Tuesday, June 27, 2000

the real lucers

I used to think that if you wanted to offend someone, you had to do something, well, offensive. Something like feeding them soup made with Puppy Chow, playing "Elton John's Greatest Hits" over and over again, or e-mailing them copies of a column you write.

I've been set straight on that score. Apparently, all you have to do is make a movie that satirizes them, their favorite TV show and the actors from that TV show, and they'll get offended. They get even more offended if you do it well.

In this case, my friend told me how offended he was by "Galaxy Quest," a movie that does all those things for Star Trek, when I casually remarked that I had seen it had been released on videotape and was hoping to buy a used copy when one became available.

My friend, who regularly reminds me that "Trekkies" are the really far-out fans and that "Trekkers" is the preferred term for fans who don't require medication, wasn't amused by the movie. In fact, he was a little put off.

"Why does everyone like to pick on Star Trek fans?" he demanded angrily. "We're not freaks. We just like good sci-fi."

I avoided the obvious cheap shot -- that people make fun of us because it's so easy -- and conceded that he had a point. Trekkies -- excuse me, Trekkers -- love lots of good science fiction, including the novels of Larry Niven, shows like "Babylon 5," and other great epics, like "Zombies of the Stratosphere."

My friend was absolutely right. Trekkies -- sorry, I mean Trekkers -- clearly have been the victims of a media smear campaign.

But if Star Trek fans aren't the geeks we've always thought, then who is? Because there are a lot of geeks in the world, and they have to belong to some easily identifiable group. That's how it works, and a TV show is a good a basis for the designation as anything else.

After giving the matter a lot of thought, I finally realized the truth. The TV show that has inspired unthinkable levels of zaniness and belief-defying antics from its fans is "I Love Lucy." Those are the real freaks among us, not the Save our Sesame Street militia, not the politicians, not the newspaper editors and columnists, and certainly not the Trekkies. (Trekkers. Sorry.)

In its time, "I Love Lucy" has spawned no fewer than three sequels -- "Lucy and Ricky," "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy" -- that continued in the same tried-and-true formula as the original, with little fresh creative spark to make them stand out.

Star Trek can't ever compare to that.

The Lucy phenomenon is the driving force behind massive conventions within Lucy fandom. These events happen regularly, and draw attendees from hundreds of miles away, who come dressed as their favorite characters. They even have contests among redheads to see who looks the most like Lucy. Sick, sick, sick!

And then there's the real whacked-out fans who know unhealthy amounts of trivia about "I Love Lucy," including the names of bit characters, other shows those actors appeared in, original episode air dates, entire runs of dialogue and the backstage quarrels of the actors.

While we're at it, let's not forget Barbara Adams, the woman dismissed from jury duty on the Whitewater trial in Little Rock, Ark., because she kept coming to court dressed like Little Ricky, complete with a miniature bongo drum. Reports even have it that her co-workers call her "Junior."

Actually, I'm surprised it took me so long to finger the Lucy fans as such oddballs. The Lucy phenomenon has been documented quite thoroughly in the media. Pop culturalists have written books about the zany antics of "Lucy" fans and the strong political themes the show addressed.

For a show from the early days of television, fans say, "I Love Lucy" confronted several major issues of its day. There was an episode about U.S.-Cuba relations, dealt with through a clever parallel built around uranium mining, another episode about McCarthyism, and a third about the rising price of toilet paper.

And then there's the infamous honor's thesis, written in college by someone whose name I have forgotten, about the religious themes of "I Love Lucy," including the death of God, the return to Paradise and the failure of traditional religion.

It should be clear by now who the real losers are.

Trekkies -- I mean Trekkers -- you stand absolved of all charges of geekiness of which you formerly have been accused. The real geeks, clearly, are the Lucies.

Sorry. I mean the Lucers.

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