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L. Neil Smith's
Number 811, March 1, 2015

Live Long. And, Prosper!

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Lenorad Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore

On the Death of Leonard Nimoy
by Dave Beers

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I have been considering the passing of Leonard Nimoy today. What his portrayal of Spock meant, how it affected the lives he touched, the legacy that portrayal gave us.

Star Trek:TOS came on the air in the fall of 1966, to a country that was beginning to weary of the seemingly interminable war in Vietnam; to a culture beginning to change from the innocence of the 50's, and to an audience that had been told (by and large) to be embarrassed by any interest in rockets, space aliens and ray guns! After all, those were childish, Saturday morning, pulp fare that no reasonable adult should find any interest in!

Cultural nerddom was a pursuit to be kept hidden, lest your school or work contemporaries find out and embarrass the hell out of you. Aliens and spaceships?? C'mon! Grow up kid! True, we had our science fiction conventions, and larger cities had enough of a fan base to host sizable clubs, so if you were lucky enough to live near one, you had someplace where you could mingle with fellow travelers. If you didn't live near one, you made do with finding what few other Nerds that went to your school.

There is safety in numbers, and by and large, the nerds were the target of choice for the bullies of the day.

If you had a fannish t-shirt, you only wore it at home.

Then in the fall of 1966, Star Trek came on stage and began to break all the rules. True, during it's initial run you kept your love of the show mostly to yourself, the Philistines were still running the culture...

However, something important had happened during those three years. A group of people scattered around the country who had the temerity to write to Desilu Studios (the original production house) to express their enjoyment, appreciation and love of the show found themselves contacted by a woman by the name of Bjo Trimble. She was attempting to do accomplish something that had never been tried before: Star Trek was in danger of being cancelled after it's 2nd season and she was seeking the help of all those individual fans who had written letters of praise and passion, and asking them to take up pen once again and write to NBC, in hopes of saving the show. I was amongst that group of letter writers, and sought out all the fans I could to join the effort.

It worked.

And the first TV show saved by the fans had made history.

However the respite only lasted one more year, and in the Spring of 1969, Star Trek was cancelled.

In the meantime, Desilu (owned and run by Lucille Ball), was purchased by Gulf + Western to be renamed Paramount Television in 1967. The new management team had considered Trek to be a poor performer in the ratings, hence their and NBC's decision to cancel the show (plus it was expensive to produce). But all was not lost. In the fall of 1969 the show went into syndication. A game changer because prior to Star Trek, a program needed four seasons or 100 episodes to even be considered. Kaiser Broadcasting bought the syndication rights in 1969, and offered the show in several large cities. It was broadcast in the late afternoon and found an entire new audience.

And as syndication spread across the country, so did this new audience. Then Nielsen changed the way they collected their data, and began taking into account different age groups (this was the creation of TV target audiences). They discovered that Trek was watched by the now all important 18-25 audience. The money spenders. Had the original ratings been broken down like this, the show would probably never have been cancelled.

But what is the point of all this? Star Trek was, I believe, a cultural watershed in much the same way The Beatles were (of course there wasn't as much attendant screaming as followed The Fab Four, though the opening night of the first feature film was very raucous...) . It was a show that found a faithful audience and continued to draw in more fans even after it's demise, and influenced TV and film for decades to come.

Star Trek led to Star Wars, who's production team stopped work on those afternoons when Star Trek was on. Star Wars proved that there is big money in science fiction and a mad race was on to copy both franchises with varying degrees of success and science fictional sensibility. The culture shifted. It was becoming acceptable to like all that es-effy fantastical stuff.

And I and all those original fans watched with no small amusement as people who had at one time derided us for our taste, began "see the light". We were vindicated! Today throw in the amazing success of SF/Fantasy/comic books in print, TV and film, we old fans can sometimes get a bit defensive. After all, we were there LONG before the culture was.

And Leonard Nimoy? Well, his Portrayal of Spock and Star Trek in general showed a generation that this thing called racism was highly illogical. And through the years I have discovered that We Nerds tend to be amongst the least racist and bigoted people you will meet. Our personal experiences of being marginalized for our love of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and other fringe interests, and Star Treks acceptance of a multiracial AND multispecies crew gave us hope that the future could be a better place. That reason may one day take the upper hand. That emotional fawning over cultural and political stupidity may at some point, disappear.

So I thank you, Mr Nimoy and those writers who gave you one of the most iconic characters to grace our culture. You introduced many people to logic, and personified the cultural divide that was inflaming the country by struggling to find balance with your Vulcan and Human heritages.

You have Lived Long and Prospered, sir, and are now at Peace.

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