Thursday, May 31, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Star Trek, they claim, promotes imperialism, racism, sexism, neo-conservatism, militarism, fascism, nationalism, or some combination of these negative “isms.” As a product of American culture, it reflects what is essentially wrong about Americans and U.S. foreign policy. Apparently, our “hopeful vision of the future” is really an imperialistic vision of U.S. supremacy and global domination. Captain Kirk’s intervention in alien cultures exemplifies the imposition of Western values on Third World peoples. Every alien race, consequently, must “assimilate” to Federation culture, that is, the white, American, “bourgeois capitalist” norm. While the U.S. sends warships to “spread democracy,” the Enterprise enforces Federation values at gunpoint. Seeking out new life and new civilizations is yet another form of cultural domination and imperial conquest. Exploration is exploitation. Whether in glorifying a “frontier spirit” that historically led to the slaughter of indigenous populations, or in espousing racial views of biological difference, Star Trek is guilty as charged. When fans say otherwise, they are simply wrong, these intellectuals claim.
Yet, these scholars never tell us why we are wrong. Are we just passive, unthinking viewers, absorbing the underlying “subtexts” of television unquestioningly? Are we just too uneducated to see what is really in front of us as it subconsciously reinforces our prejudices and cultural assumptions? Scholars, please tell us lowly fans, in small words that we can comprehend. Please tell us why we have such mistaken perceptions of a television show that we obsess about, that we memorize, and that we debate year after year. What is your secret, in that you can selectively use 12 out of 700+ episodes to discover the truth about Star Trek?
It must be that we’ve been brainwashed by Roddenberry or Paramount propaganda, right? We like to feel self-righteous and holier-than-thou, so we’ve adopted clichés about Trek’s multiculturalism and its optimistic vision of human progress. Deluding ourselves about the “progressiveness” of Star Trek, we pass the popcorn in a self-congratulatory and “enlightened” way.
Perhaps. Or, could it also be possible that we are not the ones brainwashed. Instead, it is you, who come armed with your Derrida, Foucault, or Benjamin, unquestioningly perceiving Star Trek through pre-approved glasses that graduate advisers gave you. While desperately wanting to critique U.S. foreign policy, or say something meaningful about the “postcolonial” and “postmodern” age of ambivalence, you race toward Star Trek with blind devotion to an “authorized” interpretation. With a uniformed march worthy of fanboys, you position yourself on the pomo pedestal, ready to strike down the masses with a lightning bolt of academic elitism. Combining your secret love of a popular television show with you open embrace of the trendiest intellectual “school” of the moment, you take a wise course aimed at publishing your dissertation and scoring a comfy position in a cultural studies department. It doesn’t seem to matter that your interpretations and arguments are illogical, ahistorical, and unsupported by the evidence.
You see what you want to see where you want to see it. You pick and choose episodes that fit well with your predetermined thesis, while ignoring obvious examples that disrupt your arguments. Along the way, you make glaring omissions. For example, while claiming that Star Trek became critical of the Vietnam War by the third season, you don’t mention “The Way to Eden,” a preachy season 3 critique of the peace movement (see H. Bruce Franklin). While arguing that Star Trek “races towards a white future,” you ignore Deep Space Nine and its black commander, as well as most of the episodes that dealt explicitly with racial issues (see Daniel Bernardi). While asserting the militarism of Star Trek, you ignore episodes like “Homefront.” There have even been times when you have argued that the Trekverse stinks of fascist ideology while ignoring every episode of Trek that critiqued Nazism, totalitarianism, and collectivism (see Kelley L. Ross).
The fans may selectively choose “progressive” episodes like “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” to reinforce clichés about Trek’s multiculturalism and respect for diversity. Yet, you are equally guilty of the selective use of evidence to support a predetermined interpretation. It’s time to admit that. You misquote Star Trek by using two or three episodes while ignoring the full text. If you’re going to write a book or article about Star Trek, then you need to know the material, not simply which passages fit well with your thesis. Is that really too much to ask?
It’s also time to admit that the millions of people who watch Star Trek, the hundreds of thousands who make pilgrimages to conventions, and the dozens of insiders who wrote books about this television show (which you ignore) may in fact KNOW what they’re talking about! We are not passive consumers or pawns of corporate interests. We are not blind devotees of Trek gospel speaking in tongues. We are not victims of a “culture industry” that manipulates us from above. Indeed, the underlying assumptions you have about us, the way culture and consumption works, and the role of Star Trek as a cultural artifact reek like a bad plot from a terrible science-fiction film. It’s unbelievable, cynical, and simplistic.
From this day forward, we will fight your interpretations, and we will fight for Trek. You may not rest undisturbed in the pages of obscure academic journals. We will fight from below, in classrooms, seminars and public lectures. We will question your unfounded assumptions. We will identify the omissions and scream, “bloody murder.” We will fight you as Kirk fought Apollo, demanding our freedom from the tyranny of dishonest slandering. It will no longer be enough to gain the respect of fellow colleagues for being well versed in cultural theories. You need to watch Star Trek! Otherwise, you risk angering the most militant of fandoms by speaking as an "authority" who obviously hasn't read the full book.
Monday, May 28, 2007
"One and only one person can give steering and engine orders at any one time....The commanding officer may take over the deck or the conn...In taking the conn from the officer of the deck, the captain should do so in such a manner that all personnel of the bridge watch will be notified of the fact."
--Watch Officer's Guide, A Handbook for all Deck Watch Officers, Revised by K.C. Jacobsen, Commander, U.S. Navy, 11th Edition [Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1981, pp. 68-69]
I have always liked Star Trek. I watched the original show in the 60's, waited eagerly for the first movie in the 70's, and then later in the 80's got hooked all over again on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has been good television, good science fiction, and occasionally even good film. Some things, nevertheless, have driven me crazy: (1) Picard and Riker both giving commands, in tandem, on the bridge is absurd. One person has the conn or has the deck on a ship, and it is dangerous to have any confusion about that (see quote above). As Executive Officer, Riker wouldn't even be on the bridge in ordinary circumstances. (2) There doesn't seem to be anything like a regular watch on the bridge. In one show a big point is made that only a full commander can have bridge command, but nothing is more common on the show than to have scenes where all the senior officers of the ship are in some conference or other, leaving who knows who directing the ship on the bridge -- unless there are full commanders who aren't part of the regular cast. The writers don't seem to know what naval lieutenants are for -- to be the officers of the deck. And (3) Star Trek has never known what admirals are for. The first Star Trek movie has a farcical conflict over whether Admiral Kirk or the newly assigned captain will assume command of the Enterprise. One wonders what Horatio Nelson and Captain Hardy were both doing on the HMS Victory. Later, Star Trek: The Next Generation refers to the Enterprise as the "flag ship" of Star Fleet, without apparently realizing that a flag ship is a ship with a "flag," i.e. a flag officer, an admiral. A Star Trek admiral seems to be some kind of shore officer.
