A bittersweet post.
Sort of a follow-up to the “fandoms” post of two weeks ago, its timing prompted by the sad news that Leonard Nimoy has died due to complications from COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a month shy of his 84th birthday.
Fiction is a funny thing. By its very nature – stories born of imagination – it becomes a way of exploring things about the world, in ways that in real life would never happen, or have not happened yet. Consciously or not, themes within all fiction reflect things within our world: usually, characters ‘fight” (physically or metaphorically) with or against these themes – themes like honour, family, love; grief, anger, sacrifice; the function of society or of government; corruption, power, prejudice; and so on.
Fiction – particularly the stories that carry these sorts of themes and explore them well – gathers a fanbase. It “becomes a fandom” so to speak. The characters of fiction are imaginary (however much some of us may wish otherwise). The people reading or watching or listening to the stories are not. That’s where the power of fandom comes into play.
The themes expressed in these fictional stories speak to us. So we talk about them, their rightness or wrongness and so on. Concepts are discussed. A “what-if” game begins, spawning from our wish to see the better world of the fiction replicated in real life – or, conversely, our desire to never see the bad world of the fiction reproduced here. It changes us.
For some, it’s a case of their fictional experience sparking an idea of a career – for instance, it’s been mentioned today as the tributes flowed that plenty of NASA people were inspired by Star Trek to turn their gaze to the sky and beyond. While maybe opening minds in other ways, too.
For others, their experience provides them with something to connect to, to live up to. “It’s okay to be different,” they realise. “I shouldn’t have to hide it.” “There are others like me.”
Like “me”. Whether that be the bookish nerd, the socially awkward guy, the bi-racial girl, the teen struggling with their sexuality; the disabled kid. Those who society labels as abnormal – not being part of the “main” group – find a place to belong.
In some cases – more and more these days with the internet, but also present before then – this new confidence and collectivism spills over. The “real world” and the “fandom world” intermesh.
Sometimes this is loud and obvious – witness, for instance, the recent success of the Harry Potter Alliance’s (HPA) campaign, “Not In Harry’s Name”, about ensuring Warner Bros. only sells certified fair trade chocolate.
Other times, it is less loud, becoming a sort of quietly-spreading knowledge, widening horizons of those fitting the “norm” so they more easily accept those who do not.
In film and television and audio formats, the actors and voice-actors become ambassadors for the cause, to one extent or another. Of course, they are their own people first, usually performing in several roles, even if one role becomes what they’re known for. That’s why I like to think of them as “real name” first, “character(s)” second. However, if the book/ show/ film/ etc. is popular, they do have opportunity to use their fame to help. One recent example of this is Emma Watson, with her championing such causes as the “heforshe” campaign and other such endeavours.
Leonard Nimoy was another.
You can see that from the various tributes flowing in since his death. He was best known for his role as “Spock of Vulcan” in Star Trek, though he was much more than that. He was an actor, yes, but also a director, photographer, author, husband, father, poet and much more. The character of Spock and the journey he went through during the series and films spoke to so many. Nimoy was apparently given a lot of range to create Spock. He made the character his own, even being the one to think of the “Vulcan salute” – an adaptation of a Jewish blessing given at the synagogue – and the signature phrase. He used his character and the public persona it gave him for good, encouraging those who felt different to embrace such difference. He also apparently became known as the “conscience of Star Trek” after twice insisting on fair treatment of all cast members. He championed Nichelle Nicholls’ right to equal pay, for instance. Even before he starred as Spock, he apparently telegrammed President J. F. Kennedy asking him not to use nuclear weapons in space.
I came new recently to the Trek scene. Most of the stuff above I only truly found out in the flow of tributes today, though I’d heard bits and pieces. Still, I understand he is one of those who will endure in the memory of many – even myself. My deepest sympathies to his family, friends and other fans. Or to put it another way: Tushah nash-veh k’dular. – I grieve with thee.
Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy. As I saw a couple of people say earlier – he’s been beamed up, towards that Final Frontier.