I am not quite old enough to have seen the original Star Trek during its first run on television from 1966-1969. When I started watching it ten years after its debut, it was already a cultural phenom, and “Trekkie” was already a semi-derogatory appellation leveled by boys and girls in khaki pants and oxford shirts against those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead in clothes colored like Easter eggs on LSD. By the time I was in high school, William Shatner had already appeared on Saturday Night Live urging the costumed audience at a make-believe Star Trek convention to “get a life.”
But we had a life, and it was reflected perfectly in the brilliant teleplays written by the inimitable Gene Roddenberry and the magnificent minds who dreamt up The Trouble with Tribbles, Plato’s Stepchildren, Amok Time and A Piece of the Action (if I’ve left out your favorites, please do let me know so we can discuss it at sufficient length to make the eyeballs of non-fans roll back in their sockets, leaving only the whites showing as a token of their frustration and disgust). My life was filled with Star Trek action figures when I was younger, and incessant conversations about the similarities of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (with the half black/half white characters) and Dr. Seuss’ story about the Sneetches (remember? The Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars; the Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars). I learned everything there is to know about the futility and tragedy of racism from that episode. I learned about war (A Taste of Armageddon), overpopulation (The Mark of Gideon), and class warfare (The Cloud Minders) from Star Trek. I learned that love doesn’t conquer all well before I lived it or read The Vampire Academy books (see my blog about that here) in the heartbreaking episode, This Side of Paradise. I actually believe all of philosophy is a footnote not to Plato, but to Gene Roddenberry.
In my late teens in New York City, I remember listening to morning radio with the disc jockey derisively describing a new class at the City University of New York (CUNY). Apparently, it was a philosophy course based on the characters of Kirk and Spock and the differences between a logical approach and an emotional/instinctual attitude and methodology. The DJ was clearly unimpressed. He called it, “beaming them into class any way you can.” I was highly amused, but also a little annoyed. That DJ was totally incorrect and the professor was well ahead of his time in the early eighties. I’m sure that the class had a waiting list a mile long, and that the students got a perspective on philosophy that they never forgot. Relating difficult and controversial concepts to the mnemonic of compelling storytelling is what my blog and my headspace is all about. We are human, and we relate through stories, which is why fiction is such an effective tool of education and thought provocation. It’s why Schoolhouse Rock was so successful in teaching millions of kids the preamble of the Constitution, all about conjunction junction and that he’s just a bill, yes he’s only a bill, sitting there on Capitol Hill. We learn and think and make connections when we hear stories.
And in reading all the beautiful tributes and reminiscences on social media over the weekend, I was reminded about one of the most clever pieces I’ve ever read, a passage depicting an imaginary conversation between Kirk and Spock in the bodies and situation of Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, and his trusty Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, in the series by Kevin Hearne. Hearne is clearly a true Trekkie, which is only one of the things that attracts me to him. He is also the creator of one of the most original set of characters in paranormal and urban fantasy, and the Star Trek exchange was just the icing on the cake. I highly recommend that you read the passage from Hearne’s book, Hammered (I’ve posted the poster based on the passage on my Facebook page here). Even if you don’t like Star Trek, I dare you not to laugh. And read the Iron Druid series while you’re at it. It’s a fan favorite for a reason.
And 50 years later admirers around the world are mourning the death of Leonard Nimoy—as well as the descent into the abyss that is represented by William Shatner’s becoming the celebrity spokesman for Priceline—what’s next, George Lucas endorsing Hyundais? I know now we are witnessing the decline of civilization as we know it when the man who could imply the hottest sex in the galaxy just by zipping up his boots is spewing drivel in support of discount travel arrangements. Really, Bill–after manning the helm of the Enterprise, can you really contemplate the indignity of economy class? But I digress. I do that from time to time.
Back to my beloved Mr. Spock. I’ll say this about that—there is a photo making its way around the Twitterverse, a candid shot of Shatner and Nimoy between takes on the Star Trek set. Shatner is eating something and grinning, and he looks handsome and manly and everything that Captain Kirk should be. But it’s Leonard Nimoy who dominates the picture. The smile he wears illuminates his face like the light of a thousand supernovas. And all I could think was that I would have given a lot to know what put that smile on his face. Because when Spock smiles, we know that the angels are singing in Heaven. Live long and prosper, Leonard, as you explore that final frontier.