RSS iconTwitter iconFacebook icon

The Trek BBS title image

The Trek BBS statistics

Threads: 147,045
Posts: 5,803,127
Members: 26,061
Currently online: 420
Newest member: Ulvirfaust

TrekToday headlines

Retro Review: Learning Curve
By: Michelle on Jul 31

Star Trek: The Exhibition In Washington State
By: T'Bonz on Jul 31

August-September 2015 Trek Conventions And Appearances
By: T'Bonz on Jul 31

Shatner To Pen Book On Nimoy
By: T'Bonz on Jul 31

Star Trek Beyond Building Continues
By: T'Bonz on Jul 31

Trinneer In Western Horror
By: T'Bonz on Jul 30

Beam Me Up Scotty Figurines
By: T'Bonz on Jul 30

UK Auction To Feature Spock Costume
By: T'Bonz on Jul 30

Pine To Star In Wonder Woman
By: T'Bonz on Jul 29

Pegg Teases Elba Character
By: T'Bonz on Jul 29


Welcome! The Trek BBS is the number one place to chat about Star Trek with like-minded fans. Please login to see our full range of forums as well as the ability to send and receive private messages, track your favourite topics and of course join in the discussions.

If you are a new visitor, join us for free. If you are an existing member please login below. Note: for members who joined under our old messageboard system, please login with your display name not your login name.


Go Back   The Trek BBS > Star Trek TV Series > Star Trek - Original Series

Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

Reply
 
Thread Tools
Old April 20 2015, 01:11 PM   #1
Brutal Strudel
Rear Admiral
 
Brutal Strudel's Avatar
 
Location: Here, frozen between time and place, not even the brightest lights escape...
Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

This is an essay I wrote just because:

"That green-blooded son of a bitch! It's his revenge for all the arguments he lost!"
--Dr. McCoy, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek fans don't just watch a lot of Star Trek. We read a lot of it, too: novelizations of episodes and movies, original novels, comic books--these continue the fictive adventures. But we also read a lot about the production end: books and magazines and web pages detailing the stuff that went into making it, in-depth accounts of the backstage aspect: the building of sets, of miniature space ships, the way story ideas evolved and changed from draft to draft to filmed adventure. (The canard that Trekkies are somehow under the delusion that the show is real is thus not only wrong but profoundly wrong; no one knows better than a fan just how un-real it all is. We revel in it.) Many of these accounts include descriptions of the characters and their relationships. Time and again, Dr. McCoy is described as a humanist, crudely defined for the purposes of this essay as one who sees great value and nobility in humanity, who expresses that belief in altruism and faith in the so-called human spirit. His relationship with Spock is described as one of deep friendship and admiration masked by an expressed antipathy that is more affectionate game that actual malice. However, as presented on screen, little affection is apparent.

The quotation that opens this essay is but one in a long line where McCoy zeroes in Spock's physical characteristics--the color of his blood, the shape of his ears--and uses them as slurs: "pointy eared hobgoblin," "green-blooded, inhuman...", "that green ice-water in your veins," even the position of Spock's heart (roughly where a human's liver would be) has come in for his disapproval.** In the context of the show, these slurs are played for laughs, though, if the physical characteristics of human populations that differ from the Western Euro-centric majority--"hook-nosed hobgoblin," "slant-eyed, subhuman...", "that nappy wool on your head"--are substituted for Spock's extraterrestrial ones, they no longer seem quite so funny.

McCoy is indeed a humanist--never does he betray so much as a scintilla of bigotry toward Uhura or Sulu. He displays all of the traits described as humanist above, with an egalitarian embrace of the multi-hued, multi-cultural human family. On 20th and 21st century earth, sans space aliens, this is a fine thing indeed. However, on a 23rd century starship, faced with a being who is measurably superior in terms of mental acuity, physical strength and stamina, self-discipline and psychological equanimity (mutated water virus, happy flower spores and good old-fashioned sex notwithstanding), McCoy's humanism is threatened and expresses itself in less-than-altruistic and egalitarian terms. Though he uses Spock's physical attributes as vessls of attack, it is always clear that it is Spock's cold and at times seemingly cruel emotionless personality, a creation of Vulcan culture rather than biology, that he finds objectionable. That Spock himself displays a more subtle but just as pronounced form of cultural and racial chauvinism does not help matters--though, in Spock's case, he carries the belittled Other within himself; he is, after all, half human.

