Some thoughts on “TOXIC” fandom… (editorial)

The “fallout” from my Star Trek Day blog editorial continues even five days later…on Facebook, in the comments section of that blog, and even via e-mail. In fact, after sharing my excitement over the new Trek series with my best friend, he was adamant in his resistance to the new direction of Star Trek.

You can slap the name on it but it don’t make it Star Trek! Okay, maybe it’s a little bit Trek, but it really is just bad TV, forget bad Star Trek. Terrible writing, terrible acting, bad directing. Unwatchable to me. If I had never seen Trek I still wouldn’t watch it as just below the standards of everything else I prioritize.

Yeesh! Well, hoping that I might be able to change his mind just a little, I sent my friend something I was really psyched about: the just-released trailer for the brand new animated series Star Trek: Prodigy

He watched it, but my friend was NOT impressed…

Terrible.  Not recognizable as Star Trek no matter how much you put old Trek actors in the show.  It’s all young kids, stupid aliens, and action and special effects.  It’s not about people and it lacks any depth and intellectualism.  It bears no resemblance to Star Trek.

I joked to my friend that I was a Star Trek “liberal,” and he was a Star Trek “conservative.” This is also true in real political life. He voted for Trump and other GOP presidential candidates going back decades (although he has recently left the Republican party and re-registered as an Independent, but he is still quite conservative), and I’ve voted for Democrats pretty much since I turned 18. And yet, we’re best friends…we just constantly argue about politics. Yes, folks, it CAN be done!

However, in reference to Star Trek, I was using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” not politically but literally…as in dictionary definition of each word. Liberal literally means “open to new ideas, not bound by traditional forms.”  I’m totally that way when it comes to Star Trek. I have a love/hate relationship with Discovery, and I think Picard did well for eight episodes and then jumped the shark on the last two in its first season (and the villains totally sucked). But I remain open and supportive of the various new series…as I’ve said in countless blog posts.

As a comparison, conservative means “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” That’s my friend (and many fans) when it comes to Star Trek these days. And back in 1987, it was those “conservative” fans who thought Star Trek must be about Kirk and Spock (or maybe Captain Sulu) and 23rd century adventures, not a bald French captain with an English accent in the 24th century flying around in a starship that looked like a pregnant duck.

In short, my friend is Scotty looking at the U.S.S. Excelsior and saying, “Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.” And I’m Kirk responding, “Now, now, Mr. Scott…young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.”

So now that I’ve not only stepped on the third rail of Star Trek (whether or not the new CBS series are good or bad) but ALSO on the third rail that is politics, let me go for the hat trick and step on the third third rail and add in religion so I can piss off just about everyone reading this!

The following editorial was actually written LATE Saturday night (like 2am because I couldn’t sleep and was catching up on replying to blog comments). One particular comment was written by a fellow calling himself “Cap’n Calhoun” and you can read his entire post here. But the main snippet I’d like to share is his final paragraph…

Your reviews of both the series and the fan films are a breath of fresh air. You take neither an unrealistically positive nor unrelentingly negative view of either, and you’ve had some interesting insights too. (I loved your breakdown of how the Lower Decks characters match up to fan types last year.) You’re able to keep the optimistic attitude one would hope for in a fan of an optimistic franchise, but you clearly aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses. You’re able to give solid criticism without acting like a killjoy to anyone who doesn’t agree. Please keep it up.

I hadn’t intended to write a particularly elaborate response, but at two in the morning, sometimes the muse just sings to you. And so this was (most of) my reply…

Like politics and religion, I believe that the problem with Star Trek (and sci-fi) fans today stems from two basic truths about humans in general:

1) We feel very entitled.
2) We hate to be wrong.

Most people are NOT selfless. In fact, we can be very self-centered and believe that we deserve better. It motivates some of us to work harder and others to complain (or both!). But when it comes to government or religion or Star Trek, we feel that our needs should be served. We pray to God or Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster because we worship Him/Her/It/Them, and that should count for something, right? Government should fix this or that because we pay such high taxes. Star Trek should be awesome because we deserve awesome for all the time and money we spend on it and how loyal we are.

We feel entitled.

As for wanting to be right, that’s totally a human thing. Religions have gone to war over wanting to be right. This country is currently tearing itself apart politically because Democrats and Republicans can’t bring themselves to a place of compromise and acknowledge that maybe both sides are a little right (correct) and a little wrong.

