Monday, September 9, 2013
A Nerd Journey
I watched Star Trek when it first appeared and was there when the first write in campaign ever done saved a show from cancelation. I watched the Green Hornet and saw a young actor name Bruce Lee. I watched Johnny Quest, the first night time cartoon for older kids. I watched Kung Fu, the role that was originally suppose to be Bruce Lee's. I watched even the horrible Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward and the over the top Wild, Wild West. I even vaguely remember watching the short lived Space 1999. I short, as a kid, I watched all things nerdish that I could and there wasn't much. The only thing I didn't watch was Lost in Space. I just didn't like it. Too much Swiss Family Robinson and not enough science fiction. Because I was relegated to the bedroom TV, since my dad didn't like all things nerd, I didn't get to see these shows until they were in rerun mode in color. There was even the short-lived Star Trek: The Animated Series. Still I loved them. They were mine.
Then the few books that were scifi sat on my shelf. I also had a few books by Robert E. Howard and of course the gold standard of fantasy and science fiction, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I had a subscription to the first glossy science fiction magazine, Omni. I bought each of the James Blish books which adapted Star Trek episodes into short stories and read them as if they may be the last books I would ever read. I spent my allowance and lawn mowing money on comic books. I loved Magnus, Robot Fighter and the Savage Sword of Conan and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire --- and of course the Gold Key issues of Star Trek and Wild Wild West. I even found a set of cheap necklaces all based on Star Trek. I still have one although I have never found it listed in any memorabilia lists for the show.
Despite what you've heard, nerd and geek are pretty much interchangeable just as Trek, Trekker and Trekkie are. I am a proud scifi nerd. Even when being a nerd was uncool and people made fun of us in documentaries and television, I was more or less unabashed about my love for the genre. Even William Shatner was telling us "to get a life," and Leonard Nimoy was reminding us that I am not Spock. Years later though they would remember that they had become cultural icons. Nimoy even wrote his second autobiography and called it I Am Spock. In 1975 or 76, I even tried to crash a speech that Leonard Nimoy was giving at Moby Gym in Fort Collins. I got lost on the way there and by the time I arrived, I was informed it was for CSU students only. I dejectedly turned around and made my way back to UNC, Greeley. A year later, we at UNC got our revenge when we got to see James "Sotty" Doohan present his favorite Star Trek episode, "The Doomsday Machine." I got his autograph. I am sorry to say that I lost it somewhere along the route to today.
I'd seen Star Wars five time just because I wanted to share this amazing movie with friends. I went to the Star Trek:The Motion Picture and forgave them for it. I even drove from UNC to Denver's best theatre at the time just so I could see Ralph Bakshi's animated fiasco adaptation of Lord of the Rings. I didn't forgive him for it. No one did. To top it all off, I hit the edge of a parking curb on the way out of the lot an blew a tire, the perfect addition to the gawdawful movie. By the early 80's there were plenty of great scifi movies, even if special effects were still in their infancy, and fantasy books. I'd discovered Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson and Raymon Feist.
When I was getting my masters degree, I went to see Wrath of Khan for the first time by myself. To this day I remember walking out of the best of any of the Star Trek films and seeing a very large biker standing in the middle of the lobby with tears streaming down his face. Spock was dead. I was depressed for a week. In those days, we didn't know that noone ever really died in Star Trek. We believed they did. "Spock Lives" became the mantra for many, because we knew the coffin on the newly created Genesis planet had to mean something. At least, we hoped it did. We were right.
Then we moved to Elizabeth, and I discovered the convention. Don't get me wrong. I knew there were conventions, I had just never lived close enough to where there was one that I could go to. My first convention was StarFest. Starland, a science fiction store dedicated to memorabilia, had sponsored them for years. They were the first place where nerds could gather. There were even a few who went to point at the nerds and geeks. I openly admitted that I was far from being able to discuss Star Trek by things like episode number. I wasn't the nerdiest of nerds. I still am not. Comic book conventions didn't fill much more than a conference room at a hotel, but Star Con's were huge. We, nerds had some place to belong. Sure a few dressed up but not nearly like they do now and we still called them costumes. There was no cosplay. Steadily, throughout the late 80's and 90's science fiction began to dominate. Blockbuster movies from Terminator to Alien and E.T. to Close Encounters ruled. Then came the return of Star Trek in the form of The Next Generation, and it all seemed to come together. With the growing strength of CGI effects in movies and the discovery that not just nerds would watch and read this stuff, popularity grew and grew.
As it became popular, I also quit going to StarFest. It had become more and more about the merchandise and how much money could be made from nerds and less and less about the fans and the genre. Actors began to charge their fans for making them famous. Cons also became more expensive, and I had children to feed, house payments to make...a luxury, and so I quit going. But StarFest had given me something, it was a way to introduce my passion to my son. My daughter was too young at the time. Still, I managed to turn both of my kids into nerds.
Suddenly though, a funny thing happened. Nerds became cool.
Next up...I return to the scene of the crime...Denver's Comic Con.