(Kirk's attitude toward all of this bears examination in passing. On two separate occasions, he has employed similar epithets toward Spock but, on both occasions, he used them strategically. In the episode "What Are Little Girl's Made Of?," he programs his android duplicate to say "Mind your own business, Mr. Spock! I'm sick of your half-breed interference" and thus tip off Spock that something is amiss on the planet below. In "This Side of Paradise," in order to break Spock from the influence of the aforementioned happy flower spores--which are destroyed by strong, negative emotions--Kirk baits him with a string of insults [again, Kirk uses "half-breed," something McCoy never does, indicating that he knows Spock so well that he realizes a reminder of his human heritage will hurt and alarm more than reminders of how he differs from humans] that, by comparison, make McCoy's barbs look like Nerf brickbats. Neither time, however, does Kirk mean what he says. In the episode "Balance of Terror," when the discovery that the ancient earth adversaries, the Romulans, are outwardly identical to Vulcans causes a junior bridge officer to openly question Spock's loyalty, Kirk pointedly tells him to "Leave any bigotry in your quarters, there's no room for it on the bridge." However, there is a difference between insulting the shape of a man's ears and insinuating that a superior officer is a traitor. Even so, Kirk allows McCoy's slurs to go un-challenged and un-punished; McCoy gets a pass.)

I suspect, though, that there is something far deeper at work in McCoy than just a mis-applied humanism that has curdled into weak xenophobia. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the central triumvirate of Star Trek. The friendship betwen the first two is intense and, ironically enough considering one of the participants, passionate--so intense and passionate that it easily lends itself to a homoerotic reading, sometimes joking, sometimes not--Kirk is Spock's best friend, Spock is Kirk's. Kirk is also McCoy's best friend and Kirk, for his part, deeply loves McCoy but not as deeply as he does Spock. This cannot be lost on McCoy. What's more, McCoy is also probably aware that it is Spock's logical and dispassionate outlook that Kirk finds so complementary to his own very human and intuitive one. McCoy, by contrast, though a trusted confidant and advisor, only serves to reinforce that humanity and intuition. McCoy's apparent bigotry is thus more an expression of personal jealousy than of a deep-seated distaste for Vulcans or the Vulcan way of life.

*There may be another, more pedestrian, reason McCoy continually insults Spock's alien nature: the slurs are an effective way to call attention to one of the show's signature special effects--the ears--and provide for quick and dirty exposition. Short of having Spock cut himself shaving each week, McCoy's harping on Spock's blood reminds the audience of another way Spock is different.
__________________
Once every lifetime, we're swallowed by the whale.
Brutal Strudel is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 02:03 PM   #2
Disco
Fleet Captain
 
Disco's Avatar
 
Location: Scotland
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

I find it startling that a Star Trek fan has entirely missed who McCoy is. Have you written this to provoke a reaction?
__________________
"You treat her like a lady and she'll always bring you home."
Disco is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 03:36 PM   #3
JWPlatt
Captain
 
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

Disco wrote: View Post
I find it startling that a Star Trek fan has entirely missed who McCoy is. Have you written this to provoke a reaction?
Spoken like a true half-human child of Vulcan. But a Vulcan might point out that your question is answered in the writer's very first sentence. One might offer the courtesy of a more thoughtful and appreciative critique of the subject matter from someone willing to share their thoughts rather than to simply slam them down without elaboration. It surely isn't a lesson a fan takes away from Star Trek that promotes intolerance of ideas and particularly of others - McCoy notwithstanding.

So how would you refute in detail and in equal measure exactly why the writer "has entirely missed who McCoy is." That would be a far more interesting and fair contribution to the topic than the drive-by provided.
__________________
My sense of humor is so dry, I don't use smilies and winks. On offense, please add one yourself.
My posts are a Work In Progress - please wait five minutes before quoting so I can fix the typos.
JWPlatt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 08:46 PM   #4
MarsWeeps
Captain
 
MarsWeeps's Avatar
 
Location: Outside of Space/Time
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

Brutal Strudel wrote: View Post
His relationship with Spock is described as one of deep friendship and admiration masked by an expressed antipathy that is more affectionate game that actual malice. However, as presented on screen, little affection is apparent.
There is one very powerful scene (at least to me) that conveys McCoy's true feelings towards Spock. Feelings of admiration and respect.

