Friday, December 23, 2016

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 15 of 15)

15. To Inevitably Go Where No Man Has Gone Before, or: Leonard Nimoy Reconsidered.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius

--from the musical Hair
 

The eastern world it is explodin',
Violence flarin', bullets loadin',
You're old enough to kill but not for votin',
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin',
And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin',
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

--Barry McGuire

Science fiction is held in low regard as a branch of literature, and perhaps it deserves this critical contempt. But if we view it as a kind of sociology of the future, rather than as literature, science fiction has immense value as a mind-stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation. Our children should be studying Arthur C. Clarke, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Robert Sheckley, not because these writers can tell them about rocket ships and time machines but, more important, because they can lead young minds through an imaginative exploration of the jungle of political, social, psychological, and ethical issues that will confront these children as adults.

--Alvin Toffler, Future Shock 

 I don’t try to predict the future. I try to prevent it.

--Ray Bradbury

Star Trek speaks to some basic human needs: that there is a tomorrow--it's not all going to be over with a big flash and a bomb; that the human race is improving; that we have things to be proud of as humans. 

--Gene Roddenberry

 I used to be an actor. To me it was a job.

--William Shatner

In fact I was the one that made them do that. My concept of ladies in space were not to look like men. I read a lot of comic books as a kid, and I just saw the ladies as looking as we did. Actually it was shorts with the skirt flap over the front. Bill Theiss did that. And the black stockings, the boots, and the legs. I thought it was just outstanding.

--Grace Lee Whitney, when asked how she felt about wearing a miniskirt on the starship Enterprise.
  
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future

--The Steve Miller Band

 Yes, I suppose it's time for another Rabbit book. Someone suggested I call it Rabbit Retires, but he's a bit young to retire. Perhaps in 1999. Oh, that sounds so far off. Of course, so did 1984 once, and when it finally arrived it proved to be a rather banal year. Ah, yes, that's interesting.

--John Updike, circa 1999

 But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

--John F. Kennedy

 And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

--Martin Luther King Jr.

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

--William Faulkner

We're the future, your future

--The Sex Pistols

 And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

--Matthew 24:6

At least the World will end, an event anticipated with great joy by many. It will end very soon, but not in the year 2000, which has come and gone. From that I conclude God Almighty is not heavily into Numerology.

--Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus, published in 1990.

Well, the thing I'm going to miss the most is global warming. That's the only thing I can think of that I'm going to miss. And good luck to all you people who are going to have it.

--Art Buchwald, shortly before he died.

The future is no more uncertain than the present.

--Walt Whitman 

We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

--Ed Wood (by way of Criswell), Plan 9  from Outer Space

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow 


--Journey

Tomorrow!
Tomorrow!
I love ya
Tomorrow!
You're always
A day
A-way!

--from the musical Annie


 66 years before Star Trek first went on the air.


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Well, that's the future for you. Two steps forward and one step backward. Or, perhaps it strikes you more as two steps backwards and one step forward. Maybe it's a jog through the park on a nice spring day. Or a slip on a banana peel at the top of a flight of stairs. It all depends where you are, where you've been, and where you're trying to get to.

I don't know that Star Trek ever promised us a utopia. Sure, Gene Roddenberry talked one up in later years, especially when trying to create, produce, and promote The Next Generation. But in that original series, he just a gave us a future, and let us decide for ourselves what it was like. And he withheld some of that future from us. Earth, except through time travel, was never visited, never seen.  This was intentional. Part of it was that, from a television production standpoint, it would be a pretty expensive undertaking. People might expect The Jetsons, but that was (cheaply) animated. Trek was live-action, and how much would it cost to build a sky-high supermarket like the one Jane shopped at? But beyond budgetary considerations, Roddenberry didn't want to tell us how it all turned out socially, politically, and economically. Or that it had turned out at all. That is, that the best way to do things had been decided on, once and for all. Who ever said the future has to be decided on, once and for all?

Of course, things change, advance even. There were clues. Earth, and not specifically the USA, USSR, China, Britain, France, Switzerland, Upper Volta, etc., belonged to a galactic Federation, meaning humans were now living in a planet-state. No civil war back home was ever alluded to, so we could assume this Earth planet-state was at peace, peace in the sense that the USA, USSR, Upper Volta, etc., weren't firing projectiles at each other. And on the deck of the Enterprise,   an African, an Asian, a Scotsman, a Russian, and a white man from south of the Mason-Dixon line all seemed to get along with each other, so we could assume that bigotry had been abolished once and for all. Why, even McCoy and Spock could agree on that.

On second thought, no, they couldn't.

Before he decided it was a goal that humanity should aspire to, Roddenberry occasionally described Star Trek in interviews as a satire. Kirk was Gulliver. He may not wake up tied to the ground by some insect-sized people, but he would nonetheless witness the follies of one backwards-thinking alien race after another. Such as "The Return of the Archons", a lampoon of organized religion. The man Roddenberry chose to succeed him as line producer, Gene L. Coon, also saw Trek as a satire, but in not quite the same way. To quote Shakespeare, no stranger to satire himself, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings." We don't always have to go to another planet to find those underlings. I've said this before in an earlier installment, but it bears repeating. There may be Peace on Earth in the 23rd century, but those future peaceniks nevertheless made damn sure the starship Enterprise had enough phasers and photon torpedoes aboard because God knows what kind of nightmares lie just beyond the solar system's borders. And, yes, there's brotherly love in the future. As long as that brother is human. It may be a color blind society, but pointy ears still stand out. In "Errand of Mercy", Kirk finally admits, "I'm embarrassed. I was furious with the Organians for stopping a war I didn't want. We think of ourselves as the most powerful beings in the universe. It's unsettling to discover that we're wrong."  That we're not always as scientifically, technologically, philosophically, culturally, sociological, politically, economically, and morally advanced as we like to think we are was the thrust of much of Trek's satire, especially during the show's first two seasons.

Now, that doesn't necessarily make Trek pessimistic. Sure, the 23rd century is no utopia, but neither is it a dystopia. No more of a dystopia than the the 21st century (that could change in January.) Our nation-states may still fire projectiles at each other, and that is indeed troubling, but imagine what the world would be like now if we still had city-states doing that? As for racism and xenophobia, yes, they're still around (as the most recent presidential election demonstrated) but even those ills have become less endemic over the years. As the picture to the left reminds us, the Irish used to be the American minority group that the majority loved to discriminate against. These days, they're so much part of the mainstream, the non-Irish use their holiday as an excuse to indulge in corn beef sandwiches and green beer, and then call off from work the next morning. We may still get to that color-blind planet-state yet, and then we'll be able to fear and loathe aliens. Finally, according to Star Trek, there still is a human race in the future, neither split atoms nor greenhouse gasses having caused it to go extinct. If that turns out to be true, well, that's utopian enough for me.

