Kirk Your Enthusiasm (5)

By: Greg Rowland
August 3, 2012

Fifth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.


Kirk browbeats NOMAD | “The Changeling” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 2, Episode 3 | September 1967

Many of us have attempted to befuddle or incriminate a 21st-century computer’s AI algorithms. Perhaps you, like me, have convinced your Apple Siri that it is, say, a zealously ambitious Sub-Lieutenant in the Gestapo. (It is perhaps less likely, though, that you too plan to instruct Siri to Google “The Nuremberg Trials” immediately prior to upgrading your phone.) Amidst all this fun and frolic it’s important for us to remember the greatest Computer Admonisher of them all: Captain Kirk, he who pioneered the art of Totally Befuddling Sentient Mechanisms.

Whereas you or I might take casual pleasure in aligning our hand-held computing devices with the worst atrocities of the 20th Century, Kirk confused and demoralised overweening Byte-Quadrophenic Entities with bravery, wit, and a Demi-Reasoned Desilusion as joyful as it is wilfully arbitrary and paradoxical. Kirk is a man for all parsecs, and I reach the episode “The Changeling” as my favourite study. Jim, if I may be so bold, plays many roles here, enabling him to become the Meta-Human Mutate Thinkbox Slap-Admin seen in the episode’s denouement. Primarily, he is the trusting host, beaming aboard the Enterprise a highly sensitive “Space” Probe designated NOMAD who had just bombarded the ship with a Space Ray equivalent to 90 photon torpedoes. NOMAD’s subsequent behaviour does not entirely warrant Kirk’s initial graciousness.

Once an innocent Earth probe, NOMAD has not been quite the same since its encounter with The Other — a malfunctioning agricultural drone, not some Lacanian cosmic obscenity. This traumatic intermingling of algorithms sent NOMAD on a mission to destroy all biological life-forms, owing to their perceived imperfection. It also left NOMAD with intimacy issues. He — temporarily — kills Scotty because, in NOMAD’s words, he “tried to touch my screens.” Most importantly, NOMAD’s presence stokes up Kirk’s ever-ready Polyphonic Self. Our beloved Captain, owing to a Drydenesque comedy of identity, instantly adapts to the role of The Creator when Nomad identifies him as his actual inventor, one Jackson Roykirk — a name which, by the way, segues HILOBROW’s two “Enthusiasm” series: Jack “King” (roi) Kirby and James Kirk.

As a matter of life-preserving necessity, over the course of the episode Kirk adopts the role of protector, warrior, diplomat, actor, lawyer, gentile, God, Jewish mother, and rabbi. (“My son… the Doctor” is the Captain’s not entirely goyish elegy for the space probe that resurrected Scotty like The Very Lazarus himself.)

Thus “The Changeling” warrants detailed study as a prime example of Kirk’s effortless polymorphosity — a process crowned by his talking the probe into a self-destructive spiral of neurosis with a judicial tornado of accusations with regard to his failure as a perfect eradicating sentient entity. Kirk does this so well that your correspondent began to question his own self-worth, in an increasingly high-pitched and hysterical manner, before recalling that he is not a perfect eradicating sentient entity. Phew!

One day we all may have to give our electronic helpers a smack-down — whether it’s our phone, computer, TV, or toaster — or else face sudden and unpleasant death. Kirk reminds us that even the most ardent critic of Liberal Humanism must agree that the spirit of humankind cannot be reduced to a set of binaries, to a simple code of on and off switches. Kirk, the Analogue PolyMan who stretches his essence out towards eternity, knows that the human revolution will not be digitised.


2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

ALSO ON HILOBROW Peggy Nelson on William Shatner as HiLo Hero | Greg Rowland on Leonard Nimoy as HiLo Hero | Peggy Nelson on William Shatner in Incubus | Matthew Battles on enlarging the Trek fanfic canon | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912


2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker

What do you think?

  1. The song of Rowland — more sigil than noise! Kirk’s intuition as mental footwork, philosophy slam and moral intelligence; another new precedent in the court of public opinion!