The problem with needing to be right is that when someone else believes differently, it challenges your “certainty.” Think about religion. If you and those like you believe that only by accepting Jesus Christ into your heart as your lord and savior that you will go to heaven, then a Jew like me creates a conundrum. I’m willing to risk my immortal soul and burn forever in the fires of hell simply because I believe otherwise. Why would anyone possibly make that choice? Why would I risk eternal damnation just to avoid loving Jesus? Is that really so hard? Why would Jonathan choose to take that dangerous chance? After all, he’s a smart guy (or seems to be). Why gamble unnecessarily when it’s so easy to just jump ship from Judaism to Christianity? And it’s not just me. Billions of non-Christians—including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and countless others—will also be locked out of heaven if the majority of Christians (themselves a minority of the world population) are right.

That’s why many religions try so hard to convert others to their way to seeing things: because the more people out there who don’t share that same belief, the more doubt it creates (even in the back and most buried part of one’s mind) that “Hmmmm, am I really right about all this?” Doubt is, of course, the natural enemy of faith…always has been.

In order to fight that doubt—if trying to convert the non-believer doesn’t work—the “go to” alternative is to 1) cling to your own beliefs ever more tightly (what those of you who are already typing passionate responses to my comment about Jesus and Christianity are doing right now), and/or 2) vilify the non-believer and cast him out. After all, someone who doesn’t believe as you do must not be a good person, since you are obviously a good person. So you point out all of their flaws, use the “gotcha” whenever possible, call them names and insult them, and maybe even resort to confrontation and/or physical violence. (I don’t necessarily mean YOU you, more of the conceptual “you.”) The same thing happens in politics…particularly in the last decade or so.

This tribalism has been taken to extremes religiously with things like the Nazi holocaust and terrorist Islamic extremism…and politically with the Civil War, racism and prejudice in America, and even the recent January 6 insurrection.

A little less extreme has been fans’ reaction to the newest Star Trek series. But while no one is bringing out the gallows and shouting, “Hang Alex Kurtzman!” the online rhetoric and vitriol has certainly been turned up to 11 and beyond. And why? Because we want to be right; we HAVE to be right! So we seek out those voices who agree with us—in fandom, in religion, in politics. We read the “right” blogs, listen to the “right” podcasts, join the “right” Facebook groups, and watch the “right” news channels. And we complain about and insult the “other.”

That’s why, for many fans who rail against CBS, the arguments are passionate and absolute, allowing no room to accept the possibility that the new Star Trek is anything other than complete garbage and an insult to all the brilliance that has come before. In other words, they cling ever more tightly to their beliefs and often hurl insults not only at CBS but at any who disagree and actually show some support for the opposite opinion.

Granted, it’s not everybody…thank goodness! As many hornets as I awakened on Facebook last week, the vast majority still had better things to do. And not everyone is political junkie or a Bible-thumper. In terms of religion, I’m a “Whateverist” and don’t really care what someone else believes. And I certainly won’t insult someone or call them names for not liking new Star Trek. But to some out there, the need to be right and to pressure others to agree with you, or else be scorned and ridiculed, is very strong. It results in toxic fandom, toxic religion, toxic politics. It’s not pretty, but it is…sadly…very human.

11 thoughts on “Some thoughts on “TOXIC” fandom… (editorial)”

  1. Yep, the response you have been getting on FB could have been reliably predictable. If it had been on Twitter, your being Ratioed would have been certain. That’s where mosty negative comments outnumber any likes or shares.
    I’m reminded, that, when all the other ST series first came out, I really didn’t much care for them, especially, Enterprise and Deep Space Nine. Even the first season of TNG was less than stellar. But, eventually, I came around, like even now, with Disco. I finally came to love STE & DS 9. And I’ll confess, I was less than thrilled with Captain Jainway, but even she won me over in the end. I suspect, others will come round eventually to the new stuff, while still complaining about it? As for politics and religion, the vast majority have more in common than they realize. If it weren’t for the instigators the politicians & Media stirring up shit, it would be much better. They are like the kid on the playground, who listens to some kid complaining about another, then races over to tell that other kid what so and so said, and keeps it up, back & forth, until there’s a fight.

