My 5 favorite heroes: Volume 2

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I initially wrote this list because of my dissatisfaction with a similar list I saw online. This roused the sleeping armchair naysayer within me. Because all of my favorite heroes should be everybody else’s right?

It’s difficult to differentiate between a logical favorite and an emotional one because there’s a lot of childhood-induced hero worship going on. Oddly enough, today’s hero I’ll be mentioning didn’t actually become a part of my life until early 2008.

No. 4. Captain Kirk from Star Trek. You’re probably all shocked that I haven’t been a fan for longer than that (given my extensive nerd knowledge). Well, I watched Voyager for the last few seasons with my mom when I was a kid, and I saw The Wrath of Khan with my dad when I was in my early teens, but I never really experienced the whole franchise.

Until I was incredibly bored in early 2008 and decided that I needed 726 episodes, spanning 5 series and 28 seasons to watch.

It all went by quickly actually, except for the Animated Series which is horrible.

Captain Kirk is the ultimate pragmatist. Over time, Shatner has gotten a lot of crap from people for his portrayal of Kirk. These are mostly based on the film performances, which are way different from the show. This also comes from the same school of thought that coined the term “red shirts” and said Kirk was a big time womanizer.

I’ve seen the original series twice and there’s really not much of either. “Red shirts” are just the security or engineering team members so of course more of them will die than others. Not many really do though. And Kirk seduced about  seven women in 79 episodes, that’s just a long weekend for Vinnie Chase from Entourage.  So all of that is kind of over-hyped.

But there is a lot of pragmatism. Meaning: practicality no matter what that entails. That’s something you don’t hear about as much. I’ve seen Kirk lie, detonate, and vaporize to secure the safety of his crew.

People usually point to Picard as the ultimate captain, but he’s more of a diplomat. He’d send Riker to do his dirty work, and Riker is kind of a tool. Kirk is the amalgamation of both emotion and logic. Spock provides him with a logical course of action and Dr. McCoy gives him an emotional response. Sometimes he listens to one; sometimes the other. Just as we all must contend with the battle between heart and head in every aspect of our lives.

This conflict was dealt with in one of my favorite episodes, which was written by Twilight Zone writer and sci-fi legend Richard Matheson, titled “The Enemy Within.” And in case you were wondering, no I didn’t have to look up the title and yes I am a huge dork.

I’m not a Trekky. They make costumes and speak Klingon.  I’m a Trekker, which means I’m far enough in to watch it all but I view it as more of a hobby than a lifestyle (so far).

The episode in question split Captain Kirk into two people, each one focusing on a different side of his personality. One of them was a no-nonsense man almost to the point of being evil. The other one was pretty much a hippie wimp. Neither would be an effective captain, because sometimes Kirk’s heart is what causes him to keep striving to save his crew or an indigenous people but when he’s facing a ruthless enemy his brain has to take over.

Kirk's split personality is the subject of one episode.

Since the show aired in the 60s, it’s true that Kirk rarely (if ever) made a mistake and so he’s  not as flawed as he would’ve been today. That being said, he was a kind of role model back then, and he frequently lied to have his way.

Not malicious gossip about all those scantily clad ensigns wandering around the ship, just misdirection. You know, the kind that’s actually useful in life. Kirk reminds us that sometimes we need to bend the rules in order to get the job done. And not in the over-used Steven Seagal “bend the rules” kind of way. Kirk doesn’t bend the rules because he enjoys it (well, maybe a little) he bends them when it’s the best course of action to do so.

In another episode I didn’t have to look up online, titled “The Corbomite Maneuver,” the Enterprise is about to be destroyed by an alien sphere that is being piloted by what turns out to be a baby with the voice of a man (don’t ask). The important part of the episode though, is how Kirk completely invents a material called “corbomite,” which allegedly makes up a big part of the ship and explodes on impact, so it’ll destroy any attacking ships at the same time.

There’s enough jargon on the show that the audience would be buying this too if the rest of the crew wasn’t looking at each other and thinking, “what the hell is he talking about?” It of course worked and the day was saved.

