What was/is so fascinating about Mr. Spock?
I know what it was for me, and I have to assume that the attraction was more or less universal since millions of other people have been morbidly fascinated by or identified with the character.
For myself, the big draw was that he was logical and dispassionate—not a slave to every impulse or emotion that popped up inside him. I suppose those qualities might have been upsetting or even repellant to some, but they were the main pull for me.
And if Spock did actually feel something (after all he was half human) he was almost always successful at suppressing it, both internally and externally. He didn’t live his life in quiet—or (like me) in noisy desperation. In fact he wasn’t desperate at all!
I’ve never had two consecutive logical minutes in my life and I am almost a total failure at suppressing my emotions—inside and out.
So I envied Spock’s sang froid (his singing frog, for those who never studied French). Naturally, I wanted to be strong, brave and commanding like Captain Kirk—what boy or man wouldn’t? But, because I was always a pawn to my seemingly constant fear, anger, yearning and lust, I also wanted to be Mr. Spock, so I could keep a lid on these frequent volcanic eruptions.
And, of course, I grew up in the Forties and Fifties—back in the days when a real man kept his feelings—save for righteous anger—to himself. Think of all those steely-eyed war heroes, sheriffs, cops and cowboys that were the idols of boys in the Fifties (not to mention the man of steel himself. Would Superman blubber into his hanky if Lois Lane ditched him for a hedge fund CEO?)
Losing self-control was what women and children did. What did Don Corleone say? “Women and children can afford to be careless—a man can’t.” Added to the all-encompassing cultural sea I swam in, I had only one parental example in my house—my poor, crazy, out-of-control mother. So I had a kind of reinforced contempt for “female” irrationality and drama. Yet, despite my disdain for such “hysterical” behavior, I never did become a manly man, a Marlboro man.
There was, howevre, one thing I shared with Mr. Spock—something that I felt made us brothers. And that was his apparent inability to allow love, or even affection, to cross the boundaries between himself and the world. That blank, stony look you saw on his face was merely the top of the stone wall between his heart and the people surrounding him.
After all this time, I have a pretty good idea of the origin of my own incapacities in this area. In Spock’s case, his inability to feel—or to express—his emotions (especially the tender ones) were partially due to his original neurological wiring—his father was a Vulcan—(think of Barack Obama minus the campaign smile). But the human part of Spock (from his mother) was engaged in a constant, if only semi-conscious, battle to keep down the love inside him. That seemed very familiar to me.
Does that ring any bells? You get hurt or even devastated by love in your young life and then spend a good part of the rest of your days struggling with the locks to all the doors you set up inside. There have been too many times when my motto seems to have been, “It’s better NOT to have loved—and so not to have lost—than to ever have loved at all.”
Something else about the Spock character that I identified with—and this came later in my life when I’d been on the radio for a while… Leonard Nimoy once said (I’m paraphrasing here) that he had the “best” of both worlds. He could be widely admired and still be the “insulated alien”.
Having spent 35 years on the air talking to tens of thousands of people (I don’t know about the widely admired part) but doing it while safe inside an enclosed studio, I imagine I know what he meant.
I once met Leonard Nimoy…
It was in the early Nineties. A friend and I were walking somewhere in downtown Manhattan, below Soho, when we came upon a movie shoot; trucks cables, lights, cameras, etc. We stood across the street watching the action and I noticed that Gene Wilder was in the scene.
I had, about two years before, spent some time hanging out with and working with Gene Wilder (a whole story in itself), eventually writing a screen treatment with him. But at that point I hadn’t seen him in a long time.
I waited for a break in the action then I walked across the street to say hello. He saw me and I was able to cross through security and talk to him while they were setting the next take. After a minute or two he said, “I want you to meet the director, Leonard Nimoy.” I turned around and there he was, not on TV as I had seen him many, many times, but in the flesh. And I’m here to tell you, boys and girls—he did a pretty good impersonation of a regular human being—nice, warm smile and a firm handshake. You’d never know he was half Vulcan.
One thing though. On the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, he always look so tall. But now that I saw him in civvies, standing only a couple of feet away from me, Mr. Spock looked just like what he was: a small, thin, aging Jewish guy. Who knew?