These absurdities, however, can be easily forgiven. Less easily forgiven or forgotten are the more troubling messages about the nature of the future, the nature of society, and even the nature of reality. Star Trek typically reflects certain political, social, and metaphysical views, and on close examination they are not worthy of the kind of tribute that is often paid to Star Trek as representing an edifying vision of things.
In a 1996 newspaper column, James P. Pinkerton, discussing the new Star Trek movie (the eighth), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), quotes Captain Picard saying how things have changed in his day, "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force; we work to better humanity." Perhaps Picard never stopped to reflect that greater wealth means greater material well being, which is to the betterment of humanity much more than any empty rhetoric. But this is typical of Star Trek. A first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "The Neutral Zone," has Picard getting up on his high horse with a three hundred year old businessman who is revived from suspended animation: The businessman, naturally, wants to get in touch with his agents to find out what has happened to his investments. Picard loftily informs him that such things don't exist anymore. Indeed, poverty and want have been abolished, but how this was accomplished is never explained. All we know is, that however it is that people make a living, it isn't through capitalism as we know it. Stocks, corporations, banking, bonds, letters of credit -- all these things seem to have disappeared. We never see Picard, or anyone else, reviewing his investment portfolio. And those who still have a lowly interest in buying and selling, like the Ferengi, are not only essentially thieves, but ultimately only accept payment in precious commodities. In the bold new future of cosmic civilization, galactic trade is carried on in little better than a Phoenician style of barter, despite the possibilities of pan-galactic banking and super-light speed money transfers made possible by "sub-space" communications.
Too much of Star Trek has always reflected trendy leftist political sentiments. It was appropriate that John Lennon's "Imagine" should have been sung at the 30th Anniversary television special: Capitalism and religion get little more respect from Star Trek than they do from Lennon. Profit simply cannot be mentioned without a sneer. The champions of profit, the Ferengi, not only perceive no difference between honest business, piracy, and swindle, but their very name, the Hindi word for "European" (from Persian Farangi), seems to be a covert rebuke to European civilization. At the same time, one can find little in the way of acknowledgement of the role of religion in life that, whether in India or in Europe, would be essential. Although exotic extraterrestrials, like the Klingons and Bajorans, have quaint religious beliefs and practices, absolutely nothing seems to be left of the historic religions of Earth: There are no Jews, no Christians, no Moslems, no Buddhists, no Hindus, no Jains, no Confucians, and no Sikhs, or anything else, on any starship or settlement in the Federation. (Star Trek is, not to put too fine a point on it, what the Nazis called "Judenfrei," free of Jews [see endnote], a condition that Marx also anticipated with the death of Capitalism -- though Leonard Nimoy did introduce, subversively, the hand sign of the Hebrew letter "shin" to signify the Trek benediction, "Live long and prosper.") With no practitioners, there are no chaplains for the crew -- no ministers, no priests, no rabbis, no mullas, no brahmins, no monks, no nuns. The closest thing to religious advice is the tedious psycho-babble of counselor Troi. The absence of traditional human religions stands in stark contrast to the more recent, shortlived science ficiton series, Firefly.
Why there is this conspicuous absence of religion is made plain in a third season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Who Watches the Watchers?" It concerns a planet of people who are still at only a pre-industrial level of development but who are related to the Vulcans and, presumably because of this, are so intellectually advanced that they long ago ceased to believe in anything so absurd as a God (so some races are just smarter than others?(!?) -- sounds like some kind of racism). Because a Federation observing post and its advanced technology is inadvertently revealed, one of the natives mistakenly takes Captain Picard to himself be the God of ancient belief. He spreads the word among his people. The rest of the episode is then taken up with how this folly can be undone without otherwise distorting the natural development of the natives. In the end, they realize that Picard is not God, and they continue on their previous path of atheistic wisdom.
Such a story is so blatantly hostile to theistic religion, that it is astonishing that it provoked neither comment nor protest. Perhaps the messages contained in science fiction television are simply not noticed. Movies have a somewhat higher profile and, indeed, the futile quest for God in the fifth Star Trek movie, The Final Frontier, provoked the comment from Michael Medved, a political conservative and devout Jew, that it was the same old "secular humanism." Even the aforementioned religious beliefs and practices of the Klingons and Bajorans seem to consist of little more than ritual and mythology, and one is left with the impression that respect for such things is motivated more by cultural relativism than by a sense that they might contain religious truths of interest to others. The Star Trek universe is one without religious truths -- where the occasional disembodied spirit can be explained away with talk about "energy" or "subspace."
If daily life is not concerned with familiar economic activities and the whole of life is not informed with religious purposes, then what is life all about in Star Trek? Well, the story is about a military establishment, Star Fleet, and one ship in particular in the fleet, the Enterprise. One might not expect this to provide much of a picture of ordinary civilian life; and it doesn't. One never sees much on Earth apart from the Star Fleet Academy and Picard's family farm in France -- unless of course we include Earth's past, where the Enterprise spends much more time than on the contemporaneous Earth. Since economic life as we know it is presumed not to exist in the future, it would certainly pose a challenge to try and represent how life is conducted and how, for instance, artifacts like the Enterprise get ordered, financed, and constructed. And if it is to be represented that things like "finance" don't exist, one wonders if any of the Trek writers or producers know little details about Earth history like when Lenin wanted to get along without money and accounting and discovered that Russia's economy was collapsing on him. Marx's prescription for an economy without the cash nexus was quickly abandoned and never revived. Nevertheless, Marx's dream and Lenin's disastrous experiment is presented as the noble and glorious future in Star Trek: First Contact, where Jean Luc Picard actually says, "Money doesn't exist in the Twenty-Fourth Century."
So what one is left with in Star Trek is military life. Trying to soften this by including families and recreation on the Enterprise in fact makes the impression worse, since to the extent that such a life is ordinary and permanent for its members, it is all the easier to imagine that all life in the Federation is of this sort. Not just a military, but a militarism. In the show, this actually didn't work out very well. In the beginning, Star Trek: The Next Generation wanted to remind us of the daily life, children in school, etc. on board; and more than once the "battle hull" of the ship was separated from the "saucer" so that the civilian component of the crew would be safe from hostile action. This cumbersome expedient, however, was soon enough forgotten; and we later forget, as the Enterprise finds itself in desperate exchanges with hostile forces, that small children are undergoing the same battle damage that we see inflicted on the bridge -- unless of course it is brought to our attention because there is a story with a special focus on a child, as with Lieutenant Worf's son. In Star Trek: First Contact, crew members are being captured and turned into Borg. Does that include the children? We never see any. Do Picard's orders to shoot any Borg include Borg who were human children? This disturbing situation is completely ignored by the movie. Star Trek, therefore, cannot maintain its fiction that military life on a major warship will be friendly to families and children.