......................................................................................................................................

“Why, Huck, doan’ de French people talk de same way we does?”
 “No, Jim; you couldn’t understand a word they said—not a single word.”
“Well, now, I be ding-busted!  How do dat come?”
“I don’t know; but it’s so.  I got some of their jabber out of a book. S’pose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy—what would you think?”
“I wouldn’ think nuff’n; I’d take en bust him over de head—dat is, if he warn’t white.  I wouldn’t ‘low no nigger to call me dat.”
“Shucks, it ain’t calling you anything.  It’s only saying, do you know how to talk French?”
“Well, den, why couldn’t he say it?”
“Why, he is a-saying it.  That’s a Frenchman’s way of saying it.”
“Well, it’s a blame ridicklous way, en I doan’ want to hear no mo’ ‘bout it.  Dey ain’ no sense in it.”
“Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?”
“No, a cat don’t.”
“Well, does a cow?”
“No, a cow don’t, nuther.”
“Does a cat talk like a cow, or a cow talk like a cat?”
“No, dey don’t.”
“It’s natural and right for ‘em to talk different from each other, ain’t it?”
“Course.”
“And ain’t it natural and right for a cat and a cow to talk different from us?”
“Why, mos’ sholy it is.”
“Well, then, why ain’t it natural and right for a Frenchman to talk different from us?  You answer me that.”
“Is a cat a man, Huck?”
“No.”
“Well, den, dey ain’t no sense in a cat talkin’ like a man.  Is a cow a man?—er is a cow a cat?”
“No, she ain’t either of them.”
“Well, den, she ain’t got no business to talk like either one er the yuther of ‘em.  Is a Frenchman a man?”
“Yes.”
“Well, den!  Dad blame it, why doan’ he talk like a man?  You answer me dat!”

--Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  
In his excellent book The Worlds of Star Trek, David Gerrold states that he thinks the original series wasn't realistic enough to qualify as science fiction and thus was more of a fable. He singles out the show's dialogue in particular. What was so unrealistic about that? The following examples are mine and not Gerrold's, but I think that taken together they buttress his point.

When the title character in "Charlie X" threatens the safety of the ship,  Kirk says he'll "take him on!" In "The Man Trap", Kirk says mysteries give him "a bellyache." Spock complains in "The Naked Time" that he could never tell his mother he loved her because on his planet it would have been in "bad taste." Sulu mentions "skiing season" in "The Enemy Within". In "Mudd's Women", when Kirk tells Mudd he'll be his character witness at his trial, the latter complains, "They'll throw away the key." In "The Cobermite Manuever" Scotty replies "Beats Me" when asked about what makes an alien piece of machinery work. Finnegan calls Kirk "Jimmy boy" in "Shore Leave". Kirk talks about finding a "needle in a haystack" in "The Galileo Seven". Spock refers to a "cat and mouse game" in "The Squire of Gothos". Kirk jokes that his lawyer is a "crackpot" in "Court-Martial". "Snap out of it! Start acting like a man!" Kirk yells to a glassy-eyed fellow in "The Return of the Archons". "You said so yourself," Kirk says so himself to a politician with an odd notion of peace in "A Taste of Armageddon". A southern-accented and spore-inebriated McCoy calls Kirk "Jim boy!" in "This Side of Paradise". In the same episode Kirk quotes McCoy as saying he'd like Spock if he'd just "mellowed a little". Also in that episode, Spock disobeys Kirk by merrily telling him "Oh, I don't think so." Finally in that episode Kirk pisses off Spock by telling him he should be a circus exhibition, right next to "the dog-faced boy." In "The Devil in the Dark" McCoy says "by golly!". In the same episode Scotty is having a difficult time repairing a nuclear reactor, and Kirk suggests to him that he "baby it." In an "Errand of Mercy" Spock tells Kirk that they "beat the odds", but the latter disagrees, telling him that the Organians "raided the game." According to Kirk, cordazine is "tricky stuff" in "The City on the Edge of Forever". That same episode has an emotionally drained Kirk saying, "Let's get the hell out of here." In "Operation: Annihilate" Scotty points a phaser at an ailing Spock, and says, "Freeze right there!" According to McCoy in "Amok Time", Spock was so happy that Kirk was alive, he almost "brought the house down!" In "The Changeling" Kirk asks Spock "You didn't think I had it in me, did you?" In "The Apple" Kirk tells Spock, "Never mind!" In the same episode, Chekov, in order to create a diversion, tells Spock to "Mind your own business!" In "The Doomsday Machine" Scotty describes a malfunctioning transporter as "mighty finicky." In "Catspaw" Kirk tells Spock that he'd be a natural at "trick-or-treat." An android that looks like his shrewish wife Stella calls Harry Mudd a "good-for-nothing" in "I, Mudd". "Why not try a carrot instead of a stick?" McCoy asks Kirk in "Metamorphosis". Amanda is "sick to death" of logic in "Journey to Babel". McCoy explains he subdued a patient in "Friday's Child" by giving her a "right cross." In the same episode, the good doctor says to a newborn infant, "coochy coo." Also in that episode, Kirk says the cavalry no longer comes around the hill in the "nick of time." In "The Deadly Years" Kirk complains to Spock that a Federation bureaucrat is a "chair-bound paper-pusher", while McCoy tells Chekov as he injects him with a needle that "this won't hurt a bit." In "Wolf in the Fold" Scotty describes himself as a "pub-crawler" and later frets that his life depends on some "mumbo-jumbo." In "The Gamesters of Triskelion" McCoy accuses Spock of going on a "wild goose chase." In "The Immunity Syndrome" Spock tells McCoy to employ on of his native superstitions and "wish me luck." In "A Private Little War," McCoy yells "Blast it!" McCoy refers to the "common cold" and exclaims "poppycock!" in "The Omega Glory." In "The Ultimate Computer" McCoy talks about how we're all sorry for the other guy when he "loses his job to a machine." When he learns a new medical procedure, McCoy says "a child could do it" in "Spock's Brain". "I don't make house calls," McCoy tells Uhura in "The Enterprise Incident". Kirk tells a kid who wants ice cream that it will "spoil your dinner" in "And the Children Shall Lead". According to McCoy in "Is There No Truth in Beauty", Vulcan is "not my idea of fun." Kirk refers to "patriotic drum-beating" in "Day of the Dove". In "The Empath" McCoy calls a strange woman Gem, because, as he explains, it's better than "Hey, you!" In "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield" Spock calls a man that is half-black and half-white "one of a kind" (erroneously, as it turns out.)

