The news of the death of actor Leonard Nimoy has made me sad. Here is a blog I posted at the time of the latest Star Trek film in 2013.
As we are still talking about the revival of Star Trek, it occurred to me that Spock is not from that strange orange planet, Vulcan, after all. Neither is he from the future, as he is portrayed in the film Into Darkness.
No, he is British and from the past.
I make this judgement because of the qualities and values he has. Spock is famous for being logical and for not displaying emotions. As was explained in the film, Spock (and all those from the planet Vulcan) does have emotions but the ideal is to control, thus conceal, them. These are British qualities from the Victorian period. The concept of making decisions based on logic, as opposed to emotion or spirituality, was at its height in Europe during the eighteenth century. This was during an intellectual period known as the Enlightenment, where the emphasis on principle and discovery was based on empirical study, not religious belief, which had preceded this time.
Spock was a ‘mixed-species’ child as his father was Vulcan and his mother was human. In the film we saw him being bullied because of his mixed heritage. So I guess that bullying and racism aren’t just human traits, or perhaps the film makers tried to extend this into other worlds. It is definitely a human thing and has existed for as long as history has recorded. The invasion of the Anglo-Saxons saw battles between the migrant peoples and the indigenous Britons, which was to be expected. However, the Anglos clashed with the Saxons as well, with conflict based on racial lines as much as territorial ones.
The original actor of Spock, Leonard Nimoy, also identified with his character in the television series. Nimoy was a Jew and often felt isolated because of his faith and for being born in America to immigrant parents (from Ukraine). Spock was the only Vulcan on board the star ship Enterprise, as well as being part of an endangered race of people following the destruction of his planet, Vulcan. Nimoy’s personal experiences added to his portrayal of an alien.
Spock’s legacy has been huge. NASA has adopted him as an unofficial mascot but more significantly, he has been inspirational to scientists and engineers. Despite the somewhat silly aspects of the character of Spock, such as the green blood and pointy ears, he has endured in popular culture and not just for the geeky Trekkies. He is a good role model. He is a peaceful, non-violent man: vegetarian so that he can avoid killing. Sounds a bit like compassion to me, but that’s logic, not emotion, surely?
What I have learned from Spock is that nothing really changes: journeys of discovery are the only kind there are, whether in the future or the past.