Housekeeping

Your Turn: Mr. Spock

From Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry
Nominated by Hazelyn Patterson

Ah, the pointy-eared one: More than one of you nominated him. And you'll be glad to know we're on your frequency. Stay tuned to In Character in the coming weeks for a radio profile by NPR's Neda Ulaby.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock in TV's 'Star Trek'

"Fascinating" creature: Hazelyn Patterson says Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) was smart, sexy and sometimes psychic. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Photo: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

He is the perfect icon of nerds (and the not-so-nerdy) across earth and the final frontier. When I was 5, I would sneak out of bed and hide behind the couch at night just to hear him intone "fascinating," a word he made into an icon itself.

Mr. Spock was the '60s representation of what mankind was and what it strove to be. He merged the ethereal, elfin — some say devilish — appearance of a mythological character and the brains of a supercomputer with the human ideals of diversity, loyalty, truth and logic.

And hey, he was just plain sexy, without even trying. Sex symbol, savant and occasional psychic: Spock is an icon for all times.

Like we said: More than one of you thought so. And to help keep things organized, we thought we'd set a new guideline: From now on, we'll post new essays about characters who've already been nominated in the comments on that initial nomination. That way it'll be easy to scroll through and get a sense of just how many different lenses one character can be seen through.

Comments

 

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Even My Mother Groks Spock

In a time when our world was in chaos from social upheaval, the logical man of the hour was Mr. Spock of Planet Vulcan. Did we love him because of his stalwart emotional control, or was it because the conflict within him (being half human) echoed our own struggles? How did he become popular with the counterculture enthusiasts of the time, despite having short hair and a conservative allegiance to his orders and his Vulcan heritage?

What was truly astonishing was my Depression-era mother moaning (as I was in the throes of yet another teenage meltdown), "Why don't you be more like Spock?" She admired his cool handling of any crisis and his logical thought processes.

Mr. Spock was a hybrid of cultural ideals that reached across decades, the peaceful alien with pointy ears whose greeting still echoes: Peace. Live long and prosper.

Sent by Judith Brodnicki | 6:34 PM | 1-8-2008

If Captain James T. Kirk represented President John Kennedy's "New Frontier" and the Camelot legend of the Sixties, Mr. Spock represented an amalgam of Gandhi and Margaret Mead. He was one of the first American dramatic action-adventure characters who extolled the values of nonviolence and embraced the peaceful and ethical pursuit of scientific knowledge.

For the first time in American popular culture, a hero was christened who was better known for a raised eyebrow, a declaration of "fascinating" or "That is not logical," rather than his patented ultimate slam dunk to any villain's violent intent -- a quick nerve pinch to the neck/shoulder, rendering the disturber of the peace merely unconscious.

Spock was not only the first nonthreatening alien in a genre filled with conquering Martians, giant mutant spiders and the like, but a superior alien -- at least at first glance. Upon deeper analysis though, Americans began to learn that the hybrid human-Vulcan character was as flawed as any human torn by the internal conflict of emotion versus rationality.

Spock's journey to self-understanding progressed through the original TV series and movies, and it still remains incomplete. And so, just as mankind's struggle to balance this Yin & Yang is continuing and will continue until our species flickers out of this cosmic existence [within as soon as a few decades or perhaps a million years or more]. Our fate depends on whether the Colonel Greens and Khan Noonian Singhs of the world triumph or the Kirks, Spocks, and McCoys ("I'm a doctor, not a philosopher dammit!") of this planet embrace the ultimate message of Spock (thanks to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy): IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

In other words, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Mormons, atheists, agnostics, white, black, yellow, red, brown, or hybrid, straight, gay, bi- or whatever (including those real aliens we MAY meet someday) will live in a tolerant, educated, and peaceful global (or intergalactic?) society.

Sent by Jeffrey W. Mason | 11:39 AM | 1-9-2008

Captain Kirk was the horny space cowboy, but Mr Spock was the voice of reason.

It always seemed to me, as a child watching Star Trek, that Spock had the coolest job. He wasn't supposed to be afraid; he was supposed to be the answer man, the one who provided contingencies and considerations that most people missed in their knee-jerk reactionary state of "shoot first and dissect it later."

I am so glad I grew up on Star Trek, and not American Idol, Jerry Springer, or Survivor. That show offered me something to think about other than being a self-absorbed child in an oversexualized world or materialistic insanity. Gene Rodenberry and the characters of Star Trek and all its spin offs helped inspire me to research, to read and to think critically. I believe Mr Spock epitomized that.

