I don’t know if a Shatner impression translates well into print. But let me tell you, I know a thing or two about Star Trek fandom. My high-school beau SPOKE KLINGON. And tutored it to other fans. And sent designs for several new spacecraft to the show in high hopes. Not the best relationship, all things considered. When you’re 16, you definitely do not want Lieutenant Uhura to be “the other woman.”
Anyway, Textual Poachers had some excellent insights into the nuances of fandom and the strange space it creates for textual analysis, community participation, and consumption of a narrative. I was struck particularly by one point Jenkins made just before the end of chapter 3, when he discusses “emotional realism.” On page 115, he cites Elizabeth Flynn in a discussion of the careful balance between the fan’s detachment and overinvolvement. The “productive middle ground” from which ST fans read the show is comprised of a distinct “sense of self” and a sense that the world within the show is real and that “characters maintain a life…beyond the screen.” Flynn also argues that too much of one or the other will either result in a lack of strong ties to the show (not helpful in fandom) or emotional intanglement which results in an enslavement by the story and character arcs.
Jenkins argues that ST walks this line perfectly, as its world reflects many of the same issues, processes, and personality types that we actually experience. Fans feel comfortable critiquing the goings-on in the ST universe, and also feel a sense of intimacy with the show because of the easily-made direct comparisons with real life. Truisms from the show (i.e. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”) are simultaneously applicable to our livable philosophy. When the realism is sullied by a ridiculous character or unrealistic injustice in the ST world, producers and writers come under fire rather than the characters imbued with realism and humanity.
Predictably, I am now thinking about LOST. Lost was a straight-up character show in season 1 – the diverse cast was dropped into an insane situation and human relations carried the plot, rather than vice versa. Although the setup was fantastical – a mystical island, cursed numbers, whispers in a remote jungle – the script was grounded in the natural progression of friendships, romance, and dawning survival skills. And we, as viewers, found emotional realism, becoming rabid about dissecting the motives of each character. However, once the hatch was opened and people began to time-travel and rise from the dead, the show’s audience felt violated, even mocked. I know I was, and my compadres online will probably agree – LOST “jumped the shark” once the show moved its center from character development to the supernatural and uncontrollable unfolding of events.
Maybe this “emotional realism” is about a semblance of control over the occurences of the fictional world – as long as the characters are moving events along as a result of their own thoughts and actions, we can deal with suspending disbelief. Once the plot gets out of control, however – meaning, it progresses without the impetus of humans – we feel exploited as a TV demographic, and not as active participants.