Spock: The outsider as hero

TV Guide cover from 1967 shows Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner from Star Trek, The Original Series
TV Guide cover for March 4, 1967 (image from Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki)

Tributes have been pouring in for Leonard Nimoy, who died on February 27. Nimoy was more than just Mr. Spock. He was a poet, playwright, photographer, and humanitarian. He was an artist of uncompromising integrity, and he stood up for his fellow actors.

However, Spock will always remain Nimoy’s most enduring legacy. In creating this iconic character, Nimoy gave the world a powerful gift: the image of the outsider as hero.

Spock was unlike any character on TV at the time or since. He looked like an alien in all senses of the word — from his pointed ears, angled eyebrows, and detached logic — but he was accepted as part of the crew. (Sure, he took gruff from Dr. McCoy, but McCoy gave gruff to everyone.) What made Spock different also made him valued. As an outsider, he offered skills and perspectives that enabled him to solve problems that others can’t. Spock provided a role model for all of us who felt like outsiders. We felt that we also had something valuable to offer. The final frontier belonged to us too.

A touching example was in an article from NPR that a friend posted on Facebook. In 1968, a biracial girl wrote a letter to the teen magazine FaVE! addressed to Mr. Spock. She wrote, “I know that you are half Vulcan and half human and you have suffered because of this…My mother is Negro and my father is white and I am told this makes me a half-breed…I guess I’ll never have any friends.” Leonard Nimoy was moved by the letter, and he responded in the magazine. He said:

Spock decided he would live up to his own personal value and uniqueness. He’d do whatever made him feel best about himself. He decided he would listen to that little voice inside of him and not to the people around him.

He replaced the idea of being liked with the idea of being accomplished. Instead of being interested in being popular, he became interested in being intelligent. And instead of wanting to become powerful, he became interested in being useful.

He said to himself, ‘Not everyone will like me. But there will be people who will accept me just for who I am…People of all races will need me and not be able to do without me.’ And that’s just what he did. And when I see him there standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, facing danger and life-and-death problems so cooly and with so much intelligence, I’m sure he made the right decision.

These qualities made Spock a hero to so many of us outsiders. He showed us what makes us different makes us valuable. For these reasons, Spock and Leonard Nimoy will always be honored and remembered.