In the 20th Century there has been a conspicuous political ideology that combines militarism, the subordination of private economic activity to collective social purposes, and often the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples: Fascism, and not the conservative Fascism of Mussolini and Franco, who made their peace with the Church and drew some limits about some things (Franco even helped Jews escape from occupied France), but the unlimited "revolutionary," Nihilistic Fascism of Hitler, which recoiled from no crime and recognized no demands of conscience or God above the gods of the Führer and the Volk. Certainly the participants in all the forms of Star Trek, writers, staff, producers, actors, fans, etc., would be horrified, insulted, and outraged to be associated with a murderous and discredited ideology like Fascism; but I have already noted in these pages how naive philosophers and critics have thoughtlessly adopted the philosophical foundations of Fascism from people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger to what they think are "progressive" causes in the present day.
"Hiss is dead but the lies surrounding his case linger on. So do the attitudes that seek a cheap sense of superiority by denigrating this country and picturing some foreign hell hole as a Utopia."
Star Trek has a Utopia to picture, or at least a world free of many of the ills perceived in the present, but it doesn't have to deal with anything so inconvenient as the experience of history. Star Trek is free to disparage business and profit without the need to explain what would replace them. Star Trek is free to disparage religious belief and ignore traditional religions without the need to address the existential mysteries and tragedies of real life in ways that have actually meant something to the vast majority of human beings. And it is particularly interesting that Star Trek is free to do all this with the convenience of assimilating everything to the forms of military life, where collective purpose and authority are taken for granted. Captain Picard does indeed end up rather like God, come to think of it.
Note that this discussion is based on aired episodes and movies, mainly those of the original series and of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Other materials that have been published or posted for Star Trek enthusiasts may address some issues, like whether there are always children on the Enterprise, but it is the message presented on the screen, whether on television or in the theater, seen by most casually interested viewers, that I am addressing.
Several correspondents have pointed out how the Enterprise of Star Trek: the Next Generation was destroyed in one of the movies and that the next ship was not built to contain families and children. Two points about that: (1) the movie was made after the entire series was over, so the idea of removing the families and children comes a little late to be taken too seriously; and (2) the idea that the next Enterprise to be constructed doesn't contain families or children isn't actually stated in subsequent movies but has been added in the external lore that has accumulated around the series. This can hardly be taken too seriously either. It is certainly a half-hearted response to criticisms like those voiced here. Other correspondents simply don't like capitalism and write, not to defend Star Trek against charges of being anti-capitalist, but to defend it for admittedly being anti-capitalist.
*The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek, Note
To be fair, science fiction historically has really never portrayed familiar religious practices as surviving into the future. Isaac Asimov treated the situation of the Jews only indirectly by transforming all of the inhabitants of Earth into Jew-like pariahs in Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Star Trek, however, has special problems. A big point is made in the original series, with Scotty and Chekov, that ethnic identities, even ethnic accents, survive into the future. One "oy vay" from a character wouldn't have cost them much. Perhaps this would have been regarded as too ethnic -- reminiscent of the kinds of stereotypes and hostilities that are supposed to be absent in the future. The hostility to religion implicit in traditional science fiction, furthermore, Star Trek ends up making explicit, at least in Star Trek the Next Generation, as detailed in the text. Thus, Star Trek has a little more explaining to do for the people who are missing than most other science fiction.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Many of the current accounts of the socio-politics of Star Trek are saddeningly simplistic. They ignore the underlying social schema at work in either series. Indeed, the common notion that the Federation in the original series (TOS) represented the UN or alternately the NATO allies versus the Klingon Red Horde quite misses the point. The characters on the series itself were aware of this obvious parallel (This is mentioned on several occasions in Bernardi), and I'm sure such a thing was what the writers of TOS had in mind.
From this point of view the Federation becomes radically changed: the real difference is not between the Federation and its ostensible enemies, but between the old and new shows and how each of them reveals the utopian ideals of its time.
The characters in TOS, with the Federation's great diversity of background, don't, in fact, represent the United States and its allies; rather they represent a Marxist utopia. How else can we explain the presence of Mr. Chekov on the bridge of the Enterprise? This is hardly a continuation of Cold War hostilities. In the late 1960s there was but one system that would have allowed such a collective, yet militaristic inclusiveness, and it wasn't Capitalism. Capitalism was, at the time, having its own struggles with success: rather than being the great uniter, bent on assimilating nations like Korea and Vietnam into its ur-culture, Capitalism was busy simply trying to fend off what looked to many like a much more equitable and desirable system. Capitalism relies on the exportation of its culture through trade, not through military force, and the Enterprise in TOS seemed hardly interested in trade. Indeed, the very competitive nature of Capitalist thought tends to lead to divisiveness, pitting nation against nation, corporation against corporation in an anarchistic grab for market power. TOS seems to have none of that sort of strife, indicating that competition itself is one of the problems the Federation has managed to do away with.
The Capitalistic tendencies in the United States were at variance with the intellectual and social undercurrents of the time anyway, being seen as the main cause of many of the late 20th Century's disparities in wage and civil rights. Johnson's Great Society is a good example. At a critical moment in the Cold War, it ushered sweeping changes into American politics: changes far more in line with the Communist enemy than with traditional ideas of an America populated by rugged individualists. This if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em attitude can be seen only as Cold War capitulation which had effects on American political thought and especially on American notions of utopian idealism far more important and long-lasting than even the grassroots hippie movement. The social programs the Great Society created have been persistent enough that even the neo-conservative movement of 1994 has been hard-pressed to get rid of them.
At the time, Johnson's Great Society showed the way toward a perfect future free of poverty, pain and suffering, full of equality and opportunity, toward the inevitable Marxist dominance of socio-political thought. The Federation of TOS, then, was the ultimate evolution of a Marxist ideal, not the result of Capitalism's competitive brutality.
The Enterprise's scientific mission in TOS also indicates a pro-Marxist attitude. Not ironically, the Soviets were still ahead in the space-race in the pre-Apollo America of TOS's inception. Exploration and science are idealistic notions far more befitting the already idealistic Marxist state than one corrupted by its Capitalistic acquisitiveness. Capitalism explores and conducts research solely for the sake of profit: it researches drugs for an aging population, geology for more oil. It does not spend real money on fast and capable starships just to fritter them away on abstract notions like "science" and "exploration."
As we all know, however, acquisitiveness always wins in the end. Lenin's great Marxist experiment, his ideological progeny, the Soviets, eventually fell due to the avaricious nature of humanity. In the same way, America's sharp left turn of the 1960s was fuel for political backlash in the 1980s and was in outright retreat by the 1990s.
