Live Long And Prosper

I was very saddened to learn today of the death of Leonard Nimoy at age 83.  He was an accomplished stage and screen actor, poet, and photographer — but to those of us who loved Star Trek, he will always and forever be the man who created Mr. Spock.

Books have been written about Spock and Kirk and McCoy, the complex relationship between that trio that made Star Trek such a terrific show, and the half-Vulcan character who struggled mightily to keep his human side in check in compliance with the dictates of Vulcan culture and its relentless emphasis on logic.  Nimoy made Spock a believable character — and thus a great character — when he very easily could have been as silly as Jar Jar Binks.  After all, an alien with pointed ears, green skin and super-human strength who eschews all emotion?  But thanks to Nimoy’s deft touch, Spock was as real and complex and layered as any character in the TV or film universe.  And, for those of us who were awkward adolescents at the time, dealing with a rush of weird new emotions and our own feelings of not quite fitting in with the rest of the world, Spock was enormously appealing.

I also liked that Nimoy seemed to struggle with the Spock character almost as much as Spock struggled with his human side.  Nimoy knew immediately that Spock was an iconic character, and he wanted to avoid being typecast.  When the Star Trek series ended, he promptly took on a completely different role as Paris on Mission: Impossible, wrote an autobiography called I Am Not Spock, and seemed to constantly reject the great character he created.  But ultimately he relented, reconnected with the role, and played Spock in a long series of movies and TV appearances — and Star Trek fans are grateful that he did.  Indeed, his connection with the character became such that he wrote a later autobiography called I Am Spock, and by the end of his life, as Richard points out, Nimoy ended his tweets with LLAP — a reference to Spock’s great Vulcan salutation.

Live Long and Prosper.  What a wonderful, simple sentiment from what was supposed to be an unemotional culture!  Nimoy lived that sentiment and gave us an unforgettable creation.  He will be sorely missed.

Advertisements

In Pluto’s Bad Luck Orbit

Pluto’s had a tough time of it.  It’s the loner of the solar system, orbiting in the cold regions of the Kuiper belt, far away from the warmth of the Sun.  It’s got the same name as one of the more pointless Disney cartoon characters.  Then, in 2006, it was exposed to the sizeist biases of scientists who decided that it should be embarrassingly downgraded from a planet to a “dwarf planet.”

But recently things were looking up for poor Pluto.  Two more moons were discovered in its orbit, bringing its total to five.  In the lunar satellite category, therefore, Pluto kicks the butts of those haughty, full-scale planets like Earth and Venus.  And then a naming contest for the new moons got underway, and people became interested when William Shatner — also known as Captain James T. Kirk, of the starship Enterprise, on Star Trek, the original series — suggested that one of the moons be called Vulcan, after the home world of his fellow Star Trek character Mr. Spock.  Vulcan was the top vote-getter by an overwhelming margin, and Pluto must have thought its luck had really changed for the better:  it would have a moon with a name that people would actually remember and that might, in some far distant time of routine space travel, become a kitschy tourist attraction as a result.

Alas!  Pluto’s luck could not hold.  The International Astronomical Union vetoed Vulcan, concluding that it was used elsewhere in astronomy and that Vulcan, the Greek god of the forge, was not sufficiently associated with Pluto, the god of the Underworld.  So, instead of Vulcan, Pluto will be orbited by Kerberos and Styx.

It must be depressing for Pluto to constantly be reminded of its grim, land of the dead namesake, and it’s got to be even more depressing to now be reminded of a mediocre ’70s rock band.  Cheer up, though, Pluto!  It could be worse!  Your new moon could have been named Kansas.

45 Glorious Years Of Star Trek

45 years ago — on September 8, 1966 — Star Trek first beamed across the airwaves of American television sets.

On that day, viewers first began to know Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, and the other regular members of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley became well-known faces and names.  Equally important, fans were introduced to the inspiring concept of the United Federation of Planets, with its concepts of brotherhood, and science, and peaceful exploration and coexistence with alien races.  The series offered the promise that better days lay ahead, when the human race could move beyond the racial division, strife, and savagery of the 20th century and realize its true potential.

Has any TV show been more influential to our society than Star Trek?  Not only did it captivate legions of devoted fans, it created a durable franchise that spawned multiple TV shows and movies that populated various points in the back story and front story of the original series.  It also introduced a host of sayings and gestures — “Live long and prosper,” the Vulcan split-fingered greeting, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and the Vulcan neck pinch, among others — that became, and remain, deeply engrained in popular culture.  The show’s vision of future vessels and devices also influenced design of military vessels and technological concepts.

For all of its influence and inspiration, Star Trek was, at bottom, a pretty darned good TV show.  (OK, some of the episodes stunk, but the good shows were really good.)  When 4:30 came on a weekday afternoon on the Ohio State University campus in the late 1970s, you’d find countless students — me and Flameface included — gathered around their TV sets, cold beers in hand, ready to watch once more the familiar, classic exploits of Kirk, Spock, and Bones and revel in being part of their world.

In Response To Richard’s Link . . . .

You can make a lot of arguments about James Tiberius Kirk. You can point out that he put on a few pounds over the years. You can contend that no rational Captain of a Starship would routinely beam down to an unknown planet with the initial exploring party, equipped only with a phaser and tricorder and a security guy in a red shirt who inevitably would be killed within seconds. You can argue that there is no way that Kirk could have defeated the Gorn, or could realistically have battled Spock to a draw in the thin, hothouse atmosphere of Vulcan. You can dispute whether, when all characteristics and traits are taken into account, James T. Kirk was a better Starship Captain than Jean-Luc Picard.

So, yes . . . you can make a lot of arguments about Captain Kirk — but I don’t think you can reasonably argue that Kirk was not attracted to women and instead harbored secret passions for his friend Mr. Spock. The only reason we didn’t see more obvious sexual activity between Kirk and his various female partners is that the original Star Trek was filmed in the 1960s, when TV shows were much less sexually explicit than they are now. After all, this was in the same time period when a young married couple, Rob and Laura Petrie, was depicted sleeping in separate twin beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In that time and place, Star Trek was pushing it with scenes where Kirk was shown sitting on a bed putting his boots on.

The best thing about Richard’s link, though, is that it is a good reminder of how there were many really crummy episodes of Star Trek. Some of the worst (or perhaps, most annoying) that I can think of right now are Charlie X, And The Children Shall Lead, the episode where Jason Bolt from Here Come The Brides was fighting himself from a parallel universe, the episode where the “Yangs” were fighting the “Comms,” and the episode where two guys who were literally half-white and half-black turned out to be bitter enemies because one was black on the right side and the other was black on the left. I’ll take an episode where Kirk is getting some action — even if implicit — over the episodes that hit you over the head with an overt political message any day.