You see what Gerrold might be getting at at? Star Trek takes place in the 23rd century, yet the characters talk as if it's still the 20th. Specifically, colloquial English as it was spoken the between the years 1966 and 1969. By way of comparison, let's look at something written in the 17th century:



Up about five o'clock, and where met Mr. Gawden at the gate of the office (I intending to go out, as I used, every now and then to-day, to see how the fire is) to call our men to Bishop's-gate, where no fire had yet been near, and there is now one broke out which did give great grounds to people, and to me too, to think that there is some kind of plot in this (on which many by this time have been taken, and, it hath been dangerous for any stranger to walk in the streets), but I went with the men, and we did put it out in a little time; so that that was well again. It was pretty to see how hard the women did work in the cannells, sweeping of water; but then they would scold for drink, and be as drunk as devils. I saw good butts of sugar broke open in the street, and people go and take handsfull out, and put into beer, and drink it. And now all being pretty well, I took boat, and over to Southwarke, and took boat on the other side the bridge, and so to Westminster, thinking to shift myself, being all in dirt from top to bottom; but could not there find any place to buy a shirt or pair of gloves, Westminster Hall being full of people's goods, those in Westminster having removed all their goods, and the Exchequer money put into vessels to carry to Nonsuch; but to the Swan, and there was trimmed; and then to White Hall, but saw nobody; and so home. A sad sight to see how the River looks: no houses nor church near it, to the Temple, where it stopped. At home, did go with Sir W. Batten, and our neighbour, Knightly (who, with one more, was the only man of any fashion left in all the neighbourhood thereabouts, they all removing their goods and leaving their houses to the mercy of the fire), to Sir R. Ford's, and there dined in an earthen platter-- a fried breast of mutton; a great many of us, but very merry, and indeed as good a meal, though as ugly a one, as ever I had in my life. Thence down to Deptford, and there with great satisfaction landed all my goods at Sir G. Carteret's safe, and nothing missed I could see, or hurt. This being done to my great content, I home, and to Sir W. Batten's, and there with Sir R. Ford, Mr. Knightly, and one Withers, a professed lying rogue, supped well, and mighty merry, and our fears over. From them to the office, and there slept with the office full of labourers, who talked, and slept, and walked all night long there. But strange it was to see Cloathworkers' Hall on fire these three days and nights in one body of flame, it being the cellar full of oyle.

That's a page from Samuel Pepys diary, jotted down 300 years, to the day, before Star Trek first went on the air (on Canadian television, for some reason; the US debut wasn't for another two days.) Pepys is describing the aftermath of The Great Fire of London, which, fortunately, both he and his diary survived intact. I notice a few words were spelled differently back then: cannells, oyle. Or maybe Pepys just got the spelling wrong. He had no idea someone would be reading his stuff on the Internet three centuries later, and thus wasn't too concerned about coming across as illiterate (he was, in fact, a graduate of Cambridge.) The fire apparently hadn't been completely doused as there was now one that gave great grounds to people. Sounds like they were making coffee. It hath been dangerous enough, but Pepys, along with some men, managed to put it out. Pepys finds women working in the canals (or cannells) pretty until they scold for drinks. Let's give Pepys credit for not taking advantage of an attractive woman's inebriation (though in other parts of his diary he does mention groping at female members of his household staff.) Butts of sugar are lying on the streets. The things people will smoke. Money was taken to the Swan--a popular pub of the day--where it was trimmed. Well, that's one way to confound the counterfeiters, but could you still spend it? Time to get a bite to eat. Pepys has a good a meal, though as ugly of one. Sounds like he's contradicting himself, but it could be that dessert was a bit of a comedown after the main course. Thence it's off to Deptford, at the time home of the First Navy Dockyard. Despite that good/ugly meal he had earlier, Pepys is still hungry. But he doesn't stay hungry as he supped well with a few acquaintances, one a professed lying rogue. Well, at least he's honest about it...OK, OK, I'm through making fun of Pepys. He wasn't intentionally inarticulate. Or, for that matter, unintentionally inarticulate. Someone from his era would have known exactly what he was trying to say. And, again, remember, it's a private diary, not an autobiography meant for publication (though, posthumously, that happened anyway.) Pepys didn't need a polished prose style, which, of course, made it all the more colloquial.     

What's it all got to do with Star Trek? If Pepys diary entry is 300 years in the past, and the language is a bit different from today, and Trek takes place 300 years in the future, shouldn't the language have changed again a bit in the interim? Not if you listen to Kirk and, especially, McCoy. Actually, you don't even have to travel three centuries into the future. In the mere 47 years since the last original Star Trek aired, the language has indeed changed quite a bit. Don't believe me? Does anyone on Trek ever describe a week as twenty-four seven? Does Spock ever complain that McCoy can't think outside the box? Does McCoy ever tell Spock to get a life? Does Kirk ever order Spock and Kirk to stop dissing each other? Does anyone on the Enterprise ever call each other dude? And just how technologically advanced is that 23rd century anyway if no one has a lap top? Or a smart phone? If no one's online? Is there any texting? Does Spock ever download anything into that tricorder of his? Does the computers on the Enterprise ever need to be rebooted? What about apps? Or email? Is there a modem? How about search engines?  And as far as Captain Kirk is concerned, a mouse pad is a little hole in the wall, like in the Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Now, there is a very good reason Gene Roddenberry had the characters on Star Trek talking in a 1960s colloquial style. The television audience also talked that way. And they needed to understand what the characters were saying. I suppose Roddenberry could have had the characters talking in tongues at each other, and then supplied subtitles. But that would have made the show seem too much like a foreign movie.

OK, so we'll give them a pass on colloquial English. But what about English in general? I don't mean to say people won't be speaking it in some form or another 300 years from now. After all, they were speaking it some form or another (as I just showed you) 300 years in the past. But how many people will be speaking it? Everybody in the world? Everybody in the universe? That's the impression you'd get watching Star Trek. They even speak it on planets that were heretofore undiscovered. With the exception of Scotty and Chekov, two Earthmen, nobody even speaks it with an accent! Truth to be told, the series did finally come up with an explanation in the second season. In "Metamorphosis", Kirk needs some way to talk to an alien cloud of electricity that's holding him and some others hostage, so he had Spock modify a Universal Translator, which looks a bit like a bong.  Nobody gets high, but the explanation of how it works is a bit trippy. The device measures brain waves, which it then translates into words and a male or female voice. If it can could do all that, you'd think it could also read minds, but, no, they still need Spock for that. Despite the explanation, there are still episodes afterwards-- most of them, in fact--where we don't see these translators, yet they're nonetheless able to talk to newly-identified aliens. Do they carry them around in their pockets? Given the size of the translator in "Metamorphosis", if Kirk carried one in his, you'd get the impression that those sexy girls he was always wooing was making him a little too excited. Anyway, Roddenberry again had a good reason to leave out alien languages. The show was only sixty minutes, and consulting a Berlitz book every time you wanted to know what a Klingon was talking about would have taken too much time.

