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Star Trek: The Shackling of Creative Fandom

Today CBS/Paramount delivered the most passive aggressive set of guidelines for Star Trek fan films. The first page was this boilerplate thank you to the fans for ticking by the franchise for so many years. They even acknowledged the hard work and creativity of fan filmmakers. Then when you clicked the link to what was and wasn’t allowable for fan films, it was like, “Here are your creative shackles.”

CBS/Paramount has every right to maintain the integrity of their intellectual property. It is theirs. But if they were better stewards of the franchise, maybe the want of new content wouldn’t be so fierce. We live in a fandom culture. Without fans, there are no franchises. The fans are a necessary component. Fans are not audience members, they are meta-players in their beloved chosen fandom.

Whether it is fan films, fan fiction, podcasts, cosplay, philanthropy, fan art… the fans help to keep these fictional worlds alive during hiatuses, in-between seasons, or they rally together and fight to keep their shows on the air. That’s dedication and I feel it should be rewarded. In the case of Star Trek, it is kind of a damn shame that the fans cared more about the franchise than those who own it.

Star to the Fleet

We live in a world where I can walk into novelty stores such as, say, Hot Topic, or Toys R Us, and can get any amount of Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Minions, The Walking Dead, or even shudder Twilight merchandise. But try to find a Trek toy, or shirt, or bag, or watch anywhere but online. It is nearly impossible. Some comic book stores try, but it is a very difficult mission to undertake. Trust me. One thing Trek fans do have are a phenomenal amount of books. But when Twilight outstrips you in merch, you have a serious problem.

Many Trek fans (I am steering well clear of the Trekkies/Trekkers silly debate) see the Trek universe as something to aspire to. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, science and art being both elevated and normalized, companionship and fellowship, exploration, adventure, the life of the mind being considered as something other than frivolous. These are just some of the things that make Star Trek important.

Some will (and have) argued that J.J. Abrams is responsible for making Star Trek relevant again. This kind of craps on all of the heavy lifting the fans have been doing for decades. Abrams did not make Trek more relevant. I’ll concede that he made Trek more profitable. But at what cost?

Gone are the things — mentioned above — that make Trek, well Trek. What the last two films have given us are two of Abrams’ Star Wars audition tapes. Sources I have who are connected to the third film, Star Trek: Beyond, tell me that this new film, while being a little 2 Trek 2 Furious, screens as almost an apology letter to fans for the last two films. Kind of like DC Rebirth is apologizing for the New 52. Back to the intelligence, inter-species conflict, and source material integrity that was absent in red matter/convenient ice planet where Spock is chilling and over-emoting, Saldana misty eyes, and Aryan Khan. I’m looking forward to being immersed in a good Trek story.

And then there is the matter of the new a la carte Star Trek television program coming in 2017. It will be  delivered through CBS Access (one of the worst streaming sites I’ve ever dealt with). From these rumors, not sure how excited I am. But in the absence of televised Trek, a new film that I am only half-heartedly looking forward to, and no Federation to belong to or Starfleet Academy to attend, we have fan fiction and fan films.

Please take a look at the guidelines listed above. To me, they seem draconian and anti-fan. Maybe it was Anaxar that screwed it up for everyone? They got possibly too big, too greedy, or dubiously, too professional? But, hell. If you aren’t going to keep up the franchise in any way, the fans will pick up your slack. If I were in charge of a large franchise, especially Star Trek, here is what I would do:

Yes, I am playing Fantasy Starfleet. But franchises as venerable and beloved and supported as Star Trek, dare I say, owe the fans the opportunity to build in the sandbox they help maintain.

Without us, they’d be boldly going towards irrelevance and obscurity.

But what do I know? I’m the guy who still thinks Trek should exist only on television.

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