A Star Trek Geek Interlude
My friend Ryan just posted an interesting article on his blog about rediscovering, as an adult, a suprising love for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But the part that most moved him was the part at the end where Spock dies, sacrificing his life for the life of the crew. And Ryan writes:
But there I sat, terribly moved. Because, well, it’s Spock. And Spock represents the intellectual third of the triumvirate (completed by Kirk and McCoy), the logical and unassailable force who provides both bedrock sagacity and humor. So on some sort of metaphorical level, killing Spock is about killing off logic—destroying that aspect of the idealism inherent in the Star Trek universe. But ironically, it’s the emotional attachment that we form to this utterly logical character that makes the whole thing work.
Honestly, Spock plays a central role in a modern mythology (that more prominently includes comic book heroes) in which I invested myself, in certain ways more wholly than in my Presbyterian upbringing. . .
I can't post on his site, but I thought I'd add my two cents:
I'm particularly interested in how Spock became a myth figure to the exclusion of everyone else. Because it's pretty obvious that the original Star Trek conceit was "logical first mate/emotional doctor/captain who used both" triumvirate. Pure vulgar Hegelianism. And yet McCoy was never anywhere near as popular as Spock was and is---and this reading is further complicated by the fact that Spock was only HALF Vulcan, as they kept reminding the viewers (and, insultingly, Spock himself). Moreover, I don't think Kirk did a single logical thing in the entire series. (Except, of course, for in "The City on the Edge of Forever." Yes, I know the titles. That's the kind of geek I am. You know what's worse? I learned the titles from The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble years and years before I ever actually saw a Star Trek episode---in fact, years before we even had a TV in our house.)
Hmm. The way that paragraph was going to end was, "and so the emotion-logic-synthesis trilogy really collapses into just two people---Spock, who is occasionally dragged unwillingly into being emotional, and Kirk who is VERY occasionally dragged unwillingly into being logical." But even this doesn't quite work. Because the more I think about it, the more I think Spock was popular because he was the only interesting character on the show. No one else in the series ever had a second of doubt about who they were. This, again, is why "Star Trek: The Next Generation" generally makes for better television, because there are so many more characters who are actually interesting as people: Picard and Data and Worf. (And then there were others---such as Geordi and Troi---who should have been interesting but never really fulfilled the potential they had on paper.)
But back to Spock. I think one of the things that's interesting about him is that he just might be the uber-geek: the person who tries to think things through logically precisely because he finds feelings too unsettling and disobedient to even acknowledge. And in describing Spock, I've just described every evangelical Christian intellectual I've ever met. And surely much of geekdom is rooted in a similar attempt to intellectualize away feelings of dislocation and loneliness. No wonder everyone identified.
There's more to talk about here...like the weird way that the original show loved to reify Christian values while, at the same time (as I think Harlan Ellison pointed out), always having the characters run into god-figures who were either spoiled children or heartless computers (emotion versus logic again). But my lunch hour is almost over.