Celebrity Trekkies: From Alex Salmond to Barack Obama

He won't be First Minister for much longer but could Alex Salmond – lifelong Trekkie and Starfleet Officer – make a more dramatic exit than expected?
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The Independent Culture

In one throwaway sentence yesterday, Alex Salmond revealed something that not many people outside Scotland knew – he is a Trekkie.

A Trekkie is an addict of Star Trek, the never ending saga of the Starship Enterprise and its mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before".

The first episode was broadcast on American television before most of the people who voted in the Scottish referendum were born, and you would need to be well into middle age to have been in the audience when the second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, in which the gallant crew of the Enterprise face a genetically engineered tyrant, went on general release in 1982. Clearly, though, Scotland's First Minister remembers it well. Hence his reaction to the possibility that English politicians might renege on promises made in the heat of the referendum campaign. "The wrath of Khan will be as of nothing to the wrath of a No voter who has been gulled by the Westminster leadership," he warned.

Salmond, who is 59, is of that generation that was glued to black-and-white television sets in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Star Trek craze first swept through the UK. As a young man, he attached a clothes peg to one of his eyebrows in an effort to mimic the expression of Mr Spock, the half-Vulcan science officer of the Enterprise. He would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like, "Captain, we have a 2,499.99-to-one chance of surviving this" in his Vulcan voice. "I sat there until I could do it," he told a Scottish television chat show in 2001.

 

Those were the years of the Cold War and race riots in American cities. Star Trek was a parable about the best of American values spreading out across the universe. Captain Kirk, the all-American hero, was surrounded by a team that included the half-alien Spock, a Russian, and a Scottish engineer named Scottie, who beamed them up.

The First Minister is such a devotee that the world's largest Star Trek fan club, in North Carolina, made him a Starfleet Officer, and bestowed upon him "Membership of Distinction" – the first politician anywhere in the world to be awarded that honour.

With all due respect to Alex Salmond, he is actually not the biggest figure in world politics to count himself as a Trekkie. The show was popular so long ago that its early fans included America's great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968. He was shocked to learn that Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, one of the first active black characters seen on American television, was thinking of leaving to pursue a Broadway career.

"You cannot, You cannot," a horrified King exclaimed. And he launched into a monologue about what a role model her character was for black Americans. "For the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don't see it on television – until now."

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Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock, whose expression was coveted by Alex Salmond as a young man (Paramount Pictures)

A young Whoopi Goldberg was also captivated by Lieutenant Uhura, and is reputed to have called out: "Momma! There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!"

Barack Obama may also have been trying to pose as a Trekkie when he told a press conference last year that he wanted to do a "Jedi mind meld" – except, as every fan knows, while the "mind meld" is a Star Trek phenomenon, the Jedi feature in Star Wars. The President's gaffe offended both sets of devotees.

Other celebrity Trekkies include Tom Hanks, who is reputed to have watched every episode, and Daniel Craig, who said in 2007 that he would like to appear in the series. Angelina Jolie has confessed to a girlhood crush on Mr Spock. Mila Kunis, star of the film Black Swan told GQ: "I'm a massive Trekkie… And I've got a bunch of vintage Star Trek figurines… God, it's so embarrassing."

Trekkies were once so pervasive that in 1994 a sociologist named Michael Jindra, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote a learned essay on the phenomenon. He reckoned: "It certainly was not a political movement, but it had political aspects. It was something broader than that, more like a religious movement. At first thought, this seems rather ludicrous, for Star Trek is a TV show. And yet as I looked at it further, it had features that paralleled a religious-type movement: an origin myth; a set of beliefs; an organization, and some of the most active and creative members to be found anywhere."

And on and on they boldly go.

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