William Shatner in a Box

The Geek imagines the world without irony. She takes everything seriously without necessarily believing everything she sees. But so many things, she thinks, are very, very cool.

(In contrast, The Fundamentalist takes only himself seriously. Or his god. Which amounts to the same thing. Nothing’s cool for him.)

In his own Star-Trek documentary, The Captains, director William Shatner becomes a geek before our eyes in a touching if often weird conversation with his successor, Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Picard in The Next Generation. (Except for the one with an incisive Kate Mulgrew, every interview in this doc is weird, though, and none weirder or more weirdly wonderful than the sitdown jazz singalong with Avery Brooks, who played Captain Sisko in Star Trek’s darkest incarnation, Deep Space Nine.)

Seems Shatner never before appreciated his status as The First Captain, and, in fact, resented it every time some fanboy said, “Beam me up, Scotty!” He didn’t want to be remembered as Kirk.

Or, at least he didn’t appreciate that character’s impact, not until the CEO of Bombardier airline told Shatner as he was boarding the plane to interview Stewart that he had become an aeronautical engineer because of Captain Kirk. Until that moment, 40+ years after the original series ended, Shatner had always been a bit embarrassed by his work on Star Trek.

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I’ve been fascinated recently by cultural manifestations of sincerity, particularly how it’s denigrated in most of pop culture in favor of irony and cynicism. I’ve never been comfortable with those last two although apparently I’m supposed to be as a pomo homo.

But prevalent and unexamined cynicism is why I’ve turned from fiction film to documentaries, and also have been geeking out on every sci-fi or fantasy TV series I can find. Looking for optimism, maybe. Or just something, or someone to inspire me to even think about the future.

Despite his hambone performances and the cornball flourishes he gives his little movie, I was surprised to find myself inspired by Shatner’s constructed sincerity  — when he greets a mute fan with muscular dystrophy, when he confesses that’s he terrified of dying, when he engages in some campy homosociality with Patrick Stewart on stage at a Trek convention, even when he compliments three different actors for being “the most beautiful woman who ever appeared on Star Trek.”

His sincerity is self-conscious, but it’s real.

And I believe he means it when he says the best way he knew how to play Kirk, even when the character died, was with his eyes wide open “In awe and wonder.”

Oh my.

William Shatner is 80-years old.