    1. A rather odd comment to post, as Facebook comments haven’t really started coming in yet.

      In fact, I’ve only seen two so far. One was John Craft, who essentially agreed with me, and the other was Justin Burton, the admin over at Star Trek Fan Productions known for being very critical and confrontational. In his case, it was a head-scratching reaction:

      “IT is bad taste that you are using your platform and THIS platform to complain about people complaining. There are better things to write commentary on As James Hams has closed other threads of this topic I will be doing the same here. ~Admin”

      And then he closed off comments…probably not realizing that he was complaining about me complaining about people complaining. 🙂

  2. Maybe people should let go of their sanctimonious need to be right (and to bully others behind the safety of a keyboard). If you like something and I don’t – that’s cool. We have different opinions and something that make our chats more interesting. Sadly, when it comes to that, I almost always agree with your assessments, Jonathan.

    Gotta mangle a Kirk quote now:

    “I can do a lot of other things. Am I afraid of losing the prestige and the power that goes with being right? Is that why I’m fighting it? Am I that petty?”

    Learned long ago – my ego has very little to do with anything except me. Bring in the IDIC.


  3. Great article!

    One thing to consider is that fans can be “fanatical”, which, of course, is where the word “fan” came from.

    Science Fiction fans have been feuding for decades, so it’s not new, but social media has certainly led made it more pervasive, and tedious.

    As far back as the 1930’s fans weire feuding.

    One group of fans (some who went on to become noted science fiction authors or publishers, like Isaac Asimov, Donald Wolheim, and Frederick Pohl) were The Futurians.

    They were very left leaning , and “…. had their own ideas as to what fandom could accomplish: promoting a progressive and left-leaning political ideology. Indeed, a number of the Futurians would come from various leftist ideologies”.

    The Futurians feuded with other fans, and it led to them being barred from the July 2nd 1939, World Science Fiction Convention, Nycon I, over something they didn’t exactly do, although I can see why the logical assumption
    was that they did do it.

    Books have actually been written on the subject, from Damon Knights “The Futurians” to Sam Moslowitz’s The Immortal Storm.

    To me, it’s a fascinating piece of ancient fan history, and it shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same, and that there’s nothing new under the sun.

    As for Nu-Trek vs Old Trek, your friends comments seem a bit strident. I’ve been a fan since September 8, 1966. I like Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, and the Abrams movies fine, but there are a few things that bother me, and none of them have to do with the left leaning nature of Star Trek; it’s plot issues, and Characters that do questionable things.

    For example, in the first Abrams movie, Nero
    is mad at Spock because of the destruction of Romulus. Nero is thrown back in time, and floats around in space for a decade or so, waiting for Spock.

    Sooooo we’re expected to believe that, with all that time, sitting around in space, not one single Romulan thought: “hey, we have decades before Romulus is destroyed, let’s go give them a heads up!”?

    In the same movie, Nero’s ship is wrecked. He’s falling into a wormhole. He is no threat, at they point, to the Enterprise. Kirk offers help. Nero says no, at which point Kirk’s order is “fire all photon torpedoes!”.

    Why? Nero was dying anyway. His ship was a wreck. Why did Kirk turn into a cold blooded murderer?

    Oh, Nero deserved it, but Kirk could have just let him and his crew die in the wormhole of their own making.

    That was where I thought, “this blood thirsty Star Fleet sure isn’t the one I remember”.

    Other that that, the movie was fine… well except for the part where they put a guy who hadn’t even graduated from Star Fleet Academy his own Starship. That was really not realistic. I guess he got his GED.

    Then we get Discovery where they pretty much violated the Federations ban on genetically manipulating humans (understandably so) throughout season one, but then have the hutzpah to lecture Star Fleet about following rules.

    Like, what did Burnham think the Emperor meant, when she said that she eradicated the Klingons like a cancer? Most people would have asked “uh what do you mean by that”, rather than “okey doke”, and then be surprised that when Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius idea of eradicating then was, well, eradicating them.

    It’s that sort of thing that bothers me. I can point out plot holes left and right from the original series, but they didn’t have the budget they needed, and had to practically crank out an episode a week. They didn’t have the luxury of a big budget, or a 15 episode, or so, season.

    Anyway, sorry for the long response, but fan feuds and Star Trek are subjects I like!

