In “William Shatner’s Get a Life!,” a one-hour Epix documentary premiering July 28, writer-director-producer Shatner takes a sentimental look at “Star Trek” fans, tied to the show’s 45th anniversary.
For Shatner, who has had a complicated relationship with the “Star Trek” base and the franchise’s long shadow, the film comes full circle. After all, the title is derived from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which he snapped those words at trivia-obsessed Trekkers, which surely must have felt cathartic for an actor who at times understandably felt shackled to the role of Captain Kirk.
“We need the mythology to give us some meaning,” Shatner muses to an academic, seeking to encapsulate the passion on display.
Yet it’s too facile to simply write off ardent fan populations as hungering for community — an assessment that ignores a darker side, and deeper conversation, about potential disconnectedness. Then again, for the media industry — which increasingly relies on properties like comicbooks, science fiction and young-adult titles famous for producing swooning, frenzied acolytes — it’s perhaps more convenient to simply separate fools from their money, as it were, without devoting much thought to the why or how.
In Shatner’s special, for example, some fans explain their fascination with “Star Trek” as stemming from the series’ inherent hope for a better, more unified future.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and as the doc shows, most of the time the communal aspects are kind of sweet. Nevertheless, there can be a relationship between “hope for the future” and a gaping disenchantment with the present, helping transform enthusiasm into blind, almost irrational devotion.
There’s no polite way to say some people out there have lost perspective regarding their pop-culture diversions. And while that’s hardly new, the digital age’s modern wrinkle allows them, with a few simple keystrokes, to find like-minded people — perhaps thousands of miles away — who share their obsessions and thus reinforce the experience.
In “Get a Life!,” Shatner focuses on the cuddly part of all this. Actors from the various editions fondly discuss their interactions with Trekkers, and there’s even an orchestrated meeting between “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” co-star Terry Farrell and a die-hard fan, who weeps as if she’s won the lottery at the mere sight of the actress.
Still, many examples of unvarnished fandom are considerably less benign, including the recent story about RottenTomatoes.com feeling compelled to suspend user comments regarding “The Dark Knight Rises” due to the vitriol directed at critics who doled out unfavorable reviews.
As the site’s editor Matt Atchity told AP, “It just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn’t even seen.” The fact the movie had yet to open certainly buttresses the notion of blind devotion.
To a less-unsettling degree, we have also witnessed a growing phenomenon Adam Sternbergh identified in a New York Times essay as “superviewers,” describing a new breed of TV enthusiasts for whom the Web and social media serve as “a kind of electrocharged amniotic fluid” for its gestation. Focusing on the vehement backlash against “The Killing’s” inconclusive first-season finale, Sternbergh noted while early online fan forums gave irate viewers a voice, “Twitter has given them a megaphone.”
Usually such enthusiasm is merely that, and harmless. But anyone who has spent time among fan communities knows there are fringes — larger in relation to some properties than others — where the failure to distinguish between venting disappointment and outright hostility can be troubling.
Moreover, “Get a Life!” follows some convention-goers home, revealing houses cluttered with “Star Trek” memorabilia. Again, even they seem to recognize it’s cute and silly — provided, of course, one can genuinely afford such an investment, and amassing vintage Mr. Spock bobble-heads doesn’t come at the expense of food or rent.
No one really has an incentive to address these concerns, since such ardor is a valuable asset for marketers to unlock and exploit — particularly in a pay-to-view environment, which asks viewers to more frequently ante up.
That said, we’ve yet to grasp the implications of having more people in communities mediated through the Web — and what it means when your “friends” are digital if not outright fictional.