Saturday, February 28, 2015

Goodbye, Mr. Spock


"He's dead, Jim." Leonard Nimoy, 83, at home in Los Angeles yesterday, of COPD from smoking many years ago.

"Star Trek" was a liberal sermon in fable form (a lot like "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone") but enjoyable for many of the same reasons as the mid-'60s, including its optimism: the "square" America that actually put a man on the moon. (They chose to make the show very present-day so viewers would like it.) Now it's over. Leonard Nimoy was one of a kind, helping create one of TV's greatest characters, the show's breakout star. Interesting fellow too: Jewish (practicing, actually rare in Hollywood), born in Boston to immigrants from Russia; a Yiddish speaker. (Most know he copied the Vulcan salute from a synagogue blessing gesture.) Once saw him on an episode of "The Outer Limits," made a few years before he was famous, in which he was wearing one of my hats and suits and talking normally, not like Spock. Thanks for everything; "live long and prosper" wherever you are. Prayers.
The most interesting character of the lot. IMHO a related second interesting character would be Data in the "Next Generation" series. I think perhaps Spock & Data are two sides of the same coin. Eternal memory.
Data was a great update of Spock without trying to imitate the inimitable. From the tortured intellectual half-alien to "Is he man or machine?" Pinocchio-like. Charming. "TNG" did a two-parter or a story arc in which Spock and Data worked together, possible because Vulcans live incredibly long.
He was ten times the man Zachary Quinto is. I have enjoyed the various reboots too, but comparing the original series with any of the new ones, with JJ Abrams, or some of the better fan-made ones ("Star Trek Continues" still the best of those), that's the main thing missing. Despite the sometimes cheesy (and annoyingly preachy) material they were working with, they were all men of a different sort than we have today. They had a gravitas, an adulthood, that makes all the rest seem like teenagers playing dress-up.
"Star Trek" was liberal but actually from the later part of America's golden era (when liberals were hard-drinking social conservatives); the men are part of that. As Rod Dreher wrote, there are Kirk men and Spock men (like "Ginger or Mary Ann?"); both have their place. Classic action heroes and cool, calculating types to keep the peace. (And lots of pretty girls.) Nimoy was unusually handsome and charismatic enough to make the "nerd" type the hero. What's interesting is it was obviously meant to be William Shatner's show but Nimoy (unintentionally?) eclipsed him. For all the cracks about Shatner's vanity, he seems a pretty good sport; he and Nimoy were friendly. By the way, the younger Shatner made a fine Captain Kirk; the only problem was his breaking the Prime Directive (Bob Justman's concept, not Gene Roddenberry's) basically for American ("the Federation") colonialism. Postwar America; the liberal Great Society in space. (Classy Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll-type American blacks standing in for Africans; typical American ethnic mix at the time with North Americans doing stage accents to approximate the world.) Don't like a culture? Zap the place and claim it. (Computers controlling planets were one of Kirk's favorite targets. A fear of being displaced by automation, which is real, was one of the show's themes.) Better than political correctness's relativism in a way but the Federation isn't really the good guy, just like the real thing it's based on.

If you read Roddenberry's proposal for the show, you see that (liberal) preaching in the form of fables was always what it was about, no more realistic than "Gilligan's Island" (a fable about different kinds of people getting along). Which explains the dumbing down: human, English-speaking aliens.

Yet there are realistic touches that look like forecasting, from mobile phones to video screens to reading journals on a computer to portable computer discs and sticks. That's because the Rand Corp. (maybe Janice Rand's name was a tribute), connected to the Pentagon, worked with Roddenberry on the show. So maybe he was a good Cold Warrior (I'm not being sarcastic), a non-Communist lefty (the government loved those). Those concepts were already at least on the drawing board or even in the lab; it was clever product placement.

Like the American elite at the time, Roddenberry obviously had no use for religion.

Haven't followed the franchise since "TNG."

By the way, Vulcans and Romulans (variations on the same people, probably to cut costs) strike me as Japanese (the hair, for example), one side being peaceful Buddhist monks, the other still a samurai culture (not mutually exclusive in Japan; monks supported the war), both smart and disciplined.

The first Star Wars is better; I saw it when it came out. Swashbuckling right out of old movie serials, not political correctness (the Federation = the Empire), and even some B+ philosophy and theology (the Force) to keep it interesting, vs. Roddenberry's atheism. (But Sir Alec Guinness hated it.) Classic adventure story (Western with ray guns) without the Just Like Earth problem (you hear everybody speaking English because everybody is presumably using the same language), with special effects that still impress. I don't follow the franchise.

Galaxy Quest is great.

6 comments:

  1. I skipped most of TNG, Voyager and DS9. You can see the tension in the show between the Old Order and the New Paradigm which was dawning at the same moment the show started, about 1966 (the year I was born). The fact that the hero broke the Prime Directive in nearly every episode demonstrates this very effectively. In the space between the end of the show, 1969, and the start of TNG 1987, you can clearly see that the New Paradigm has completely subsumed the Old Order, and the result is a nearly unwatchable show, with weak-chinned, characterless men, every plot turned into some laboured demonstration of the New Paradigm's values, in its way more overtly preachy than the original could possibly have been, and totally relentless with every character completely, unquestioningly dedicated to its dictates. TNG plots required a Deus Ex Machina in nearly every episode because every conflict they came across was insoluble with the Politically Correct doctrine. Real conflict was unavailable to them. And you pretty much want to punch nearly every person on board the ship at least twice an episode.

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  2. Everyone who loved Star Trek loved Galaxy Quest. It's a testament to the quality of both the show and the fans that they were able to take the jokes in such good spirit.

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  3. The great Sir Alec Guinness didn't quite hate "Star Wars" at first: http://youtu.be/yfEw5H_LSoQ

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  4. That is from his memoirs, which I really want to read sometime.

    Regarding "Star Trek", I agree that the franchise has declined---but there was still some of the old spark of humanity in the Next Generation. I appreciated Data too, as well as Captain Picard's passion for early 20th-century American popular culture. My favorite episodes were those dealing with the Borg. They represent a dystopian future that is frighteningly plausible.

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  5. If you skipped DS9 you missed out on the best of the newer Treks. They dropped the PC preaching of TNG and Voyager for a pretty good deconstruction of the "Federation == the good guys" mythology of the series. Intrigue, betrayal, and a pretty good grasp of spiritual themes that were absent from the other series were all represented and done pretty well.

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    1. I saw that it had the potential to be un-"Star Trek"-like "Star Trek."

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