings.