Barack Obama Flashes Vulcan Salute With Uhura, Proves He’s a Trekkie at Heart
Nixon may have shook Elvis’ hand, but we know he wasn’t happy about it. Last night ‘Star Trek‘ star Nichelle Nichols tweeted a photo taken in the Oval Office on February 29th of this year. (February 29th? A pocket universe that comes but once every four years!)
The communications officer of the original U.S.S. Enterprise posed with our Commander-in-Chief, giving the Vulcan salute. And nerds are “beaming” with patriotism.
It is, as far as I am concerned, the proudest and most important moment from our Executive Branch since Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” (I should also note that I’m a bit of a sociopath with an extremely warped world view.) Here’s some background.
The salute was first seen in Season Two’s premiere episode “Amok Time” (yes, the one where Kirk and Spock fight one another) when Spock meets the Vulcan muckity-muck T’Pau. While on set, Leonard Nimoy figured that the two Vulcans should greet one another in a unique way. He pitched the gesture to the director, who quickly approved. Few knew that it came from a candle lighting ritual among very observant Jews. It was something Nimoy had witnessed as a child (it is done with two hands side by side) and now it is the interplanetary symbol for being an indoor kid.
Usually one gives the salute and says, “Live long and prosper.” If you are feeling particularly formal you can respond with, “Peace and long life.” It is all of a piece of the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC, meaning Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
When Star Trek launched in 1966 it was a big freakin’ deal to have not just a woman, but an African American woman as an officer on the bridge of a ship. Yes, it was rare that she did more than say “Hailing frequencies open, Captain,” but she did have a few moments of heroism. (See Episode 33, “Who Mourns for Adonis?” wherein Uhura must make crucial technical repairs without a moment to spare and Spock proclaims “I can think of no one better equipped to handle it.”)
Nichols’ role as Uhura inspired young Whoopi Goldberg to pursue a career in the arts, seeing that in the future a black girl could do anything. Which is exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told Nichols would happen, when he advised her not to leave the show after the first season in exchange for a career in musical theater.
You may have heard of him. How much the role of Uhura or the Vulcan Salute or IDIC inspired Barack Obama to become our first African-American president is unknown. However, much like the Deltan Ilia’s oath of celibacy, his love of ‘Star Trek’ is on file.
In this profile from Newsweek Magazine there is a description of this scene from the campaign trail:
“‘That’s an interesting belt buckle,’ he said to Michelle [Obama], mischievously. She feigned offense and said, ‘I am interesting, next to you. Surprise, surprise, a blue suit, a white shirt and a tie.’ Obama grinned and bent down until he was almost at eye level with her waist. He jabbed a playful finger toward her belt buckle, and let loose his inner nerd. ‘The lithium crystals! Beam me up, Scotty!’ Obama squeaked, laughing at his own lame joke as Michelle rolled her eyes.”
Yeah, I know, they’re called Dilithium Crystals, but I have a hunch it was the reporter who got it wrong, not Barack.
Still don’t believe me that our president is a Trekkie? Take a look at this:
This all comes to a head with the photo below from Nichelle Nichols Twitter feed. I don’t care on what side of the political aisle you sit, you want the future to be better. And slight dips into darkness aside (thank you very much, Section 31!) ‘Star Trek’ has always represented a future where innovation and optimism rule. That our nation’s leader can offer this ideal a literal salute should make us all proud.