Enter Star Trek: the Next Generation (TNG), a show much less about exploration as such, much more about war (instead of one enemy there are now about three, depending on who is counting), entertainment (the Holodeck--need I say more?), and social climbing (Whorf, and, in a way Ensign Crusher are good examples--the newly arrived immigrant and the upstart entrepreneur respectively). These are attributes all of a thoroughly bourgeois society. In this culture, the average person, the member of the Enterprise crew, seems primarily interested in entertainment and social interaction: relationships between principle members of the cast tend to take prominence almost over everything else. Captain Picard and Dr. Beverly Crusher are a good example of this, as well as are the not-so-subtle flirtations between Riker and Counselor Troi (Projansky 39). The "family values" so much a part of bourgeois capitalism (every household needs to have its material needs satisfied, and the more households, the more material . . .) here comes to the fore as Dr. Crusher is allowed to have her son on board the Enterprise. Family takes preeminence over science, entertainment over exploration. The extent to which these themes are dominant in TNG is debatable, but there is no doubt that in TNG the high-flung idealism of the past is gone.
In a way, the Federation in TNG and its spinoffs itself becomes a corporate enterprise. TNG's universe looks much more like a diverse marketplace, with its lack of a single monolithic enemy. The Cardassians, the Borg (representing the threat of jobs lost to mechanization, no doubt), and eventually the Klingons (again) are all competing for their little patches of sky, for their little niche in a highly competitive market.
We see this idea reified in the Ferengi. As we move more and more to an America reliant on Big Business to run our lives, as we become more and more entangled in the stock market through mutual funds, 401(k)s and online investing, we become more and more directly in touch with our acquisitive nature. Doing well is less a notion of craftsmanship or advancement within a specific field and more about how much money one can earn, how easily an idea can be turned into a .com IPO. The Ferengi represent our ambivalent feelings about this side of ourselves.
The Ferengi are largely hated on TNG and its spinoffs (Bernardi 174), but they are tolerated. They are tolerated in the same way Microsoft is tolerated, in the same way that AOL is tolerated. We realize that the Ferengi must exist, that our avarice is what drives us as a nation, as a world. But it is ugly as the Ferengi are ugly, all bulbous noses and huge ears. Our avarice is small and insipid in most of us, worming its way into all that we think and manage to do, showing up at the worst possible moment. It even influences our notions of sexuality, as the Ferengi's love of human women--as many women as they can get--attests. The neo-conservatism of recent years has also managed to re-establish women as commodity, women as sex object, as saleable product. No product line (not even long-distance service providers, as the Sprint girl shows) goes on sale without its spokesmodel, no supermodel works for less than five figures a shoot. The Ferengi are us as we know and hate ourselves to be.
As the Ferengi's 202nd rule of acquisition shows, "the justification for profit is profit" (Bernardi 8). It is the raison d'etre of late 20th Century America. It is the reason that a liberal power base tolerates the Microsofts of the world: tolerance of them is necessary for the fiduciary health of the nation. TNG and its spinoffs are driven by Clintonian Capitalism: the reluctant embrace of free trade by a left-wing intent on keeping power by focusing on "the economy, stupid." TNG is the retention of Allen Greenspan for the soul purpose of riding a wave of prosperity.
And so we've come from the heady idealism of a Marxist utopia in Star Trek, to the Clintonian sellout in The Next Generation. The curve of the future, it would seem, is set.
Bernardi, Daniel. Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future. New Brunswick:Rutgers, 1998.
Projansky, Sarah. "When the Body Speaks: Deanna Troi's Tenuous Authority and the Rationalization of Federation Superiority In Star Trek: The Next Generation Rape Narratives." Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Taylor Harrison, et al. eds. Boulder: Westview, 1996. 33-50.
Friday, May 25, 2007
GW: Yeah… (laughing) Much to my detriment, actually, yes. That’s what happens when you sit there and you tell it like it is to people who have power; they don’t like it. I’m the only person who’s ever publicly spoken about anything regarding Rick Berman in a negative way. This is a free country. You’re entitled to your criticisms and I think my criticisms were valid. I think most people, other actors or people who work on the show, if you pulled them off on an aside and said “Okay, there’s no Rick around. Let me ask you, what do you think of what I said?” I think 99% of them would say “I agree with you that he didn’t take the risks he could have.” That’s all I said and it was in reference to the fact that the man came in, took over from Gene Roddenberry, plugged in a formula and kept that same formula for “Next Generation,” every episode of “Deep Space Nine,” every episode of “Voyager” and after a while, you’re talking about 21 years worth of episodes. Man, you better start changing your formula a little bit just to keep it fresh.
Look at TV today. Look how edgy it is. Look at something like “The Shield.” Look at “Nip/Tuck.” Some of these shows are just going above and beyond what anybody’s ever seen. That’s all I said to Rick, who is somebody used to nobody saying anything negative about him publicly. I’m sure he saw this and was like “Okay, fine. Alright. You wanna do that? You want to play hardball? I’ll show you what hardball is.” The result of that is I’m the first actor in the history of “Star Trek” to be refused a directing job.
KA: You’re kidding?
GW: Believe me, I asked in Season 5, Season 6, Season 7… “No, no, no.” And all not from him. It was always through messages. He would never talk to me and say “no” to my face. His comment was “What am I running, a director’s school here?” And the sad part of the whole situation is, of all the actors who have directed, none of them have been as much of a fan of science fiction as I have been. Most of those actors directed because they wanted their DGA card, they wanted to move on to bigger and better things, or they wanted a career in directing. For me, I wanted to direct “Voyager.” I wanted to put my stamp on “Voyager.” I wanted to make “Voyager” better. Everything I wanted to do was about directing science fiction, specifically directing “Star Trek” and that’s what kills me. He basically turned down the one person who would have given him, in my estimation, the best first-directed (for an actor) episode ever and I was standing by my guns on that.
At the time that everybody wanted to direct, I didn’t ask because it was such a stampede. It was Tim Russ, Roxanne, Robbie McNeill — Robbie had already been set to direct an episode by this time — and Bob Picardo…all butting heads and elbowing each other to get in to direct at the same time. I remember they were observing Les Landau directing “The Chute.” All three of them were cramming in there and I said to myself “That’s fine. They can do their thing because when they direct during Season 4, that’s when I’m going to start observing and Season 5 is when I’m going to direct.” That was my game plan and it’s going to be known that Garrett Wang directed the best first-directed episode of “Star Trek” ever. That was what I was aspiring to. I was going to kick some major booty, but, of course, those plans got derailed.
At this point, it’s been three years since the end of the show. I’m more matter-of-fact about this information. Usually I get really riled up when I talk about it, but I’m starting to look at stuff, like the five years of fighting with my parents, and realizing how it actually ended up helping me. My not becoming a fan of “Next Generation” helped me in my “Voyager” audition and I think somehow, some way, shape or form, it hasn’t manifested itself yet, but Rick Berman saying “no” to me is somehow to push me in some other direction also...
