Live Long and Prosper, Peace and Long Life

I haven’t updated in over a week. Life got in the way and I spent the last week knee deep in grass clippings and mud. Suffice to say, I was deeply touched by the message of Odinani about paying proper respect to Ala and got a little swept up in it. Or I just had to do some lawn care that became progressively more complicated as time went by. It was one of these, and I’ll never say which.

But as I rose from my tormented slumber, I found the internet ablaze with news that was causing tremendous outpouring of emotion from all corners of the internet.

Seriously, have you seen this fucking dress?

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And of course, Phil Robertson apparently said something outrageous again, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone anymore.

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But then something actually important happened: Leonard Nimoy died, and for a brief moment… everyone stopped talking about that damned dress…

RIP Leonard Nimoy

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I’m not the person to give Leonard Nimoy’s eulogy. you’re going to find enough people elsewhere trying to do that. Giving his eulogy, writing his obituary, speaking of his life is best left to someone who knew him and can put it far more eloquently than I. But I know there’s a lot of people out there who, while they feel bad for his passing, don’t fully understand why he was so damn important to so many of us. I know there are people out there who were never fans of what he did, who know he’s an actor but not much else, who can’t fully understand the emotion behind seeing him pass. Thinking about that, I realize a lot of what I write about on this blog is in that same vein. So maybe I can’t speak of his life, but maybe, just maybe, I can explain why it mattered to us.

Our culture today is based in large part in the ideas that have spawned from what has become known as the “geek culture”. It wasn’t always that way – we started as the outcasts of society, spurned by the mainstream for being weak and weird, hiding in our hobbies to protect us from having to accept the bottom rung of the ladder. We spent a great deal of time being isolated and alone, looking for acceptance and finding it was hard to find. It was a starkly different thing in those times compared to today.

When “geek chic” happened and everything we were so enamored with started to become popular everywhere else, it came with some trepidation. A lot of us are happy to see what we loved become something everyone loved. After a lifetime of seeking acceptance, it feels like that’s what we could finally get. But there was still this nagging feeling that we could end up on the bottom rung of the ladder even in our own domain. After basically running from everything else because we felt shunned by people in the rest of the world, we were being told that the world at large was going to come join us in our fun and games. What if we became marginalized even in the place where we felt we had some power?

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What if they reboot our stuff to be “sexier”?

A lot of us didn’t take it well, obviously.

But one of the real tragedies of being put into the spotlight after spending your life in the shadows is that insecurity is not only powerful, but suddenly being scrutinized. The geek culture, by and large, wasn’t really ready to be put on center stage. We’re insecure, we’re still weak and strange, and a lot of us, sadly, don’t know how to deal with that. And as we came under scrutiny, so too did the things we love come under scrutiny. Suddenly these people who had just joined the party were telling us a lot of what we’d been doing had been wrong. Some of us can take that in stride, but others have gone another direction.  There have been a lot of controversies as of late where the old guard of geek culture have clashed with the new audience, and it’s hard to deny that we haven’t shown our best behavior at times.

But the thing that I remember most about who we are is that, until that insecurity crept in, we were actually one of the most accepting and inclusive communities out there. I’ve watched Trekkies sit and argue until they’re blue in the face about who was the best Captain. You have Kirk, the North American white guy, Picard, still white but European, Sisko, a black man, and Janeway, a woman. And while two of these are white guys, I have seen Sisko and Janeway supporters argue for their captains to a standstill. In fact, the last time I sat in on the conversation, Sisko won hands down by a wide margin.

sisko
There were a lot of DS9 fans there.

I’ve never once heard someone say Sisko couldn’t be the best Captain because he was black. I’ve never encountered someone who has told me that Janeway couldn’t be the best Captain because she was a woman.  I’m sure these conversations happen somewhere, but never anywhere I’ve been, never with anyone I’ve spoken to. Maybe Youtube comments, but those are universally vile and not representative of the Geek Community. Their race and gender have never mattered to us, except in moments where we stop to say we’re proud to have supported that happening.

