When I was about 19 or so, Star Trek was basically my
I was never one of those guys who put on pointed ears or dressed up as Andorian Ambassador Shras to go to Trek conventions to stand in line for three hours for the privilege of buying the autograph of the guy who played ill-fated Red Shirt No. 2 in the cold open of “By Any Other Name.”
I was much more interested in the action figures, and my rank insignia pins were tastefully arranged on my leather bomber jacket.
Back then, we’re talking roundabout 1993, “The Next Generation” was all the rage in the Trek fandom as it was heading toward the end of its seven-year run on television and would make the transition to the big screen the next year. I was into that, but only so much because NextGen, as we nerds call it, didn’t feature my favorite Trek character and, frankly, the person on which I tried to model myself.
In those days, I was a Captain Kirk.
When you look back at the original Star Trek as an actual adult, as I’ve been doing lately via the lavish wonder of Blu-Ray, the philosophical dynamic between the show’s three main characters is clear.
You have DeForest Kelley’s Dr. McCoy, an utter humanitarian whose emotional, reactionary outbursts always favor doing whatever is necessary to protect and preserve any life, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.
Then you have Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock, whose devotion to logic as the absolute arbiter of what should and should not be done was at constant odds with McCoy’s impulsive, earnest approach.
Between them sat Kirk, who had to find a way to balance the doctor’s heart with the science officer’s mind and mix it with his own sense of duty—and some Shatnerian swagger—to save the planet, escape from hostile aliens or avert some other cosmic catastrophe.
I must admit, it was the swagger that appealed to me most.
Come what may, Kirk always seemed to be in control and, in the end, he always got his ship and crew clear of whatever danger befell them. I especially liked the idea that, even at an advancing age, as the crew was in its later movies, Kirk was still a potent, respected leader capable of saving the known galaxy.
We talk a lot about aging and viability in this space, don’t we? I should probably fully explore that one day.
Anyway, at his heart, Kirk is the perfect space cowboy, for good or for ill, and I loved the qualities that made him that way, the intellectual and the bombastic. So much so, I can say he was definitely my hero for that period of my life.
But that was more than 20 years ago.
In going back over the Original Series, as we nerds call it, now, I still love Kirk—and certainly McCoy, who was my favorite of the three characters as a kid watching WPIX—but, more and more, I find myself drawn toward, and agreeing with, Spock in all matters both philosophical and galactic. In my latter years, I’ve become a big evidence guy; I need to have a basis for why I believe or endorse any thing or idea. If I invoke a bit of Spock directly, logic suggests there should be evidence and data to support everything in which we believe, so his approach appeals to me a lot more now than it used to.
If we boil it down and translate this nerdery to real world concepts, I’d say I’m one of the few people of whom I am aware—perhaps the only person of whom I am aware—who has moved left politically as I’ve aged. Not so far left as to drift into bleeding heart McCoy territory, but away from the more strutting martinet persona that sometimes characterized Kirk’s actions and demeanor.
Conventional wisdom suggests people tend to do the opposite.
What’s the old adage? If you’re not a liberal at 20, you don’t have a heart and if you’re still one at 40, you don’t have a brain?
I’m not sure I subscribe to that since I would say a) I definitely wasn’t a liberal at 20 and b) I’m not one now either, but I will agree with that adage insomuch as I think that tends to be the way most people go.
Why the change in philosophy for me?
Not completely sure but, looking back, I don’t think I felt particularly in control of my life when I was 19 or so—who does? I guess—maybe the idea of Kirk, the character so seemingly in control of everything around him, appealed to me on that basis. Now, I like to think I know a bit more about the world and am more secure with my place in it. Now, I more favor things like logic and evidence, and not, say, dogmatic religious beliefs based on just about nothing, when considering what should govern the world around me.
So, what’s the bottom line here apart from I’ve gotten to talk about Star Trek for an entire column? Well, I think it’s interesting how diverse and intimate the things that shape our political and personal philosophies are. I think it’s interesting how art, even if it’s pop culture, can say different things to us at different stages of our lives.
And I suppose the world could use a little more of the best of Spock and little less of the worst of Kirk, but should never forget its McCoy.