GW: It was very weird. The only hook that people were interested in during the first couple of seasons was the first woman captain, so Janeway got the brunt of every single interview or major magazine piece. Everything was her…all about her. Bob Picardo would be utilized once in a while because people consider him the breakout character on the show. But, I remember how ridiculous it was. The day I fired my third publicist was just after I found out that both Kate Mulgrew and Bob Picardo were guests on Jon Stewart’s first talk show on MTV. And I said “What the hell? Why aren’t Jennifer Lien and myself on that. Why would they have Kate and Bob? Who’s going to be watching MTV going ‘Yeah, I want to watch my uncle and my aunt’?” So at that point, I thought “This is ridiculous. I’m wasting my money on a publicist.”
Maybe three of four days later, I get a call from somebody at UPN’s publicity department going “Garrett, they want you for People Magazine. They want you for the 50 Most Beautiful People. How did you do this?” I had no idea. I didn’t even have a publicist anymore and it just happened. And then I got another call. “E-Channel wants to do the 20 Coolest Bachelors and you’ve been picked as one of the 20.” It was sort of like the week where I got 5 commercials, only this time I got two major pieces of publicity.
I dug a little further and found out that somebody had been in the audience when I was on stage at a Starcon event in Denver, Colorado. There were probably about 3,000 people there, so it was a pretty big turnout. Everyone could see what was going on and I remember that was probably one of my best stage presentations ever. Everything flowed into everything else and there were funny things that happened along the way. For instance, I was wearing an Armani suit on stage and I hadn’t zipped up my zipper. People had been waving at me and my girlfriend was in the audience, so she had seen it, and they were trying to get my attention. I finally talked to somebody about 20 minutes into it and they told me “You have to zip up your zipper.” I’m like “Oh, my God.” (laughing) And, of course, I didn’t hide it. I told the audience everything and they just started cracking up, but even mishaps like that just fed into everything.
When I got off stage, Armin Shimerman was sitting there because he was going on after me, and he told me “Oh, my God. You were unbelievable! How am I going to follow that? You blew them away.” It turns out that somebody in that audience had some connection with People Magazine and called their people at People and said “Listen, there’s this kid…why not him?” And boom, it happened. In the history of Trek, it’s just me and Patrick Stewart. You know, that’s pretty good company to be in who have made the 50 Most Beautiful People.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Spockmania took everyone by surprise. It first manifested when Nimoy agreed to participate in a county parade. While signing autographs afterwards, he was nearly mauled by hundreds of teenage girls. Later, during a promotional tour for his music album, Leonard Nimoy presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space, Nimoy escaped an uncontrollable mob by fleeing to the roof of a building after calling the fire department for rescue. Bodyguards and life-or-death escapes became familiar features of Leonard Nimoy’s travels outside of the Desilu (soon to be Paramount) sets.
We find it impossible to bargain with him… Frankly, Nimoy and his representatives are very near trying to blackjack us into submission, by holding “Mister Spock” as hostage… They are kidding themselves into believing a very successful and much-wanted actor named Nimoy joined us and did it all. And, that our posture should be totally that of humble gratitude. I won’t play that game, nor will Desilu (Solow and Justman 1994:319).
While Nimoy’s relationship with Star Trek’s producers soured, so too did his relationship with Mr. Spock. Initially, he attributed the popularity of the character to his own acting and creative ideas, having personally fashioned many aspects of the Vulcan’s mannerisms, such as the neck pinch and the V-shaped “Live Long and Prosper” hand gesture. Yet, by the third season, he had grown so protective of his creation that he resented many of the scripts. Feeling like the writers simply didn’t understand the character while the producers refused to take his concerns seriously, he stopped trying. While waiting anxiously for someone to finally pull the plug on this doomed T.V. show, he wrote one final scathing memo bitterly complaining about the writing for Spock. This memo has infamously gained the title of “The Letter.” It concluded with these words:
My primary interest in contacting you gentlemen is my concern over my lack of experience in playing dummies. Perhaps you could arrange to get me educated in this area. Maybe if I watched some “Blondie” episodes and watched Dagwood as a role model, I could pick up some pointers. Or better still, I could get right to the bottom line by wearing some braids and feathers and learning to grunt, “Ugh, Kimosabee”? (Nimoy, 1995:126)
I went through a definite identity crisis. The question was whether to embrace Mr. Spock or to fight the onslaught of public interest. I realize now that I really had no choice in the matter. Spock and Star Trek were very much alive and there wasn’t anything that I could do to change that (Nimoy, 1975: 64).
Nimoy felt helpless and trapped by the popularity of Mr. Spock, but he did have options. When Paramount decided to relaunch the original crew in a new television series called Star Trek: Phase II, Nimoy flatly refused to participate. He later claimed that his refusal was due to ongoing legal negotiations with Paramount about the use of his image without royalties. But, more likely, he did not want to return as Spock, especially in a new series ruled by Gene Roddenberry. When Paramount decided to instead make a feature film, he was equally disinterested. Only after legendary director Robert Wise pleaded with him and Paramount sent him a hefty check for past royalties did he agree to return, so long as he had substantial input on the character of Spock.
The experience of filming Star Trek: The Motion Picture was not pleasant for Leonard Nimoy, and by some accounts, he was determined not to return if they made a sequel. Then the phone rang: “Hi, Leonard. I’ve been hired by Charlie Bluhdorn and Michael Eisner to work on another Star Trek movie. Now, I know you’re not interested, but… could we meet for lunch?” It was the voice of T.V. producer Harve Bennett. In what amounted to a regime-change inside the Star Trek franchise, Paramount pushed Roddenberry to the sidelines. This change must have pleased Leonard Nimoy. He met with Bennett and others to listen to their ideas, but he also made it clear that he wouldn’t be interested unless the script excited him. “How’d you like to have a great death scene?” Harve asked. “Let’s talk,” Nimoy responded.
In Hollywood, there is a thin line between negotiation and blackmail. Whether or not Nimoy held Spock hostage to aid his escape from Star Trek is debatable. The more that he used Spock to branch out, they more fully he became Spock in the public imagination. What is clear though is the love/hate relationship that Nimoy has had with Mr. Spock and the Star Trek franchise. The role was both a mixed blessed and rewarding curse. In later years, having amassed extraordinary success, wealth, and comfort, Nimoy has come to terms with his other half. In fact, they have become close friends, speaking to each other inside Leonard Nimoy’s head:
Nimoy: Spock, do you have any idea how lucky we are to have each other?
Spock: I do not believe in “luck.” I believe every event is statistically predictable…
Nimoy: We’re both very lucky, Spock. Lucky to have lived the lives we have, and lucky to have had each other (bracing for the anticipated lecture on luck versus statistics)
Spock: (softly) Yes, I suppose we are…
---(Nimoy: 1995: 4-11)
If only a younger Nimoy could have heard the voice of an older Nimoy, then perhaps he would have come to terms with Spock much earlier in life. Rather than struggling at every moment “to rip off the damn ears,” Nimoy could have relished in the rebirth of Star Trek. After all, he was the star of the original show, as well as an influential factor in the box office successes of later films.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"It was clear to me that religion was largely nonsense, largely magical, superstitious things… I just couldn't see any point in adopting something based on magic, which was obviously phony and superstitious."
