So, I was thinking the other day that Obama and Spock have a lot in common. Okay, okay, I probably had too much time on my hands, to be sure. I probably should’ve kept myself entertained with something more productive, but, I’m not making this stuff up! Obama could be Spock’s twin, separated at birth!
First, the ears. Spock has big pointy ears, Obama, just big ole’ ears that stick out. Then, of course, there’s the hair, they both have that close-cropped dark hair sans any sign of a receding hairline. They talk alike too, have you noticed? They have this very serious tone when they talk, very cerebral, logical and somewhat pedantic. When they try to act cool, well, it comes off as kind of weird. They’re both “big brains” and, well, you can tell, pretty much from the get go.
I’m not saying that Obama has green blood, ala Spock, or that, he can cause Joe Biden to collapse into a pile of unintelligible goo with a Vulcan nerve pinch, I’m just saying that our commander and chief and The Enterprise’s science office have a lot in common. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the thing about their dads.
Obama and Spock are both their father’s sons. They are both biracial, or, in Spock’s case, bispecial. Obama, like Spock is defined by his father. While both men certainly benefitted from warm, caring, loving moms, they’re moms play no role in their identities. For Obama and Spock, it’s their dads that define them.
Lots of folks may not remember this but, Spock isn’t all Vulcan. His mom was a human, a fine, foxy, emo earth chick who managed to break down the sheer logic façade of Spock’s dad, the fabled Sarek. Once that wall of logic and reason was breached, it was all downhill from there for Sarek, as he learned a lesson almost all earth males learn sooner or later. When it comes to women, they may not make any sense, but, you find you just can’t help yourself.
Spock is introduced as this ½ human, ½ Vulcan character and then, for the most part, his human side is dispensed with. Frankly, this makes sense in the framework of science fiction. After all, humans are boring, aliens, well, they’re exotic! We see humans all the time, but, aliens…well, they’re new and exciting! Thus, the fact that Spock is ½ human becomes rather blah, we know all about humans, after all. What we want, is some Vulcan action!
Of course, all fathers want their sons to be defined by them, don’t they? What can be a more natural paternalistic desire? We don’t want our boys to grow up to be “mamma’s boys”, after all. We want out boys to take after us, to live up to their fathers, to be real men. With this in mind, it makes sense that paternalistic cultures (both human and Vulcan) would stress a father’s influence over the mothers. When it comes to Spock, he’s not a hybrid, he’s a Vulcan. Why? Because he’s defined by his father.
President Obama follows Spock’s path to a tee. He’s ½ white, ½ black, his mother being white and his father being black. In another time, Obama would have been referred to as a mulatto but, not today. Though he grew up with his mother and seems to have had little contact with his father he’s defined by his father’s race and not his mother. When we refer to Obama, we don’t refer to him as the country’s first multi-racial president, we refer to him as the country’s first black president even though he’s as much white as he is black.
Just like in Spock’s case, Obama’s mother plays no role in defining who he is. Her whiteness, like Spock’s mother’s humanness, is disregarded in favor of his father’s racial and or special status. Perhaps this is because, as the majority race, whites, like humans in sci fi, are boring? Could it be that Obama’s blackness lends him an air of exoticism that has us more interested in his being black than white? After all, every president before him has been white, so, it’s understandable that someone breaking that tradition would bring about some excitement if for no other reason than they’re different.
Maybe the problem with Obama and Spock doesn’t lie in their being exotic or their being defined solely by their fathers at the expense of their mothers. Maybe the problem lies in an innate discomfort that humans have with halves over wholes. We don’t refer to Obama as a mulatto because we are uncomfortable with biracial unions. We don’t want halves, we want wholes. Instead of a half black president, we prefer to go whole hog and ignore half of Obama’s parentage. From an evolutionary perspective, group identity has always been hugely important. For most all of human history an “us vs. them” mentality has existed. We like those who are like us. We define us as being different from them. Mixing the too, well, that’s confusing and seeks to undermine the simple world view we’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
This “us vs. them” thinking, of course, applies to Spock as well. We like to think that there are humans and, well, everything else. If something else, a Vulcan, can breed with us, well, that’s confusing and a little bit troubling. It undermines our idea of what being human is all about. Therefore, Spock, ½ human though he might be, is all Vulcan when we think of him. Our sense of wholeness is restored.
With a new Star Trek film coming out soon, we’ll have even more opportunity to compare Spock and Obama. Hopefully, Obama will live up to his Vulcan twin by being a more logical, more reasoned president than we’ve had in our recent past. For most Americans, reasoned or not, he won’t be a half anything. Whether it be a deference to fathers, a love of the exotic or the need to make the world a little more simple, when it comes to black presidents and Vulcan science officers, we Americans don’t go in for half measures.