About 15 miles south of Iowa City, Iowa, there’s a little town called Riverside, which has declared itself the “future birthplace of Captain Kirk.” Roadsideamerica.com explains:
Riverside is where interstate 380 ends and “the Trek Begins,” or so says a sign as you exit. James T. Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise, will be born here on March 21, 2233. A concrete blob behind a former barber shop marks the spot for present (and future) fans. Riverside wanted to put up a bronze James T. Kirk bust, but Paramount wanted $40K to license the image. Instead, a scale model of the “USS Riverside,” which bears a remarkable (but not legally indemnible) resemblance to the USS Enterprise, is docked in the town square…Sharp-eyed residents, knowing they’ve got a good thing, have changed Riverside’s summertime “Riverfest” to “Trek Fest.”
I spent half my childhood in Iowa City and still have family there, and my wife and I made the, um, you will excuse the expression, trek down to Riverside one year when we were back visiting. It’s a tiny little town that found a gimmick, like so many towns have to do these days, a way to stay alive after the jobs dry up. It’s all harmless enough. And apparently, they’ve been trying to get Captain Kirk himself to pay a visit for years. So you can imagine how thrilled they all were when William Shatner not only visited, but announced that he would film a movie there:
William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame beamed down to the “U.S.S. Riverside” this past week and has virtually turned the town upside down. Boom-mikes, movie cameras, technicians, security guards and an entourage of fans have flooded the streets of town for a week now, and today (Sept. 30), Shatner will be signing autographs, just prior to his departure.
The longtime television and movie actor was in Riverside filming and directing scenes for his own science-fiction movie, which will be called “Invasion Iowa.” Earlier last week, Shatner personally facilitated a special “casting call,” in which seven local residents were selected for supporting speaking roles.
Those locals include John Conway, age 57 of Wellman, who will play a priest; Wayne Simon, age 45 of Riverside, who will play “Pa”; Leanne Sexton, 43, of Riverside, who will play “Ma”; and Brooke Lempke of Iowa City, who will play the daughter. Three others will also be in the film, portraying “local punks.” They include Brandon Kaufman, age 19 of Riverside; Bill Blank, age 26 of Des Moines; and Mike Poch, age 21 of Riverside, who also happens to be the son of Riverside Mayor Bill Poch.
Except that, well, there’s no movie. Shatner was playing a little prank on this town for a reality tv series:
RIVERSIDE Barb Simon stood outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church trying to keep back the tears Wednesday morning.
For two weeks she had been one of the biggest supporters of “Star Trek” star William Shatner’s filming of “Invasion Iowa” in Riverside. She took vacation time to become a set dresser for a wedding scene at the church.
When Shatner called the movie his “passion” and swore that he wouldn’t sacrifice his principles moments after arriving nine days ago, she believed him. So much so that the 59-year-old thought the film would be the biggest thing to ever happen to the community of about 930.
Now she is having her doubts and wondering exactly what Shatner’s principles are.
During a Tuesday night town meeting Shatner revealed there was no movie and that the small community had been unwitting stars of a reality series for Spike TV to air early next year. Not everyone in town shares Simon’s sense of betrayal. Many are just as thrilled by the hoax as they were the movie, and many simply enjoyed the experience.
At the town meeting, Shatner gave Riverside $100,000 for being such a good sport and the cast and crew donated $12,000 for the Riverside Elementary School Book Fund. Tuesday night, and at a press conference Wednesday morning, Shatner and producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick assured townspeople they won’t be made fun of in the series.
My old hometown paper is not impressed:
On Tuesday evening they revealed that their film project in Riverside the self-proclaimed and now studio-sanctioned birthplace of Captain Kirk was a big hoax. A prank. An April Fools’ joke pulled in autumn. Shatner quickly ameliorated the nearly 1,000 residents of Riverside with a $100,000 check for community betterment, as if money always makes everything all right.
It doesn’t. Think of the disappointment of Riverside residents, who for 20 years have been trying to get Shatner to attend a Trek Fest (which helps promote his program and hence line his pocketbook), and who were excited when the actor finally arrived in town and then announced he planned a movie there. How many residents from Riverside and the surrounding community, some of whom unwittingly auditioned as extras and phoned their friends and loved ones to tell the news? Sent e-mails? Clipped newspaper articles and mailed them? Even if the film sounded cheesy (and the title “Invasion Iowa” was pretty bad), they now get to tell everyone, “We got fooled.”
Ultimately, though, Shatner and Spike TV’s deceit shows a reckless disrespect for Iowa and Middle America in general. No doubt the Spike TV show, planned for broadcast next year, will be about how easy it was to fool those hicks in small town Iowa (er, “the hinterlands” anybody?): Look at those silly Iowans trying their best to be in a low budget science fiction movie! Who could imagine how easily supersophisticated Californians could fool those Iowan hayseeds? Ha, ha, isn’t that funny?
Shatner really is an asshole, isn’t he?
…speaking of Trek, I’ve been horribly remiss. My pal Wil Wheaton’s new book, Just a Geek, came out a month or two ago, during a lull in my blogging. It’s great fun, whether you’re into the Star Trek thing or not.