John Ostrander: Death and Vandalism
Writing a weekly column can be a funny thing at times, especially when you wait until the last moment to do it. Not only does it irritate your editor but the blamed thing can morph from its original topic. Such as this week. I started with one topic and then found two others that I wanted to comment on as well. I think I’ve found a connection within all three; let’s see if I can make it without stretching too much. Wish me luck.
We’ll start with the death of Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. the original Mr. Spock in Star Trek. He was 83 and died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Spock was an iconic character not only on Trek or in science fiction but around the world. “Live long and prosper” was his signature phrase and his cool, logical, and scientific manner created an army of fans, me included.
My friend Lise Lee Morgan and I met Mr. Nimoy in person many years ago in a guest suite at a Star Trek convention. My friend Stuart Gordon had got us the opportunity and Mr. Nimoy was charming, engaging, and enthusiastic about Stuart. I liked him even more than I liked Spock.
How significant was Nimoy’s passing? He got a eulogy from Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the Moon. President Obama released a statement saying “Long before nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future … I loved Spock.” Come on. How cool is that? Any of us should wish to have a life with as much impact on the world.
On the other side of the coin there’s the report of author and blogger Avijit Roy being hacked to death with machetes by Islamic extremists. Roy was a native of Bangladesh although he lived in Atlanta and he was attacked as he left a book fair in the Bangladesh city of Dahka. He was there to promote his book The Virus of Faith. A fan of Bill Maher’s harsh view of Islam, he was critical of all religions and especially Islam and that made him the target of death threats by Moslem extremists. Ansar Bangla-7, an extremist group, has claimed responsibility for the death.
The third item catching my eye was the destruction of ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum by members of ISIS. The items dated back thousands of years, from the Assyrian and Akkadian empires. The vandals’ justification was that the statues were by polytheists and therefore an affront to their skewed notion of Allah. This ignores the fact that the art was part of the heritage of us all and they were only the current custodians. They did not have the right to destroy them. Sadly, such iconoclasm has a long and pernicious history.
So … what unites these three events? They underscore the importance of art, of literature and – yes – of pop culture. A writer is killed because of ideas that he espouses, artifacts are destroyed because of what they once represented, Nimoy’s death is remembered because of a part he played on TV and in films. All this underscores the importance of art, its power, and the threat it poses to the close-minded.
It makes us remember the past, question the present, and bring hope for the future. Pop culture, which we celebrate here, is a huge part of all that. It helps define who we are and tells us who we were and points to what we could be. It reflects our passions and our interests. It questions what we are told and that’s why extremists of all stripes want it destroyed or controlled or obliterated or killed. The violence, the extreme nature, of their actions tell us how real the threat is to them. That tells us how powerful it is. Art is dangerous. Pop culture is or can be or should be dangerous.
Leonard Nimoy, as Spock, exemplified all that. That’s part of the reason his passing affects so many. He made an indelible mark on the world. We should strive to do the same.
Live long and prosper, y’all.