Monday, July 23, 2012

Trekkies, Trekkers, Evangelicals, and Labels

If you follow almost any science fiction genre at all, you're probably aware of a long-standing debate on what to call fans of Star Trek. Pretty much everyone knows about "Trekkies," but every now and again, someone will pipe up and comment that this term is incorrect, informing the misguided individual that the proper word to refer to fans of Star Trek is, in fact, "Trekkers."

The exact history behind the names is not entirely clear, but the debate clearly goes back almost to the beginning of the franchise. The name "Trekkie" goes back to at least 1967 (The original Star Trek itself premiered in 1966), and the "Trekker" alternative has been used since at least 1970 (less than a year after NBC cancelled the show, and it quickly found new life in rerun syndication). There are differing accounts of the precise meaning of each term, but the general consensus among Trek fans seems to prefer "Trekker" on the basis that "Trekkie" is derogatory and refers to "those crazy fans of the show" while "Trekker" indicates "sane fans who understand that Star Trek is just a TV show."

In most instances of two competing names for the same group of people, I usually advocate for using the alternative the people themselves prefer to use. The problem in this case, of course, is that this generally understood reason for preferring "Trekker" to "Trekkie" both exaggerates the number of "crazy" fans out there and understates the devotion of those who adopt the "Trekker" name. Trust me, if someone cares enough about what Trek fans are called to correct you for using "Trekkie" instead of "Trekker," they care about the Trek franchise a fair bit.*

I think we see something similar in our debates about what to call certain types of Christians. Some of us (sometimes including myself) want to avoid the "Evangelical" label because of the increasing association of that term with a particular brand of right-wing Christianity. Others (again, sometimes including myself) would like to salvage the term if at all possible. Even the name "Christianity" itself sometimes has these negative associations, leading a sizable number of believers to attempt to eschew "labels" altogether.

No label can fully describe the full nuance of any particular person. Human beings have an amazing capacity to defy such categorization. That said, we need labels. If we can't somehow shorthand groups of people with broadly similar characteristics, we lose our ability to describe each other at all. While I imagine that some people would be okay with this result (if it were even possible), I don't think it is a desirable outcome, because it would force us to look at each other as faceless, anonymous, and ultimately forgettable. If we are to truly grant each human being the worth that they are due as God's creations, we must be able to give description to the diverse characteristics we represent. Surely, even if the label of an "Evangelical Trekkie" is not entirely accurate for a given person such as myself (and, indeed, my immediate reaction to that phrase is an image of a Trek fan who tries to convert people to the "gospel" of Star Trek, which would hardly reflect the actual intention!), it is at least a memorable one!

*I have no intention of suggesting that I'm somehow a dispassionate observer to all of this. Even if the times I've referenced the Trek franchise on this blog in the past seven years weren't already a signal, I'm happy to acknowledge that I am a fan. That said, I really don't have much of a preference whether someone calls me a "Trekkie" or a "Trekker." Either one signals to non-Trek fans that I'm probably a bit odd! ;)

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