Thanks Leonard Nimoy! You guys were the best baby sitters ever!

Sent by Sundog | 11:26 AM | 1-10-2008

I agree with all the fine, fine comments by the above posters, and especially with the pacifist, tolerant and rational message imparted by Mr. Spock and his Vulcan philosophy.

But is he truly an ideal to strive for? Do we really wish to calculate probabilities for all our decisions and then calmly experience the wonder and mystery of the world around us, suppressing all joy, anger and sadness?

While we may extol Spock for his virtues, it was his contribution to the trio of himself, McCoy and Kirk that showed what could be accomplished when his logic combined with the compassion of the Doctor and the illogical leaps of faith of the Captain. Spock worked best not in isolation, but tempered by the influence of his all too human shipmates.

As was noted in the original essay, Spock may be compared to Tolkien's elves not only for his appearance, but also for his apparent superiority to humans, advantages that placed both elves and Vulcans in positions to guide and help humanity. Such deus ex machina salvation may work in fiction, but in our own human reality, we must learn for ourselves the follies of ignorance, hatred and violence and look not to non-human ideals, but to the best among us: those, who, while every bit as fallible and weak as the rest of us, rose above their animal selves to something greater, but still ultimately human.

Sent by John Brown | 2:45 PM | 1-10-2008

Captain Kirk was not "horny," and why, oh why, do posters always have to degrade their comments by sexualizing them?!

Sent by Susan | 3:18 PM | 1-10-2008

Mr. Spock has been -and always will be- my hero. He gave me a role model to emulate during my awkward geeky teenage years, one that has helped me find my own success in life.

He taught me the Power of the Cranked Eyebrow- that little quirk that speaks volumes. He encompasses elegance and intelligence, and a way of observing life that, while pointed, was never cruel. And he's the true embodiment of the polymath- talented in many things- music, martial arts, science, philosophy. He taught me to not be ashamed of my curiosity, and to apply it in a rational and enlightening manner.

Some folks would like to dismiss him as an early emulation of Asperger's, but in doing so, they miss the incredible depth of his character.

I believe that the late Isaac Asimov put it succinctly: It's sexy to be smart!

Sent by Lorie Johnson | 4:18 PM | 1-10-2008

When I saw the planet Vulcan and learned about the Vulcan religion/philosophy, I realized that they are modeled on the Tibetan culture and that their philosophy is based on Tibetan Buddhism. Vulcan reminds me of Shangri La (or Shambala) in Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. Mr. Spock's rational detachment and lack of ego is fundamentally Buddhist.

Sent by Bob Covel | 7:30 AM | 1-11-2008

I cannot add much to all the beautifully written and comprehensive analysis above except to say that to me the most endearing and wonderful aspect of his character was his overwhelming compassion for, well, everyone! His compassion for all of life, no matter what form it took, has inspired me all my life.

I started watching Star Trek with my grandfather when I was in 6th grade. I have enjoyed all the incarnations of Star Trek ever since, but nothing yet has captured the magic in quite the same way as the the oringal series. No one can go wrong having Spock, McCoy, and Kirk as heroes. The ideals they represent still serve us and this world well.

Sent by Darrin Nobis | 11:07 AM | 1-11-2008

When Star Trek made its first run, my family immediately became devoted fans of Spock and all of Star Trek. I was just 13 or so. Today my 85 years old mother is even more devoted to Spock. My own teenaged daughter of today appreciates Spock and Star Trek. It is a classic. What was needed to be said in the 60's and what needs to be said in the 21st century is said by Star Trek.

Sent by Patrick Endicott | 12:43 PM | 1-11-2008

I think Mr. Spock was very intelligent. He had a way with words that nobody else had, including Captain Kirk.

Sent by Robert Rainwater | 1:40 PM | 1-11-2008

When I was fourteen, I tried to exercise complete control over my emotions, like the stoic Spock. It lasted three days. A 14-year old boy just can't help laughing at the swimming hole, but I did learn some valuable lessons. Emotions may not be meant to be blocked out, but they are precious and should be nurtured according to reason and not let loose to run wild. Now if only Spock could teach me the Vulcan Neck-pinch or Mind Meld...

Sent by Ben Atkinson | 2:29 PM | 1-11-2008

I always identified with Spock. Even as a kid I was tormented by illogic and baffled by emotions. It wasn't until two of the three kids in the subsequent generation were diagnosed with Aspergers that I realized where Spock and I were on the autism spectrum!

