Monday, March 2, 2015

He lived long. He prospered.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Arlene Martel
as T'pring in the Vulcan sex-ed episode "Amok
Time." Spock's betrothed proved one can
be flawlessly logical and still be a heartless C.
Still, I'd divert a starship light years for her. 
Leonard Nimoy died last Friday, and with him a part of my childhood. The obituaries dutifully ran through his long and varied career, but let’s face it, if it wasn’t for the role of Mr. Spock, he would have died in semi-obscurity, another TV character actor whose resume consisted of one-off guest appearances on Wagon Train and Marcus Welby. Spock made him immortal, and in the afterglow of that one gig, we could tolerate the awful singing and the goopy poetry. But Spock is nothing to be ashamed of. He’s one of the great TV characters, a humanized alien and alienated human who touches the nerd in all of us. When I was nine years old, I wanted to badly to be him that one weekend afternoon, I took my father’s barber kit down from the tin closet in the basement and cut my hair straight across my forehead. My hair is much thicker and curlier than Spock’s. It was not a good look for me.
I often think that in creating Spock, Roddenberry and Nimoy misread the zeitgeist of the 1960s. They put forth rationality as an ideal at precisely the time when rationality had become suspect. The counterculture wasn’t interested in logic, which could justify the pitiless violence in Vietnam, or in science, which had created the weapons for it. No, what was wanted in the Age of Aquarius were authenticity, free love and feel-good spirituality, and as Star Trek dragged on into seasons two and three, Spock changed with the times. He became less of an organic supercomputer and more of a space-going maharishi, with his meditation and his quest for truth beyond science. (At the beginning of the first movie, he was actually living as a monk.) I also recall, in the late, bad episode Savage Curtain, one character (Abraham Lincoln, no joke) mentioning the Vulcan philosophy of the One. There’s empiricism for you.

Then there the questions of whether we will ever find humanoid life off the earth (the answer is no), and how in heaven’s name races that evolve on separate planets ever manage to interbreed. Throughout the various incarnations of the franchise, humans have mated with Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons and Beta Zeds, and some of these races have mated with each other. As Carl Sagan said, you would have more luck crossing a human being with an avocado, because they, at least, share a common ancestry and some DNA. A Spock could never exist in reality, any more than warp drive or the teleportation of matter, but in TV, as in religion, reality is not the point. To find Spock, you must look within. 

1 comment:

Cal said...

A nice tribute. One of the extraordinary things about Nimoy's bequest to science fiction is that the latest round of Star Trek movies has turned up such a fine actor to play the part. I was prepared to be very disappointed when I sat down to watch the first film and was that much more pleased when Zachary Quinto picked up right where Nimoy left off. Spock will both live and prosper longer than anyone had a right to expect.