  2. Nomad would not be the last time Kirok was mistaken for a creator/diety, which says something about Kirk’s stature. But then, he was frequently dicing with would-be gods and monsters, masters of the universes, Squires, philosophers, from Apollo, to helmsmen Mitchell, well you get the idea that Kirk traveled in some pretty fast company. It didn’t usually matter in the end, because whether the adversary was mechanical, monstrous or inconceivably advanced alien intelligence, they were no match for Kirk’s instincts and daring, which we a part of his humanity, as Spock so often ruminated over.

  3. “Talking the probe into a self-destructive spiral of neurosis” — a terrific description. I wonder if we can connect Kirk to his fellow Scot, the early-1960s “anti-psychiatrist” R.D. Laing. That is to say, his masterful ability to force NOMAD to face the impossibility of conforming to conflicting expectations, suggests that Kirk empathizes with all of us ontologically insecure monads whom society has forced into “lose-lose” situations.

  4. Thanks Adam….I though “sigil” was a typo, but since discovering its real meaning I have become an adept locksmith of the Seven Keys of Solomon. It’s a sideways career move.

    Josh: Of course I can make a connection, I am the Prime Connector after all. Mine will not be as erudite as yours, and places Laing in an oppositional paradigm to Kirk instead.

    Laing, as I’m sure you know, was London’s go-to-guy if a friend was having a bad LSD trip. His ‘Talk-Down’ technique saved a lot of young bourgeois from shaking, pitch varying and exploding. Unlike Kirk’s Up-Talk with Nomad and other sentient machines.

  5. But if confronted by a life-eradicating robot, wouldn’t Laing have been better than anyone else at talking-up — precisely because he was so good at talking-down?

  6. I was thinking of the Alternate Reality where Laing collides with Melanie Klein in deep space, and becomes The Wire Father.
    Did you not see that episode? “Who Mourns for Sigmund?” Kirk has to work out which cigar-shaped galactic threats are actually dangerous, which are symbolically resonant but harmless and which are just “Space” cigars.

  7. “Kirk’s effortless polymorphosity — a process crowned by his talking the probe into a self-destructive spiral of neurosis with a judicial tornado of accusations with regard to his failure as a perfect eradicating sentient entity.”

    -going to keep this in mind next time I need to talkdown my toaster. Great piece!

  8. Greg, the space-cigar was pointed right at the Enterprise in “Doomsday Machine” and, Commodore Decker’s Ahab impersonation notwithstanding, sometimes a cigar is an exploding cigar and even obsessive revenge-addicts have real scourges…

  9. Thank-you Kelly. I’m glad to be of service.

    Dekker segues us nicely towards his dull as ditchwater son, who appeared in the Motion Picture, eventually merging with another sentient machine called V’GER, who bore something of a resemblance to NOMAD, despite the former’s gigantic size and its more impressive array flashing lights.

    I recall that The Doomsday Machine tailed off at the end, as though it had been sucked too hard by a cigar-addict who had just got off a long-haul flight. that’s a different category of cigar.

  10. My broiler thinks it’s a toaster, so none of you haters go anywhere near it! I never saw any Starfleet member smoke on TOS or subsequent series that I can remember, so it’s no surprise if the aim was to stub out the cigar before any fun broke out…

  11. Martia the Chameloid (played by Iman) smokes a body heat raising herb in a form that resembles a cigarette in ST VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Kirk has a toke too. But it is purely medicinal, so it doesn’t really count…

    I’m not sure the bereaved would appreciate your levity regarding The Doomsday Machine Adam. Please try and have a little respect for the Future Departed.

  12. Medical it may be, but still federal helicopters ruined the shot several times. I’ll hold my tears ’til we see if the Gary Sinise Cmmdr. Decker meets as sad a fate in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek 6…

  13. Kirk is a brilliant practitioner of what I call the “glial leap:” when it seems he is – must be! – completely imprisoned in a construction of impeccable logic, Kirk shifts the paradigm, leaps sideways outside of the box, and outwits his way *around the problem. The word impish may well wield an epistemological flair here.

    My personal favorite instance of his actionable rhetoric prowess is the Interpretive Dance Sequence in I, Mudd, when he successfully deploys performance art (!) against an entire planetoid of AI.

  14. To dive into the crowd while stepping outside the commonly accepted perceptions — within and around us, like all legendary leaders who can be bigger than life while staying where they don’t talk down. I’m learning a lot from this series, Peggy, and you just added more!

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