I have a confession to make. I only speak English. In high school, I signed up for a Spanish course, and just found it impossible. Too much studying, too much memorization, which is what much of studying basically is. And it's not like that was the only class I was taking. I had other things to study, to memorize. In fact, I always resented that there could be two or three tests in two or three different subjects that you were expected to pass on the very same day. And not even the same teacher doing the expecting. Well, in elementary school, it is the same teacher, but as I recall, they knew better than to have you study at night for more than one test at a time. But once you get into high school, it's specialization. A different teacher for every subject, and the only thing each teacher cares about is his or her subject, and not any other subject some other teacher may have just assigned to you. And so my Spanish teacher dismissed my concerns that the need to know which wife of King Henry VIII had her head cut off, or whether it was Miss Havisham or someone else paying for Pip's education, would get in the way of me recalling what came after uno, dos, and tres. After about a month, she suggested I drop the course, which I did. I haven't really regretted it, but I often wonder why it is I found it so difficult. Yes, there was a lot of memorization involved, but there may have been an additional mental block in play.

The answer could lie in the quote from The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn that tops this section on language. The illiterate slave Jim is surprised to learn that English isn't spoken in France. Huck, who by this time knows how to read and write, decides to explain to Jim how this can be so. Since a cat and a cow speak different from each other, so, too, must a Frenchmen speak differently and a couple of fellows making their way up the Mississippi. Jim remains unconvinced, and, quite frankly, he should be, as Huck's explanation isn't as literate as he thinks. A cat is born to meow, and a cow is born to moo, but a Frenchman isn't born to speak French any more than we here in the United States (or England) are born to speak English. Human language is learned behavior.

Yet it doesn't always seem that way, does it? Sure, Spanish taught in high school is obviously learned. But your first language, your native language, the language you think in, the language you use when talking to yourself? Remember learning that? You might possibly have dim memories of learning to read, and of course new words are added along the way, but, your mother looming over you, exhorting, "Say, Ma-ma!", you don't recall that, do you? The language you knew entering kindergarten, doesn't it seem as though you were born knowing that? And that, I think, might be at the root of my problem with high school Spanish. English came instinctively to me, though it wasn't an extinct at all. It felt like I spoke English for the same reason a cat meowed and a cow mooed. But that wasn't the reason at all. Sure, early education is great, but it can also trip you up. Now, Captain Kirk and company weren't similarly tripped up, as either everybody in the galaxy spoke English, or those universal translators hidden somewhere on their selves just made it seem like everybody did. But when dealing with an alien from outer space, there were other, perhaps less obvious, ways to become tripped up by instinctive behavior that wasn't instinctive at all.



If you hear or read the words "alien from outer space", an unusual-looking creature may come to mind. Unusual-looking creatures found on Star Trek would include the funnel-mouth, droopy-eyed saltaholic in "The Man Trap", the domed-and-varicose veined-headed Talosians in "The Menagerie", the apes-with-eye shadow Taurisians in "The Galileo Seven", the crystal-eyed lizard-like Gorn in "Arena", the melted chedder cheese-on-slag Horta In "The Devel in the Dark", the mucilage-like creatures in "Operation: Annihilate", the Aurora borealis-on-a-small-scale Companion in "Metamorphosis", the twinkling cloud in "Obsession", the fluorescent-colored brains in "The Gamesters of Triskelion", the abominable snowman-with-scales-and-horn in "A Private Little War", the gila monster-with-phosphorescence eyes Melkotian in "Spectre of the Gun", the flash-you-see-after-getting-your-picture-taken-with-a-nondigital camera creature in "Day of the Dove", the ridged-head Vians in "The Empath", the green clown-faced Troyan Ambassador Petri in "Elaan of Troyius", the black-and-white and white-and-black Cheronians in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", the Christmas tree lights Zatarians in "The Lights of Zetar", the flappy-eared Tiburon Dr. Sevrin in "The Way to Eden", the regurgitated ground hog-with-claws-and-rocks-for-fur-and-several-minature-flash bulb-eyes Excalbian in "The Savage Curtain", the pig-nosed-empty-eye socketed Tallarite, and the blue skinned-antennas-with-sunction cups Andorians, both in "Journey to Babel". Now, unusual-looking doesn't necessary mean unattractive. The title creatures in "The Trouble with Tribbles" were cute and furry, while Yvonne Craig (Batgirl on Batman) made a mighty sexy green-skinned Orion slave girl in "Whom Gods Destroy". And, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Speaking of which, in "Is There No Truth in Beauty?", Medusan ambassador Kollos is said to be so butt-ugly that we never get to see what he looks like lest we all go insane!





Despite all the examples I just gave you, unusual outer space creatures appeared on the original Star Trek only about half of the time. The other half?  In such episodes as "Miri", "Shore Leave", "The Return of the Archons", "A Taste of Armageddon", "The Alternative Factor", "Who Mourns for Adonis?" "Friday's Child", "Wolf in the Fold", "A Piece of the Action", "A Private Little War", "Patterns of Force", "The Omega Glory", "Bread and Circuses", "Spock's Brain", "The Paradise Syndrome", "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", "Plato's Stepchildren", "Wink of an Eye", "The Mark of Gideon", "That Which Survives", "The Cloud Minders", and "All Our Yesterdays", we encounter aliens who look remarkably human (though, as Doctor McCoy once pointed out, there could be "certain internal differences.") Again, Gene Roddenberry had a good, economically sound reason for doing this: makeup costs money. But this also meant there needed to be another way to stress an alien's alienness. 



New civilizations, Kirk intoned during the show's opening credits. Whether the aliens looked like us or like something out of Dr. Suess, it was the societies that they formed that really characterized their alienness. Some of the more interesting alien societies on Star Trek include one patterned after 1920s gangster-ridden Chicago in "A Piece of the Action", a society that revolves around 1001 Arabian Nights-like hedonism in "Wolf in the Fold", primitive tribal societies in "Friday's Child" and "A Private Little War", a primitive tribal society of Asian communists and upside-down American flag-carrying patriots in "The Omega Glory", a society patterned after Nazi Germany in "Patterns of Force", a society that's like Ancient Rome except with 20th century technology in "Bread and Circuses", a society where intellecually-stilted women live in luxury underground while intellectually-stilted men labor above ground in "Spock's Brain", a Native American society in "The Paradise Syndrome", societies where computers are worshiped as gods in "Last of the Archons", "The Apple", and "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", a society where some people live in the clouds while others toil in the mines in "The Cloud Minders", a society of medieval peaceniks in "Errand of Mercy", a society of bored brains that bet on hand-to-hand combat in "The Gamesters of Triskelion",  two societies that wage a computerized war with each other where people die but physical structures are left standing in "A Taste of Armageddon" and, of course, a society whose members suppress their emotions and instead rely on logic, except in "Amok Time", where they do the opposite. 