In many ways, Star Trek: The Original Series reflected Roddenberry’s skepticism and lack of faith. His envisioned universe of the future centered on man alone as the ultimate authority, in complete control of his own destiny. With unlimited potential, human beings could become godlike, utilizing science, reason, and technology to explore the unknown and explain the phenomenal. There was no higher authority that the crew of the Enterprise must bow down before. There were no theological truths, only universal and secular humanistic ideals. Everything in the Trekverse could be explained through reason and rationality. Just as there was no “absolute evil,” there was no “absolute benevolence.” In short, the Star Trek universe was godless.
In its evolutionary view of human progress, Star Trek disposed of religion and superstition as relics of the past. Any alien society that worshipped deities was deemed inferior and less enlightened. Indeed, Captain Kirk became the ultimate iconoclast and destroyer of false gods. For example, in “Who Mourns for Adonais,” Kirk and crew encounter the Greek God Apollo, who demands their worship in exchange for providing a lush paradise. Kirk is very clear: Apollo is an artifact, interesting from a scientific point-of-view, but in no way to be treated as a deity. Worship would be servitude and blind obedience, the very negation of the most cherished of human values: freedom and self-determination. With his ship and crew in peril, Kirk destroys Apollo’s temple, which is the energy source of his godlike magic tricks. Thoroughly defeated, Apollo admits, “the time is past; there is no room for gods.”
Kirk: Excuse me. I’d just like to ask a question. What does God need with a starship?
Voice of a false God: Bring the ship closer.
Kirk: I said, what does God need with a starship?
McCoy: Jim, what are you doing?
Kirk: I’m asking a question.
Voice of a false God: Who is this creature?
Kirk: Who am I? Don’t you know? Aren’t you God?
Voice of a false God: You doubt me?
Kirk: I seek proof.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier concludes with yet another death of a god. Arguably, this film was a more deserving dedication to Gene Roddenberry’s legacy than was its successor, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Roddenberry’s legacy didn’t survive intact after his death. Perhaps it began in executive producer Rick Berman’s office, where a small bust of Gene Roddenberry’s head was sometimes blindfolded during creative discussions. Whether Berman and others were consciously “retuning” Trek to be less critical of religion is debatable. It may have happened unconsciously, with many writers unaware that Roddenberry was turning in his grave. Yet, Berman-era Trek’s attitude towards religion, faith, and spirituality was extremely different from Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Deep Space Nine explored Bajoran spirituality fairly open-mindedly, and the lead character, in the end, embraced his role as a spiritual emissary to the “Prophets.” Instead of lumping all religion into the category of bigotry and intolerance, Deep Space Nine distinguished between good and evil religious figures, as well as healthy and harmful forms of worship. Characters also became more open about faith. Although Deep Space Nine’s believers (Kira and Quark) tended to be outside of the “godless” Federation, Voyager’s first officer Chakotay was a man of intense spirituality. Faith and religion now had a place on the bridge of a starship. Additionally, post-Roddenberry Trek began portraying “gods” who could be downright benevolent. The wormhole aliens protected the Bajoran people, and they even took sides in the Dominion War. In Voyager, the Caretaker clearly loved the Okampa, and his most inhumane actions occurred in efforts to save his “children.”
Friday, May 18, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Perhaps my most exciting "escape" occurred not long afterwards in a Long Island department store... where I was promoting an album I'd recorded on Dot Records entitled "Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space."
I was signing autographs at a counter, closed in on either side by portable gates. At some point, the crowd started pushing so hard that the gates started to collapse. Unfortunately, the crowd was noisy, and out of control; I tried standing on a counter and talking to them to quiet them down, but there were just too many people. Finally, the manager grabbed my arm and said, “Let’s get out of here!”
We pushed our way through the throng and started running. Fortunately, we made it up to the manager’s office and locked the door behind us, thinking we were safe at last. But then we realized we had a new problem: we were now trapped in the office! There was no way out of the building except down and through the crowd.
But the manager was a resourceful man, and said, “Wait a minute. We can’t go down because of all the people. But we can go up. There’s a back stairway that leads to the roof…” He placed a call to the fire department, who sent a hook-and-ladder truck… I went up to the roof, climbed down the provided fire ladder, and made good my escape!
Source: Nimoy, I Am Spock, 80-82.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
There has been so much speculation about "what went wrong" with the Star Trek franchise as it descended from the heights of popularity in the early-90s to cancellation in 2005. Fans have blamed countless "culprits," such as UPN, the prequel format, and market saturation. Executive producer Rick Berman believed that there had been too many "trips to the well," with 10 movies, 5 series, and hundreds of recycled themes and plots. Other Trek insiders, such as Brannon Braga, remain perplexed, constantly forced to answer contradictory questions: Why is Trek so popular, and why was Trek cancelled?
The rise and fall of Star Trek cannot be explained by a single factor. Yet, perhaps the words of the late Gene Roddenberry are still relevant:
Review and Discuss
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Trekdom: In 1967, Gene Roddenberry told the L.A. Times that he added the character of Chekov because a Pravda writer criticized the show for ignoring the Soviet Union’s role in the space race. Yet, as many fans know, Roddenberry and others had ulterior motives, such as wanting a “Davy Jones” that appealed to young viewers. Do you believe that the writers treated the character as a serious representation of future Soviet/U.S. cooperation in space? Or, would you say that they focused more on the “Davy Jones” aspect?
Walter Koenig: "It was a sensitive time in the socio-political landscape when Star Trek introduced a Russian character. From the first, the intention was to acknowledge the Soviet exploration of space and to send a non provocative message that if the world of Star Trek was going to embrace all of mankind then certainly a Russian in its midst was appropriate to that message. However, it is also true to an even greater extent that the show wished to expand its demographic. The eight to twelve year old group might not be impressed with an Earth United but they might be drawn to a character that superficially resembled one of its pop "faves". If you needed more proof, Gene Roddenberry was quoted as saying after the casting session that "Koenig's accent sucks but I think the little girls will like him."
Trekdom: Many scholars have criticized the character of Chekov as a “Russian buffoon,” arguing that, instead of depicting a future of international cooperation, Star Trek portrayed a U.S. victory in the Cold War by mocking Russian achievements (Chekov always claiming that X or Y was a “Russian Inwention”). Often, these writers go on to criticize Star Trek as an imperialistic and militaristic vision of the future. How would you respond to those arguments?