Amok Time - when Kirk, Spock and McCoy are in the turbolift:

[Turbolift]

KIRK: Bridge.
SPOCK: It is obvious that you have surmised my problem, Doctor. My compliments on your insight. Captain, there is a thing that happens to Vulcans at this time. Almost an insanity, which you would no doubt find distasteful.
KIRK: Will I? You've been most patient with my kinds of madness.
SPOCK: Then would you beam down to the planet's surface and stand with me? There is a brief ceremony.
KIRK: Is it permitted?
SPOCK: It is my right. By tradition, the male is accompanied by his closest friends.
KIRK: Thank you, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: I also request McCoy accompany me.
MCCOY: I shall be honoured, sir.

Just the way that scene plays out says it all. Spock asks Kirk to beam down with him, lets him know tradition requires his closest friends. There is a brief pause and when Spock asks McCoy the same thing, the look on McCoy's face and his very respectful answer is priceless. That single scene in all of TOS defines that true nature of the close friendship between Spock and McCoy.

So, despite the sometimes cruel(?) things McCoy says to Spock and about Spock throughout the series, we know he doesn't really mean it.
MarsWeeps is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 11:19 PM   #5
Brutal Strudel
Rear Admiral
 
Brutal Strudel's Avatar
 
Location: Here, frozen between time and place, not even the brightest lights escape...
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

I may have over-stated my case. I do think McCoy likes and respects--even, in a way, loves--Spock. But I also think his antipathy is hardly feigned.

"Amok Time" is interesting because McCoy is the hero of the piece. He notes Spock's distress before Kirk and, in administering the neuro-paralyzer, he acts to save both of his friends.
__________________
Once every lifetime, we're swallowed by the whale.
Brutal Strudel is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 11:20 PM   #6
Brutal Strudel
Rear Admiral
 
Brutal Strudel's Avatar
 
Location: Here, frozen between time and place, not even the brightest lights escape...
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

And thank you, JWPlatt, for having my proverbial back.
__________________
Once every lifetime, we're swallowed by the whale.
Brutal Strudel is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 20 2015, 11:58 PM   #7
Robert D. Robot
Fleet Captain
 
Robert D. Robot's Avatar
 
Location: Pre-Warp Civilization of New England
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

^ I think you have brought up some very valid points regarding the complicated relationship between Spock and McCoy. I can't really add anything more, other than being reminded of some older folks I knew as a kid who were genuinely decent, kind people, but had a certain way of interacting with others in the community by using certain derogatory terms (in a 'friendly' 'harmless' way) in addressing and talking about certain nationalities. I, too, have no doubt that McCoy respects and is fond of Spock, but the language he sometimes uses (words and phrases that we fans all have grown so accustom to over the years so as to not really hear them as fresh) does not really conform to the rest of the IDIC philosophy we see on the starship.
Robert D. Robot is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 21 2015, 02:16 AM   #8
mos6507
Fleet Captain
 
mos6507's Avatar
 
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

McCoy is a classic ball-buster. He doesn't really mean what he says. It actually has the opposite meaning. It's more of a sign of his affection for Spock, but for some reason he seems to have a hangup in showing it to him, less so with Kirk than Spock. All the more interesting that McCoy wound up being possessed by Spock's soul in Trek III, and his character kind of reaches its apex when he delivers that monologue about not knowing what he'd do without him. But it has to happen when Spock is incapacitated.
__________________
Star Trek: Earhart
mos6507 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 21 2015, 09:49 AM   #9
Disco
Fleet Captain
 
Disco's Avatar
 
Location: Scotland
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

JWPlatt wrote: View Post
Disco wrote: View Post
I find it startling that a Star Trek fan has entirely missed who McCoy is. Have you written this to provoke a reaction?
Spoken like a true half-human child of Vulcan. But a Vulcan might point out that your question is answered in the writer's very first sentence. One might offer the courtesy of a more thoughtful and appreciative critique of the subject matter from someone willing to share their thoughts rather than to simply slam them down without elaboration. It surely isn't a lesson a fan takes away from Star Trek that promotes intolerance of ideas and particularly of others - McCoy notwithstanding.