The one thing that the crew of the Enterprise had in common with these aliens, and what all people who grew up in distant lands have in common with each other, was that their respective societies, cultures, customs, norms, mores, values, creeds, ideologies, doctrines, dogmas, articles of faith, perceptions, and even certain aspects of their personalities (what Freud called the superego) was learned behavior that they simply could not remember ever having learned, and that the universal translator was of no use in masking over the difference. That took patience, understanding, and an open mind. Unfortunately, there are several episodes where Kirk eschews patience, understanding, and an open mind, and simply, and simplistically, alters these societies more to his liking. Now, I'm not saying these societies (a few of which were arguably allegories or satires of 1960s America) wouldn't benefit from such alterations (especially if its members find the societies wanting), only that  removing the scales from other people eyes comes all to easily to Kirk.  He especially relies on force, as if a phaser beam can neatly cut through years of socialization. It's akin to Huck and Jim tying a Frenchman to a tree and slapping him silly until he stops saying "Parlez-vous français" and starts saying "It's all Greek to me". And it's why an episode like "Errand of Mercy", where Kirk's own outlook is changed, is such a breath of fresh air. Not only is the shoe on the other foot, but the scales on the other eyes.



Though I may look askance at James T. Kirk's unique ability to reboot an entire culture in the fifteen minutes or so that transpires between commercial breaks, I certainly don't blame him if he feels a bit out of place in those distant lands he visits. He's only human. One of my favorite recurring moments on Star Trek is when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and whoever else beam onto a planet, and, for a moment, just stand there and take it all in. There may be a bit of trepidation. Sometimes a bit of awe. They're never indifferent. What I so love about this show is that despite the fantastic 23rd century technology that so shapes their day-to-day lives, these guys haven't lost the capacity be surprised, to be taken aback, to be awestruck. Whether you regard them as adventurers, imperialists, liberal do-gooders, reactionaries, or simply innocent bystanders--and there's more than enough episodes to support all of those views--Captain Kirk and company never take anything in stride. After all, they have their own future to look forward to, or to dread, or to just be plain curious about. In that sense, Star Trek is a realistic work of science-fiction. Non-science, too. 

......................................................................................................................................

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015




 Six years after the last original Star Trek aired.


26 years after the last original Star Trek aired. He seems to have changed his mind.

Nimoy later admitted the title of the 1975 autobiography was a mistake. People took it too seriously and assumed he really wasn't Spock, so he wrote another autobiography in 1995 with a more accurate title to clear up any misconceptions.

Wait a second. Now that I think about it, the 1975 title was accurate, after all. He wasn't Spock! That was just a character he played.


OK, I'm being a bit facetious here. When the first book came out, Trek fans of course knew he wasn't Spock, but assumed he chose that title because he wanted to distance himself from the increasingly iconic character. They had even more reason to assume that when reports surfaced in the late 1970s that he wouldn't reprise the Spock role in a new TV version. That TV version instead became a 1979 motion picture, titled, appropriately enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Nimoy agreed to reprise Spock after all, but just that one time, no more! Well...if he wasn't going to play Spock any more, fans really should know what happened to the character. So he agreed to do Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where he dies at the end. Now he really could distance himself from that character. Except that while he was promoting the film, he consoled grieving Trek fans by telling them that "no one dies in science fiction." Well, you know the rest. The character returned, and Nimoy kept on playing Spock almost to the very end of his life.


So what was actually going on with Nimoy anyway? Did he or did he not want to play Spock? I suspect he did. I also suspect that he knew Spock was either potentially the best thing to happen to his career, or potentially the worse. It took him years to find out for sure, hence his Hamlet-like posturing. Nimoy's situation was comparable to two other television actors: Carroll O'Connor, who played Archie Bunker on All in the Family, and Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on Happy Days. All three actors created such memorable characters they risked becoming one-trick ponies, as you couldn't imagine them doing anything else. I don't happen to believe they were one-trick ponies. Just how talented they actually were is hard to say, but they may very well have been three Marlon Brandos. Except that Brando really made his mark in film. A film actor can get typecast, of course, but it's somewhat more avoidable on the big screen than the small. A movie is only a couple of hours, whereas a successful TV series can go on for years. Brando first played Stanley Kowalski on stage, and then again on screen, where he became, and where he remained (without always trying very hard), a star. But suppose Stanley had debuted as a character on a successful TV series that lasted for five seasons or so, and then in syndicated reruns for many years thereafter? There might have been no On the Waterfront, no The Wild One, no Godfather. That basically turned out to be the fates of the three actors forever known as Archie, Fonzie, and Spock. Except that in Leonard Nimoy's case there happened to be a career-blessing in disguise denied to the other two thespians. O'Connor's and Winkler's heydays had been when there TV shows were on the air. That can't really say that about Nimoy. Though he had a fervent fan base almost from the very beginning of the Star Trek run, the majority of the television-watching public at the time were watching something else. Spock was still a baby doctor to most people at that point. Then came rerun syndication, and the TV character pulled ahead of the pediatrician in terms of name recognition. Meanwhile, Trek's relatively short run--a mere three seasons--began to seem like a bit of a cheat. You can't say that about All in the Family, which ran nine seasons (13, if you count successor series Archie Bunker's Place) or Happy Days, which ran for 11. You didn't need to turn those shows into feature films. People had already seen quite enough of Archie Bunker and Fonzie. Not so Spock. The string of Star Trek movies with the original cast started in 1979 and ran all the way into the early '90s. That was Nimoy's true heyday. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "There are no second acts in American life", but he died 26 years before Star Trek first went on the air. True, Nimoy's second act wasn't much different from his first, but at least in this act he got to be a movie star. Though they both made attempts, you can't really say that about O'Connor and Winkler.


A Streetcar Named Desire, brought to you by Fruit of the Loom.

OK, Leonard Nimoy was a movie star, but so was Godzilla. What about Nimoy the artiste?