Sent by Susan | 2:45 PM | 1-11-2008

One thing that seems to have been missed was that Star Trek was a social commentary dressed up in a space opera. Spock, Kirk & McCoy represented mind, body & spirit in that order. I think Spock was a reflection of the era's search for balance during tumult. An era beset by emotion and action desperately needed the calm perspective of a Spock. Strangely, that's the very thing we need now. Perhaps they could take the best of the franchise (TNG, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise) and recreate the original. We could use another Spock -- even James Bond has been reduced to brutish retaliation.

Sent by Eric Kindberg | 5:56 PM | 1-11-2008

Spock was a sexy figure, but that was just part of it. His mind, working like a computer, tempered with his emotions, which he tried at first to eliminate but ultimately embraced, was the ultimate in the "head vs heart" conflict that Thomas Jefferson so aptly described 250 yrs ago.

I grew up on Star Trek, & I still watch reruns. Gene Roddenberry's incredibly astute & deep personification of humanity & especially his pervading & uplifting HOPE for mankind is what fueled that whole franchise. I've watched other shows he created, & I've read others that were never made, but Star Trek is the crown. I wish I could have met the man.

Sent by J Rhinehart | 8:52 PM | 1-12-2008

I think that Kirk and Spock and McCoy are a trio that together make an unforgettable character. Each needs the other to be whole. Kirk is a man of action, unafraid to take a leap of faith that would be beyond Spock alone. Spock is a man of reason, keeping Kirk from taking action without thought and planning. McCoy is the man of emotion and compassion who balances out the extremes of Kirk and Spock, and the man who represents the audience to Star Trek, those of us who long for the mystery of space, and dream of a future without war and poverty but may never get there.

Sent by Helen Ferguson | 2:03 PM | 1-13-2008

On Gene Roddenberry's Enterprise, Mr. Spock, even as a minority of one, reinforced the very human virtues of loyalty, integrity, tolerance and non-violence. Juxtaposed with Kirk's bravado and McCoy's passion, Mr. Spock provided a calm, measured and "logical" approach to all problems in the world and in the universe.

Now, as a 40 something father and husband, I like to think all problems can be solved through a thoughtful analysis of the situation. Sometimes I am very disappointed. But Mr. Spock has taught me that a thoughtful understanding of the problems we face and the people involved is still our best hope for the future.

Outwardly, Mr. Spock is an alien and different from us. But as Kirk said in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan "Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human."

Sent by Pete Stephen | 11:15 AM | 2-4-2008

Many posters have said good things before. I think I have something new to add.

The point has been made that Kirk, Spock and McCoy represent the three parts of humanity that Plato listed in The Republic (I happen to think they are Kirk - Spirit, Spock - Mind, McCoy - Appetite).

There is also the internal conflict between the Vulcan (outsider) and human (member of the group) that Spock faces. This is also well documented.

However when looked at as a character, Spock represented something new. The Captain and the Doctor were good old fashioned "American Heros." John Wayne could have been the captain of the Enterprise. Spock was different. He stopped our mainstream American "good guys" and said, "Is your version of 'good' logical for these people?" He asked our heros and by proxy us, to stop and think before we do. Listen to the another side. See another point of view.

As a culture we accepted him in this role. I don't think there had been an outsider character accepted in our culture before Spock. Certainly not one that would get an "American hero" captain to stop and listen before moving on. Spock is our reminder that truth, from a universal point of view, is needed before justice can happen, and be good.

When you work it the other way, adjusting your truths to match your justice, then you have started on the road to becoming evil.

Sent by Jon Osborn | 10:18 PM | 2-14-2008

I was 14 when Star Trek first aired in 1966. I remember the first episode and became an instant fan. That fact remains true over 40 years later. While I agree with the posts above about the draw of Spock. The allure of his cool logic, the conflict of his Human and Vulcan natures, his inability/desire to love and be loved, his wish for acceptance by his father (great material for an actor to work with). But I suggest Star Trek itself is the cultural phenomenon rather than its characters. Gene Rodenberry created a universe that profoundly affected us globally. The terran society depicted in all the Star Trek iterations evolved to be better than we are. Some science fiction writers feel these interplanetary Boy Scouts were too good and devoid of drama. However, in Mr. Rodenberry's universe we were able to make peace with ourselves, manage our world???s problems and become charter members of a galactic united nations in the United Federation of Planets. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the crew of the starship Enterprise have shown us a future where we do in fact, ???Live long and prosper???. Coming from the 60???s with our social unrest and at the height of the Cold War just imagining we survive to 2166 instills hope. A hope as necessary now as it was in 1966. Perhaps seeing our better selves imagined is why we love these characters and this show.

