Today is Leonard Nimoy – Spock’s – 81st birthday. It’s an occasion that provides an opportunity to reflect on the most iconic science fiction character of the television and film age.
Most great personalities in literature, stage and screen touch a nerve, speaking to – and perhaps for – millions. How did a pointy-eared, green-blooded Jewish boy from Boston pull it off?
Much of Spock’s success comes from the nature of Star Trek itself, which, beginning in 1966, transported square pegs into a 23rd Century with few round holes.
Spock was different: half human and half Vulcan. The later is a race that substituted logic for emotion. This duality – constantly combating human emotions – put Spock at odds in both worlds, in neither of which he was totally accepted.
In the human sphere, Spock’s talents – super-smarts, super-strength, and a Vulcan Nerve Pinch that settled most arguments – made him invaluable, yet perhaps not totally equal, to his peers. And, to be sure, Spock’s assimilation was not without complication. In one hiccup, his colleagues realized their favorite alien goes into heat every seven years. This must have come to a shock to Captain Kirk, whose mating cycle kicked into gear every seven minutes.
In an additional hitch, if Spock did not quickly meet the woman of his dreams (where was J-Date when he needed it?), he’d become a murderous psychopath and then drop dead. When Spock had a bad day, it was epic.
But he had good days, too. With Spock as a central character, Star Trek proved that science fiction has something to say about what we’re capable of. And while traveling at warp speed may ultimately prove impossible, everyday heroism is within reach.
There should be little disagreement that the best Trek episode was its second feature film, in which Spock, upon realizing that only his Vulcan genes could withstand a deadly radiation leak long enough to repair the ship’s engines, sprung into action. He single-handedly repaired the warp drive and saved the ship, unflinchingly making the ultimate sacrifice.
“It is logical,” said Spock. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” Every subsequent sequel was superfluous.
Stardate 10.24.2002: a fellow Star Trek enthusiast, with pants and I.Q. hiked up a little too high, invited me to see Nimoy speak about his rather odd book of photography. The Seattle Times described the tome as “a black-and-white volume that mixes female nudes with Jewish religious imagery.”
Whatever. It was an excuse to see my favorite Vulcan in person. But I was surprised to find a 71-year-old struggling with the value of his artistic contributions. It hadn’t previously occurred to me that this would be the case, although it makes sense.
Imaginings of the 23rd Century aside, many men aspire to be more like Captain Kirk. If given a choice, we’d rather beam down to fight villains hand-to-hand, always getting the (green) girl. Is it possible that coming up short of that, even with the wealth generated by sci-fi-phenom-fuled-fame, might leave one feeling lacking? I suppose so. But had I the opportunity to speak to Mr. Nimoy, I would have told him to buck up, for the Geeks Shall Inherit the World.
Live long and prosper, Spock.
Dan Sytman, whose birthday also falls on March 26, lives in the Seattle-area, humored by his wife and two kids. He's pictured here in 1977.