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Mr. Spock

Can Art 14 (Spock): Matthew Niemi

Can Art 14 (Spock): Matthew Niemi via Flickr

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.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William S...

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Zachary Quinto as Spock in the 2009 Star Trek film

Zachary Quinto as Spock in the 2009 Star Trek film (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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




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Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Tour Original Bridge: Conrad Quilty-Harper

Star Trek: The Tour Original Bridge: Conrad Quilty-Harper via Flickr

Star Trek: The Original Series is an American science fiction television program created by Gene Roddenberry. The show ran for three seasons from 1966-1969.

Although the starship Enterprise’s five year mission to explore new worlds was cut short by poor ratings, the ship and crew didn’t dematerialize quite so fast.

Devoted viewers demanded more. As the fan mail piled up, the show’s uniqueness was soon realized and run of successful movies were produced throughout the 1970s to 1990s, along with several new Star Trek TV spin-offs, closely following the original format.

A few second-rate academics might still scoff at the idea, but Star Trek TOS and its offshoots have taken on mythic proportions. Instead of Sumerian gods carved in stone, Star Trek gave us gods etched on film. And there’s arguably not too much difference between the two.

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings: The Rocketeer / Kevin Trotman

Star Trek TOS Cutting Room Floor Clippings: The Rocketeer / Kevin Trotman via Flickr

Trying to be progressive in its day, the original Star Trek pilot episode featured a female first officer. But due to poor ratings she was replaced by the male Vulcan, Mr. Spock. The revised cast boasted a host of international characters at the command center, which for the mid-1960’s was virtually unheard of.

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly c...

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly cited as being the first interracial kiss portrayed on US television (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968) Captain Kirk and the black Lt. Uhura are forced by telekinesis to kiss, a controversial first for fiction characters on U.S. TV. And in the episode Balance of Terror (1966) Kirk scolds his navigational officer Styles for making a racial slur:

Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.

Some say that the whole Star Trek phenomenon has all the earmarks of not just a myth, but a true religion because it exhibits the following criteria:

  • A social component (Star Trek conventions are periodically held around the world)
  • The Star Trek ‘creed’ (the Prime Directive)
  • A general goodwill ethic
  • Implied transcendental ideas
Star Trek: The Original Series crew at "T...

Star Trek: The Original Series crew at “The Palace of Wax” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2009 hit movie Star Trek, directed by J. J. Abrams, brought the popular character Spock back into the spotlight. This time he’s both an elderly (played by the late Leonard Nimoy) and a young man (played by Zachary Quinto).

The fact that Leonard Nimoy is showcased in this blockbuster film while William Shatner (who played the original Captain Kirk) apparently didn’t fit with the script says volumes about public opinion and maybe Hollywood politics within the Star Trek universe.

Nimoy’s popularity endures after his death. Recently an asteriod was named after him—4864 Nimoy. This goes to show that Star Trek is not only mythic. Many scientists, astronomers and astronauts admit to loving and being inspired by the show.

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English: Jolene Blalock in Cairo

Jolene Blalock in Cairo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

T’Pol is a female Vulcan science officer in the American TV show Star Trek: Enterprise (active 2001-2005). The character is played by Jolene Blalock, who was one of the bright lights of the series. Attractive and chic, she also played the role to perfection.

At a 2002 sci-fi convention Blalock said that following Leonard Nimoy’s example (Mr. Spock) was no easy task but, judging from her popularity, she “must be doing something right.”

However, the initial enthusiasm for Enterprise quickly waned. The series couldn’t hold its audience and was canceled after four seasons. There’s been lots of speculation as to why Enterprise fell out of warp. Even co-creator and Executive Producer Brannon Braga admitted that some of the episodes were not up to the Trek standard.

Some blamed the casting of Scott Bakula. Others blamed the producers or perhaps the writers. And some said times just changed and Enterprise couldn’t keep step.

From a viewer’s perspective it seems the big wheels panicked when ratings began to slide. Enterprise lapsed into the kind of formulaic trash (e.g. extended battle scenes, sexy innuendo) that might have worked with other shows, but not with Star Trek. At its best Star Trek was innovative and progressive—and so much more than the flavor of the month.