That wasn't the case in the 1960s of course. There were infinitely less channels, less diversity in less combinations. In the UK you had three TV channels at best, in the US the situation was practically little different. Radio had equally little choice, despite the late 60s advent of Radio 1. So there was almost a forced homogenity to culture where everything had to be shared and the channels had to try to appeal to as many people as possible (for the BBC this was actually embedded in their charter). Therefore the times before the pro-infinite choice 1980s created these genuine icons. Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson were probably the last great heyday before the final one-off flare of the Spice Girls in the 1990s. Many of the these icons came from the the 1970s (the likes of Bowie, Led Zeppelin and dubious TV personalities) but most came from the 1960s, the cultural founding point of post-war culture (prize exception: Elvis, obviously). The Beatles and the Stones bestrode the music scene, the Daleks, Hancock and the Steptoes bestrode TV along with Coronation Street. But across the shared culture of the UK and US? Over time, one series mutated to assume an iconic status in both, one in which it also became a shorthand for science-fiction: Star Trek (yes I know Doctor Who's getting there now but it's really just catching up).
You can probably catch my drift on what this post's about now. Yesterday I got home from work and checked Facebook to discover Leonard Nimoy had passed away. Yes, he'd been Paris in Mission: Impossible and had a frankly daftly wide ranging career covering all sorts of other artistic pursuits (photography, poetry, music and far more). But he was known primarily as Spock, the half-human half-Vulcan green blooded first officer of the Starship Enterprise. Together with William Shatner and DeForest Kelley they drove the original series of Trek, expertly finding the line between drama and high camp which gives the series a charm it still retains. This isn't to downplay the likes of James Doohan , Nichelle Nicholls, George Takei and Walter Koenig, who all contribute to the show's success, but Kirk, Bones and Spock are clearly the main characters and accordingly get more screen time. And of those Kirk and Spock are the iconic ones, the main guys you pick on if you're parodying the show. Shatner and Nimoy, Cultural icons who've been instantly recognisable for three generations, inspired convention, novels, cosplay, fanfic, songs... properly iconic.
At some level we thought they'd live forever. But they don't, they're as mortal as the rest of us, human. Shatner's flaws of ego are well documented but culturally he remains a joyous, self-aware presence. Nimoy was perhaps not the showman Shatner still is, he was too cerebral a presence but he was an always engaging presence on Twitter, offering to be everyone's grandfather and dispensing wisdom in 140 or so tweets. That he ended every tweet with LLAP - the Trek farewell, Live long and prosper - was endearing. Nimoy seemed to have a genuine belief that humanity could better itself, practising what Trek preached. By all accounts - and there are plenty this weekend from friends, fans and casual acquaintances alike - he was every bit as wise and friendly in real life. It's always wonderful to know that heroes are actually worthy of adoration.
It's hard not to read his last few tweets and not believe he knew the end was nigh. Without having known him it was tough to tell whether it was accumulated wisdom and the humanity acquired over a lifetime being dispensed or a message. In retrospect they were the same messages my granddad was giving us when accumulated decades of smoking caught up with him. Life's shorter than we think and they were in the departure lounge even if they didn't quite know when their flight was leaving. Four days before he died, his last public words came via Twitter, a ready made epitaph:
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
— Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) February 23, 2015
And on Friday he was gone. It didn't seem right, the surreal feeling when you hear a friend you haven't seen for a while is gone. For me it kind of felt like it did when John Peel died, a cornerstone of growing up vanished and gone.
Social media gets much maligned these days, how it's about spreading half-truths, misunderstandings, falsehoods and people simply venting their spleen. It can be all of that but it can also be the biggest community we've got. And when an icon passes away we don't have to retreat into our own incomprehension, poking at a fresh absence the way we poke the gap left by a newly removed tooth with our tongue instinctively. We can share our memories, our joy and sadness. And what our icons meant to us. At times like this social media comes into its own, a seriously beautiful thing, a kind of group hug across the world. I spent much of Friday evening looking at random tributes, retweets and Facebook statuses. From people who knew him, from strangers who'd just watched the odd episode of Trek. And in some way Nimoy's life and/or work had touched them, given them some degree of joy or comfort. Really, if any of us have such a global impact, one that can even lead Barack Obama to pay tribute when we pass, can we ask to have done more with our lives? Whatever Nimoy's human failings (and he will have had some, like any of us), his presence has benefited a lot of people as a whole. A geek character who became a geek icon, who helped a lot of outsiders. Who blessed a lot of childhoods with good memories. And maybe that way a kind of immortality lies. Positive effects which ripple outwards. We've no way of knowing how long the legacy of Star Trek will last - currently 49 years and still a cultural touchstone - but perhaps that's not the point. Perhaps Nimoy's immortality lies in his actions and his positive use of his fame to make the world better in a lot of ways. Perhaps in that way icons can live forever.
In the meantime, as Nathan Fillion tweeted in tribute - 'I have been, and always will be, your fan.' And there's only one appropriate clip to attach here.
RIP. And thank you.