I firmly believe pop culture can rise to the level of art. I wouldn't have spent the last year and a half writing about Star Trek if I didn't. But I also believe the snobs have a point. As I've said elsewhere in this series, pop culture isn't meant to be art. It's a product to be bought and sold. The creative folks involved know this. Charles M. Schulz used to express bafflement (possibly pretend bafflement) when people accused him of selling out after Charlie Brown and Snoopy began popping up in MetLife ads and whatnot. A comic strip is already a commercial enterprise, he said in his defense, so how could it be sold out? (Though he created Peanuts, Schulz never owned the strip, a fact not widely known during his lifetime, so the actual owner, newspaper syndicate United Features, later called United Media, most likely had some say in the licensing.) Norman Rockwell always insisted he was a commercial illustrator rather than an artist, and expressed puzzlement (possibly pretend puzzlement) when his Saturday Evening Post covers began to be exhibited in SoHo galleries toward the end of his life. Now, I happen to believe both Schulz and Rockwell were True Artists, but they were outside of True Art, and in the same Warp-commercial-driven, market force-fielded orbit as Star Trek.


Which reminds me. Before I delve into Leornard Nimoy's artistry, what about Star Trek as a work of art? Was Star Trek even a work of art? As much as I like the show, it's hard for me to think the whole of the original three-year run as art. There's just too much heavy-handed dross, too many potentially good stories that misfire, and, while I commend the show for tackling social issues, when not done right, things can get pretentious. These criticisms mostly apply to the third season, but the first two aren't entirely flawless. However, individual episodes do rise to the level of art. "The Cobermite Maneuver," "The Menagerie", "The Devil in the Dark", and quite a few others. Additionally, whether the episode as a whole was art or not, Star Trek had many, many great set pieces. The auto-destruct sequence in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield". A seated Abraham Lincoln floating through space in "The Savage Curtain". The episode-ending summations of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. And the latter brings me to the acting. The show had its share of great performances, and that includes a few from the much-maligned William Shatner, such as Kirk's peaen to risk-taking in "Return to Tomorrow", his pleas for cooperation from a group of diseased children in "Miri", and and his heartbreak as he witnesses (and allows) the death of the woman he loves in "The City on the Edge of Forever". Shatner could also be quite funny, trying to out-gangster the gangsters in "A Piece of the Action", trying to control the title critters in "The Trouble with Tribbles", and trying not to act his age as a senile old coot in "The Deadly Years" (at least I think he was supposed to be funny in that last one.) If Shatner was a good actor, DeForest Kelley was an even better one, and also able to do both drama, such as when he was strung out on cordazine in "The City on the Edge of Forever", and comedy, such as when he was strung out on happy hillbilly-inducing spores in "This Side of Paradise". And, lest we forget, the guest stars, starting with perhaps the most  famous Trek guest star of them all, Ricardo Montalban in his first go-around as Kahn, the strongman with charm (more charm than a current strongman I can think of.) Although she's never achieved anything near the fame of Montalban, Diana Muldaur (who's probably best-known these days as the middle-aged femme fatale Rosalind Shays in LA Law) was just as talented and proves so in two Trek episodes "Is There No Truth in Beauty" where she suffers unrequited love for an unseen alien, and "Return to Tomorrow" where she plays two roles (without having to change her wardrobe!) Muldaur later did one season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Dr. Katherine Pulaski. Fans found the character too bitchy--she was often described as a female McCoy--and she was dropped. I know that show's future tended to be more utopian than the original series, but you really think bitchiness will have gone the way of the dinosaur by then? Moving on, there's  Kathryn Hays as the emotionally put-upon Gem in "The Empath", Michael Forrest as an emotionally needy Greek god in "Who Mourns for Adonais", and Roger C. Carmel as a comical crook done in by his own flamboyant displays of emotion in "Mudds Women" and "I, Mudd".







And then there's the behind-the-scene talents. Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon, D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer, Rick Berman, Maurice Hurley, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor, and J.J. Abrams all contributed  to what's become known as the Star Trek franchise, but it was a man in front of the camera, Leonard Nimoy, more than anybody else, who made Star Trek Star Trek. Here's how.





You have to go back to the second Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", which established Spock as logical and lacking in emotion (the first pilot, "The Cage", didn't--nothing was established but his name and the shape of his ears.) I don't find him a terribly likable character in that episode. He's arrogant, rude, and looks down his nose at the humans around him. Now, I'm not somebody who believes all TV characters have to be likable, but there at least should be a good reason when they're not. The producers may have had, if not a good one, at least a reason to make Spock the heavy in this and several other early episodes. As I've said before, I think it was to make humans feel good about being humans and not Vulcans. I don't just mean the humans serving on the Enterprise, but also the real-life humans at home watching on TV. Now, why in the world do real-life human need to be made to feel better than a fictional race of people? It's not like they would ever have to compete against them for jobs or even in a potato sack race at a company picnic. Ah, but as with all things Star Trek, it may be what Vulcans represent, their possible real-life counterparts. Vulcans could be bookworms, know-it-alls, smarty pants, longhairs, eggheads, highbrows, ivory tower dwellers, pointy-headed intellectuals, stuffed-shirts, pompous asses, highbrows, effete snobs, elitists. Were they a nonfictional people, they'd be immediately denounced by Donald Trump.



Leonard Nimoy seems to have decided early on that he wasn't going to keep on playing Spock that way, even if the show's scribes persisted in writing him that way. For one thing, he decided to give his Vulcan character a sense of humor. Unless he was under some sort of mind control ("This Side of Paradise") or some science-fiction entity had taken over his body ("Return to Tomorrow"), Spock rarely smiled. That is, his lips didn't form the letter U. But look at his eyes. That was his smile! Spock was constantly amused by the human folly going on all around him, and he let us watching at home into that amusement by simply raising those wonderful brows of his. See what I'm dealing with, he seemed to be saying, but not to Kirk or McCoy, but to us! We were his confidants! Spock never, ever stopped being critical of humans, but we human TV viewers didn't care, because we wanted to be Vulcans ourselves. In fact, watching Spock, we momentarily forgot we were human, so much did we identify with (or idolize) the Vulcan First Officer.


Don't believe me? Whenever Spock and McCoy got into one of their famous arguments, who did you root for to come out on top? C'mon, be honest with me! Spock, right? Yet, what were they usually arguing about? Logic vs Emotion? OK, that's fair. But those arguments could get pretty personal. In "Breads and Circuses", McCoy goes so far as to call Spock a "pointy-eared hobgoblin". Over an esoteric a subject as head over heart? They're must have been something else going on. Something of a more personal nature:

MCCOY: It also proves another Earth saying. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Darn clever, these Earthmen, wouldn't you say?
SPOCK: Yes. Earthmen like Ramses, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan. Your whole Earth history is made up of men seeking absolute power.
MCCOY: Spock, you obviously don't understand.
SPOCK: Obviously, Doctor, you fail to accept. 

