The Awful Offal

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Title: The Awful Offal
Creator: David Gerrold
Date(s): 1969
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek, science fiction, The Lord of the Rings
Topic: fans and fandom
External Links:
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The Awful Offal is a 4-page essay by David Gerrold.

Accompanying it is an illustration of Kirk and Spock created by Jerry Mayes. Another illo, a horribly racist cartoon by Maynes accompanies the essay on the last page. This illo does not appear to be directly related to the essay and is simply embedded random filler.

The essay was printed in the science fiction zine "Trumpet" #9 in 1969. A similar 1968 essay, one by Harlan Ellison, is The Words in Spock's Mouth.

Gerrold's essay starts with the provocative statement that "with the exception of Lord of the Rings, Star Trek is undoubtedly the worst thing that has ever happened to Science Fiction (note the capitals).... [snipped] But lest, at some future con I be quoted out of context and get punched in the nose, or ostracized, or worse, I now reserve the right to elucidate upon the very definitely opening sentence of this essay."

Gerrold makes much of the differences between "science fiction" and "Science Fiction," repeatedly referring to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as an attempt at science fiction, in language that suggests he knew nothing of the folkloric and mythic/fantasy literature tradition within which Tolkien worked. His main thesis seems to be that uneducated, undisciplined fans of both The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek are ruining almost EVERYTHING.

He also employs the term "trekkees," a very early use of this label. Replies to his essay in the next issue of "Trumpet" spell it "trekkies." It is unclear if the spelling Gerrold used was a consistent typo by the editor, or Gerrold's choice of words, and if it was the latter, was the double "ee" used because the term hadn't been standardized? [1]

Apology from David Gerrold

In January 2019, Mr Gerrold encountered this page and wrote on his Facebook page, "Apparently, I am going to be punished for mistakes I made fifty years ago. If I could figure out how to post a reply, this is what I would post":

May I comment?

That was 1969. I had just come off a very bad experience with the third season producer of Star Trek. I had just come off a very bad experience with several fans. I was new to fandom, I was young and inexperienced. I was angry. I wrote some stuff. I regret it now and I apologize for it.

I have learned better — as anyone who has read any of my more recent work.

I don't think it's appropriate to blame me today for mistakes I made fifty years ago.

Thanks for reading this. - David Gerrold.[2]

Some Topics Discussed

  • Star Trek fandom, science fiction fandom, Lord of the Rings fandom
  • Gerrold displays much misogyny, describing fans as stupid, panting little girls, bragging how he gets to "score" with aggressive females at cons, describes two female science fiction writers by their "Wow" looks, and much, much more!
  • "Any girl who comes to a con not expecting to be deflowered - or at least ravished a little - is not only in need of a shrink, but is obviously a spoilsport and unamerican as well."
  • The Lord of the Rings has had an "appalling effect" on Science Fiction, spawning terrible imitators, causing fans to dress in stupid clothes, and generally "looking backwards" rather than to the future and "medieval knights and their ladies (Usually, all badly done.)" [Possibly a reference either to the Renaissance Faires or the Society for Creative Anachronism, neither of which had much of anything to do with Tolkien.]
  • gatekeeping and control, protecting one's turf
  • fans and their ridiculousness, the stupidity of the masses
  • fans' inability or refusal to recognize and be grateful to the actual writers of television shows (rather than the actors) [3] who give them the shows they love; television writers get no respect for the creative, sensitive, hardworking geniuses they are
  • the essay has an effusiveness of the phrases "shit" and "shit head"
  • hippies and their wrong adoption of Robert Heinlein's book Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Star Trek is worse than The Lord of the Rings because it pretends to be science fiction
  • Gerrold invokes some name-dropping, at one point addressing Gene Roddenberry directly: "Believe me, Gene, I do [hold great warmth and affection for you] -- you never re-wrote any of my stories -- why should I hate you?"
  • Star Trek can be good but it is not great; it is good enough, however, to not make it a waste of Gerrold's time to write about it
  • "The NBC vice-presidents are afraid of three things: Star Trek, science fiction, and people who are smarter than they are."
  • Violence sells on television: "For God's sake man -- I'd rather have my kids watch four hours of stag movies than one hour of Saturday morning programming."
  • "Instead of all those wonderful things television might be doing, we look forward to things like another season of nuns that fly -- and boys who like to dress up as girls,[4] etc. etc. (I can hardly wait...like, man, it's the millenium [sic].) So, is it any wonder that a show like Star Trek which has the potential to be the greatest Science Fiction show on TV—no, make that the greatest show on TV—ends up being just another Voyage to the Bottom of the Barrel."
  • "Here is a show which could have examined every aspect of mans' inhumanity to man, made moral statements about every element of life -- and instead finds itself just one more pseudo-adventure series, where the adventures are being conceived by stale old men who think science fiction is just like western -- only you use phasers instead of Colt /45s...[Star Trek] is a show which promised to be very very good -- and then the networks broke that promise."
  • disses his own tribbles! ""These are the rabid little trekkees who got excited seeing a real tribble (damn it, it's only a powder puff!)"
  • "...the networks have debased and prostituted the art of the drama until it is little more than a crowd-drawer for the traveling medicine show—and once the crowd has been sufficiently teased and tantalized, the patent medicine and nostrums go on sale.... How the hell can a creative artist survive when he's supposed to be a brassiere salesman first, and then an artist?!!"
  • professional jealousy
  • Gerrold considers Ronald Reagan and George Murphy to be "fine actors"
  • "...The SHlT-HEADS!! What a perfect name for a group of fans!"

