If one were to inadvertently enter The Vine pub in Manchester on the second Sunday of the month, they might wonder whether they’d stumbled upon a cult.
There are flags bearing strange symbols, a low murmuring emanating from a dimly lit basement and the pub’s occupants all don strange looking uniforms.
Manchester’s Star Trek fan club- USS Phoenix, is part of a countrywide network of groups including USS Valkyrie in Edinburgh and USS Iceni in London, who meet to share their love of all things Trek.
Sally Leith-Devlin is one of the groups volunteer organisers.
“I love setting quizzes and games, I’m a proper show off,” she said.
“It’s a community, my Star Trek family – a tribe.”
As they engage in a heated game of ‘Tribble or Drop’, it’s clear this understated group, spanning three generations, is a whole lot more.
“I’ve had heart to hearts,” Sally said.
“People share their problems, I’ve helped out- because I know they’d help me if I needed it.”
Patris, a life coach specialising in meditation and energy work, and the resident Vulcan, complete with robe and ears, explained:
“I identified with Spock as the only non-human character, I never felt I fit in human society, I loved Vulcan culture, the logic controlling our emotions to reach inner peace.”
For many, Star Trek is not a show, but a way of life.
But why does a universe which began as a low budget sci-fi show from the 60s, continue to inspire such a devoted fanbase?
Live Long and Prosper
Sally said: “I’ve found solace in the fact the Federation is inclusive of everyone and embraces difference, disabilities are accepted- for example Geordie Le Ford’s blind, Spock in the new series he’s got dyslexia.
“There’s a lot of people in this group with Asperger’s who struggle in social situations, here, those people are at home- my son is accepted and welcomed.”
The franchise has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years launching new spin-offs including Prodigy for younger viewers and Lower Decks, targeting the adult cartoon market.Purple Modern Gradient Steps How To Start A Business Tips Infographic
In an interview with Star Trek: The Pod Directive, director Alex Kurtzman, who has overseen the expansion of the Star Trek franchise since 2018 explained its impact.
“It has to go through a process of rebirth every few years, because Star Trek has always been this reflection of the time,” he said. “The best science fiction is allegory, it isn’t about the future, it’s about now.”
Part of Star Trek’s timeless appeal is its ability to comment on the state of the world without punching down on humanity.
Libby, a master’s student and lifelong Trekkie explained: “A lot of sci-fi, everything’s gone wrong, and we’re controlled by an evil AI, but Star Trek says, ‘what if we turned out OK?’
“In school we had to draw this map of what’s impacted our opinions. I remember putting Star Trek because it’s about doing things for the greater good, and the teacher said, ‘Oh utilitarianism?’ and I said to me its Star Trek! It’s saying the only way we’ll ever achieve, is to accept everybody- no group’s worth less.”
It’s no surprise many marginalised communities have found solace in a show which celebrates the diversity of life.
To boldly Go
Beginning with its origins as a Monster of the week suspense show, which creator Gene Roddenberry pitched as part adventure story, part morality tale, Star Trek has a long history of championing progress, from the Original Series’ racially diverse cast to Deep Space 9 pioneering one of the first televised lesbian kisses.
“My jaw dropped,” Libby said.
“These two women I love are having a relationship, I thought that was amazing.
“I grew up in a Christian family, so star Trek helped me make my own judgments about my sexuality, it questions why things are seen as bad, it got me to measure things ethically – who’s actually hurt by that?”
Despite often being unintentional in early series, the representation they have found in Star Trek has been hugely significant for many LGBTQ+ people.
Libby said: “I always viewed Seven as LGBT. She doesn’t understand why she should act a certain way around men, because she’s Ex-Borg, but that really resonated with me. I thought maybe I feel that way because I’m not into men.”
Dr Danielle Girard, who’s PHD explored Queer identities and slash fanfiction surrounding Star Trek said: “There’s always been a fascination with queerness in Trek, there’s an inherent queerness in the othered body of the alien and that’s why these things produce such marvellous queer subtexts, for example the interest around the Kirk/Spock dynamic.
“It’s fascinating how even early fans engaged with the source material in ways they carved out for themselves.”
This then is the heart of Star Trek’s success.
Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
While the show means different things to different people, by leaving content open to interpretation, it allows viewers to pick out and identify with whatever elements they choose.
Misty Chance, a Manchester based Drag Queen and self-confessed Trekkie, explained: “Back then most representation was done via science fiction- anytime the writers wanted to do something it was buried in sci-fi tropes and we spotted that but other people didn’t necessarily.
“It helps if you’re confused within yourself or you’ve not quite found your feet, there was always somebody you could identify with.
“Janeway was my surrogate mother, she meant a lot to gay men, they seem to gravitate towards strong female characters.”
There’s coffee in that Nebula!
Played by the unflappable Kate Mulgrew, Voyager’s female Captain, despite initial controversy, held her own amongst a catalogue of men at the hight of third wave feminism, something one member of USS Phoenix remembers all too well.
“There wasn’t a lot of decent female representation,” Nadine Payne explained.
“When you saw women represented in leadership, they went for the mother hen or the power bitch architype, it was nice to have someone who was actually just a level-headed, strong woman.”
From Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, the first black female characters in a regular prime time tv show, to Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Gene Roddenberry’s wife, as the quiet steady presence of Nurse Chapel, for many women and girls, Star Trek has provided 50+ years of female role models.
No minority it seems escapes without at least a nod.
As the meeting rounds up with the latest rank promotions recognising exemplary service from members, its plain to see how many people have benefitted from Star Trek’s unwavering commitment to representing every corner of humanity.
Sally said: “At the end of the day it’s just a TV show but seeing Star Trek portray that, maybe we can start to accept it in real life.”