Neutral Zones

Actor Armin Shimerman talks safe spaces at Star Trek conventions in anticipation of the original series' 50th-anniversary gathering.

Star Trek Las Vegas, 2010 (Photo by Bob Calhoun)

It all started at a Star Trekconvention in September. Presidential polls were tightening, and the Trumpocalypse was approaching like a planet-eating Doomsday Machine. So Armin Shimerman — the actor who played Quark, the conniving Ferengi barkeep, through seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — decided to organize his fellow Starfleet alums to avert electoral catastrophe.

It was there, at Star Trek: Mission New York, that “Trek Against Trump” was born. More than 80 cast and crew members from five different Trek TV shows, the new and original film franchises, and even the animated series signed a statement urging Trekkers to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in November.

“We cannot turn our backs on what is happening in the upcoming election,” the statement reads. “Never has there been a presidential candidate who stands in such complete opposition to the ideals of the Star Trek universe as Donald Trump. His election would take this country backward, perhaps disastrously.”

But now it’s December, and that Denebian orange slime-devil actually went and won the election. So where does Trek Against Trump go from here?

“It doesn’t,” Shimerman says during a recent interview.

“I’m not saying it’s dead in the water,” he adds, “but it was not meant to go much further than what it did.”

While Shimerman has been going through the post-election stages of grief like most of us in the Bay Area, he will be closing out the year with a final Star Trek “50 Year Mission” convention at the SFO Hyatt Regency in Burlingame on Dec. 9-11.

“Most people see conventions in the wrong light,” Shimerman explains. “It’s not an escapist celebration, but rather, it’s more of a think tank.”

“It’s really about people getting together to talk about different ideas,” he says. “Yes, there is a celebration of a TV show. But more importantly, it’s a celebration of the ideas and thoughts and philosophies that Trek has promulgated over the last 50 years.”

Those Star Trek “thoughts and philosophies” bend toward equality for all races and genders. With its debut on NBC in 1966, Star Trek‘s vision of the future depicted a multiracial crew that was groundbreaking at the time. Japanese-American (and later LGBTQ) icon George Takei and the pioneering African-American actor Nichelle Nichols were both front-and-center on the bridge of the USS Starship Enterprise. Dr. Martin Luther King and a young Barack Obama were among the show’s earliest fans — as was Whoopi Goldberg, who later played mysterious bartender Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Subsequent Trek spinoffs in the 1980s and 1990s continued on the original series’ egalitarian course. Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) had an African-American captain (Avery Brooks), and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) put Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) in charge of a starship at a time when women were still prevented from serving in combat positions in the U.S. military. The later shows also supplied early examples of color-blind casting, with African-American actors playing Klingons and Vulcans, alien races that were portrayed by White actors in the original show.

And the conventions that Trek has become synonymous with have drawn a fanbase that is as diverse as the shows’ casts since at least the Red Hour Festival, the first San Francisco Star Trek con held at Lincoln High School in 1975. Although Shimerman feels that the United States has taken a giant step away from the Star Trek dream of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” he promises a Trek con is a safe space in a post-election America that is rejecting such things.

“I’m sure people don’t agree all the time,” he says. “At the same time, no one is going to get angry and commit some sort of aggression against the people who are speaking.”

Shimerman will sign autographs at the SFO Hyatt Regency during the day on Friday, Dec. 9, and appear with a musical act called the Star Trek Rat Pack later that night.

For the Rat Pack, Shimerman will be joined onstage by fellow Trek cohorts Jeff Combs, Vaughn Armstrong, Casey Biggs, and Max Grodenchik. They will croon their way through Trek parody tunes written by Grodenchik, who played Quark’s brother Rom on Deep Space Nine.

“Max is a brilliant, brilliant lyricist,” Shimerman enthuses. “Some of the lyrics are as famous as some of the more famous lines from our show[s].”

William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, appears at the con on Sunday, Dec. 11. Other stars — Walter Koenig (Chekov, from classic Trek), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), and John de Lancie (Q) — will meet their fans throughout the weekend. And if all that isn’t enough, there will also be a karaoke party on Saturday.

“Just come,” Shimerman says, “If you want to wear a costume, go ahead and do that. But certainly that’s not necessary.”

Shimerman says that Star Trek conventions are like state fairs, and the actors from the shows are like award-winning swine at the county fair.

“They come out to see the prize pigs,” he says, “but it’s really a community affair with neighbors meeting neighbors, having a great time.”

View Comments