Some Excerpts

These are the people who think fandom, science fiction fandom, sprang to life full-grown just for the sake of Star Trek, and come flocking to the conventions salivating at the chance to bid on two pieces of misshapen rubber [5]. (I wonder how much one of Kirk's toupees would go for?) The ultimate in this trend will be the day that a urine specimen taken from Leonard Nimoy goes on auction— and probably will sell for more than Harlan Ellison!

Can you imagine the irony and ignominy of this situation? Here is a group of young fans, flocking to conventions, rubbing shoulders with people like Edmund Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Bob Silverberg and (Wow!) Barbara, Phillip Jose Farmer, Fred Pohl, Poul and (Wow!) Karen Anderson, etc., etc. and not batting an eyelash, not even asking these people to autograph one of their books! Instead, they flock to the Star Trek exhibit and ask to touch Mr. Spock's sweat-stained velour. At the slightest hint that one of Star Trek's actors might show up—a riot starts. Indeed, when one of the actors does show up, he is surrounded by a crowd of adoring females—and who is the actor? Mark Lenard, who once played Spock's father .
This cartoon is imbedded in the last page of this essay. It is unclear if it is meant to accompany the essay, or if it was simply filler. The artist is likely Jerry Maynes: "SAY MAN! WHAT'S DAT STINKING?"
"COULD BE COMIN FROM DE CONVENTION"
"MAYBE THEM WHITES FERTILIZIN THEY YAHDS!"
"DID YA CHECK YA TONGS MAN!"
"@#*+! DATS STONGER 'N BLACK POWER!!"
"WE'S GONNA REPORT DIS TO DA N.A.A.C.P.!!"

Not one of these fans has ever stopped to think that an actor is only doing his job, only doing what he is being paid to do—assume a role for money. (This is not to say that acting is not an honorable profession—there have been many fine actors, Ronald Reagan and George Murphy to name two. . . )

Nobody ever stops to think that somewhere is a skinny little man with glasses hunched over a typewriter dreaming these characters in and out of their terrible situations. Nobody ever stops to think of the little guy behind the cameras who is literally putting words into these people's mouths [6]. Few of the trekkees seem to realize that the show does have writers. (I know there are times that seems hard to believe, but some of the episodes have been written by writers — I know, I have met some of them.) Indeed, it is the writers who deserve much of the credit for any of Star Trek's quality — writers are traditionally the ones who have their masterpieces prostituted by the boob tube, but if there is any guilty at all in any story, it starts with the writer. (And a little bit with the producer who paid him for it. Some of my best friends are producers...)

If you were to put all of Star Trek's best writers into a room, and also one of the show's bit players — say Walter Koenig — and then turn loose fifty mad trekkees, you would soon discover a very interesting phenomenon. There would be a crowd of fifty mad trekkees around Walter Koenig.

Which brings us to the second part of my complaint — there's not enough ego-boo in being a writer—especially being a Star Trek writer, I enjoy SF cons. They are fun. They are especially fun for me, because I have discovered that no where in the world will you find such a high density of aggressive females — all of them of sufficient attractiveness, of age and willing. When a handsome young pro — like myself — who is also good natured, scintillating, and marvelously virile, shows up at a con, it is all he can do to survive — he must fight them off! (I want to take this opportunity to apologize to all those lovely young things I missed at the last Worldcon, but my dance card was filled up by Friday afternoon. If you want an hour of my time in St. Louis, you had better make your reservations way in advance.)

