A dispute about the new Star Trek show Discovery has recently bubbled up online, with several of my younger adult friends stomping their feet, gnashing their teeth, and waggling their tiny fists in the air in an expression of their dislike for the new series. Their complaints range from a repudiation of the darker, more warlike tone of the new series to the fact that CBS has elected to stick the first Star Trek series to air in 12 years behind an ill-advised pay wall in a bid to emulate HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Perhaps the most audacious, unforgivable thing they feel has been done with this new show is the reinvention of the Klingon race (using archival Trek material). It’s almost (but not entirely unlike) the way that Gene Roddenberry allowed makeup artist Fred Phillips to depict the Klingons in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (STTMP), based on drawings by costume designer Robert Fletcher. Turns out that depicting the Klingons has been a bit of a moving target for quite some time.
Still, my friend Shelton keeps going on and on about all the nostrils on the new Klingons.
From my point of view, you either embrace the plethora of new Klingon nostrils or are just a great big dummy who is afraid of change. (relax, I only put that in there to see if you’re reading my blog, Shelton)
This debate about the latest revision to the Klingons could happen within any fan subculture but it makes me think back to how Klingons have been handled by fans at science fiction conventions down through the years.
Klingons in Atlanta Fandom
I first began attending science fiction conventions around the time that Star Trek III: The Search for Spock hit theaters. By that third film Roddenberry’s “new” Klingon look was beginning to be accepted by Trek fans. Some of those fans began making the deep dive into Marc Okrand’s 1986 book The Klingon Dictionary (I had it on audio cassette, you know, in case I went on vacation to Kronos). At some point we began to see fans at conventions costuming as that noble warrior race and spitting out Klingonisms at each other.
By today’s camera-ready cosplay standards many of those early Klingon costumes were laughable, but they had fewer resources at the time.
Then (as now) the mark of a good Klingon costume was the quality of the makeup. Had the head ridge appliance had been properly fitted and glued in place, with makeup applied to blend the rubbery bits in with the wearer’s skin?
If so, Qapla’!
The Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant
There was a golden era at Dragon*Con that featured the Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant. You could ogle some fine Klingon women as they explained how they planned to carve you up and stick your head on a pike. It was awesome.
It’s a shame that such a cool beauty pageant ended because…. okay hang on…
I just had to revise my lamentation for the demise of that beauty pageant because I just googled it and it turns out that it still exists! Some of my friends have even attended the newer ones and there’s even video on YouTube!!!
According to the website for Treklanta, the beauty pageant was creating by Eric L. Watts in 1999 and ran continuously at Dragon*Con for about a decade, ending its run there in 2009 and picking up at TrekTrax which has been recently repackaged as Treklanta.
If you want to experience the next Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pagaent be sure to give that convention a whirl and tell them that I sent you – they won’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
The Last of the Great Klingon Cosplays
While I’m happy that Atlanta has retained its own dedicated Star Trek convention I think it’s interesting that you don’t see many people doing Star Trek cosplay at Dragon Con these days. The truth is that costuming trends tend to reflect the most recent films and television series and tend to skew toward more romantic properties.
Let’s glance back at that scientific graph that I made in my post 20 Years of Cosplay Trends at Dragon Con.
The Klingons were already in heavy decline by the time the Dragon Con parade started up (around in 2002) and I still recall one particularly bad year when the only Klingons I saw at con had given up on the complex application of makeup and were literally wearing their ridged latex head ridge appliques like trucker hats.
It was as if the legendary Klingon race had gone full red hat.
I kind of quit paying attention to Star Trek cosplay after that because it was just too sad.
Where are the Klingon Costumers Now?
There’s a question that’s been bugging me for years, after having seen those final sputtering moments of Klingon cosplay – what happened to the people who costumed as Klingons? Where did those people go? They surely must have had some serious social groups at the time. Who still looks after the history of their great houses? Where are their flags and pennants? Do they still make blood wine?
So I got to thinking about it.
Every costuming group has something in common, right?
Superhero fans tend to be made up of people who were serious comic readers and collectors and wannabe artists. Tolkien fans are devotees of the books and can cite the family tree for the Brandybucks and the Tooks, and probably know a bit of Sindarin if you push hard enough.
So what do Klingons have in common?
Shouting, cursing, drinking, inter-house rivalries and fighting.
Does that sound familiar? Of course it does. Klingons sound like pirates.
The men and women who 20 years ago might have embraced the Klingon lifestyle are now cosplaying as corsairs and buccaneers. Both groups rebel at the orderly modern world. They want to be able to roar and be fierce, something you can’t do in polite society. Perhaps I’ll ask my space pirate friend Captain Drew for confirmation about Klingons and pirates the next time I see him.
All Hail the New Klingons!
Listen, it’s okay if you don’t like new Klingons, it’s okay to be wrong once in a while.
Yes, I am concerned about CBS’ gamble on putting Trek behind a pay wall and what that might mean to the Trek franchise if the pay wall should fail – and a lot of older fans are taking their business to Seth MacFarlane’s show The Orville (which has had some great stories so far).
But in the meantime I’m having fun.
Discovery has hardly gotten started and I am already being forced to rethink everything I knew about the Klingons. They are alien to me again. Many of the comfy gentrifications that were inflicted on the Klingon race over the past thirty years of episodics are now disconnected.
I enjoy a story the most when I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.