Sent by Michael A. Williams | 1:30 AM | 2-18-2008

My husband Harold looks very much like Mr Spock. Lots of people have commented about it over the years. He is 61 and of course his ears are not so pointed. I saw an interview with him not long ago and the resemblence is just amazing. I would like to send a pic of him to the fan club but do not know where to send it. Please advise. G

Sent by GAIL WILSON | 12:56 PM | 3-21-2008

I have always admired the original Star Trek, and Spock in particular, because he often gives us a critique of humankind from an outsider's perspective. I see the Star Trek series as evolutionary. James T. Kirk and that crew run a parallel to our exploration of the 'new world' of the west. Kirk shot from the hip when he needed to.
As I started to watch The Next Generation, I grew to respect Jean-Luc Picard for his more diplomatic, intellectual approach to exploration and leadership. And Data continues to give us a critique on humankind from an outsider's perspective.
Thanks, Star Trek, for the thought-provoking entertainment.

Sent by Lanis Lenker | 12:19 PM | 6-1-2008

I think one aspect of the characters in original series was a formula that the writers captured, whether consciously or not. Poster Eric Kindberg hinted at it. Each of the Principle Three represented three aspects of the human personality: Will (Kirk), Emotion (McCoy) and Intellect (Spock).

The fully functioning human has all three in balance. Consider the episodes where any one of the three characters is missing and note the resulting conflict.

This same theme is present in other stories that resonate with us and endure. For example, The Wizard of Oz. We see these three aspects embodied in the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin man.

Each one of the characters also possessed all three traits in their own right, as well; otherwise they would have come across as one dimensional and uninteresting. The most interesting episodes are when the principle characters are forced to face their inner conflicts of emotion, intellect and will.

One final thought: One poster compared the Vulcan culture to Tibetan Buddhism. The Jewish Leonard Nimoy brought much of Judaism to the Vulcan, as well. Consider the split fingered Vulcan salute, adopted from the Aaronic Benediction from the synagogue service.

Sent by Bill | 12:33 PM | 6-1-2008

For 40 years, when I had to be logical and most productive, I would envision my self as Mr Spock... I do envy him.

Sent by Gary Wilson | 5:22 PM | 6-1-2008

Fascinating!

Sent by molly | 11:08 PM | 6-1-2008

Spock's strongest trait was his ethos of service, his sense of duty. Service was everything to Spock; it was his purpose, his goal, his motivation in everything he did. He wasn't driven by personal advancement or greed; he had no interest in glory or conquest. He only sought to serve those around him.

Not to say he didn't have his own passions and pursuits; he was no cardboard character. But those interests were solely to develop him, hone him, better enable him to perform his chosen purpose in life: to serve his captain, his ship and above all, the Federation.

When you think about it, the character of Spock was more than just a plot device, a touch of exotic flavor, a mere crew member. He was the justification of the show, the validation of everything that went on around him. As portrayed on 'Star Trek', the Federation was a mess; chaotic, bumbling, bumping into neighboring civilizations like rowdy schoolchildren. It was full of incompetence, greed and petty jealousies. Why should the audience invest their feelings in such characters?

Spock stood above it all, pure and focused. By his choice to serve the Federation, he was testifying that it had value; it had worth. By being who he was, he vouched for the entire civilization, and his character validated the entire television show.

Sent by David Orlich | 1:08 AM | 6-2-2008

Mr. Spock was one of my heroes as I grew up watching Star Trek reruns. Spock personified the logical, reasoned approach of the enlightenment. While Spock is sometimes viewed as emotionally deficient, the deep and abiding friendship of the Kirk, Spock and McCoy was one of the central themes of the series. Unfortunately, the media and society in general have turned their back on the value of male friendships. Friendship is currently depicted almost exclusively in female terms, with few, if any, positive male role models. Perhaps we can still learn a lesson from the original Star Trek series.

Sent by Paul | 11:27 AM | 6-2-2008

Great story! Spock is the nerd in all of us who could be cool.

Sent by Carrie | 5:47 PM | 6-2-2008

Greetings!

Yes! I am not only a Trekker from day one; but, a Spock fan, as well.

He is 'Illya Kuryakin' to Kirk's 'Napoleon Solo'; 'Merlin' to Kirk's
'Arthur'; 'Hutch' to Kirk's Starsky'....

Of all the episodes where Spock was the main focus of the story, my absolute favorites, in order,are: "Mirror, Mirror", "Journey to Babel", "This Side of Paradise", "Amok Time" and "Is There No Truth In Beauty", "All Our Yesterdays".

