Leonard Nimoy, Pop Culture

Leonard Nimoy passed away February 27th, 2015.

You could watch the world react on the internet, in posts, on Twitter, on Facebook. You could feel the pain, the loss, the appreciation, the respect. The impact of his life was on display in the impact of his passing on people.

I spent hours almost crying, starting and stopping.

Nimoy was a fascinating person. Actor, director, photographer, poet, artist, and all around decent person. He’s remembered, of course, for his portrayal of Spock, the man who made the human alien and the alien human, but he was a man of great depths.

“The internet’s grandfather” as I heard i put several times.

But in the end, Spock.

Spock the geek icon before we had a word for it. The unexpected sex symbol of Star Trek, to judge by man tweets I’ve seen and conversations I had. Spock the half-alien, bridge between worlds, part of neither, yet an observer with clever insights.

He’s a reminder. Pop culture is important. It matters. He mattered.

Pop Culture Maters

Pop culture matters. Star Trek didn’t just break ethnic and racial boundaries, even if carefully or half-heartedly at times, it also presented different heroes. Sure there was Kirk, the smart but cocky guy. There was Bones, the emotional and dedicated doctor. Scotty had a passion for machines that bordered on romantic.

Spock gave us the idea of intellectual hero; second in command (and in a few cases it seemed the power behind the chair), scientist, philosopher, and warrior when needed. The nuance of his halfbreed character was powerful and deep.

You could see the internet mourn, and read stories of people inspired by this character.

And all this came from a show that lasted three seasons that many would have written off. A show that had ambition, but probably seemed silly to many when it began.

Nimoy mattered. Because Spock mattered. Because pop culture can touch us like anything else and make us better people.

The Galaxy Quest Phenomena

The movie Galaxy Quest embodied this importance better than anything else. If you haven’t seen it, essentially the cast of a Trek-like show discovers they inspired an entire alien civilization. At first it seems ridiculous, but then at time you realize how much this inspiration matters to people in the real world.

Found a whole civilization on Star Trek? How many of our dreams of space travel and a better world come from Trek, or related and similar tales. How many ideas have to be dreamed up before they become real?

Sure I’m not going to lionize much of pop culture. It’s often shallow, disposable, pandering, or stupid. Now admittedly there’s a time for those things, but it’s not often deep, and at times is deliberately shallow.

Of course, how may classics of the past were seen as throwaways or just done to make a quick buck? Classic may be pop culture once we’ve had a time out.

Pop culture, that weird, shallow, strange, casual thing also seems to spawn greatness. Maybe it’s because there’s so much of it, or because freed of the constraints of what we think is good, we sometimes make the great. Or maybe it’s just the monkeys and typewriters things.

And because pop culture is popular, broad, wide, it’s something we can all share. It’s something we can relate to. It’s something we can use, be inspired by, and communicate with. All flaws aside, it has its use.

Tell anyone fifty years ago that the world would mourn an actor who played a half-human alien on a TV series with a questionable future in the 60’s and they probably wouldn’t believe it.

Pop culture’s power is often . . . “well, you never know.”

It matters.

Taking It Seriously The Right Way

In the end, pop culture is something I think we treat with extremes. Heated rivalries and outright personal wars over games and shows. Brushing off attempts to explore real issues. Writing off talented people as one-shots. Creating elaborate plans that remove the soul of the property.

But when I saw the reaction to Leonard Nimoy passing, the power he had, it reminded me that Pop culture, like anything else is a tool. Use it right, it’s powerful.

It is broad and accessible.

It often lacks pretension to greatness which removes pressure.

It has churn, so greatness may arise.

It lets people make money, even if crazy budgets are worrying me.

I’m all for great literature and serious in-depth works. I want more of it. But let’s remember what pop culture can do.

That way when we create it, we create it with eyes open,to maximize what is good.

That way when we consume it we approach it appropriately.

That way we can have fun and think deeply – often at the same time. Trust me, I’ve been inspired by utter crap.

Let’s remember what Trek did, what Spock meant, what Leonard achieved. Every tear is a reminder of what pop culture can do.

Even now in his passing, I’m learning something from him. And as I type this I’m holding back tears.


– Steven Savage