Happy birthday, Uncle George! To celebrate his 77th birthday this Sunday, we’re taking a look at why so many of us (over six million and counting) like him.
Why does George Takei’s popularity make me so gleeful?
I think it’s because it was just so freakishly uncool to like Star Trek throughout my childhood. My ability to quote chunks of dialogue from the original series pretty much guaranteed me a date-free adolescence. In a pre-Comic Con world, conventions were just about the nerdiest thing a person could do. Ever.
Fast forward to 2014. The franchise has been reinvented, rejuvenated. To everyone’s surprise, Sulu has become a social media sensation. En masse, regular non-nerdy people are unashamedly following George Takei on Facebook, where his legions of fans have now reached over six million.
Why? Because he’s clever. He’s timely. He’s funny. He’s an insider and an outsider at the same time. And he’s social media gold, posting viral, must-share content multiple times a day. So what’s his special formula for Facebook domination? Let’s do a proper analysis and break it down into categories. And then, for fun, let’s give those categories Star Trek original series episode titles. You with me?
1. WINK OF AN EYE (Internet Funnies)
A happy man with a twinkle in his eye, Takei just wants to have fun. He posts silly things his fans send him, cringeworthy puns, funny signs, and pretty much anything that gives him a chuckle, then adds his inimitable commentary to kick it up a notch. Want to look clever? Just hit share.
2. ARENA (Drawing the Battle Lines)
Like any effective Facebooker, George Takei knows the value of a good debate.
3. THE ALTERNATIVE FACTOR (The Beat of a Different Drum)
George Takei is gay.
You’re shocked, right? No you’re not. It’s old news. But it helps.
On the Internet, occupying a niche is one key to a large and loyal following, and Takei has it, effortlessly bridging the personal and the political. Along with charting gay marriage laws as they’re passed in each state and country, he also posts his loving messages to his husband Brad, and sells helpful t-shirts to the confused. He doesn’t speak FOR the gay and lesbian community; he speaks TO them, loud and clear.
He knows how nonsensical the arguments from the anti-gay contingent can be … And he knows how scary they are, too.
4. CATSPAW (Furry Felines)
Not one to ignore the mainstream, Takei understands and harnesses the power of cats.
5. THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT (Duh.)
You know what’s popular on the web? Star Trek. Sounds like a no-brainer, but there was a time when, apart from convention appearances, Star Trek actors distanced themselves as far from the series as they could. Now they celebrate it boldly, and so does Takei, with a perfect balance of nerdish reverence, insider lingo, and plain old silliness.
He also isn’t afraid to branch out beyond his own particular Star Trek brand, since he has the same obsession with Patrick Stewart as the rest of us.
6. THE NAKED TIME (Dirty Stuff)
You know what else is popular on the internet? Sex.
7. THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING (Morality)
The moral high ground is always fodder for social media, but it can get tiresome. We all have those Facebook friends who force their causes down our throats, posting pictures of tortured animals, rotting meat, and dying children. We admire their dedication and dread their horrifying images in equal measure. Takei knows this: He understands how to access our compassion or our indignation, whichever is needed, without driving us away.
8. THE EMPATH (Compassion)
Even when he’s earned the right to be mean-spirited, Takei takes the high road. His comments on the death of Westboro Baptist Church Pastor Fred Phelps were unmatched by anyone else on the web. The man’s integrity is a gentle reminder to us all.
9. A PRIVATE LITTLE WAR (Acknowledging the Factions)
The self-proclaimed mediator of an endless and often vitriolic dispute about which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars, Takei isn’t afraid to embrace the joys of George Lucas’ universe, knowing that the real sci-fi fans have room in their hearts for both.
P.S.: Star Trek is better.
10. THAT WHICH SURVIVES (Old-School Values)
While millennials rely on spell check, calculators, and Google, George Takei frequently declares his love of the English language and the importance of math. In addition to his occasional missives about the value of preserving the Oxford comma, he joyfully points out the mistakes made by those who have abandoned the three Rs.
11. MIRROR, MIRROR (Reflections on Commonality)
Despite his celebrity status and his six million followers, Takei knows he’s still just one of us. He posts about his hatred of Mondays and his disdain for cleaning chores. He understands the hopes and fears universal to humankind, or at least to us neurotic North Americans.
And he joins the ranks in celebrating Throwback Thursday.
12. THE ENEMY WITHIN (Inner Demons)
Having made his own blunders along the way, he understands the love-hate relationship we all have with social media.
Surviving Scandal: FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY (Shattered Illusions)
Is nothing sacred? In June of 2013, a writer named Rick Polito was giving an interview about his work and casually mentioned his amazement at the reach of the posts he wrote for Takei’s Facebook page. What? Fans were outraged. George Takei is TRICKING his millions of followers by hiring writers?
Takei addressed this simply and quickly. In an email to Wired magazine, he wrote, “What is this hoo-ha about my FB posts? I have Brad, my husband to help me and interns to assist.” He explained that many of his posts come from fans and yes, sometimes paid comedy writers. “The commentaries are mine,” he said. “They are authentically mine, I assure you.”
The scandal lasted a couple of days and then everything went back to normal.
And so, we RETURN TO TOMORROW
So that’s the magic formula. George Takei brings in the gays and the cat lovers, and unites the Star Wars and the Star Trek nerds. He loves a salacious joke as much as a bad pun. He’s a celebrity with the clout to get people to pay attention to what matters in the world, and an everyman who does dishes like the rest of us. He respects grammar, loves a good mistake, cares about the world, and enjoys a good laugh. He’s an over-the-top character with a heart of gold. And most of all, he’s endlessly entertaining, knowing there’s nothing that loses an audience faster than boring them. Bow down to him, social media wannabes. He’s got you beaten.