In other words - Spock Rocks!

Live Long and Prosper!

Sent by Jatona P. Walker | 10:10 PM | 6-2-2008

I love Mr. Spock...I'm glad to see so many other people love him too! A genius half-breed, both Vulcan and human, showing how Spock navigated his blended heritage gave depth to the original Star Trek series, which conveniently took place in a different "Stardate" than the turbulent 1960s.

Among the admirable virtues I learned from Spock were: objectivity, discipline, his slowness to anger, unselfishness, fidelity, honesty, reliability, high standards and rejection of vanity. Spock sought inner calm, fairly weighed options, valued knowledge and dealt in only accurate information.

Although Bones, the hot-blooded doctor, regularly directed epithets at Mr. Spock, accusing him of stereotypical Vulcan coldness and aloofness, Spock never rose to the bait, rewarding Bones with, at most, that raised eyebrow.

On a daily level, Spock resisted the counterproductive id of his human side, but urgent plot lines occasionally required him to act outside his preferred Vulcan habits. His consistent determination to judiciously transcend his circumstances made him my hero!

Sent by Aleda | 10:27 PM | 6-2-2008

The best part about Spock, besides his compassion, intellect and sexy good looks was the way the character evolved over the years, The Spock at the beginning of the series was much different than the Spock at the end of the series, he had grown and changed subtly but surely and he continued to change over the arc of the movie era too. Most characters in series TV were not allowed to mature, especially in '60's TV. Spock was/is unique.

Sent by Helen Gletsos | 10:43 PM | 6-2-2008

" Mr. Spock represented an amalgam of Gandhi and Margaret Mead. He was one of the first American dramatic action-adventure characters who extolled the values of nonviolence and embraced the peaceful and ethical pursuit of scientific knowledge."

probably best to leave mead out of it. she was discredited and rather unscientific in a way that spock would never be. Not to mention his unique temperament being genetically based is basically against the whole margaret mead blank slate deal.

Sent by fred tam | 5:30 AM | 6-3-2008

Unfortunately, Spock cannot live on Vulcan. Vulcans are an older, more evolved people than humans. They have a more evolved, more complex, thicker neo-cortex. A half human Vulcan is not going to be as smart and strong as a Vulcan. That just isn't believable. An advanced people would not let that happen because it would be a horrible, selfish, cruel thing to do.

Sent by Phillipin | 8:52 AM | 6-3-2008

Spock was undoubtedly the most complex character in the Star Trek cast. The TV series could never have attained its respected cult status without Nimoy's well-developed portrayal. Just think how challenging that role was: drawing the viewers' interest in a character who had to have a flat aspect. Wow. I thought Spock was the sexiest of the crew of The Enterprise because you never could predict from one episode to the next how he would behave/react. Would he save the captain? tease "Bones"? meet up with his dad? play 3-level chess? comment wryly on the human condition? (or maybe all of the above) Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, writers and most of all, Leonard Nimoy, for making my adolescence richer through these great parables.

Sent by Kathryn | 4:02 PM | 6-3-2008

And of all this, we must not forget that Spock was beautiful: his hero's jaw and philosopher's brow, that emperor's profile and soft artist's mouth.

He was my long-limbed Carpathian prince, my dark knight. I longed to run my fingers through the heavy silk of his hair. I closed my eyes and listened to that chocolate voice.

We had never seen such as him. I remember that my mother's hand fluttered to her chest and she sank to the edge of an arm chair.

"Oh, my," she said.

It was love at first sight.

Sent by Francine | 3:09 AM | 6-4-2008

Best. Weekend Edition Story. Ever.

Live long and prosper!

Sent by Harry Lin | 8:08 PM | 6-4-2008

Spock was my favorite character. He is just so well scripted that he holds my interested the most.

As a child you love him because he is so cool, so smart, so strong, so brave, so clever and resourceful, and so alien - green blood and all.

As an adolescent and young adult he appeals because we can relate to most of his struggles. He has family issues, he struggles with his feelings, he doesn't fit in anywhere, his love life is a mess, he is lonely inside - things most young adults can relate to.

As an adult you admire him for his honesty, self sacrifice, integrity, hard working dedication, compassion, selflessness and overall goodness of character.

Of course if you are female he is sexy without even meaning to be and this doesn't hurt his appeal. His alien abilities like the mind meld and nerve pinch attract too. A man for all seasons.

Sent by maryh | 10:31 PM | 6-4-2008

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