In the TV show Star Trek: The Original Series Mr. Spock is a Vulcan science officer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, famously portrayed by actor Leonard Nimoy (1931 – 2015).¹ As Captain Kirk‘s right hand man, Spock plays a pivotal role as the only non-human crew member. In fact, he acts as a foil for not only other characters, but also for some of the prevalent cultural biases of the so-called developed world of the 1960s.
Spock’s father was Vulcan and his mother human. As such he has an internal conflict between suppressing his emotions, which Vulcans are known for, and permitting their expression, as human do.
While this was a clever idea back in the 1960s, the notion that any species would try to live purely on logic, as Vulcans claim to do, seems impractical. Along these lines, the Swiss depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung advocated the integration of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition (albeit for human beings).
When Star Trek first appeared in 1966, Spock’s skin was reddish in color, he looked more devilish and his speech was somewhat rough. He originally conformed to the “red Martian” stereotype of the 1950s and 60s. But Trek producers quickly became interested in developing a more complex character and Spock’s appearance softened.
His looks became more elfin than devilish and he began to harbor intense emotions under a somewhat fragile veneer of Vulcan rationality. The changes paid off. At times Spock’s popularity among viewers rivaled Kirk’s. The Vulcan psychological, cultural and political tension between logic and emotion is also brought out in Star Trek: Enterprise through the female character, T’Pol.
Director J. J. Abrams’ 2009 hit movie Star Trek brought Spock back into the spotlight. This time Spock is both an old (played by an elderly Leonard Nimoy) and a young man (Zachary Quinto).
The fact that Nimoy is showcased in this blockbuster film while William Shatner (who played the original Captain Kirk) is absent is perhaps telling as to Spock’s ongoing popularity and cultural significance in the 21st century. Or possibly it just tells us more about internal friendships and politics within the Star Trek franchise.
Spock also had a cameo role in the successful film Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). Again, Shatner was not included in this production.
Spock’s signature Vulcan saying “Live Long and Prosper” is perhaps equally popular as the phrase “May the Force be with you” from the Star Wars films—two instances where science fiction has had a significant impact on pop culture.
Interestingly, Wikipedia tells us that Nimoy had a difficult time differentiating himself from the Spock character while the original series was in production. Apparently the cool logic of Spock would stay with Nimoy all week and into the weekend, right up to Sunday afternoon. So he’d have Sunday night as Nimoy, only to return to Spock again on Monday morning.²
Recently, an asteroid in our solar system was renamed 4864 Nimoy in his honor.³
¹ Younger Trekkies might not know that, at the time of the original series, a certain Dr. Benjamin Spock was a famous pediatrician, child psychologist and bestselling author. So quite possibly the name Spock was chosen in hope that it would resonate with viewers on some level. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Spock