Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying our series this month on fiction. I’ve learned lots from my fellow TTC writers, both about books I haven’t read and books I have read! As October comes to a close, I want to cheat a little on our fiction series and highlight a non-fiction book about a fictional series. So see? I’m only cheating a tiny bit. Fellow TTC writer Mark Boone and I had the privilege of contributing to our friend Kevin Neece’s newly released book, Spockology: Essays on Spock and Leonard Nimoy. Kevin’s Undiscovered Country Project delves into the spiritual implications of the Star Trek saga from a Christian perspective. It’s very TTC. Spockology is a product of that project. When you purchase Spockology this Spocktober, not only can you earn an entry for the Authentic Replica Spock Ears Giveaway, but you’ll be helping to support the film COPD-Highly Illogical. A Special Tribute to Leonard Nimoy. So buy your copy today!
My little chapter in Spockology tackles a pretty controversial issue. Tell me what you think about:
The Softer Side of Spock
My favorite film in 2009 was JJ Abrams’s Star Trek (quite a feat for the Star Trek franchise and Mr. Abrams to be able to beat out my obsession with Harry Potter, which released The Half-Blood Prince earlier that same year). I saw Star Trek with my mom who grew up watching The Original Series. At some point after the film she commented that young Spock would never have had a girlfriend, let alone Lieutenant Uhura. She was right, of course. TOS Spock succumbs to love/romance only when drugged (“This Side of Paradise”), forced via telekinesis (“Plato’s Stepchildren”), or as a result of devolution (“All Our Yesterdays”). Kevin, who understands the nuances of The Original Series better than I do, will have to comment as to what kind of statement the show is making, if any, regarding Reason vs. Emotion on the Star Trek value hierarchy. From my armchair, I suggest Spock and Bones are foils of each other, the one inordinately logical, the other excessively passionate, and Kirk, the hero, the ideal, lands in the middle somewhere. Or, and I like this a little better, the three work together to form a literary “soul triptych” where Spock represents the mind, Bones the body, and Kirk the soul, in which case none is complete/ideal without the others and things get messed up when they get out of rank: soul, mind, body. We see this to be true in both TOS and Abram’s film. At any rate, in the Abrams film, we see the softer side of Spock, much to the chagrin of cult fans everywhere. By softer, I am not solely referring to the romance between Spock and Lt. Uhura. I mean to suggest that Spock 2.0 is more emotionally expressive overall, which makes him softer, or more vulnerable (in the best sense), including when his emotions find expression in sarcasm or anger. Throughout the whole film, even when Spock is most logical, Zachary Quinto’s facial expressions and body language are significantly less stoic than Leonard Nimoy (in The Original, though less so in Nimoy’s role as Spock Prime). Quinto has compelling emotional depth behind his eyes that, as Spock, serves him quite well. As we all know, Vulcans are not emotionless; their emotions run deeply, but surface rarely. We get the feeling from Quinto that there is always something going on inside Spock beyond the reaction he gives, whether it be deep emotions or deep thoughts. When Spock stands before the Vulcan Council to receive news of his acceptance into the Vulcan Science Academy, the Council President refers to Spock’s human mother and his human blood as a “disadvantage.” In reply, what Spock says with his mouth is a calm, “Ministers, I must decline.” But look at his face: the smirk on his mouth and the look in his eyes say, ‘Take your Science Academy and shove it.’ The issue of Spock’s mother, his sensitivity regarding her and his tenderness toward her, is not new with the reboot. TOS Spock regrets his his inability to express love to his mother, among others, in “The Naked Time” (apologies for the sophomoric commentary in this video). This rare and raw expression of emotion happens, similarly to the Spock-as-lover episodes above, as the result of Spock’s having contracted a virus. In this scene, Nimoy portrays powerful emotion through pained eyes and facial expressions. The difference, then, between old Spock and new, is that young Spock’s emotional signals do not derive from extenuating circumstances (such as poisons and diseases) and are constant throughout the whole film including moments when Spock 2.0 is in control of his emotions. We see a level of this — emotion without extenuating circumstance — from Spock 1.0 in The Wrath of Khan. Spock shows concern and possibly pity, which is to say, compassion, in his exchange with Admiral Kirk after he gives Jim A Tale of Two Cities for his birthday. We see heavy sadness from Captain Spock when Scotty brings a fatally wounded crew member to the bridge. Spock warmly repeats the phrase, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” to Jim, and of course, most compelling are Spock’s last few moments before his sacrificial death. Nonetheless, it takes a mind-meld with V’GER in Star Trek I for Spock to reach the place of emotional security and self-assurance he expresses in the second film. Spock empathizes with V’GER’s quest, and through her Spock learns that pure logic is not good/virtuous in part because it leaves no room for beauty: logic alone holds no ultimate meaning or hope. Spock seems to be asking alongside V’GER, ‘Is this all that I am?’ The biracial Vulcan-human finds his answers, and it is unnecessary to return to Vulcan or attempt to complete Kolinahr. All that being said, the argument remains: young Spock, having not experienced all that lead to the original Spock’s emotional enlightenment, logically should be less emotional than he is portrayed in Abram’s film, alternate universe or no. I believe, however, there are valid and unavoidable reasons why Spock 2.0 must be more viscerally passionate than his predecessor. The evolution of TV and cinema includes a shift from melodrama to drama. Spock 1.0’s extreme stoicism derives in part from TV’s melodramatic heritage. We see this McLuhan-esk point — the need to match the level of emotional intensity with that of the modern-day fight scene and super-close close up — illustrated in this side-by-side comparison of a TOS and Abrams Kirk-Spock fight scene. Finally, I suggest rebooted Spock is more outwardly emotional, and is explicitly encouraged to be so by both his father and his future self, because just as we expect modern technology and special effects in throwback film, we expect modern sensibilities. Thanks in part to the Star Trek generation of the 60s, we are more in touch with our emotions as a society, and we expect, we need, art to connect to us in this way. And this is what art does; it reflects society back on itself. The evolution of Spock (in stark contrast to the TOS devolution) connects to us in this way, allowing the underlying messages of the Star Trek mythology to connect too. As Neece writes in his The Gospel According to Star Trek:
Star Trek is the story of a spiritual quest. It is an exploration, not just of the stars, but of humanity―our longings, our questions, our hopes. If that humanity finds its ultimate fulfillment in the gospel (and it does), then it is only logical to expect that such an exploration would naturally show evidence of humankind’s hunger for God.
From a Christian perspective, this is the underlying message of the Star Trek mythology. Abram’s passionate Spock brings this quest to a new generation.