Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Long And Prosperous Career

Image source.

Live Long and Prosper, Fellow Trekkers!   

On February 27, 2015 celebrated actor, writer, director and photographer Leonard Nimoy succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease brought on by a lifetime of smoking. Nimoy had come forward with this diagnosis only about a year ago, via a series of Tweets:

As Spock himself might say: "The practice of voluntarily inhaling carcinogenic smoke for pleasure is highly illogical."

Now, I've already talked about the photon-torpedo-style impact that the original Star Trek had on my childhood and my imagination. Episodes such as "The Corbomite Maneuver" and "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" scared the ever-lovin' bejesus outta me, "Arena", "Balance of Terror" and "The Doomsday Machine" thrilled me and "The City on the Edge of Forever" caused my brain to explode and leak out of my left ear.

Notwithstanding the hideously-dated, (not-so) special-effects, swingin' 60's aesthetic and cringe-worthy lapses into sexism, Star Trek was still light years ahead of its time. At the heart of the show's appeal was the trifecta relationship between the fiery Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), walking gonad / Horatio Hornblower-wannabe Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and, of course, the emotionless Vulcan science officer Spock, played to unparalleled perfection by Nimoy.

Sci-fi fans owe Leonard a boundless debt of gratitude since he personally innovated several famous Vulcan customs. For example, Spock's famous hand sign greeting can be directly attributed to the actor's Jewish heritage:

As a socially-awkward only child growing up in self-imposed isolation, I really identified with Spock. He was sharp, guarded, outwardly self-assured but visibly different and because of this he was often the subject of undermining ridicule, disproportionate criticism and blatant hostility. Perhaps the most telling thing about Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future is that, in spite of all of our progress in science, technology, medicine and interstellar travel, human beings will still fall prey to xenophobia from time to time. Contrary to what the average Republican believes, prejudice is something that our primitive reptilian brains will always be forced to contend with.

Typically Spock dealt with this human flaw with characteristic aplomb: usually with a raised eyebrow and a dismissive shot at the barbarity of Earth history. This often left Doctor McCoy apoplectic with rage and inadvertently becoming Exhibit "A" in Spock's case against the dangers of unchecked human emotions. Checkmate, Doctor.   

Here Spock and McCoy debate the ethical ramifications of the life-creating Genesis torpedo from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

McCoy: Dear Lord. You think we're intelligent enough to... suppose... what if this thing were used where life already exists?
Spock: It would destroy such life in favor of its new matrix.
McCoy: Its "new matrix"? Do you have any idea what you're saying?
Spock: I was not attempting to evaluate its moral implications, Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.
McCoy: Not anymore; now we can do both at the same time! According to myth, the Earth was created in six days. Now, watch out! Here comes Genesis! We'll do it for you in six minutes!
Spock: Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing. Logic suggests...
McCoy: Logic? My God, the man's talking about logic; we're talking about universal Armageddon! You green-blooded, inhuman...

As a viewer I always got the impression that the constant barrage of Romulan-water-torture-style cheap shots and subtle verbal bullying heaped upon Spock over the years were building up to some sort of breaking point. On those rare occasions when Spock did snap, it usually involved some powerful exterior influence, whether it be a chronic case of Vulcan case of blue balls, as in "Amok Time":

Or an emotion-twisting space virus like in "The Naked Time":

Or some mind-bending plant spores, as evidenced in "This Side of Paradise":

It's probably super-naive to say this, but I wonder if things would have turned out differently if the Columbine kids were Trekkies instead of fans of Natural Born Killers. Although I'd never blame music, books or movies for societal ills, Spock's penchant for taking the higher ground is pretty admirable when compared to the nihilistic actions of Mickey and Mallory.

More evidence that the original Trek was way ahead of its time: the show became a massive hit in syndication years after it was prematurely cancelled. When it became a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, the stars of the show were instantly catapulted into dizzying levels of fame. So closely associated were they with these iconic, larger-than-life characters, that many of them struggled with typecasting. And since no one was more iconic than Spock, Nimoy faced particular challenges.

