Charity, Sci-Fi

What it means to be a Sci-Fi fan

I copied this post over from my old blog and updated a part of it slightly because I still think it’s relevant to this one.

So many times I have had people look at me and roll their eyes when they find out I’m a Sci-Fi fan. Why? Because there is a stigmatism attached to being part of the fanbase of a genre that uses science to present us with the make believe. I’ve been called a geek, a freak, a nerd. All of these labels I hold onto with pride and they have long since lost the insult factor people intend them to hold when slung at me. Why? Because quite simply I would rather be a member of Sci-Fi fandom than of any other fandom or group.

Science Fiction has given us more than a lot of other genres have. Take a look at Star Trek, each series has explored something that hasn’t previously been seen on television, and no I’m not just talking about aliens, because, let’s face it, so many shows have done the alien thing. Take a look at the original series, with the casting of Uhura, not only were we given a female character in a lead role, but we were given an African-American female character in a lead role. Whoopi Goldberg is famous for stating that she looked at the screen and yelled something along the lines of “Mama, there’s a black woman on TV and she ain’t no maid” on seeing Nichelle Nichols on her screen.

Take a look at Star Trek The Next Generation, commonly known amongst fans as TNG or Next Gen. There’s one particular episode, entitled “Darmok” in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard encounters a member of a race with whom communication is a problem. The Universal Translators do not work, why? Because not everyone or every race, species, etc, have the same communication systems. It is during the course of this episode that we, the audience, see that Picard is having to learn a different pattern of thought in order to form some form of viable communication with the alien. It’s a challenge thrown out to the audience to make them think about how not everyone thinks in the same way or reacts in the same way. We may or may not have a common language, but communication and understanding are something we can all achieve if we just try.

Both Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek Voyager gave us women in power. Laura Roslin, the reluctant President of the Twelve Colonies, faced opposition, both to her face and behind her back. In fact the leader of her armed forces as it were, William Adama, called her the Secretary of Education, told his own son that she wasn’t the President and in doing so belittled not only her position but her gender. The script and the concept behind having Laura as President were well thought out and, her struggle reflecting the struggle a woman president would in today’s political environment. We saw her struggle for acceptance and we followed with baited breath, especially when confronted by on/off battle with cancer. We can’t forget that portraying her, we had the wonderful Mary McDonnell, who gave Laura the humanity that is often missing in political leaders and portrayal of political leaders. The same could be said of Kate Mulgrew’s portrayal of Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek Voyager. Another female character that was thrown into a position of power albeit in a different manner. Neither character wanted an entire population on their hands for an elongated period of time and both characters had the potential to become the stereotypical leader we’ve come to expect from their male counterparts. You know the one I’m talking about, the one who charges ahead and without thinking about the consequences goes at it like a bull in a china shop. Instead, thanks to the writers and the actors, the audience found themselves being approached by two very human, and very real people who reluctantly took the mantel of power and caused us to question their decisions just as they did.

Stargate SG-1 was another show that paved the way for strong female characters, as did the X-Files. Both shows gave us smart, intelligent women in the form of Samantha Carter and Dana Scully. Both doctors, one of science, one of medicine, these two women were in a predominantly male world and strove to prove their worth, providing women role models to spur them on and be the best they can be in fields predominantly held by men. Both shows gave us the generic formula of the unbelievable in the sense of aliens and alien cultures but both challenged the way in which we see the world in a subtle but still prominent way.

Battlestar Galactica and its short-lived spinoff Caprica, also presented us with a mirror that challenged our world view. One that when held up to us showed that the human race is capable of destroying itself. Take a look at the Cylons and how they, as the ‘children of man’ revolted against their ‘parents’. Human beings are capable of creating so much, and indeed, in today’s society if we look at the scientific strides being made towards nanotechnology and medical advances, we’re definitely proving that point. But are we really considering the ramifications of what we’re doing? With each robotic/animatronic step forward, are we risking creating a world in which technology ultimately destroys us? Or, in the manner of Star Trek are we stepping towards a future where technology aids us but doesn’t control us? The debate has been laid out in front of us.

Not only are the characters and subject matter in the Sci-Fi genre interesting and well portrayed, causing hours of potential discussion about the decisions made and shown, but the actors that play these parts are well read, interesting and articulate people. Their views are inspiring and their intellect makes you think about how you see things, challenging your views and challenging the way in which you live your life. If you really listen to what the actors have to say you can find yourself thinking, “I never viewed X in that way”, “Maybe I should be more grateful for what I have,” “It’s up to me to make a difference.”

And that difference is something that Sci-Fi fans in general are good at making. During my time in the Sci-Fi fandom I can honestly say that I’ve met not only some of the most inspiring actors and actresses, but I’ve become a part of a group, a family, that not only boosts each other up, but tries to make a difference worldwide. My small corner of the Sci-Fi family has a spirit so generous it still manages to bring me to tears each and every time I reflect upon it. The money raised by those that attend GABIT events is staggering. At AT5, Amanda Tapping’s fan convention, well over 41,000 GBP was raised for charity.  And as Amanda herself has recently informed fans, over $326,000 CAD has been raised since Sanctuary for Kids was founded – in large part by the Sci-Fi community.  Every year fans raise a huge amount in honour of Mary McDonnell’s chosen charities in honour of her birthday and in May 2010, a small group of us (not numbering more than 15) had raised over 1,000 GBP for Alzheimer’s.

On a personal level, Sci-Fi fandom creates a global network of people all willing to support each other, all willing to come to the aid of a friend in crisis. There are smaller families within the larger family, different branches going off in different directions but that connection is there in full force. Like all families there are squabbles and there are differences, but the overwhelming sense of belonging is something that can’t be replaced.

So call me a geek, call me a freak, decide that because I’m a Trekker, a Gater, an X-Phile that I’m not worth your time, but really it doesn’t bother me. I have a global family who understand what it means to be a part of this world, to be enthusiastic and optimistic about what can happen in the world because we’ve been inspired by a realm of possibilities.

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