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How Do You Say 'Fun' in Klingon?

'Star Trek' fans can cruise the Internet to feed their passion or join adventures on CD-ROM.

September 08, 1996|David Colker | Staff writer David Colker's Cyburbia column appears Tuesdays in The Times' Life & Style section

Type "Bill Clinton" into one of the Internet search engines, and the result is 20,000 hits, meaning that the president's name can be found on about that many World Wide Web sites.

Type "Jesus Christ," and the result is 40,000 hits.

Type "Star Trek," and the number of hits is 80,000.

Whether they're called Trekkers or Trekkies (the proper term for fans is just one of the many "Star Trek" topics of endless debate online), fans of the "Star Trek" universe have taken to the digital domain in huge numbers. They have built elaborate Web sites that cover just about any imaginable topic concerning the TV shows and movies. They debate plot points and exchange fan news on numerous newsgroups, and they play CD-ROMs that allow them to be part of a "Star Trek" adventure.

But to some online, it's not all fun and games. At least not to Canadian scholar Robert V. Kozinets.

"Certainly, if one checks the definition of culture, it seems reasonable to believe that the people who are involved with 'Star Trek' share all the distinguishing characteristics of any other culture," writes Kozinets, a doctoral candidate at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Sections of his thesis proposal, "To Boldly Go: A Hypermodern Ethnography of the 'Star Trek' Culture of Consumption," are on his Web site, http://www.clo.com/~rvk/index.html.

"The continuity of this culture and language over the past three decades practically necessitate us calling these groups members of the 'Star Trek' culture."

If Kozinets is right and "Trek" fandom is indeed a culture, then the World Wide Web is the village bonfire where true believers gather.

A quick check of sites unearthed dozens worldwide that are devoted to a specific "Star Trek" character or actor. Data probably has the most, but there is also an entire site in Italian on actress Nana Visitor and her character Kira on "Deep Space Nine." There's even a highly emotional site dedicated to actor Robert O'Reilly and his occasional character Gowron, leader of the Klingon High Council. It seems that some Gowron fans are unhappy with their favorite character's current status. "If we let Paramount know how we feel, we can change the future of Gowron!" the site proclaims.

Several sites are dedicated to discussing, critiquing and rating episodes of the various shows. One of the more elaborate is "The Australasian Star Trek Ratings Analysis" from Australia, which asks Web surfers to vote for favorite episodes. Colorful bar graphs show the voting results. (Only residents of Australia and New Zealand are eligible to vote.)

Several sites have archived favorite dialogue lines from the shows, and at least a couple keep exhaustive track of the instances of the number 47 being mentioned, as in "shields down to 47%" or "47 minutes until ship self-destructs." It seems the number has become an inside joke among show writers and fans.

The "official" site, sponsored by Paramount, is little more than an online public relations office for the two "Star Trek" TV shows still in production. An upcoming Paramount site will be dedicated to the "First Contact" feature film to be released in November, but the unofficial sites are already rife with rumors about the movie's plot.

A more extensive official site, also sponsored by Paramount, resides on the Microsoft Network and is available only to subscribers of that service. That's ironic because Microsoft is the butt of numerous jokes on "Star Trek" sites, including a well-distributed parody script that has the crew using a copy of the by then ancient Windows 95 as a weapon. They insert it into the computer of the evil Borg, and the computer immediately crashes.

"There is even an entire constructed language of Klingon," writes Kozinets, "which is practiced by an even smaller and more specialized subculture of the wider 'Star Trek' culture."

Klingons and their language play a major role on the Web. One of the key sites is that of the "Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps," at http://www.klingon.org/KIDC/pages/menu.html. From there, a Klingon fan can find plenty of links to other sites concerning ships, weapons, family lines, politics and, of course, the language.

One site even offers for sale printed editions of "Hamlet" translated into Klingon. This product is looked upon with skepticism by at least ardent fans, however. One said that there is no translation for the verb "to be" in Klingon.

Several "Star Trek" CD-ROMs have been released, the best of which are informational. A "Star Trek Omnipedia" (Simon & Schuster, $35, for Windows and Macintosh) contains a huge amount of text, video and audio information, including a catalog of nearly 2,000 alien life forms. It also contains some real-life history, including John F. Kennedy's speech that launched the race to the moon and photos of fans picketing NBC when the network announced the cancellation of the original series.

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