March 02, 2015

The Native Spock

Many Natives were fans of Star Trek and Mr. Spock. For instance:

My Vulcan Savior: NDN Geek Says Goodbye to Leonard Nimoy

By Jeffrey VereggeI don’t know where to begin really. Star Trek has been such a big part of who I am since I was a teenager. Countless movies, hours upon hours of watching the reruns on TV and yes, dressing up as a Vulcan from time to time just because I wanted to feel like I was in there.

Yesterday I lost what I consider an Uncle. Leonard Nimoy was more than just an actor to me. He was equal parts family and savior. His portrayal of Spock gave me a hero who could look at the impossible and find an answer, a character void of emotions but full of humanity. He was every bit as real to me as the family that surrounded me on my rez.

Star Trek saved me, and Leonard Nimoy was one its angels.

In my darkest hours growing up, I knew I could turn to Trek. It gave me the escape that I needed. It was a wagon train to the stars—I was swept away as soon as I turned on my TV, put in a video or opened a comic or novel. Some may ask, what about God? I would simply tell them in my most Vulcan-like tone that I believe that God knew who I was at the time and knew what would best reach and preserve my fragile state of mind. I would not be here today if it was not for Trek and more importantly Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and Deforest Kelly.
Why were Spock and Nimoy important to Natives? It probably wasn't because of this:



Leonard Nimoy in Gunsmoke
(Season 11, Episode 29) Treasure of John Walking Fox (1966)

Some comments on the video:Even in Gunsmoke, Vulcan logic prevails.

I thought Indians said things like "paleface" or "white man" with broken English when they were portrayed in these gunsmoke shows? Nimoy talked like a college professor in this part of the episode...dressed like an Indian?

Damn, his acting is exactly the same here as in Trek. I was expecting to hear something about logic during the video.
Someone said Nimoy didn't relish playing a Native and did it only for the money. At least he didn't look or sound stereotypical.

In fact, he sounded like an East Coast Jew. I would've suggested doing something to make him sound less polished. Less like, well, Leonard Nimoy.

The point of Spock

No, a Facebook posting by Garrett Cook explains why Spock and Nimoy were important to Natives:Imagine being in the America depicted in Madmen and you're cast to play the voice of reason on a show that looks like it's going down in flames. Every scientist in movies is mad or an avuncular pipe puffing grandpa and reason is the province of wet blankets that the hero always proves wrong. Imagine, in a country like this one, being told "you're going to be a foreigner who looks funny and tells John Wayne to stop and think what he's doing." To be gentle and reasonable and to be the rational side of a man of action is a thankless job and it was a lot moreso in the America of the 60s. But Leonard Nimoy was serious, passionate and invested in making reason look like it's not just for squares and pipe puffing avuncular grandpas, Leonard Nimoy was invested in showing America that sometimes the cowboy can be wrong and that reason could be the most compassionate course of action. Spock is a ray of hope, Spock represents saying "no" to jingoism, violence and superstition and yes to the belief that there is some modicum of sense in existence and we must stand up for it. Bringing talent, charisma and humanity to the thankless task of reason will give generations to come something to thank Leonard Nimoy for.

Another posting mentioned the biracial aspect:

Mr. Spock: The 'Mystery of Masculinity' Embodied

By Neda UlabyStar Trek made its debut during a turbulent moment in history—in the midst of the Vietnam War and the feminist movement—and Spock somehow spoke to the times, Jenkins says. It was rare then, he says, to see a TV character embody two very different cultures.

"In that sense Star Trek looks ahead to the society we live in today, where so many people are mixed race, mixed cultural background," Jenkins says. "And I've been thinking about that a lot lately, looking at Barack Obama. There's something in the [Obama] mythology that seems to echo our assumption about Spock—that he's someone able to bridge worlds. And he's indebted to Vulcan philosophy of IDIC, the Vulcan philosophy of infinite diversity and infinite combination. Someone who is of mixed race is seen as being capable of understanding both races."


Nimoy himself was aware of how Spock represented the outsider, walking in two worlds, as most Natives do:

Leonard Nimoy's Advice To A Biracial Girl In 1968

By Gene DembyIt wasn't supposed to be "Leonard Nimoy + Biracial Kids Day" here at Code Switch, but the news takes you where it takes you.

BuzzFeed's Leonora Epstein uncovered this blog post from the blog My Star Trek Scrapbook, which features a letter from a 1968 issue of the defunct teen magazine FaVE! In a letter addressed to Mr. Spock, a young biracial girl laments that she doesn't fit in with either her black or her white peers.

"I know that you are half Vulcan and half human and you have suffered because of this," the girl named F.C. wrote. "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."

Nimoy was so moved by the letter that he responded at length in the next issue. "[Spock] said to himself: 'Not everyone will like me,'" Nimoy wrote. "But there will be those who will accept me just for who I am."


For more on the subject, see The Political Spock and Leonard Nimoy Dies.

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