Star Trek and the future of male friendship
by Deanna Smid — Brandon University
January 04, 2017 – 12:53
In Manhood in America: A Cultural History, Michael Kimmel does not forget Star Trek, for it “reveal[s], perhaps more clearly, if unintentionally, than any other TV show, the growing crisis of masculinity.” That crisis appears in Kirk and Spock’s friendship, one of the constants in the series. Kirk may have a woman on every planet, but they come and go. Spock, however, is an unchanging presence in Kirk’s life, and also a safe one. He is primarily asexual, and audiences need not suspect that their relationship will change into something untoward. In the rebooted Star Trek movies, however, the nature of their friendship has changed. Kirk is still a womanizer, but Spock, too, has a girlfriend. Their friendship could be destabilized by their potential rivalry—after all, Kirk makes no bones about his attraction to Uhura—but the biggest change is Spock’s new status as a sexual being. Bridget Kies sees Spock’s new sexuality as normative: “In the reboot universe, Spock is transformed from virginal to heteronormative. His relationship with Uhura explicitly defines him as heterosexual and therefore assuredly masculine.” I argue, though, that Spock’s relationship with Uhura makes him anything but “assured.” For if the new Spock is capable of heteronormative sex, he is capable of sex, and what is to say he is not capable then of sex with Kirk? Indeed, the Spock of the reboot is much more passionate than Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. He loses his composure after Vulcan is destroyed, and he, not Kirk, screams “KHAAAAAAAN!” in rage and despair. The newly passionate Spock, then, brings that passion to the Kirk-Spock friendship, and their relationship is tinged with a frisson of sexual tension. But why now? Is the newly titillating relationship a result of fan fiction? Star Trek has a long track record of responding to the desires of their fans, so has the proliferation of slash fiction that unites Kirk/Spock infiltrated the main stream movies? Or perhaps, as Jane Ward argues, all male friendships are essentially homoerotic, or at least audiences fear that they are so. Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History, third edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 209. Bridget Kies, “‘A Friendship that will define you both’: Star Trek and the devolution of American masculinity,” Science Fiction Film and Television 9.3 (2016), 426. Jane Ward, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 7.