I was nine years old when Star Trek first aired in 1966. I don't remember when I started watching, but at one point my parents let me stay up late on Friday nights to see it. And I remember watching the last episode, the terrible "Turnabout Intruder," in 1969. I watched the show endlessly in reruns in the 1970s.
I'd always been interested in the space program. My uncle worked for Lockheed in California as a materials scientist and some of his work wound up in the Apollo spacecraft. He was a voracious reader of science fiction, and I aspired to be like him.
So when Star Trek came out, it wasn't surprising that Spock became my favorite character. One Halloween I used nose putty to make pointed ears. I shaved off half my eyebrows and my mom drew upswept eyebrows on my forehead with eyeliner. I sewed gold braid on the sleeves of a pale blue sweatshirt. I even bear a passing physical resemblance to Leonard Nimoy.
Like Spock, I strive to eschew irrationality and violence. But also like Spock, I have flashes of temper and sentimentality. But Spock is just a character in a show. He's a fiction.
As such, the fictional character and the men who play him -- Nimoy and Zachary Quinto -- are not heroes. They should not be adulated and admired just for doing a highly-paid and relatively risk-free job. Their on-screen exploits are entertaining, and maybe even inspiring and touching. There's nothing wrong with letting them know that we like their work. But the actors are not the characters.
That's the Spock in me talking.
For many years I had a peripheral connection to science fiction fandom. I attended dozens of conventions, including five or six Worldcons in places like Miami, Phoenix, Boston and Chicago. But I've never attended any Star Trek or Star Wars conventions.
Leonard Nimoy was not Spock: he just played him on TV.Why? Those show-specific cons promote the whole cult of personality, which I find repellant (I know, another Spock-like reaction). It embarrasses me that so many fans seem incapable of distinguishing the character from the actor. Leonard Nimoy was not Spock: he just played him on TV. When fans drill Harrison Ford about the minutiae of plot points in Star Wars and how they connect to the 23,000 Star Wars novels and he rolls his eyes and tries to explain for the six millionth time that he's not Han Solo and he has no idea what the producers are planning, I roll my eyes with him.
Nimoy was similarly peeved, so much so that he wrote an autobiography entitled I Am Not Spock, published in 1975. I never read it because, well, I'm not a fanboy.
The real brains behind Spock were Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, and the dozens of screen writers who worked on the scripts. Spock is the creation of a hive mind that pulled Nimoy's strings. They too were just regular guys doing a job, with a full complement of human frailties and failings: they weren't Spock either.
But in 1995 Nimoy published I Am Spock. I never read that either, not being a fanboy, so I must rely on Wikipedia for this insight:
Nimoy had much input into how Spock would act in certain situations, and conversely, Nimoy's contemplation of how Spock acted gave him cause to think about things in a way that he never would have thought if he had not portrayed the character. As such, in this autobiography Nimoy maintains that in some meaningful sense he has merged with Spock while at the same time maintaining the distance between fact and fiction.Those of us who watched him play the character also think about things differently. Anyone who adopts an ethos of logic tempered by compassion, the promotion of the common good, the belief that the future can be better, and an eternal search for the truth, is Spock in a meaningful sense.
Not many television shows have philosophical underpinnings, but Star Trek does in all its incarnations. And Spock embodied them all in a single character.
Leonard Nimoy has died. May Spock live long and prosper.