Friday, February 27, 2015

You Have Been, And Always Shall Be, Our Friend

I skipped the second grade.

They don't really do that any more, skipping kids a grade. Smart kids are often awkward kids, and the social skills lag behind the school skills. But in the early 70s, before modern gifted classes, they didn't know what else to do with me.  So I jumped from first grade to third.

In the fourth grade, the novelty of me and my awkwardness wore off, and the bullying started. (Iowa is talking about a bullying bill again. I have a one-line bullying bill. Bullies shall be expelled.) It was somewhat controlled in school but the walk home was merciless. I'd get home, often before my parents, often in tears.

That was when I found Star Trek.

Every afternoon at 4, I would escape for an hour, to the Enterprise, where there were no bullies except Klingons, and where being the smartest guy on the bridge, even though you were a little different, made you a hero. And afterwards, I'd walk the open fields behind our house, back when it was safe for kids to wander alone for hours. It was my planet to explore, and I used to wish they could beam me up.

Today we mourn Leonard Nimoy. But we also mourn the Star Trek Vision, so hard to imagine in 1966.

The Star Trek Vision was more than the gadgets. We already have more of those than we dreamed possible.  Transporters and warp drives would still be the coolest things ever, but I have a communicator and a tricorder on my pocket.

The real vision was of a better world, using the best of our human emotions and the best of our minds to overcome our petty squabbles and unite humanity.

The vision of Star Trek was Gene Roddenberry's. Spock was that vision in one man. And more than any of the other actors and writers and directors and adaptors and creators  across five series and a dozen movies, Leonard Nimoy brought that the Star Trek Vision to life.

Spock was truly alien, and his alien-ness, and alienation, was an essential part of the character.  Yet Spock was also one of us, half-human.  Spock was an idealized human, smarter and stronger and more rational due to his Vulcan heritage, freed from our baser instincts, yet able to access the goodness of his human heart.

Take a couple hours for some Star Trek. The computers of our day are even mightier than those on the Enterprise. Faster than the robot voice could say WORKING we have the world's knowledge on our screens.

Two great Spock episodes stand out.

In Journey to Babel, we meet Spock's parents, his human mother and Vulcan father. But the definitive Spock episode was Amok Time, where Spock returns to Vulcan for the mating ritual only to engage in mortal combat with his captain and best friend.

Watch especially at 11:30, where Spock explains ponn farr to Kirk, and Nimoy accesses in five minutes all the struggles and conflicts and emotions of his complex character.  Also see the scene beginning at 44:44, as Spock discovers that Kirk is alive, and his human joy and love escapes.

It took a great actor to get that much out of that character, with the restraints of time and budget and medium inherent to 1960s broadcast television.  And Nimoy was a great actor. He played occasional other roles, none of them memorable. During those re-run years, Nimoy struggled with that, once writing a book titled "I Am Not Spock."

But as the movies began, Nimoy realized he'd been cast in the role of a lifetime.

Nimoy embraced Spock, he recognized the role as a responsibility, he advocated the Star Trek Vision. He wrote another book titled "I AM Spock." And he embraced the Vulcan salutation, "live long and prosper," as a personal motto.

There was enough depth to Nimoy as a man, and to Spock as a character, to spend a lifetime exploring. And that character, and that Star Trek Vision, is Leonard Nimoy's legacy.

There's not a dry eye in the Federation tonight, not even on Vulcan. If only we had a Genesis device to bring Leonard Nimoy back for another lifetime.

But in creating the most iconic science fiction hero of all, Nimoy created his own immortality. He has been, and shall always be, our friend.

1 comment:

Eric Donat said...

I got bullied too. For me it started in sixth grade - so bad in seventh that they skipped me to eighth grade after Christmas break of that school year.

In high school I was bullied too - only this time by the special ed. faculty and staff (the adults). Only after high school after I started to volunteer for Iowa legislators did the bullying cease. From my experience legislators assumed I was smart - intelligent from the start until or unless I proved otherwise.

I will always have a special place in my heart for my high school class and for all of Iowa's legislators - for they gave me dignity.