Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Shatner, Iowa will make you pay someday

Every summer, the small town of Riverside, IA holds a festival called "Trekfest," which is intended to celebrate the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Riverside kind of seized the honor for itself, however. A guy named Steve Miller (not the "Fly Like an Eagle" guy) read that "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry said Kirk was born in a small Iowa town, so he decided that Riverside (population, 928) might as well be that place. Roddenberry said first come, first served and "Trekfest" was born.

As an assignment for a Nonfiction Writing class, I attended "Trekfest" last summer and considered it a woefully disappointing event. I wanted costumes and fake pointy ears, and people making Vulcan hand signs and speaking Klingon to me. But I didn't see any of that. There was an occasional Starfleet uniform wandering around, but for the most part, "Trekfest" was just a small-town social with a little parade, some live music, a costume contest, and most importantly, barbecued pork plates with chips and cole slaw for only $6.50. (If you'd like to read the essay I eventually wrote, which isn't very long, click here.)

Despite its 20 years of existence, Captain Kirk himself - William Shatner - had never attended "Trekfest." But last fall, he did finally visit Riverside. As an expression of gratitude for Riverside's passion, Shatner announced he would use the town as a location for a sci-fi film he would direct, titled "Invasion Iowa." Riverside, as you might imagine, was thrilled to have a little bit of Hollywood drive in via its dirt roads.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was a hoax. Shatner was really using Riverside to film a new reality TV show for Spike TV that would show how a small Midwestern town reacted to Hollywood working there for a few weeks. That's right; Shatner essentially shat upon Riverside. To placate the people he fooled and lied to, and make sure there were no hard feelings, Shatner donated $100,000 to the community. (Here's a letter the show's producers wrote to the Iowa Film Office.) As an indication of Iowans laid-back nature, Riverside forgave Shatner quickly and even credited him for his honesty and charity. The local media, however, was sore about being duped.

(One of Shatner's former directors, Nicholas Meyer - who directed "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and is also a University of Iowa alumnus - denounced the sham weeks later when he learned of it during a visit to Iowa City.)

Why am I writing about all this now? The fraud Shatner perpetrated on the poor, mild-mannered people of Riverside - also titled "Invasion Iowa" - is showing on Spike TV tonight. Episodes will run each night until Friday. (April 1! April Fool's Day - get it?)

Showing what good sports they are, a preview screening in Riverside last week was supposedly well-received by the people. I hope the show gets a rating of zero point zero, myself. Shatner won't go away if people keep encouraging his behavior, you know. Me, I'm watching Scrubs tonight.

Here's more from USA Today.