Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pon farr of the vanities

This week, I had planned to bring you a review of Wolverine and the new Star Trek. I saw them in a self-made double-feature this weekend. Perhaps it will suffice to say that if you can only see one, see Star Trek. Tonight, though, I've got old Trek on my mind.

Today, I found myself reading about pon farr—in Star Trek canon, the condition that comes upon adult Vulcan males (and bonded females) every seven years. It strips away their logic, making them feel like their blood is boiling, and compels them to either mate or die—unless they're lucky enough be able to to fight or meditate through it. There's even a fan magazine called “Fever”, devoted exclusively to pon farr fanfiction. Of course, my interest in this topic may have something to do with how much I loved the pairing of Spock and Uhura in the latest movie. Just maybe.

At any rate, tonight, I watched “Amok Time”, the episode of the original Trek series which introduced the concept of pon farr. In brief, Spock is stricken by the blood fever and returns to Vulcan to marry his betrothed. During the ceremony, however, she invokes her right to subject him to a challenge...and selects Kirk as her champion, to be fought to the death. Bones saves the day with some medical meddling, and Spock lets his faithless female go with the guy she really wants.

Much of what I found in this episode was unexpected. First, I have to admit that William Shatner was a better actor than I thought he'd been at that at point. He had impressive range and subtlety. It was interesting to see Nimoy play twitchy in his role for once, but Spock's agitation was not as convincing as his embarrassment over it. The next thing was the scene where Kirk's clothing gets torn and suddenly, I'm looking at William Shatner's nipples. Perhaps I haven't seen as much old Trek as I thought, but I kind of thought that nipples in the original series would be like or crying in baseball (there is none); but it was more like the Spanish inquisition (unexpected!)

Most unexpectedly, though, I finally saw the sexual undercurrent that so many fans see between Kirk and Spock! Kirk goes out of his way to save his friend, risking even the wrath of the Federation. Spock reacts more strongly to seeing Kirk okay at the end than he reacted to his betrothed. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, though. That is one of the oldest non-canonical pairings in all of sci-fi fandom. People have been writing stores about Kirk and Spock before there was an internet to share them on. In fact, the phrase “slash”, as it refers to same-sex pairings, was first used to designate stories which were “Kirk/Spock”.

On an related note: Star Trek has not been out a week, and already I'm tired of the “Trekkies don't have sex” meme. Jay Leno said something to that effect last night, and there was a similar implication in an online article about the Vulcan salute. Excuse me, but by my reckoning, sci-fi, fantasy and comic book movies have been mainstream since the first Batman, if not since Star Wars. Watchmen was the first movie this year that anyone gave a damn about. Even our hip, beloved President has seen Star Trek...and no one would accuse him of not getting any (he has proof). Of course, all things in moderation, but for the most part, fandom is cool these days.. I guess some folks missed the memo.

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