By now most of us have heard about the passing of one of the beloved actors in recent memory, Leonard Nimoy. Why was he so beloved? It wasn’t because of dozens of Oscar nominated roles or a career that was defined by playing of different and diverse characters. It was because of the one role that immortalized him; the role of Mr. Spock in the one-time cult hit television series “Star Trek”. Of course this show has now gone on to be more than just a cult hit and arguably the most iconic, and beloved character in the show (Spock) has since gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon. Why though? What is it about this character that we all fell in love with? What is about Spock that makes him so enduring?
On one hand you would think how could a character such as this become so enduring? He can come off as cold, sometimes seemingly emotionless, and is only half human. How can we connect with this character in the way we did? There is more than one answer to this question and maybe there isn’t even a correct one. With the passing of Leonard Nimoy I found myself fascinated by the possibilities this question posed, and wanted to explore it further.
Perhaps the first root of that question, is that he is an outsider. In a main cast full of human characters he is one of the few aliens in the main crew on the Starship Enterprise. Mr. Spock is only half human; being half human makes him an outsider looking in, which is maybe reflective of the people that watched it. Watching Sci-Fi was once not exactly the “coolest” thing to do in school and seen a child’s genre. Perhaps it’s that audience that grew up reading, watching Sci-Fi (that maybe weren’t the most popular kids at school) that felt like outsiders could connect with Mr. Spock?
If that is what may be connected him to younger viewers, perhaps to the older audience it was his ability to detach himself from his emotions and look at a situation from a logical point of view. Where Captain James T. Kirk let his personal emotions guide his judgment, Spock was able to break away from that and see the situation for what it is. Maybe that was something we all desperately wanted to do in our own lives. Most everyone’s opinions are predicated on their own personal experiences or personal bias. But, maybe if we could detach ourselves from that bias when looked at a problem, and looked at it logically just like Spock did, maybe we could reach a better conclusion and a better future.
But why would we want to give up our humanity to be as cold as Spock just so we ourselves could look at things more logically? I’d much rather be like Kirk right? Well that was the genius of his character, Spock wasn’t a cold hearted bastard even if he looked it on the surface. Behind detaching his emotions from his reasoning he was still able to keep that human side of him. He wasn’t a computer, he was a caring individual, that maybe didn’t always show it, but loved his crewmates. Maybe that’s why we loved that character so much? He was everything we could strive to be. We could be fair, smart, intelligent, be able to remove our sense of bias but still keep our humanity. When Spock sacrifices himself at the end of “Star Trek II: The Wraith of Kahn” it wasn’t just motivated by his distant logic, but instead his love and compassion to save the others. He was everything we weren’t but everything we felt we could become. Maybe that’s what made Spock so enduring? Being different but still humane?
Of course there is the easy answer and just say he was an entertaining character to watch on screen. You know what? If that’s your answer for why he is enduring, that’s also fine by me because his character is entertaining to watch on screen. His back and forth with Kirk, his demeanor makes for some funny moments and is always around to help the Enterprise on whatever adventure they are on. It’s also a very simple but sound answer.
Yet it’s an almost impossible question to answer because nearly everyone will have a different perspective on it (just look at all the possibilities I just came up with). What is clear that this character would not be able to be so enduring if it wasn’t for the performance of Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy brought that character to life; help mold him and make him who he became. Amidst this loss, many people will take a look back at his career highlights. However, I felt the need to highlight maybe his most important achievement in his career, the character of Spock. A character that has inspired all of us. If it wasn’t for Nimoy (and of course creator Gene Roddenberry) this wouldn’t have been possible. The legacy of Nimoy now lives on through Zachary Quinto. An actor that will carry on what Nimoy helped build for the foreseeable future. I now part with his most famous saying “live long and prosper”, this character will endure.