When Leonard Nimoy died last week, my immediate reaction was to tweet, “RIP Spock. You lived long and seemed to prosper.” In the intervening time, I’ve come to realize I got it wrong. It’s Nimoy who is dead. Spock lives on.
I’m not just talking about the character as played by another actor — Zachary Quinto, for the moment, but something tells me there will be many more in the future — but Nimoy’s Spock. In the minutes, hours and days that followed his death, I saw so many people reflecting on what Spock meant to them that I came to realize he will live forever, or at least as long as humans are still around and maybe longer (our AI successors will no doubt find something to appreciate in Spock’s cool, logical demeanor, so he could survive the Singularity even if no actual humans do).
What was particularly impressive wasn’t just the number of people who took to social media to profess how Spock had impacted them, but the variety of the people who did so. Typical geeks, sure, but also everyone from lesbian artists to the President of the United States weighed in on what the half-Vulcan meant to them. Wakes were thrown, here and elsewhere. Movie tributes are happening all over. And I'm sure that in in less organized, ad-hoc fashion, the past week has seen more reruns of the original Star Trek watched than probably any time in history.
Even after this frenzy of farewells subsides, old Spock will still be out there. Those episodes will live on, thanks to the miracle of streaming media. Future generations will be introduced to this beautiful, thoughtful character, with his rational mind and his unwavering conviction that all the problems he faced could be resolved through logical thought applied without emotion. It’s heartening to see that approach, in the form of this timeless character, so venerated by so many in the weird intellectual climate of today, where superstition and anti-science hysteria seems to be everywhere.
Spock is the perfect antidote to all of that nonsense, from ISIS assholes smashing humanity’s shared heritage with sledgehammers because their god supposedly doesn’t care for statuary to anti-vaccination idiots helping revive nearly eradicated diseases due to some vague notions of “toxins” to the pervasive influence of Oprah Winfrey allowing any halfwit with a sob story who used to be on TV come on her show and spout nonsense. His response to all of that would be a simple, sardonic raised eyebrow, and maybe a little Vulcan nerve pinch to shut a fool down until he could come up with a long-term solution to stop them from doing more harm.
Clearly, much of this praise is due to Nimoy, the man who brought the character to life, and he deserves every accolade that can be thrown his way. By all accounts, he was a kind, sensitive and principled man who was a pleasure to work with and know. Gene Roddenberry may have created the character, and dozens of writers created the dialogue and stories that make everyone’s favorite science officer so beloved, but without Nimoy, it’s hard to imagine Spock becoming such a cultural icon for multiple generations of people.
Now, though, Spock is more than Nimoy. He’s more than Spock, really — he’s become a near archetype. Each subsequent Trek series had its own “Spock type,” many of them Vulcans themselves (the best non-Spock Spock, though, is the android Data). And many shows, both space opera and other genres, have incorporated a Spock-like character: the cool-thinking, intellectual heavyweight that lets others take the glory and do all the punching, but is so indispensable to the group’s success as to be the true hero.
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As we head into an uncertain future, full of technology that holds the potential to destroy us and backwards idiots who refuse to let go of primitive, emotionally based ideologies, we need Spock more than ever. We need to remember we can use our intelligence and ability to think logically to survive and thrive in nearly any situation, and no one has ever embodied that concept as well, or as charismatically, as Spock. I’m certainly sad that Nimoy has passed, but I am eternally grateful that Spock will continue to live long and prosper.
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.