--"Patterns of Force"

What these two really are arguing about all the time is Vulcan vs. Human, with McCoy offering a passionate defense of humanity. Passionate, shmassionate. We always end up siding with Spock, even though we're human ourselves. Man, is that pointy-eared hobgoblin persuasive or not? But it's understandable that we should feel that way. Spock is Bugs Bunny, and McCoy is Daffy Duck. Wouldn't you prefer to be Bugs and avoid having your beak shot off by Elmer Fudd?



There were other cool things Nimoy had Spock do. Standing fully erect with his hands behind his back. That could have seemed arrogant, but somehow didn't coming from Spock. And he must have decided (and we must have agreed with the decision) that fascination wasn't an emotion, because no one ever invested so much passion in finding something "fascinating!" For a while the writers kept on treating Spock as a quasi-heavy, but Nimoy refused to cooperate. Spock is a wholly sympathetic character in "The Galileo Seven", an episode designed to make him look like a fool. Nimoy actually made that work to his advantage. He plays the fool by playing up the inherent comedy of the fool, turning the entire episode into a comedy (despite a couple of deaths along the way) and thus gaining our sympathy. After awhile, a very short while, maybe a third of the way through the first season, Spock ceases to be a heavy and becomes more of a devil's advocate. It helps that he kind of looked like the Devil (as was often noted by the show's characters, usually McCoy, but even on occasion Kirk.) Some of the writers (Gene L. Coon in particular) saw a subversive value in this. If they wanted to express a point of view that was outside of the 1960s mainstream, they certainly couldn't have Captain Kirk, the show's hero, say it. So they put the subversive view in Spock's mouth. It sounded OK coming from Prince of Darkness. So, for instance, at the end of  Season 2's "The Apple", Spock opines to Kirk and McCoy that changing yet another planet's social system wasn't doing the people on it any favors. The starship's captain and doctor immediately, and jollily, rebuke the Vulcan, laughingly comparing him once again to Satan. Spock actually ends up looks a bit humiliated, but here's the important thing: he got to say his peace. Now jump ahead to the third season, by which time the American public had soured on the Vietnam War, and it had become somewhat more acceptable on television--Rowen and Martin's Laugh-In and The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour were both riding high in the ratings--to find fault with the American way of life. "The Way to Eden" actually finds fault with the then-burgeoning counterculture, with space hippies foolishly losing their lives after looking for a high in the form of a planet. But the episode doesn't completely repudiate the youth movement (some members of which were Star Trek fans.) It ends with Spock offering a word of encouragement to a surviving flower child. And Kirk not only does not rebuke him, but even seems to give his tacit approval. By this time the Satanic-looking Spock had become the show's conscience, its moral center. And it doesn't stop there.




When it came time to make the feature films, Nimoy famously played hard to get. Whatever his motives in doing so, it resulted in one of the greatest serialized story arcs (The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home) in motion picture history. When the producers thought he was serious, they had to kill him off. When they found out he either wasn't or was but had changed his mind, they had to bring him back from the dead. Biblical imagery was turned on its head. The Devil had become Christ. Spock even walks around in a white robe for a while! Jump ahead 20 years, and it seemed only logical--heh, heh--that J.J. Abrams would have to bring back the original Spock to give his remake/reboot any credibility. In fact, if you start from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and go all the way to the first two Abrams films, you can make the argument--and I am making the argument--that Star Trek is really Spock's story. No one planned it that way--except, perhaps, Nimoy himself. We'll never know for sure.




In addition, Nimoy may have not only transformed his character, and the thrust of several feature films, but the very meaning of Star Trek. Or at least clarified it a bit. The overarching theme of Star Trek in its many forms is not so much the future or science-and-technology but difference. The topic comes up over and over again, no matter how removed from the original series the Trek is you're watching. Now, I'm not talking about the real-life cast members. While it's nice that the original series had an integrated crew, and that the later Trek series Deep Space Nine had a black captain, and that Voyager had a female captain, and that, as rumor has it, an upcoming series is going to have a black female captain, those things mean more to the viewers then the characters on the shows themselves, who don't, and won't, even notice them. If difference is going to be your theme, you need to occasionally point it out. In a science fiction show that means aliens. Why else show them? I know that, thanks to the immense popularity of both Star Trek and Star Wars, we're now conditioned to believe that the future and aliens go hand in hand, but over the years there's been many people--Fritz Lang, Aldous Huxley, William Gibson, even Hanna and Barbara--who have conjured up fictional futures without them. But Gene Roddenberry obviously wanted his filled with aliens, going so far to make one a regular character. Out of 79 original Trek episodes, I count a mere 20 where aliens don't play a major role. If you discount episodes involving alien technology (such as "Turnabout Intruder") you're left with only 16. So I think it's fair to say Star Trek is a show about aliens, and aliens are different. Different in what way though? Before Trek, aliens tended to be portrayed in the worse way possible. It's starts with H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (though some have claimed it's actually a nasty satire of British imperialism, with the Brits getting their just deserts), continues in comic strips like Flash Gordon, and then taken up by Hollywood in the 1950s, e.g. Invaders from Mars. Now, there were a few scattered attempts to buck this trend. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman, who was born on Krypton. Isaac Asimov switched from writing about aliens to robots after a magazine editor claimed the former in his stories weren't inferior enough to human beings. The alien in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still appeared to have good intentions. But those were the exceptions. And Star Trek, at least in the beginning, was no different, even if those good intentions caused a blackout. True, the first Trek episode to go on the air, "The Man Trap" ends with Kirk sounding somewhat regretful that a salt-sucking alien that threatened the crew had to be killed, as the creature was only doing what it had to to survive. Well, Kirk's regret is better than nothing, I suppose, but to have a show where aliens rape, pillage and burn while humans nobly pat themselves on the back for their objectivity isn't itself very noble. Throughout it's original three-year run, Trek played that card one too many times. That's why it needed Spock.