Now, when the trekkees come to: cons, many of them are very lovely young girls — unfortunately, too many of them have some strange —and decidedly - unusual — ideas; they confuse morality with virginity. This, of course, goes against my grain. Any girl who comes to a con not expecting to be deflowered —or at least ravished a little—is not only in need of a shrink, but is obviously a spoilsport and unamerican as well. (Corollary: any girl who comes to a con who does expect to be deflowered, need not be disappointed. But like ! said", you've got to get your reservations in early this time around.) In any case, both of these attitudes of the trekkees—the lack of egoboo for the writers, and the lack of libido for this writer in particular—has aroused my ire, and I do not have an easily aroused ire.

Fortunately, for those of us who like science fiction, Star Trek will not last long, and we can expect to lose many of the more frivolous of the pseudo-fans. (I will not mourn Star Trek's passing. In fact, I welcome it. I do not want to see some thing I once loved suffer for too long...)

Unfortunately, the trend of simple-mindedness in the American Fan ; has been begun, and science fiction cons seem to encourage this trend. (So now we get to the real reason for my writing this article...)

I lie awake nights and have the following nightmare: Some producer somewhere, some day-—perhaps even right this very minute—will make a film. It will be the world's worst motion picture. Grade Z will look good next to it. It will make Zsa Zsa Gabor's Queen of Outer Space look like a classic of the genre. This picture will be (appropriately enough) entitled THE SHIT-PILE FROM OUTER SPACE. (The producer discarded an earlier title, THE INCREDIBLE DUNG-HEAP THAT DEVOURED CHICAGO, as misleading - the picture was not about the Democratic Convention.) THE SHlT-PlLE FROM OUTER SPACE will live up to its title - no, I beg your pardon, it will live down to its title.

[much about a hypothetical movie snipped]

Pretty soon, there are a bunch of horny young women chasing after the actor who played Ralph. They are bidding on locks of his hair, sweat stains from his armpits, urine specimens, etc. This group will decide to emulate every thing that they saw in the picture - and they will even take a distinctive group name. (Not potheads, or acidheads— perhaps, yes—that's it!!) The SHlT-HEADS!! What a perfect name for a group of fans!

Indeed, they will soon take over cons In incredible numbers. The cons will become dung oriented . Can you imagine Walt Daugherty getting up to auction off a box of shit?!! Can't you Just see him examining it, holding It up so that others may examine it - and indeed, even showing where the stars and producers have autographed it?!! Can't you just imagine that?!! Frightening isn't it?!!

Ultimately, all the crap used in the picture will be auctioned off - at very high prices, of course - and the fans will be upset about this, until some bright-eyed little girl with pointed ears and a stupid expression discovers that there is other crap in the world - and she goes into business selling it as being just the same kind of crap that was used In the actual movie. She'll make a fortune. What a thought! All those shit-heads running around on a shit-trip. It gives new meaning to the disease known as the runs.

I am not anti-fan. Indeed, some of my best friends are fans. And just about all pros started out as fans. What I am against is the fan who falls down and salivates at the mere mention of pointed ears. It is this type of easily duped mentality that is responsible for the ineredible proliferation of trash in our society.

I like fans - I like signing autographs and having people buy me drinks - but even more, I like to get involved in an intelligent discussion about the nature of the world we live in with another self-realized human being. The distinction between fan and pro is only that one has sold and one hasn't. Both are still human beings. But any fan who forsakes his birthright as a human being and begins to act like a shit-head, can expect only shit from me. (So be warned—and girls, get your resarvations in early! Dammit. I won't have those scenes in the lobby anymore. All that screaming and crying is hard on my nerves.

Fan Reaction

The comments below are from the letter of comment section in "Trumpet" #10 (1969). Some of the LoCs are by Arthur C. Clarke, George Barr, Robert Bloch but they did not mention Gerrold's letter.):

Sarah Cornelie "Sam" Cole:

I know exactly where David Gerrold got all that ____ ; for his new series. He is full of it. I agree with his basic complaints against NBC and certain types of fans but his way of wording his complaint makes him sound like the little boy who is thwarted at every turn, for the recognition he feels due him, and finally, in desperation, he uses the dirtiest words he can think of; words that Mamma would never permit, to get at least shock reaction. It is a shame too because he is vary talented and (even though the fans more readily recognize Walter Koenig because they see him weekly}, I am sure if he looked at this from the logical point of view rather then the emotional, he would be glad things are the way they are. Surely the writer wants fans
 who know and recognize his work
 and than -- himself, when they see his picture; unless Mr. Gerrold is 
a frustrated actor who wants to be 
recognized for his looks first and
 then ability.

