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From ‘The Premise’ to Obscurity to Spirk: An Essay

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Holodeck Puppies
For This Simple Fanzine
A Short Spirk Fandom Essay
August 19, 2017

From ‘The Premise’ to Obscurity to Spirk:

My father and I once reached a short lived understanding that although we are both Trekkies, and that, I especially, never want to stop talking about Star Trek, we will never again discuss the pairing Spirk. Reaching this temporary understanding was not an dramatic experience, but rather a humorous one. We must have had a fifteen or twenty minute conversation solely about the definition of the word ‘relationship’ in contemporary English, because of my father’s complete bewilderment at my claim that TOS Kirk and Spock were in (or at least heading towards) a relationship in the Original Series. We eventually realised that we were both referring to the standard dictionary definition of “a romantic or passionate attachment” (Merriam-Webster.com) which lead to a whole new, and much longer discussion of Spirk.

A small disclaimer about my father; he was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1969 and is a liberal, Trump hating, left leaning, Democrat who works in the public school system. As you may have surmised, the understanding we reached about Spirk, and my father’s bewilderment, were not driven by any conservative values on my father’s part, but by a difference in how my father and I, and our respective Trekkie generations, consume and participate in Star Trek media and fandom.

As we all well know, the first episode of Star Trek aired on September 7, 1966; and roughly since the original air date of season two, episode one “Amok Time” on September 15, 1967 (wikipedia.org), people have been shipping Spirk. ‘The Premise,’ Slash, Pairings, Fanzines, Ships, Ship Names, and many other aspects of contemporary fandom originated with Star Trek, and specifically with Kirk and Spock. But before all this standard fandom terminology existed, ‘Spirk’ was referred to by many other terms and code names. According to the youtube channel ShippersGuidetoTheGalaxy, and the Fanlore website, Spirk was originally referred to as ‘The Premise’ during the early 1970s, when fanzines were small and circulated only to people ‘in the know’ or to hardcore, older Trekkies. Calling it ‘The Premise” probably originated from early fanzine disclaimers, which would declare fanfic, fanart, or articles that were to discuss the pairing as such, and that if consumers were not on board with ‘The Premise’ of Kirk and Spock being in a romantic relationship, they should read on elsewhere.

During the times mentioned above, my father was either not yet born, or still very young. He did not spread his Trekkie wings until the 1980s and 1990s, in a Catholic family during a more conservative time period in American history. As such, his participation in fandom consisted of watching reruns of the show, and talking about it with friends his age. Although my father was and is aware, like most people are; of Star Trek being a fairly liberal, utopian ideal of the future, this understanding began and ended for him, and most of his generation of Trekkies, as a discussion of race and civil rights, and not necessarily LGBTQ rights, or even Feminism. It did not help that during this period of US history, as mentioned before, LGBTQ movements such as Stonewall, Gay Pride, and ACT UP, were either still underway, or carefully removed from modern history curriculum and texts, as they too often still are. (Zinn, Howard)

Thus, the possibility of Kirk/Spock was just simply not introduced to my father, and he did not have access to a lot of relevant information available to make his own inferences and headcanons on the topic. This left my father’s perspective of Star Trek to be influenced only by a relatively small group of people, such as his high school friends. As can be expected, the friendship aspect of Kirk and Spock’s relationship was highly lauded by my father and his companions. And Kirk and Spock are great friends. After all, who wouldn't want to have a friend in someone like Kirk has a friend in Spock, or like Spock has in Kirk?

Now when I entered the Trekkie fandom scene as a freshman in college two years ago, long after my father had introduced me to Star Trek as a kid, it’s a totally different world. I have the opportunity to look back onto both Star Trek and US history from a more liberal perspective, with all the information and social networking of the internet at my fingertips. The society I grew up in, and the fandom I joined, are drastically different from what my father had experienced. K/S is not only normal for me, but commonplace and even obvious. While bingeing the show on my Amazon Prime account in my dorm room, I noticed all the shipworthy moments of TOS, and interpreted Spirk as a part of cannon right off the bat. (How could I not?)

