In 2023 the Star Trek franchise is engaging at Warp actor 10, with four productions on air and three forthcoming. The current discursivity of the Star Trek franchise continually points away from any particular text, aiming instead for an ür-text that exists somewhere between The Original Series (TOS, 1960s) and The Next Generation (TNG, 1990s). (Discovery [DIS] and Strange New Worlds [SNW] are pre-Original Series timeline and thus continually reference/harken to what is to come while Picard [PIC] is so firmly attached to looking backwards at TNG that its final season’s climax rebuilt the original Enterprise D…and I loved every minute of it!).
As if to comment on this façade of self-referentiality, Star Trek: Lower Decks (LD) is the franchise’s main fan-facing series. Its main character, Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), is a fan of Star Trek—from the other temporal perspective. Since the show takes place after TOC and TNG, Boimler’s fandom is decidedly historical. He’s memorized his favorite Enterprise captain and crew, he spouts off facts and figures about the ships of the line, and he even knows obscure trivia from episodes. LD becomes a show about Star Trek as much as it is a Star Trek show.
In the clip above, from the SNW/LD crossover episode “Those Old Scientists” (TOS – get it?), Boimler has crossed into a new series and from animation to live-action. In exploring what to him is an centuries-old ship, he, effectively, squees. But, importantly, he also makes a particular gestural move that would resonate with social media-literate Star Trek fans in particular: the Riker Maneuver. Put simply, the Riker Maneuver involves sitting in a chair by stretching one leg over the chair back and planting oneself, rather than the hum-drum 21st century turn-and-sit. The Maneuver is so-named because it is how Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker in TNG (and directed this episode of SNW), would approach chairs in that series. The Riker Maneuver became familiar in Star Trek fandom due to a number of fan-made supercuts of Frakes sitting down in such an odd, unearthly manner. When Boimler performs the Riker Maneuver and straddles the saddle, he can be heard saying “Riker” – evidently, an improvised line from Quaid himself.
Freestone, Kruk, and Gawne (2023) analyzed what they call “emblem gestures,” like the Star Trek Vulcan salute, that fans use to signal both “the utopian futurism of the Star Trek world” as well as a specific performance of media fandom. Here, Boimler’s Riker Maneuver serves a triple emblem function: it not only signifies Lower Decks’s connection to the franchise as a fan-serving comedy, it also signifies Boimler’s fannish status, and Quaid’s own fandom of the franchise as well. It is a multi-purpose emblem that connects realms of fans across series, eras, and timelines.
Little work has been done on gestural or emblematic fandom – the gestures and emblems that fans use to identify with each other. But Freestone, Kruk, and Gawne (2023) also write “creative language use is one element of worldbuilding in science fiction, but how these languages and worlds live on is in the hands (pun intended) of their fans.” What we can see in this clip from Strange New Worlds/Lower Decks is that emblematic fandom can communicate multitudes—and portends a nascent gestural fan studies.
So…who wants to investigate the Picard Maneuver with me?
Freestone, Peta M., Jessica Kruk, and Lauren Gawne. “From Star Trek to The Hunger Games: emblem gestures in science fiction and their uptake in popular culture.” Linguistics Vanguard 9, no. 3 (2023): https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/lingvan-2023-0006/html