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George Takei won't censor himself or take the politics out of sci-fi [Ep #46]

Aug 28, 2019, 1:04 PM EDT (Updated)

At a time when many celebrities are rethinking their social media presences, George Takei is doubling down.

He’s just doing it on a brand-new platform: TraceMe, a startup founded by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson that promises to connect celebrities and fans in a more intimate setting.

"Social media was a wonderful discovery,” Takei tells SYFY WIRE. “When I first ventured into it, it was the whole idea of that traditional town square becoming global. I loved it and I was reveling in it, but I discovered some other aspects of social media — the trolls and the haters."

A decade ago, the idea of fighting with George Takei on the internet would have sounded absurd and stupid (though so would everything that’s now happening on the internet). The actor spent decades playing the ascendant officer Sulu in Star Trek movies and TV shows, and while he continued his acting career, Trekkies comprised the majority of his fans.

But to a generation born after he took his final trips on the USS Enterprise and Excelsior, he’s best known for his second act as ubiquitous internet celebrity and progressive activist. Takei joined Twitter in 2011 and quickly amassed followers with a mix of witticisms and advocacy; between that platform and Facebook, he has over 13 million followers, an audience he has nurtured with a whole network of original content and leveraged into a lucrative sponsored content business. 

As the once-vibrant internet has descended from (sometimes-pervy) meme party into a fiery cesspool of hatred and entropy, Takei’s advocacy for LGBTQ and immigration rights — and stance against President Donald Trump — has attracted plenty of “trolls and haters,” as he describes them; trouble in the midst of the #MeToo outpouring last fall didn't help, either. About a year ago, an executive at his agency moved over to Wilson’s startup and pitched him on a more selective environment, which appealed to him, especially after reading about several teenage bullying victims who took their own lives. 

"Over the years I've developed a nice thick skin, but what really concerns me are these vulnerable teenagers," he says. "People don't know how to deal with that kind of visceral hate. They're very affected by it. And I want them to have a place they can call a safe space to have a comfortable and open and casual and personalized conversation. We read about some horrible things that have happened with young people, vulnerable people, sensitive people who get attacked and respond in tragic ways."

The platform will allow for more personal exchanges, and its different content channels allow Takei to spread his wings as a creator and boss — he already has a team of six regular employees, known as Team Takei, and a rotation of other people who work on specific projects. His voice has been transmuted into others, his personality now a brand. The channels of content will marry his politics and place in nerd culture, a fact that may not please many who litter comment sections with pleas to separate the two.

As an original star of Star Trek, a show steeped in political commentary, he knows that divorce is impossible. And the selectiveness of the app will allow him not to worry about having his words used against him, as happened to Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.

“I do intend to talk about issues head-on, but also to use it metaphorically as [Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry did, in some of the content that we're going to be putting on TraceMe,” Takei asserts. “I am going to address issues frankly. I've been active in the civil rights movement. I've been in and spoken publicly at rallies as well as at congressional hearings. I'm not going to change. TraceMe offers us that opportunity to be candid without trying to think about how I might be attacked."

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