Because that’s what Star Trek represents to us: hope for a better future where all of us were equals. We long for a future where we’re all judged by the content of our character, where society not only expects something from us but gives us the opportunity to meet those expectations. We rallied around a black man being the hero of the Federation at one of its darkest times. We rooted for the Captain of the Voyager to get her crew home despite all odds. We support Picard’s balanced handling of all people as equals. And yes, Kirk is a womanizer, but he’s also the first white man to kiss a black woman on television.

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Even outside of the fiction, these people continue to inspire us and make us hope for a better future. One of our greatest living icons is George Takei, an openly gay Japanese American who rallies us to social causes with wit and charm. Patrick Stewart has one of the best friendships we’ve ever seen with Ian McKellen – another openly gay man who officiated Stewart’s wedding. And James Doohan once saved a fan’s life by talking her out of suicide and forming a friendship with her.

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And this foundation of our culture was laid down by that first series, that first cast. You look at the crew of Star Trek and you find someone to represent almost anyone. Kirk, in his bravado and bold nature, was a clear representative of America’s image of itself. Yet Kirk served on a crew with Chekov, a dear friend, a clear Russian, and a character who we shouldn’t have expected to exist in the midst of the Cold War. Uhura was a black woman, serving on one of the most important ships in the Federation. Scotty represented the everyday working man. And Sulu? Well he was Sulu.

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But who did Nimoy, as Spock, represent in that crew? The simple answer is that he represented…us.

Spock

Spock was “the other”, the outsider, someone who was part of this world and yet didn’t fully understand it. He represented the people who weren’t quite right with the rest of the world and yet kept trying. Not many of us in the geek community can relate to being a strong black woman. Very few of us have had the active sexcapades of the likes of Kirk. None of us could patch together an anti-matter reactor on a whim with the sweat of our brow, some luck, and a little colorful bitching. But all of us could understand watching these other people and knowing we were different from them.

And Nimoy knew this. He often spoke about the fact he enjoyed playing the outsider in a group. A method actor, he liked some challenge, and he knew the weight of what he portrayed in the token alien character of a somewhat cheesy 60s sci-fi series. Years later, he addressed the weight of being this character with the autobiography “I Am Not Spock“, talking about how much he struggled with his identity since taking the role and being put under the pressure of meaning so much to so many people. But over time he accepted this role and started to actively accept that he represented the idea that there was room for people like us in that better future we all hoped for. To his last days, he represented that idea, and his very last tweet to the world included four letters representing one phrase that, in turn, represented his acceptance of us: “Live Long And Prosper”.

And this representation by Spock, the one that let us know there was room for us outsiders in this bright tomorrow, came with a representation of the rest of society too. Spock was often the target of Bones’ criticism and scorn. At every turn, the doctor would take a moment to identify Spock’s status as the other and make a remark about how out of place he was. And for every barb sent Spock’s direction, he looked up, raised an eyebrow, and shot the doctor down. It was cathartic, and represented something a lot of us needed.

But, like the world around us today, Bones started to accept the outsider for all his quirks. He eventually grew to accept Spock for who he was, treating him as one of his closest friends and even like a brother. Likewise, as geek culture is being pulled into the mainstream, we are seeing our old antagonists accept us for what we are and bring us into greater society. In a way, we’re seeing our fiction become reality.

And, while we’re not completely through with that transition, we were given the opportunity by the foundation that was laid down by that show, by those people. Behind what vitriol exists today, there’s a culture of love and acceptance that Nimoy and the others of that cast helped engender. People may make fun of Trekkies who raise their hand in the Vulcan salute and say “Live Long And Prosper”. But the truth is that these are thousands of gentiles doing a Hebrew inspired gesture and wishing you live a long and happy life. And that’s not a bad thing, as odd as they may seem.

That’s the mark he left on us, the mark he left on our culture. With his passing we lost yet another of that crew, joining James Doohan, the creator Gene Roddenberry, and his on-screen rival DeForest Kelley. But, while they may be gone now, the mark they left will continue to inspire us. In a way, they saved us by giving us hope for the future.They showed us how to accept each other for what we are. And, most importantly…

They showed us how to look on the bright side of life.

(I write books, another thing inspired by the culture these people helped lay the foundation for. And, I can only hope that when I leave this earth, I can leave something as poignant on my twitter as Nimoy left on his.)

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