    1. I find the tales of the early Futurians to be fascinating, Chris. I’m guessing that Robert Heinein was NOT a Futurian, as he was very conservative (“Starship Troopers” could easily have been a Nazi training manual!). But Asimov being ultra-liberal, I can totally believe that. Who here is dying to see the new “Foundation” series on Apple+?

      As for shortcomings with JJ Trek and Discovery, I’m right there with you. I could complain about both for hours or even days! My point is simply that I personally don’t feel the need to bash Bad Robot or CBS for making something I personally don’t think was good Star Trek, or bash others for not hating those films and that TV series with a passion. I would never choose “no” Trek over “bad Trek. But others don’t feel the same way, and this blog looked at some of the reasons why that might be so.

  4. (Apologies if you’ve got this already, I’m not sure if the submission went through OK)

    I think the liberal vs conservative take is probably right, I’m a liberal too in this regard. It all comes down to how accepting of new ideas you might be.

    It maybe that these changes can make us feel like we’re getting older. Also, there’s no way that these new series will give us the same buzz that we had when we were kids. It’s just not possible. I, myself, get weary of long drawn out action sequences in a way I never used to when I was younger. Then again, my younger self was prepared to accept the Enterprise lurching and skidding into orbit around the same looking planet every week 🙂

    Can’t help but think of the Spock quote:

    “Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?”


    How many Brits does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: None. We’ve had the old bulb for a hundred years and we’re not about to go changing it now.

    You’re right, humans are tribal, so if you think one way you’ll look for others who do the same. So it’s not surprising that this happens.

    If there’s one olive branch people do this because they care passionately. A world without a bit of passion in it wouldn’t be worth living in. Even if there are times when it gets out of hand.

    Anyway, I appreciate a bit of thought provoking every so often so that was a good read, thanks.

  5. “he was complaining about me complaining about people complaining. ”
    A story I once read comes to life. This was about someone in a religious service that accidentally interrupts the service. Someone else says “you’re interrupting the service” and then a third person complains about the second one. This confirmation that the story I once read is true in the world brought a rueful smile to my face.

    “online rhetoric and vitriol has certainly been turned up to 11 and beyond. And why? ”

    I’m stepping way back and asserting that it’s the “tenor of the times”. I can look at Canada, South America and Europe and find online rhetoric and vitriol over politics, Covid and other topics beyond 11.

    So, to put on a SF hat, I, as a member of a species investigating the planet Earth wonder why such divisions are so widespread infecting so many different places and areas. To tie this to trek, assume it is the TOS ship, the TNG ship or any other Trek ship investigating the strange behavior of the apparently intelligent creatures that call themselves human.

    What you wrote is certainly true. But I think it’s beyond wanting to be right and confirmation bias. I’m old enough to remember when the divisions were not black and white. We had northern Republicans much more liberal than Southern Democrats for example. The Republican Richard Nixon for all his faults signed a bill creating the EPA. Today that’s beyond incredible.

    So my question to add to your question is “why are the divisions so much more extreme and so widespread today”? I’ll refrain from giving my personal thoughts because if I did we could go into a supernova of debate in this site which is WAY beyond its purpose.

    1. A number of people who’ve responded to this blog on Facebook believe–and quite correctly, I agree–that mankind has always been tribal in seeing an “us” and a “them” and not always being civil in disagreements. We might say that we remember the “good old days,” but as Billy Joel once sang, “The good old days weren’t always good.” Indeed, disagreements used to be decided by pistol duels at dawn. During the French Revolution, an entire class of society was beheaded in a matter of weeks. Wars have been fought not simply over religion but actually by sects of the SAME religion. Presidents have been assassinated, cities looted and burned, innocent people hanged…all so one side could feel like they “won” the argument. In this way, I think we’re just as disagreeable and offensive to each other as we’ve always been…only now we can just do it instantaneously and from the comfort and safety of our homes.

  6. Very good insight on how everyone tends to get entrenched in wanting to be right, becoming very aggressive about it. The net makes easier to communicate and while it unifies people with similar ideas this can also create bigger rift with those of opposing views, this is probably the reason society is so polarised today.

    And, by the way, I also agree on your assessment of Picard: there is a lot of true art in that series but also some huge missteps, mostly emerging in the last double episode. Looking forward to season 2, of course!

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