Walter Koenig: "It sounds like the ravings of Don Quixote wanna-bes. I think its preposterous to give so much significance to a television show whose principal objective was to entertain and build a following that would keep it on the air. To look for Machiavellian constructions is to joust at windmills."
Trekdom: Star Trek XI will be a “re-imagining” of the Star Trek franchise, and executive producer/director J.J. Abrams has stated that character of Captain Kirk will appear in the film (played by a younger actor). If the writers recast and re-imagine the character of Chekov, what would you like to see, and what advice would you have for the actor?
Walter Koenig: "I'd tell him to stay out of shadows and insist on dialogue that does more than simply advance the plot."
Trekdom: Are you optimistic about the future of Star Trek?
Walter Koenig: "I no longer speculate on the future of Star Trek. I obviously have no sense of how many lives it has. I have sent funeral wreaths on at least four separate occasions believing that a wooden stake had been driven through its heart and its internment was eternal. And still it rises, a bit paler perhaps over four decades but with no less a thirst. (I'm really straining for a metaphor here as if you didn't know) For what it's worth, if I knew of a way of collecting I'd wager substantial rubles that, in one form or another, it will definitely outlive me."
Sunday, May 6, 2007
In the 1973 book The World of Star Trek, William Shatner dismissed the widespread rumors of a “Great Feud,” which had plagued the set of the Original Series. “There was never any feud. There were, on occasions, mostly between Leonard and I, a difference of opinion, and sometimes, in a moment of pique, one or the other of us would get angry.” He further argued that tabloid journalism had kept the myth alive, when, in reality, there was no animosity between the two professional actors. In his later memoirs, Shatner gives us the “real truth” of what went on behind the scenes: a jovial series of sibling rivalries, such as his repeated attempts to frustrate Nimoy by stealing and hiding his bicycle.
Instead of engaging in a ruthless Hollywood war of egos, Shatner and Nimoy acted like competing brothers, and the main drama revolved around Shatner’s infamous practical jokes. By the end of the show, both actors had become close friends.
When the producers recruited Shatner for the role of Captain Kirk, they were very clear: He was the star of the show. All action aboard the starship Enterprise centered on the captain, whose leadership, bravado, and sex appeal would keep viewers tuned in week after week. Mr. Spock was to be Kirk’s sidekick, the Tonto of Trek. As Nimoy explained in both I am Not Spock and I am Spock, the producers/writers did not give him much to work with, because the character was not fully developed. Kirk, on the other hand, had been well-fashioned, modeled in part off of Gregory Peck’s 1951 role as Horatio Hornblower. All other characters, with the exception of guest stars were, in the words of Trek writer David Gerrold:
Subordinate characters, meant to be just that: subordinate… [and] otherwise
unnoticeable.. simply there to dramatize the external conflict of the leading
characters. They were functions of the starship, not the story. (Gerrold, 85)
So, Shatner was the lead actor, and Nimoy was a secondary, albeit very prominent co-star. Yet, something unexpected happened. Leonard Nimoy explained:
The first hint of the Vulcan’s popularity came with the laundry bags full of
mail after "The Naked Time" aired. I was both relieved and pleased to know that
Spock had fans; after all, not so long ago, NBC had wanted to ditch the alien…
A call came from Medford, Oregon, inviting me to be grand marshal of the
annual Pera Blosson Festival Parade in April 1967… The parade went smoothly
enough... The problem came after, when I was taken to a nearby park. A table was
set up on the bandstand so that I could sign autographs. But instead of hundreds
I’d hoped to see, there were thousands of people there. They surged forward so
quickly that I was terrified someone would be crushed to death; and then they
started pressing against the bandstand so hard it began to sway beneath my feet.
The people with me soon realized we were in trouble. Fortunately, the local
police came to the rescue and pulled me through the throng! (Nimoy, I am Spock,
From this point on, Nimoy required security guards and police when he attended public events. Despite efforts to restrain and control these events, Spock-appearances became more chaotic. When Nimoy launched a publicity tour for his music record Leonard Nimoy presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space, another autograph session went terribly wrong.
I was signing autographs at a counter, closed in on either side by portable
gates. At some point, the crowd started pushing so hard that the gates started
to collapse. Unfortunately, the crowd was noisy, and out of control; I tried
standing on a counter and talking to them to quiet them down, but there were
just too many people. Finally, the manager grabbed my arm and said, “Let’s get
out of here!”
We pushed our way through the throng and started running. Fortunately, we made it up to the manager’s office and locked the door behind us, thinking we were safe at last. But then we realized we had a new problem: we were now trapped in the office! There was no way out of the building except down and through the crowd.
But the manager was a resourceful man, and said, “Wait a minute. We can’t go down because of all the people. But we can go up. There’s a back stairway that leads to the roof!"
He placed a call to the fire department, who sent a hook-and-ladder truck… I went up to the roof, climbed down the provided fire ladder, and made good my escape! (Nimoy, 79-84)
Nimoy narrates further adventures in his autobiography I am Spock, such as being forced into a freight elevator to protect him from a crowd of fans.
There have been many attempts to explain why “Spockmania” occurred. Because most of his fans were young “Spock-femmes,” Issaac Asimov believed it had to do with Spock’s unattainable essence. In a letter to Nimoy, he clarified, “What really gets the girls is your (or rather, Mr. Spock’s) imperviousness to feminine charm. There is the fascination of trying to break you down that appeals to the hunter instinct of every one of the dear things.” Bjo Trimble, after reading thousands of letters to Nimoy from young girls, also concluded that Spock was “a safe rape… You could love him without risking your virginity.” (Gerrold, 174)
Regardless of the causes of Spockmania, two things were certain: Young women adored Mr. Spock, and Mr. Shatner became extremely jealous. He still thought of himself as the star of the show, and he couldn’t understand why Nimoy was getting more media attention and fan mail. How could it be that the ship orbited around the captain, but the fans, especially women, adored the first officer? What was even more outrageous to Shatner was how the popularity of Spock led to media interest in Nimoy’s personal life and professional background:
Yet, reporters tended to ask Shatner more generic questions about the show, while showing little interest in him or his past achievements:
It was not long before Shatner’s anger and jealousy manifested on the set of the show.
In 1967, Life magazine set up cameras in the Paramount makeup room to document each stage of the application of Spock’s ears. When the process was halfway completed, Shatner arrived, visibly surprised by the presence of a journalist.
He sat down for his daily ritual, yet became increasingly agitated, shifting uncomfortably in his makeup chair. James Doohan explained in Inside Star Trek: “Bill’s hairpiece was being applied. The top of his head was a lot of skin and few little odd tufts of hair. The mirrors on the makeup room walls were arranged so that we could all see the laying on of his rug.”
Shatner suddenly launched from his chair and announced in a captain-like fashion, “From now on, my makeup will be done in my trailer!” He then stormed out of the room. Minutes later, a production assistant rushed in and told the photographer to leave, offering no valid excuse except “orders from up top.” Reluctantly, the photographer left.