Frankly, I can't decide whether I wish that he be boycotted by all females at St. Louiscon (or any other con) or that he get his wish (what a way to commit suicide). If I ever attend a worldcon other than Dallascon, I shall carry a big stick. (heh! heh! a ten-foot pole. I know of several I wouldn't touch with it and vice-versa.) (No, Tom, not science fiction writers, they will need the 10 ft. pole.)
Richard Geis: The Awful Offal was a badly writtan, irrational article. If Gerrold can't think any better than that... It was, to use an overused word, sophomoric.
[Harry Warner, Jr.]: David Gerrold's article starts just like convention speech. He couldn't have put the capital letters on Science Fiction if he spoke them, but otherwise, it uses the traditional con speech trick of starting with a a startling or paradoxical statement to gain the audience's attention, a device that really isn't necessary for an essay written In words. I found The Awful Offal as amusing and convincing-sounding as a George Bernard Shaw play introduction, while I retained the same attitude toward Gerrold and Shaw, that of refusal to agree with all their assertions, plus a generous amount of suspicion that the writers weren't altogether serious, either. The Star Trek fans don't irritate me at all, except when one occasionally insists that the program was finer than anything ever placed up to now on any form of screen. I like genuine, unforced enthusiasm of the sort that Star Trekkers possess, and I hope that lots of them hang around general fandom now that the Enterprise has gone where no other hour-long national TV network weekly series' spaceship has ever gone before. When the Star Trek fans swarm uncontrollably around even a minor actor from the series, they're simply demonstrating the enormous potential that television or the movies possess until we're old enough to become a bit hardened and cynical to these marvels. Even the clumsiest actor, using a dull script in a predictable plot, can in a sense do on the screen in a few seconds what the greatest novelists succeeded in accomplishing only on rare occasions in hundreds of pages. The characterizations are alive on the screen even in mediocre performances, much more convincingly than in all but the greatest writings, until we become obsessed with sorting out films by quality and so tired of seeing the same cinematic cliches over and over that we lose this visual sense of wonder. I know with absolute certainty that I would have been the most extreme sort of Star Trek enthusiast if it had been available to me any time before perhaps my 21st birthday.
Robert Coulson:

David Gerrold's main complaint seems to be that "Star Trek" fans are contaminating Our Fandom. Well, maybe. Incidentally, did you ever hear of David Gerrold in fandom before "Star Trek", Tom? ((No, but not because of it either. I met him at Baycon one night while he was quite drunk and mouthing off in the lobby about things in general. I asked him why he didn't write it down and let me publish it in Trumpet. What's Trumpet, he asked.)) I never did . . .if we're being contaminated by people entering fandom thru "Star Trek"... Hmm. "Not one of these fans has ever stopped to think that an actor is only doing his job, only doing what he is paid to do..." A writer, on the other hand, is Creating, seems to be the implication. Su-u-ure he is. To be precise, a tv series writer is taking the characters and setting that someone else really created (Roddenberry, in this case) and designing a story within the confines of those already created characters and setting. Some creation. (And to forestall your sneer about who I should try it before commenting, I have tried it, David. And sold the results. [7] Not for tv, but writing a book based on a tv show is not all that much different as far as creativity goes.) Then in one sentence he says "we can expect to lose many of the more frivolous of the pseudo-fans" and spends the entire next page telling us of the horrors of what will happen when we don't lose them. Three pages of bull.

Of course "Star Trek" fandom has produced a lot of nitwits. So? You think stf fandom, or comics fandom, or J. Frank Baum fandom hasn't? I've had a fair amount of dealing with all these mentioned, and a few others like sword-and-sorcery fandom, Tolkien fandom, Sherlock Holmes fandom. and speleology fandom. ST fans are considerably more naive, in the main, than stf fans; they make up for it by being considerably more courteous. (In the main, not always. And of course it doesn't take much to be more courteous than the average stf fan. ) And a few ST fans are just as mature and interesting to know as any stf fans you want to name.

