When you think of how many ways “Star Trek” advanced society, there are a number of standouts. This includes everything from the treatment of then-modern social issues like civil rights and racism, to showing the irrationality of war when war with the Soviet Union seemed inevitable. But one that often gets lost in the shuffle is the idea that Star Trek started the ball rolling on what can be best described as “nerd pride.”
That is, while there were certainly smart, well-read, mathematical, logical people in 1966, before Star Trek, being a smart, technically minded person was – for most of society – a character flaw.
Indeed, being a “nerd” or a “geek” continued to be an insult first and foremost for decades afterwards. However, the thing about Star Trek is that it allowed some of our forefathers the ability to think of themselves as heroic. And that mostly had to do with giving young technical people a cherished role model – the character of Mr. Spock.
Spock was an enigma, because there was little on television or in any form of media that was like him. Here was a character who could be technical, logical, knowledgeable, and be respected. While McCoy argued with Spock, it was never mean-spirited or meant to belittle Spock for who he was. No one ever called Spock a “nerd” or a “geek” on the show, and indeed, his opinion carried an extreme amount of weight, so much so that the captain would defer to him on his areas of expertise. There was no mistaking that Spock was “different,” but he was never “lesser.”
More than professional respect, Spock also showed that it was possible to be technical and have friends who cherished his company, even if they didn’t always understand him. Nor did Spock let his lack of full understanding of social norms interfere with participating in society. Spock presented – almost certainly for the first time – the idea that it is good to be intellectual, and that, if they wished, they could ignore anti-intellectual peers and forge their own path to the stars, while having a wonderful, fulfilled life.
We wanted to take a moment to remember the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Not just because of his contribution to our culture as an actor and director, but because many of the people who brought us the innovations that we take for granted today were inspired, in part, by Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock, as role model, and as ideal.
It was Nimoy’s brilliance and humanity that created a character that has endured longer than many of us have been alive – and will likely endure long after we are gone.