George Takei narrates what followed in his autobiography To the Stars:
Leonard, understandably, was livid. He got up and refused to have his makeup
completed until the photographer was allowed back. Until then, he announced, he
would wait in his dressing room with his makeup only half done. And with that,
The rest of us sat silently listening to the drama playing out as our makeup was applied. Then we gathered at the soundstage coffee urn for our usual morning gossip fest. But this morning, our conversation was hushed, almost conspiratorial. It was whispered that Bill apparently had language in his contract that provided for his approval of photographers on the stage.
Suddenly, a covey of black suits came rushing in. It headed straight for Leonard’s dressing room. We strolled over to the set with our cups of coffee and reconvened in the circle of our set-side chairs… We saw the covey of black suits come out of Leonard’s dressing room and flutter over to Bill’s. We waited patiently beside a gloom-shrouded set, and we sipped our coffee… Hours passed, and the coffee was making us jittery. Morning was becoming almost midday. Greg Peters, the first assistant, came over to our circle and told us we could go off for an early lunch. (Takei, 248-249)
When the cast and crew returned, they found the sets lit, with Shatner and Nimoy ready to finally begin. Both actors pretended like nothing had gone seriously wrong, and the rest of the day unfolded smoothly.
According to producer Bob Justman and NBC executive Herb Solow, this was one of many major incidents that caused tempers to flare during the first season. While Shatner fumed and worried insecurely, Nimoy grew convinced that the popularity of Spock entitled him higher co-star status. He also became more protective of the character of Spock, feeling justified in taking on writers, producers, and even Gene Roddenberry when he disliked what scripts contained. By the end of the show, Nimoy and Roddenberry’s relationship had deteriorated greatly.
Meanwhile, Shatner’s tendency to “steal” secondary characters’ lines escalated, causing George Takei to remark, “Bill is not going to be satisfied until we're all gone and he gets to do our parts." He then imitated Captain Kirk delivering other actors’ trademark lines: "Hail! Ing! Fre! Quencies! O! Pen! Cap! Tain! Fas! Cin! A! Ting! He’s! Dead! Jim!"
In Beyond Uhura, Nichelle Nichols also reflected on Shatner’s behavior: "Without anyone's consent, Bill Shatner stepped into the role [of Gene Roddenberry], bossing around and intimidating the directors and guest stars, cutting other actors' lines and scenes, and generally taking enough control to disrupt the sense of family we had shared."
Nichols then decided to quit, saying, “I didn’t even have to read the fucking script!” Apparently, they just needed to tell her when to say, “Open hailing frequencies.” Only after Martin Luther King Jr. complimented her as a role model for young African-American girls did she decide to stay.
Shatner’s actions can be justified. In the shadow of Spock, he felt threatened and insecure. He had to compete with Nimoy for the spotlight, and if that meant making demands for script revisions that gave his character more lines and attention, then so be it, he likely concluded. After all, he was the star of the show. He may have been forced to share the spotlight with Nimoy, but all other characters were disposable “functions of the ship.”
“Just make sure you know who the captain of the ship is!” he would tell writers and directors.
The Shatner/Nimoy feud had reached a fever pitch as the seasons progressed. Shatner became furious when fan mail statistics made their way into local industry newspapers, and he continued his onset blitzkrieg tactics towards “lesser” actors, asserting his own importance at every opportunity. Meanwhile, Nimoy continuously tried re-negotiating his contract to reflect his increased importance and popularity, demanding a more equitable salary that was comparable to Shatner’s. The studio, as well as Gene Roddenberry, refused to budge. They were losing money on this expensive television program, and the ratings were less than stellar. At one point, Gene Roddenberry wrote in a memo:
We find it impossible to bargain with him… Frankly, Nimoy and his representatives are very near trying to blackjack us into submission, by holding “Mister Spock” as hostage… They are kidding themselves into believing a very successful and much-wanted actor named Nimoy joined us and did it all. And, that our posture should be totally that of humble gratitude. I won’t play that game, nor will Desilu. (Justman and Solow, 319)
After Roddenberry abandoned the show in season 3, new producer Fred Freiberger suddenly found himself stuck in the middle of this ongoing rivalry. Justman and Solow tell the story well, and it is best to quote them in full:
Nimoy’s constant demand for scripts with a more involved Spock – and a Spock who
maintained his original character values – and Shatner’s insistence that he was still the star of the series put unusual pressures on Freiberger. In his desire to solve the problem, Star Trek’s new producer, frustrated and fed up with the bickering, arranged a meeting with the players: Shatner, Nimoy, and Roddenberry.
Freiberger held the meeting in Roddenberry’s old office, where he explained the complex nature of the situation, something that Roddenberry had been well aware of for at least two years. Freiberger then proceeded to confess that those pressures were preventing him from properly performing his role as the series’s producer. Shatner and Nimoy hung on his every word.
“Gee, I’m sorry to hear that, Fred, “ said Roddenberry. “I hope you get it straightened out real soon.” Roddenberry stood. “Well, I have to go now.” As
Roddenberry started to leave his old office, Freiberger stopped him and asked the million-dollar question: “Gene, please tell me. Who’s the star of the series? Is it Bill – or is it Leonard?” Both actors leaned forward eagerly.
Roddenberry became quiet. He grabbed a cigarette, lit it quickly, inhaled deeply, and stared wide-eyed into the space above him. “Ahh… I see,” he mused. He looked out the window, shock his head in Buddha-like fashion, but said nothing else. He looked at neither Bill nor Leonard. Perhaps he was hoping they would jump into the conversation and solve the matter, actor to actor. They did not…
Roddenberry walked toward the door to leave, but turned and stared, angrily, at Freiberger. Roddenberry was sweating.
“It’s Bill. Bill is the star of the series.”
Roddenberry left immediately, and a smiling Shatner and a sullen Nimoy returned to the set. (Justman and Solow, 396-398)
Roddenberry’s sour relationship with Leonard Nimoy may have clouded his objectivity, because most Trek insiders considered Nimoy the “de-facto” star of the show. In fact, when the show ended, his future looked more certain than Shatner’s, and he signed a contract to replace Martin Landau on Mission: Impossible. Shatner, coming out of a failed marriage and a doomed television show, traveled on the theater circuit in pickup truck that smelled of Dobermans.
Shatner and Nimoy are now good friends, and they continue to deny that a feud existed on the set of the Original Series. It may be an exaggeration to label it the “Great Shatner/Nimoy Feud,” but it was very real in the late sixties, and it certainly affected the cast and crew in detrimental ways. While Nimoy had to cope with sudden fame, Shatner had to deal with the descent to co-stardom. Later, Shatner also had to face the fact that Leonard Nimoy, as a writer, director, and executive producer, was a more important factor in the Star Trek franchise.
Review and Disscuss