Juanita Coulson, (a P.S. attached to Robert's letter):

This is a p.s. from Juanita, anent Gerrold. I assume his asides to the panting female hordes — largely teenybopper trekkies?—were supposed to be funny. Well, now: over many a year I have been vastly entertained by Bloch, Asimov, Tucker et. al, doing the same thing at convention after convention. They carry it off with charming flair, the lovable roue and bon vivant doing his very best "Here I am, girls; control yourselves if you can!" routine. On them it looks and sounds good. I'm afraid the same does not apply to Gerrold. On him it comes across as the overdone grad student who fancies himself king of the stud pen and spends lots of time throwing turf and snorting. The kindest description I can think of is "tasteless".

And on another tack, as a science fiction fan of some 17 years standing -- conventions, fanzines, fan-clubs, the works — I must say that Gerrold is a johnny come lately of the first water, and the first water fandom (part of it) heard of him by was ST. Truth be told, maybe Gerrold in a trekkie.

[Roy Tackett]:

As for David Gerrold's article -- what can one say other than to agree? ((Things have been found)) The fault lies in the carry over of the old Hollywood star system, a device which has ruined countless good stories when they were translated to a visual medium. I would prefer to see the emphasis placed on story and author and characterization rather than on who plays the character, however the TV people say that these are not important — what is important is to give the viewer someone with whom heshe can identify. It appears that, for their purpose, which is to sell patent medicine, they are correct and that is unfortunate for the writers and for the more intelligent viewers.

[Richard Hodgens]: Gorrold: Children have enough to worry about (remember?) without stag movies, too. Incidentally, the fallacy that more real pornography might replace the covert pornography of violence seems to have been disproved in theater, film and literature, where more and more explicit normal sexuality is simply accompanied by more and more explicit — and axplicity —violence. Not that I'm against all pornography for adults...
[Ned Brooks]:

Gerroid's article is funny, but I doubt many of us are astounded by the discovery that Lord of the Rings Is fantasy and Star Trek isn't what it ought to be. And no matter how good it was, it would still attract the hordes of uncritical admirers that Gerrold objects to. But I don't think he really need worry about that nightmare of his coming true — to inspire the devotion he speaks of does require some minimum of quality. There was never any such fuss over Lost in Space! What fans always tend to forget is that fandom, large, as it Is getting, is still not large enough to support any significant commercial endeavor. The vast majority of the books and magazines are bought by non-fans, and the vast

majority of the Star Trek audience is non-fans. This does not justify the crap that makes up 99% of TV time, but it does explain it — if you can sell the soap with crud, why go to the infinite pains of creating something good? Sturgeon's Law is the description of the inevitable condition in a mass culture — 90% of everything is crud.

References

  1. In 1981, David Gerrold stated that the first time he'd heard the term: "The first time I heard the word Trekkie, it was back in 1968 or '69. There were a bunch of hard-core science-fiction Fans—these were True Fans, allowed to use the sacred H in words like fhan and ghod and bheer—and they were upset about all those Trekkies who were cluttering up the hallways of the conventions, acting like idiots and not taking science fiction seriously enough." -- Pride & Prejudice, David Gerrold, from Starlog #43, February 1981, page 22-23. ("Insertion of the letter H after the first consonant of a word implies 'pertaining to fandom'... It appears most often in 'ghod' (referring either to God or to one of the fannish deities) and 'bheer', but can be used anywhere that whimsey dictates." - Philip M. Cohen, "Language of Science Fiction Fandom." Also at Wordways, vol. 1, no. 8, 1975.)
  2. David Gerrold's Facebook page, 11th January, 2019, cited 2nd February, 2019.
  3. This is the main point of Harlan Ellison's 1968 screed The Words in Spock's Mouth.
  4. An apparent reference to The Ugliest Girl in Town.
  5. A reference to the Spock's costuming ears.
  6. See The Words in Spock's Mouth, a 1968 essay by Harlan Ellison, one which Gerrold echoes.
  7. In Yandro #168 (February 1968), Buck Coulson wrote: " I will not be answering much mail — perhaps not any mail — in the next 2 months or so. I will be writing for money. Thomas Stratton, the two headed author known to veteran YANDRO and EISFA readers, has sold a "Man From U.N.C.L.E." novel to Ace Books, Since one of Stratton's heads is mine (the other belongs to Gene DeWeese), I'll be busy, particularly since Ace wants it by mid-April if we can write it that fast."