So how would you refute in detail and in equal measure exactly why the writer "has entirely missed who McCoy is." That would be a far more interesting and fair contribution to the topic than the drive-by provided.
I think the Amok Time quote pretty much sums up the true nature of the relationship between Spock and McCoy.
__________________
"You treat her like a lady and she'll always bring you home."
Disco is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 22 2015, 12:40 AM   #10
T'Girl
Vice Admiral
 
T'Girl's Avatar
 
Location: Looking for somewhere to put my urine sample down
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

Brutal Strudel wrote: View Post
Time and again, Dr. McCoy is described as a humanist ...
Spock: "Doctor, you are a sensualist."
McCoy: "You bet your pointed ears I am."


Actually, I would describe McCoy more as a humanitarian, rather than a humanist. It would seem to fit him better.

T'Girl is online now   Reply With Quote
Old April 22 2015, 06:17 PM   #11
Marsden
Fleet Captain
 
Marsden's Avatar
 
Location: Not Celebrating Spocktoberfest
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

I think, when individuals become close friends, the words don't mean as much as the tone and familiarity they convey. I think we're privy to just such a relationship here and it seems too much but they know it isn't (too much) and it's acted so well we don't think it's too much, either. Well, most of us, I can't speak for anyone else but is the prevailing opinion I've understood on the subject.

I know that I have at least two co workers that I can talk to and say things that other people find unusual when they hear it. They call me their work husband and if a new person comes into our area they usually ask things like how long have we been married. I do spend more time with them than my real wife being at work 9+ hours a day. I think there could be something similar with these characters and since no one like Scotty questions it, they are used to it, too. I think Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have been working and living together on that ship for years before we meet them in the show.
__________________
I fail to comprehend your indignation, sir. I have simply made the logical deduction that you are a liar.
Marsden is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 23 2015, 06:20 AM   #12
golddragon71
Lieutenant Commander
 
golddragon71's Avatar
 
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

I remember back in the early Nineties i was reading a Green Lantern Comic.
Now, throughout the silver age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) had an Inuit (eskimo) friend who was always known as Pieface (real name Tom Kalmaku) In this issue (GL 1990-2004, #43) Hal, reciting the Green lantern Oath, (In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. Let Those Who Worship Evil's Might, Beware My Power...Green Lantern's Light!) replaces Blackest with Darkest. Tom, hearing this questions his friend on the change to which Hal says:
"Just being politically correct I Guess." to which Tom replies
"And you call your eskimo friend "Pieface""
"Uh that doesn't bug you does it?"
"Nah...I learned in life it isn't the words... It's the feelings behind them."
Sometimes i think that's the way it is with McCoy and Spock. McCoy would call Spock a pointy-eared hobgoblin in the same tone that I called my best friend a ****head.
McCoy knows everything there is to know about the rigors of Vulcan Emotional mastery (he proves this in Plato's Stepchildren) but as a Human...and a human physician he's hard-wired to look at the repression of emotions as inherently unhealthy, so this causes him to throw his barbs more at Spock than at Jim.
Spock of course lets this slide because he has mastered his emotions and also because he also knows that McCoy is just being a human @$$hole.
(This is proved by the fact that, of everyone in the entire crew, Spock entrusts his soul to McCoy in Star Trek II)
__________________
"Captain, there are some things that transcend even the discipline of the Service."
golddragon71 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25 2015, 04:24 AM   #13
Starborn Dragon
Captain
 
Location: Northern California
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

McCoy is a homosexual.

Sometimes people's show their sexual attraction as hostility.
Starborn Dragon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25 2015, 07:50 AM   #14
JWPlatt
Captain
 
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

Starborn Dragon wrote: View Post
people's
This pretty much explains everything.
__________________
My sense of humor is so dry, I don't use smilies and winks. On offense, please add one yourself.
My posts are a Work In Progress - please wait five minutes before quoting so I can fix the typos.
JWPlatt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 28 2015, 08:39 AM   #15
BeatleJWOL
Fleet Captain
 
BeatleJWOL's Avatar
 
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Send a message via AIM to BeatleJWOL Send a message via Yahoo to BeatleJWOL
Re: Dr. Leonard McCoy and the Limits of Humanism

I think the "jealousy" aspect is a bit overblown but it's an interesting analysis. That said, it's pretty clear that the back and forth is only banter between the two of them.

Starborn Dragon wrote: View Post
McCoy is a homosexual.


(if anything's worthy of a driveby in this thread, it's that.)
BeatleJWOL is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump



All times are GMT +1. The time now is 08:30 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.6
Copyright ©2000 - 2015, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
FireFox 2+ or Internet Explorer 7+ highly recommended.