I suspect Leonard Nimoy, who grew up in a Jewish household (as did Siegel, Shuster, and Asimov) and was thus outside the American mainstream, also decided to buck this trend, with the probable encouragement of the show's new producer, Gene L. Coon (who arrived about a third of the way through the first season.) I've already explained how I believe the writers had to make certain adjustments to the Spock character, due to the adjustments made by Nimoy himself through his sheer acting ability. How did these adjustments affect the particular story being told? Spock was only half-Vulcan. Others who have written about this usually focus on the internal struggle between the human and alien parts of his psyche. In fact, I myself focused on that in a previous post. It's hardly mandatory, but if you read the above page taken from a 1950s teen magazine (which might require a bit of squinting; sorry, but that's as large as I could make it) you'll see that Nimoy himself had quite a bit to say about the subject. The point, then, is well taken, but maybe too well taken. There are only two episodes that actually has Spock interacting with other Vulcans ("Amok Time" and "Journey to Babel") Most of the time, Spock presents himself as a full-blooded Vulcan, and is accepted by those around him as a full-blooded Vulcan. Yet this split in his genetic makeup hardly goes to waste. I think it actually, and perhaps unintentionally at first, ended up serving a different, more metaphoric purpose. Spock always seemed to me the most like a Vulcan on the bridge of the Enterprise, where he stuck out like--well, I guess you'd probably notice those ears before you would the sore thumb. However, when on some weird alien planet, he seemed to have more in common with Kirk, McCoy, and the other humans around him. This made Spock the perfect intermediary between humans and aliens. Yet even when he had more in common with humans, he never ceased to keep an open mind about aliens. The (interestingly-titled) "The Devil in the Dark" stands out, but even something like "The Galileo Seven" has him reluctant to hurt, kill, or maim Bigfoot-like aliens ("your furry friends" McCoy chides him) even though two of his crewmates has just been killed by some! And you can always count on Spock to bring up the Prime Directive, the oft-broken Starfleet rule that forbids interference in a planet's internal affairs. So what accounts for Spock's open-mindedness? Logic, sure, but is there more? Depends on the semantics. As the only Vulcan on a starship full of humans, humans like McCoy, and, occasionally, Kirk, who mocked him and his satanic resemblance, Spock empathized with aliens. Now, empathy is an emotion, but it also can be the most logical of emotions. Certainly more logical than referring to aliens as aliens, as Kirk and McCoy sometimes did, even when on the aliens own planet. In that situation, it's really Kirk and McCoy who are the aliens, don't you think? Only Spock, through his unique form of empathetic logic, could see through such parochial fog. And the same thing goes for the Prime Directive. It's not simply Spock being by-the-book. Remember, he came from a planet with a very different culture then that of Earth. And he knows that at least one human, McCoy, thinks that homeworld's culture is pretty screwy. Kirk may very well think the same thing. And if Kirk can willy-nilly change a planet's culture to his liking, might he not someday want to change Vulcan? What's that, you say? James Tiberius Kirk would never do such a thing--despite the fact that he does such a thing all the time. For Spock to feel overprotective of the Prime Directive seems quite logical to me. Spock doesn't always prevail, but he works hard to keep the Enterprise honest, and Leonard Nimoy worked hard to keep Star Trek honest. He seems to have at least won over Trek creator, and one-time LAPD cop Gene Roddenberry. I said in an earlier installment that the reactionary strain that occasionally (and only occasionally) pops up in the original series can be traced back to Roddenberry. Yet he mellowed as time went on, even the very short time Trek was on the air. Perhaps conscious that the audience for his show skewed younger--which by 1968 meant lava lamps and love-ins--he came up with his own flower-power motto, the now-famous Infinite diversity in infinite combinations”. And in whose mouth did Roddenberry have this motto come out of? Not the Captain of the Enterprise but his First Officer. Spock wasn't exactly a hippie, but he was most definitely counter to the culture.



Nimoy's impact can be even felt in the later Star Trek shows of the 1980s and '90s: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. True, he wasn't a cast member of any of those series  (though he did once guest star on TNG) but an example had been set. Each show needed an atypical character, an alien, robot, whatever, and that character couldn't just be a merchandisable mascot, but was to be accorded a certain amount of complexity, and whatever dignity that complexity entailed. I'm not necessarily talking about the later Vulcans, Voyager's Tuvok, and Enterprise's T'pol. I'm sure the actors who played them tried mightily, but they could never get out from under Leonard Nimoy's shadow. They took the same heavy-handed approach that Nimoy did in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but, unlike him, never moved on from there (as for Zachary Quinto, he hasn't quite emerged from that shadow either, but he's come close enough that, if he keeps at it, he someday may need sunglasses.) Nimoy's real influence can be felt in Data and Worf of The Next Generation, Odo and Quark of Deep Space Nine, the Doctor, Neelix, and Seven-of-Nine on Voyager, and Dr. Phlox of Enterprise. What all these disparate characters have in common with Spock is that with each of them, difference is merely the starting point and not the endgame. Something to remember when dealing with those strange aliens that we encounter every day...














...our fellow human beings.



However, all that was clear only after the stardust had settled. In the meantime, Leonard Nimoy had to make a living. And he did so by giving us a Vulcan who was, by turns, happy, sad, angry, content, shocked, proud, dismayed, satisfied, confused, amused, stunned, elated, hesitant, enthusiastic, distrustful, optimistic, suspicious, delighted, cautious, calm, disturbed, relaxed, overwhelmed, hopeful, uncomfortable, pleased, guilty, confident, hurt, brave, melancholy, tender, depressed, sympathetic, regretful, bored, exhilarated, rejected, intrigued, disillusioned, absorbed, grief-stricken, curious, isolated, eager, ambivalent, trusting, insecure, disgusted, weary, outraged, empathetic, scornful, alienated, insulted, excited, indifferent, dumfounded, and, of course, fascinated, all the while staying in character. And when that character told us he didn't have any emotions, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we believed him. An amazing acting achievement.

Let's just see some future utopia try and top it.













2 comments:

  1. Oh My Goodness !
    I took me a few days but what an ending ! Loved your description of Spock and we did believe him.
    The first part was fabulous. All the before and afters. Brillent !
    Enjoyed so many of the quotes.
    Big question what will you do now ?
    How about some movie reviews, did you see Rouge One yet ?
    I have to wait till all the kids (sick kids sneezing) are back in school and the movie is just about done to go and see it with my son.
    Are you covered in snow and or ice.

    Happy New Year, It is the year of the Roster.
    cheers, parsnip

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  2. Thank you, parsnip. Very happy you liked it.

    I'll probably just do one-shot posts for the time being. This in fact started as a one-shot post. Leonard Nimoy had just died and I wanted to do a tribute. But I quickly realized I couldn't do an adequate tribute, tell you what I thought Nimoy brought to the Star Trek franchise without examining the franchise as a whole. And with the both original series and the later movies, I realize I couldn't do THAT justice in a single post, and thus it led to a whole series of posts. But at the very heart of it all was the tribute to Nimoy, and that's why I brought it all back to him.

    As for Rouge One, I might wait for it to come out on video. That's how I see most movies these days.

    As for doing movie reviews, I used to have a blog titled Ancient Celluloid where I did just that. I've since put that blog out to pasture, but am thinking of periodically doing movie reviews here. It won't just be new movies, but any movie I feel like writing about, everything from Charlie Chaplin to Johnny Depp.

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