As I said before, our first Spirk conversation, but certainly not our last, (our agreement did not hold water for very long) consisted of my father not even considering a romantic possibility for Kirk and Spock, and me believing it to be an oh-so-obvious staple of the fandom. When we both finally got on the same page, we were each a little shocked by the other’s interpretation. We argued our sides. My father maintained that friendship is an important overarching theme in TOS, and none of the main characters have a stable love interest that lasts more than an episode, so why should Kirk and Spock be paired up? It doesn't match with theme. I argued that the show had significant romantic undertones, even showing through the censorship laws of the 1960s, and that most lasting and healthy romances are based in strong friendships.

We even got technical about it. Kirk’s Constitution Class USS Enterprise NCC-1701, in use during the Five Year Mission, had a crew complement of 430 souls. (memory-alpha.wikia.com) The latest surveys show that anywhere from 3.5% - 4.1% of Americans consider themselves LGBTQ+ individuals. (gallup.com) For our purposes my father and I agreed upon using 5% of total population, due to a shared belief that these surveys probably showed a lower percentage than reality due to fear of exposure and self denial amongst poll participants. There is also some additional room for error in this specific calculation for the USS Enterprise, because it is unknown if (although probable) that Spock is the only alien or hybrid amongst the crew, and if he is not, how that would affect the Enterprise’s likely percentage of LGBTQ crew members. The math wizs’ have already determined that this would mean that 21.5 crew members onboard the USS Enterprise are likely LGBTQ indivisuals. Again we agreed to round up. So I asked why the Captain and First Officer would not be two of these 22 individuals? My father sighted Kirk’s many heterosexual exploits, to which I responded with a reminder of 1960’s censorship and the “B” in LGBTQ. We never reached a perfect conclusion, as TV shows, like all media and art, rely on personal interpretation, and we as these interpreters, can never be “proved” right or wrong in our beliefs.

Needless to say what we both found to be the most illuminating part of our debate was not the canonical/fanonical existence of Spirk, but rather the ever changing state of the Star Trek fandom, and of fandoms at large. (My father asked if other famous fictional friends were also shipped, such as Holmes and Watson, and I couldn't help but laugh.) It would seem so far that although Spirk has always been a fandom favorite, it has experienced different levels of this popularity with different generations, in different decades, under different names. From ‘The Premise’ to K/S to Spirk; the way we talk about and what we call this ship, seems to illuminate the fandom’s different collective experiences with it, and the levels of visibility it has enjoyed.

I am still digging through fandom history, websites, blogs, meta, zines, and historic fanfic to map out the dips and peaks of different Trekkie fads and interpretations since September 8th 1966. It continues to be a larger and more fascinating undertaking than I expected, but one I think I will stick with for quite some time to come. Each new reading and new conversation with friends and family and random people in the supermarket, exposes new gaps and new facets of our collective experience of Star Trek as a fandom; which may well be the only aspect of fandom that never changes.

Works Cited:

“Relationship.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/relationship.
“List of Star Trek: The Original Series Episodes.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Aug. 2017,
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series_episodes.
ShippersGuideToTheGalaxy. “Kirk & Spock Fandoms' First Couple? - K/S - Spirk.”
Youtube.com/ShippersGuideToTheGalaxy, Youtube.com, 21 July 2016,
www.youtube.com/watchspirkexplained.
“The Premise.” The Premise - Fanlore, Fanlore, Wikipedia, fanlore.org/wiki/The_Premise.
“Kirk/Spock (TOS).” Kirk/Spock (TOS) - Fanlore, Fanlore, Wikipedia,
fanlore.org/wiki/Kirk/Spock_(TOS).
Zinn, Howard. “History Is A Weapon.” A People's History of the United States, Harper & Row;
HarperCollins, 2009, www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html.
“USS Enterprise (NCC-1701).” Memory Alpha, Memory Alpha,
memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/USS_Enterprise_(NCC-1701).
Gallup, Inc. “In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT.” Gallup.com, Gallup Inc., 11 Jan. 2017,
www.gallup.com/poll/201731/lgbt-identification-rises.aspx.