Having Boldly Gone: Tales from the Star Trek Convention
I will admit to no small disappointment that even though I was attending Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention at the Westin St. Francis as press for the Weekly, all I got at registration was the same red wristband they gave to general admission ticket-holders. No excellent lanyard like the one I got at the furries convention, Further Confusion, (the high standard by which all press passes are judged), or even the basic but still beautiful name badge that all My Little Pony attendees at Everfree Northwest received. C'mon, Creation! Some of us are tryin' to build lanyard collections!
Lanyard or not, I got to see what a Star Trek convention looks like in 2012 and I interviewed writer David Gerrold, an early hero of mine, so I ain't complaining. (At least, not too much.)
There were three main components of the convention available to those of us with the rabble tickets: the Ballroom, where people spoke and things were shown; the Vendor Room, where merch was sold; and the Room Twixt the Ballroom and Vendor Room, where merch was also sold, but more official-looking merch than in the Vendor Room. Creation Entertainment is a purveyor of merch as much as they're a holder of conventions, taking no small amount of pride in the large amount of super-official merch they're licensed to sell. (I mentioned in my previous article how charmingly Web 0.9 their website is, and it only gets better on Creation's frame-heavy store section, which implores AOL users who are experiencing errors to "try another browser such as Firefox or Internet Explorer." Brilliant.)
But, yes. In both the Vendor Room and Twixt, there was merch.
While the majority of the newer and shinier merch was in the Twixt, it was in the Vendor Room that the sellers with less clout could be found, and things got less official, less new, more bootleggy, and thus more interesting -- and a bit more like the Trek conventions of yore, not to mention the homegrown fan conventions of today.
But first, yore. From his special The Star Trek Dream, here's Bob Wilkins discussing the vendor room at San Francisco's first Trek convention, 1975's Space-Con.
Bob Wilkins sounds like the sweetest guy in the world even when he's using the word "huckster," doesn't he? What's necessarily changed in the ensuing
25 37 years is that there's very little fan-made material for sale, both because Paramount and now CBS Studios have been known to crack down on the copyright violators, and because, well, between Creation's license and the sheer quantity of stuff being made available through startrek.com, there's just not much need (or room) for handmade merch. I mean, good heavens, just look at the Prints / Fine Arts / Photos page on the official site. I'm not being snarky, either; it's some really great work.
And why would you buy somebody's homemade model of the Enterprise or third-gen glossy of William Shatner when the (usually higher-quality) versions are there for sale, and possibly less expensive? There was a staggering amount of mostly high-quality fan-made Pony art at Everfree Northwest, but hardly any Trek fan art at this convention. It's fascinating to experience them both within a few months each other, to see the "Before" and "After" stages of such similar pop culture phenomenons.
I'm not alone in this opinion that My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a modern parallel to Star Trek in terms of fandom (and the media's scornful treatment of said fans); Trek royalty, Saturday convention speaker, and voice of Discord John De Lancie is currently shooting a documentary about Pony fandom based on the same thesis. Just sayin'.
Something else that used to be part of the appeal of a sci-fi convention, particularly in the '80s and '90s, but has since gone the way of the VCR: Bootleg media. Until roughly a decade ago, a convention was often the only reliable sources of such genre rarities like The Star Wars Holiday Special or The Star Trek Blooper Reel or the more recent Phantom Edit, usually on VHS and eventually on DVD-R. There's just no need for that particular underground market in a YouTube and BitTorrent world, when The Phantom Edit is available in its entirety on Vimeo. Heck, you can watch it right now, on this very page! The market has spoken.
Still, when you venture far enough into the corners of the Vendor Room, there were sellers who offered a flea market-like hodgepodge of toys and models and used books and magazines they'd probably shrink-wrapped, as well as 13" x 20" movie posters which may well have come out their laser printers that very moment. Now that is some old-school Star Trek convention commerce, and I salute them.
As I did, I saw Celeste Yarnall, an actress who was not only in an episode of the original series but also appeared in Jerry Lewis's The Nutty Professor, the Elvis vehicle Live a Little, Love a Little, and Stephanie Rothman's lesbo-vamp-chic sleazefest Velvet Vampire, and she was selling DVDs (some bootleg, some not) of all these things and more. And Ms. Yarnall keeps working, appearing in the 2012 Elvis Found Alive, the latest from Last Testament of George Harrison director Joel Gilbert. You gotta admire that kind of nonstop work ethic. Ms. Yarnall's, I mean.