But there are plenty of other characters (Picard included) who would never have pulled a stunt like that. Because they don’t want to give their superiors a bad name, they don’t want to become as bad as their enemies, etc. Kirk could care less about arbitrary labels like that. And that’s exactly what they are arbitrary.

If you choose to think of yourself as being as bad as your enemies for using a similar tactic, then that’s your own perception. Kirk is on a mission of diplomacy, yes. But remember – he’s going where no man has gone before. Who knows what’s out there?

There are some friendly species, to be sure. However, if 28 seasons taught us anything it’s that a large number of the species out there are either enemies in general or are in need of rescue from their own enemies. There’s some scary crap out there.

And you can choose to hold on to the morals, which work fine in your particular branch of the universe, or you can choose to adapt and ensure your survival.

I’ve seen Kirk flat out murder members of another species (even if it’s not played quite that seriously). I’ve seen him give weapons to locals and take sides in a war. He’s blown up entire starships full of another species, none of whom were “evil” exactly and not all of whom were even hostile.

Given my descriptions, most would say that my No. 5 hero is heroic and my No. 4 isn’t. Well, consider this: for little orc children that grow up in Mordor and are raised from day one to be warriors against the world of men, Samwise Gamgee probably isn’t too high on the heroes list.

This is why I think we can’t entirely base our ideas of what a “hero” is on just their actions. Because sometimes heroic or admirable actions are stupid and morally questionable actions are the most logical course of action.

For instance, in real life when Sir Thomas More refused to give King Henry VIII a divorce, that was admirable. But since our poor lad Thomas got his head lopped off and Henry ended up with a divorce anyway, it wasn’t the smartest course of action (speaking outside of moral parameters, naturally).

On the flipside of this is an occurrence from one of the most famous episodes of the original series: “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The plot is basically that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy end up back in the 1930s (or maybe it was the 20s, since I don’t remember there might be hope for me yet) and Kirk falls in love with a woman who helps the homeless.

Through some sci-fi nonsense, they find out that this woman eventually became a diplomat and was able to stop Hitler from attacking Poland. Though this may seem extraordinary, it caused a chain reaction that eventually led to an even greater World War, the non-existence of Starfleet, and lots of other bad things.

In the original timeline, she had been hit by a car and killed before any of this could happen.

And so Kirk must make the inevitable choice of whether to save her or not. He chooses to let history take its course because in order for many to live, she had to die (don’t make me quote Khan at you to complete that sentiment).

Most TV writers would have come up with some third choice whereby they would’ve transported her to the future, or left a crew member behind to ensure she didn’t become a diplomat, or some other easily fixed crap which would’ve been completely uninteresting.

Instead, viewers were given a far more compelling lesson in real life. Sometimes there is no “right” choice. Kirk understood that, but he never said anything about it. He simply remarked on their return to their own time that they should “get the hell out of here,” which was an unusually blunt and cold thing for him to say at that time period.

Outstanding stuff, from a viewpoint of fiction. And thought-provoking from a viewpoint of philosophy.

And that’s something else a great character does – they make you think. Kirk was the only person to pass the “unpassable test” in Starfleet Academy, how did he do it?

He cheated.

But in real life the only rules are the laws of what’s physically possible and what isn’t. He said he didn’t believe in unwinnable situations, and so he gave himself the advantage. Does that mean it’s okay to cheat all the time?

Obviously not, it just means to keep your options open.

And this brings me to a large part of how I define “hero.” It’s not just measured by the inherent implications of acts themselves, but the motivation behind them. If you have a character who will lie, cheat, and wisecrack to save the crew that he loves dearly, I’d say that’s pretty heroic.

There are exceptions, as there are things that are wrong in any circumstance, but the people we admire are the people who “go to the mats for us.” We like when people bend the rules because it means they care more about us than they do about societal norms. And I can guarantee you that if Captain Kirk has known you for his entire life or for a few minutes, he’d lay his reputation or his life on the line to help you out.

(Read hero Volume 1 hero.)

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