After putting out a methinks-thou-dost-protest-too-much autobiography titled I Am Not Spock, rumors began to swirl that Nimoy refused to appear in Star Trek II unless his Vulcan alter-ego was killed off. Even though there's barely any pre-internet evidence to support this, it didn't prevent hordes of unbalanced Trekkies from sending death threats to the actor. Wow, talk about ungoverned passions!

In spite of this distasteful experience, Nimoy seemed to warm up to Spock not long after. This may have, in part, been due to the widespread success of The Wrath of Khan as well as the opportunity to direct two of the franchise's most successful sequels: The Search for Spock in 1984 and The Voyage Home in 1986. Whatever the reason, Nimoy seemed content with his legacy, publishing the apologetic-sounding I Am Spock follow-up bio as an olive branch to fans in 1995.

Via this one humble little blog entry I hope to convey just how versatile and well-rounded Leonard was. In addition to directing movies with the words "Star" and "Trek" in the title, he also gave us this seminal 80's comedy hit:

Nimoy also hosted one of the earliest and most intriguing "mysteries of the universe"-type shows: In Search Of...

Although we're in the midst of a promising wave of body acceptance awareness, the subject wasn't quite as sexy back in 2007. Leonard was on the vanguard of this movement with the Full Body Project, a series of photographs which tried to present some more realistic examples of proud female beauty.

Even though I feel ridiculous saying this, the following link is decidedly not suitable for work:

Leonard got his start in live theater and by all accounts his performances as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the title role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Sherlock Holmes garnered considerable acclaim. In 1981, he starred in Vincent, a one-man show based on the life of artist Vincent van Gogh.

Then there's his subtle-but-memorable turn as a cold-fish, Dr. Phil-type pop psychologist in Philip Kaufman's chilling remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978):

And who could possible forget his self-depreciating vocal performance in the "Marge vs. The Monorail" episode of The Simpsons?:

Leonard is gone now and I can't help but feel that a chunk of reality or a piece of the universe is missing. I'll always be grateful to him for making me feel considerably more fortified as a kid and I think that everyone else should miss him for all of the innovative things he did for pop culture and the rest of his fellow human beings.

EPIC FEELS   Damn, it's times like this when I wish that the Vulcan ritual of kolinahr was a real thing.

EPIC HUMAN #1   I dare you to get through this without blubbering like a space virus-infected Vulcan.

EPIC HUMAN #2   Leonard was a pay equity champion long before...well, long before women were forced to bring this insane issue up again just recently. 

EPIC TUNE  In addition to all of his other accomplishments, Nimoy was a pretty rad singer / songwriter. Check out this half-groovy, all-nerdy, 100% pimp geek anthem:

P.S. I don't know what the deal is with Leonard and memorable hand gestures but my friends and I have officially re-dubbed the gang sign that he throws up @ 1:16 as THE NIMOY. We still use it routinely in casual conversation. Yeah, that's right, we're cool.

EPIC MINI DOC  Leonard Nimoy's Boston. As Spock himself might say: "Fascinating."

SEMI-EPIC MEME   Just to address the obvious question on your mind, Gentle Reader:

THE I AM NOT SPOCK COSTUME FAIL  Seriously, this is what I was wearing when I left the house last Halloween. Needless to way, I'm w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y too round-headed to pull off the inherent dignity of Spock. I look more like Denise Crosby as Sela, fer f#ck sakes.   

THE I AM DEFINITELY NOT SPOCK FAIL  Dear J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof: if the S.I.N.O. (Spock In Name Only) who appears in your remake / reboot / re-imagining / spiritual travesty is trying to solve problems by REPEATEDLY PUNCHING PEOPLE OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN THE FACE then you really don't have single clue about this character. IMHO, this one scene alone is resignation-worthy. Hang your heads in shame, you attention-deficit-disorder clowns!


Robert Hustwick said...

You really had me liking your post there when you mentioned the difficulties Spock faced (being made fun of, etc.), until you lost me in the same paragraph with the jab at Republicans. Way to show your open minded tolerance.

David Pretty said...

You really had me liking your comment until you lost me in your complete and utter denial of reality. Way to show your support for Gene Roddenberry's ideals by defending Republicans.