Friday, June 25, 2010

How to tell Trekkies from Twihards: Look at the shoes

Richard Arnold has gone where many have gone before. Since 1969, he has been attending Star Trek fan conventions, first as a fan, then as a consultant, and ultimately working the merchandise tables for TV and film franchises. This weekend at a gathering in Vancouver featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Arnold is attending his 1,000th Star Trek fan convention.

Arnold, who now lives in Los Angeles, became a fan when Star Trek started airing in 1966. Creator Gene Roddenberry, who met Arnold at a convention in 1972, was so impressed with how quickly the young fan could answer the most obscure Star Trek question, he offered him a job: resident Trekkie (non-paying, but with an office on the studio's lot). After 10 years, Arnold finally started getting a paycheque, and his title was changed to Star Trek consultant. “We tried archivist,” says Arnold, “but I swear people are dumb; they would look at it and say: ‘What's a Star Trek anarchist? What's a Star Trek activist?'”

With the release of Twilight: Eclipse just days away now – and Twilight now being a major player on the fan convention scene – we asked Arnold to dish on the fans of both franchises. Not surprisingly, Trekkies and Twihards occupy different worlds.

The median age is under 16. “You don't have any other franchise that has as young an age group. Even the Harry Potter fans tend to be older.”
GENDER “You're looking at 95 plus per cent female.”
CHARACTERISTICS Voracious readers who are passionate – and loud. “I've never seen so many little girls with skinny little legs running around waiting to see the actors. Then once they come onstage, the screaming is unbelievable. I have not experienced that at any other convention.” Arnold compares it to the reception the Beatles got.
CONSUMPTION HABITS Eager spenders armed with their parents' credit cards, they nonetheless generally stick with merchandise that goes for $25 or less: lunch boxes, make-up kits, umbrellas and, of course, T-shirts.
ATTIRE The identification with vampires or werewolves is a strong presence on both the fans' chests and at the merchandise table: Team Edward or Team Jacob T-shirts are big sellers and evident everywhere. About the young female fans, Arnold also notes: “The outfits are what I would call beyond their years. If you're 12 years old, you really shouldn't be wearing three- or four-inch heels and short skirts and lots of make-up.”

AGE The median age is somewhere in the 30s or 40s, with a lot of people in their 50s, 60s and older. “I call it the greying of Trek.”
GENDER Surprise: Arnold says convention Trekkies are a little more than half female. “Star Trek fandom is not male dominant. Star Wars fandom is. Star Trek is about peace and co-operation ... Star Wars is about the enemy and fighting and winning, which is definitely more of a male concept.”
CHARACTERISTICS “The average Star Trek fan is probably a little more highly educated than the average comic book fan. They tend to have fairly stable marriages – the whole two-kids two-cars and all that. It's a very family-oriented thing.”
CONSUMPTION HABITS Older, more established, serious collectors who are willing to spend a lot of money on the one thing they need to complete their collection. “I have some regular customers who think nothing of dropping $1,500, $2,000 on a set of cards.”
ATTIRE Lots of people show up in Klingon wear and Arnold has a theory about that: “If you're overweight, there are not a lot of Star Trek costumes that you can get away with, but you can be a Klingon. So we have a lot of fat Klingons. You can't get away with being 300 pounds in a Starfleet uniform. It doesn't work. I'm sorry.”