Leonard Nimoy and the Legacy of Fandom
The loss of Leonard Nimoy has hit the world hard today – a talented actor, director, writer, and humanitarian. For those of us in fandom, the loss feels personal, which may be hard to understand for someone on the ‘outside’. Even fans who weren’t born when the original Star Trek zoomed onto our (tiny) television screens in gloriously limited special effects feel the void left by his passing. Nimoy, and Star Trek, were so pivotal to the beginnings of fandom as we know it, that it’s difficult to quantify the depth of his contribution to this vibrant thing we call ‘fandom’ or how much the universe feels darker without him in it.
For many of us, Star Trek was our introduction to fandom. It was the one show my little brother and I were allowed to stay up late to watch. I was in love with Mr. Spock, though I was too young to think about anything that would eventually be called shipping; my little brother wanted to be Captain Kirk. Later, when I had children of my own, we crowded around the television set and watched Star Trek: The Next Generation together, continuing the tradition. There has always been something about Star Trek that brought people together – both families and fans. The first fan conventions were for Star Trek, where Nimoy, Shatner, Takei, Nichols, Doohan and Kelley came face to face with the passionate viewers whose letter writing campaigns kept their show on the air (for a few years at least). That campaign is the predecessor to countless social media campaigns to keep our own beloved Supernatural on the air when networks might have shut it down. In a very real way, we are all the descendants of those early Star Trek fans, who began a ‘reciprocal relationship’ with their show because of the depth of their passion for it.
I took my kids to one Star Trek convention when they were little. It was my first time at a fan convention, and I remember being wide-eyed and a little unsure about the whole thing. Then James Doohan took the stage and nervous turned to awestruck. Scotty himself, right there, in person. It was a small taste of the experience I’d eventually have at my first Supernatural convention many years later, but I never forgot it.
A few years ago, when we were researching and writing Fangasm and Fandom At The Crossroads, we went to another Star Trek convention, this time at the invitation of Creation. We were thinking of writing a book about the influence of Star Trek on fandom, so this was work as much as fun, and I didn’t expect it to be emotional.
Then Kathy and I spent three days talking to fans, hearing story after story of how much their fandom was family. Sometimes literally – a three generation family all attending together, grandparents in cosplay and grandchildren in strollers. Sometimes figuratively – fans who found their best friends, their professions, their inspiration in Star Trek. We visited the site where the ‘Star Trek Experience’ had been, recently closed – fans had left thousands of post it notes expressing their dismay about the closing.
We were privileged to talk to George Takei about his experience spanning so many decades of conventions. And then we joined the gigantic ballroom for something very special – Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner onstage together.
So much for not expecting it to be emotional. After all those years, their chemistry was a joy to see, and a privilege to experience. I couldn’t help but think about Jared and Jensen, decades down the line, doing a reunion convention for all of us whose lives have been changed forever by Supernatural. I have no doubt that their friendship will stand the test of time just like Bill and Leonard’s, with the same sense of humor, friendly ribbing and overwhelming affection. I’m sure there were times when Shatner and Nimoy didn’t see eye to eye, but that didn’t end their relationship or dull their respect for each other.
This morning, fans and celebrities alike tweeted their condolences and memories. Many genre actors, including SPN guest stars, were in the online waiting room trying to register for their Professional Comic Con badges, alternating between watching the spinning ball and grieving for the loss of a colleague. It was an emotional morning, as people retweeted Nimoy’s last inspiring tweet and reminded each other of some of the groundbreaking things he accomplished.
Supernatural cast and crew, as influenced by Star Trek as most of us were, tweeted their sadness and reminded us of Nimoy’s legacy of inspiration. Even NASA weighed in. How’s that for a legacy?
NASA: RIP Leonard Nimoy. Many of us at NASA inspired by Star Trek. Boldly go…
The Monterey Aquarium tweeted what a pleasure it was to have Nimoy there to film Star Trek IV (still my favorite Trek movie of all time. There be whales here!)
We all waited for the one tweet that would make us reach for our second box of tissues, and didn’t have to wait long.
@WilliamShatner: “I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.”
Those of us in the Supernatural fandom have adopted Shatner as one of us, and my first thought when I heard the news was for him and for Nimoy’s family, and for the other Star Trek alums who are still with us. Condolences also to the folks at Creation, who have known the Star Trek actors for decades and think of them as family too.
Today we all felt the loss a little bit like that. Like family. Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek, and those intrepid Trek fans blazed a trail that many of us are happily following today. We’ve come a long way from being summarily dismissed as the ‘crazy obsessives’ featured in ‘Trekkies’ – not far enough, as we found when writing Fangasm – but we’re getting there. Nimoy was happy to be known as our ‘geek grandpa’, and he and Shatner embraced fandom and their own part in its history, setting the stage for the sort of acceptance we enjoy from Jared, Jensen, Misha and the rest of the Supernatural cast. Those early fans, who fell in love with Kirk and Spock so many years ago, proved that fannish passion could make a difference, and that fan communities could be a force for good. They challenged the boundaries of canon with fanfiction and fanart and the earliest of fanvids (made with cutting edge double deck video technology, if I’m recalling a TWC article correctly). They took a page out of Star Trek’s own canon and refused to apologize for being different, just like Mr. Spock. When we asserted the same refusal in Fangasm, it was Star Trek who paved the way for that little bit of courage.
There’s a reason for the cover of the Journal of Fandom Studies.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Nimoy.
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