Satanic Usurper to Sexy Regular Guy in Just 50 Years
Mr. Spock wonders why he wasn’t deified, too.
Consider two iconic examples of beloved folks with pointy ears. One, at first introduction, was publicly accused of sporting a barbed tail and pitchfork, a demonic stereotype which haunted Star Trek (The Original Series), producing commercial paranoia which contributed to early termination of what would turn out to be one of the most popularly successful television shows ever, if rebroadcast, spinoff franchising, and film adaptations are any measure of success. Conversely, elves, reinvented in their Tolkien-esque form in Lord of The Rings twelve years before, were (and remain) glorified as superior beings of otherworldly grace and faultless wisdom. They rose from cobblers and cookie bakers to demi-gods. Not a bad trajectory.
It’s interesting to note that J.J. Abram’s new films have softened and humanized Spock. He mourns, he brawls, he loves madly, even his logic occasionally fails him.
The relief from global paranoia, perhaps through our international online connectivity, has allowed us to envision our 1960s Satan as just a regular guy, like a hobbit, but taller. For my heart, though, well, he can’t compete with Legolas.
So many factors come to mind that could account for Mr. Spock’s bad press, beginning with differences between readers and t.v. viewers in general; a literary readership is allowed time to envision characters, whereas a captive television audience, assaulted by advertising jingles every 13 minutes, have imagery forced on them. Then there’s the audacity of Science Fiction writers to pitch controversial philosophy in 50 minutes on a platform where The Andy Griffith Show and Gilligan’s Island were the favorites... but I think the bout between Spock and the woodland folk was decided by generational bias, a stronger force than all these combined.
High Fantasy and Science Fiction, though they are allowed a substantial crossover, are rooted in different ethical campaigns, and both Trek and LOR struck a particularly sensitive chord during their time, an example of artistic and political serendipity. The Lord of The Rings, finally released in commercial publishing in 1954, arrived in time to see babyboomers reading well and ready to dismiss the broken world of their war-weary parents in favor of a fresh start in a land just familiar enough to encourage complicity.
The "Me" generation, raised with leniency and economic stability, could indulge themselves in this engaging, long-spun tale. Peace triumphs through separate, yet cooperative governments, and love moves west in the form of a beautiful, immortal race.
Enter Star Trek,1964. Smack into the cold war, and a generation realizing we'd never be freed from the rest of the world's problems again. Americans were not receptive to the new globalization thrust upon us, one that involved us in more complicated, foreign
civil wars with vague enemies.
Additionally, the space race, accompanied by missiles that could destroySeattle from Havana, gave Science Fiction all the necessary fodder to scare the pants off the older generation and encourage civic rebellion in the emerging boomers. They could point to the cautionary tales of early SciFi canon: artificial intelligence gone mad, alien aggression, loss of humanity through industrial advance... finally they could legitimately say “I tol
It must have been so much more fun to imagine enemies coming from outer space, so much easier to blame them through de-humanization. And, here one was on our boob tube, in technicolor, prime time. Spock dared us by flinging racial issues at us, boldly going into our living rooms, sexualized without emotion or heart, green blooded, and referencing antiquated Christian imagery.
Given this easy target, threats of unimaginably terrifying weaponry, disquieting socio-political change, and invisible jungle warfare could be set aside -- at least during dinnertime.
Photo cred: The Star Trek Compendium by Allan Asherman, Simon & Schuster, NY 1986.