Leonard Nimoy: A Spy in the House of Irony
Recently I’ve been unemployed, depressed, and prone to self-destructive bouts of television-watching gluttony. I’m ridiculously addicted to television, so much so that I try never to commit to starting a series on Netflix. Whether it’s fun entertainment that never quite suspends my disbelief (e.g. The Walking Dead) or simply bandwagon eye candy that slaps together a bunch of lame jokes into a flat-lined story arc underpinned by a solitary, suspiciously over-capable capstone character who numbs us with his ability to fret but then master every challenge put in front of him (e.g. Breaking Bad) I’m always too good at making excuses for why I need to commit to a show until the bitter end. To start watching TV is to neglect the rest of my life: I know I’m not going to get shit done until I plow through every episode back to back.
But with no job to take up my time, and a need to distract myself from my financial woes, cheaply, I figured, hey, now’s the time to catch up on Star Trek!
Like everybody my age or older, I’ve seen a lot of the original series’ reruns back in the day, and several episodes of Next Generation, when they actually aired in the 90s, plus an episode or three of Voyager and that shitty Ferengi-filled space station monstrosity. I’ve never felt a particular need to look back.
But as a 60s fanatic, I’m surprised at myself for not going back and re-absorbing the original series. I should have done this years ago. What seemed campy to me as a kid now seems … campy to me as an adult! Now, I can (only slightly ironically) get off on bizarrely lit sound stages and outrageous alien tunics in all their groovy glory. And actually, once you get past the first season’s “deus ex alienigenis” plot devices where everything is caused by mind-reading shape-shifters, the story lines get really compelling and gritty. And of course, the moment I decide to give the show its due, the best actor dies in real life.
It’s weird, because until I recently started watching Star Trek, I guess I’ve known quite a bit more about the personae of its actors than of its characters. We’ve all been laughing at William Shatner for decades, and he along with us for nearly that long. And in more recent years, George Takei has become perhaps even more famous: relishing his new life as an out-gay leader, leading the charge for civil rights and the end of bullying for queer youth, publicizing the need for reparations to victims of WWII Japanese-American internment, and hosting one of the funniest, and funnest, social media presences out there. And oh, there’s his appearance at Shatner’s roast …
But I never quite took a shine to Nimoy. Whereas the other folks in the Star Trek pantheon seemed bemused about their unique fame, and never took themselves too seriously, Nimoy always took a more somber, brooding approach to his fame. It’s like he was the Donnie Wahlberg of the group: sure, he might sing “Oh oh OH OH oh, oh oh OH OH,” but he doesn’t mean it!
But now in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death, I realize that, maybe, he’s the guy from the entire Star Trek series who’s the most like me. He’s talented, but confused. He’s lent his name to corny shows that he’s later avoided talking about, except via reference on The Simpsons. He’s made mistakes, like putting out a book called I Am Not Spock and then having to retract it later, after wide confusion, with a book called I Am Spock. And I kind of get the feeling that his whole “I’m so serious” thing was just a put-on all along, that he knew damned well he was working in media that were silly, and that the best thing to do about it was to simply put on the kind of straight face that made Andy Warhol such a lifelike Mona Lisa of his own.
And in later life, Nimoy moved to another art form, photography, where he was actually kind of good–and yet also needlessly pervy. And I respect that. Whenever I think of Leonard Nimoy, I don’t think about Spock first, or even his amazing work on the Golden Throats series. I think of his images of Shekhina, the female form of God, which he put out in a gorgeous book of black and white photos in the last years of his life.
Sure, it’s a good idea, even deliciously sacred and sacrilegious at the same time, to take a Jewish concept of the female side of God and then put it to life in gorgeous, nipply photography. And yet, in another way, you can tell there’s something more to these photos, something personal here that seems to go beyond the intimacy of nudity and into the realm of voyeuristic, dirty-old-man stuff.
And yet, in another way of looking at things, I don’t care … I just love these photos, right or wrong, and I don’t care what that says about Leonard Nimoy, or about myself. As my own personal fond farewell, here are some of my favorite of the Shekhina photos. Live long and prosper, old friend. I hope when you get to heaven, God’s waiting for you, and she looks like this.
P.S. Lest you think Nimoy was only interested in photographing lithe, model-type women, he also did many photos of beautiful women with larger frames, and gorgeous S-curves.
I’d feel his work was a bit less problematic if he did more photos of men, but for a man with a lot of artistic problems, he’s one of the best.