Spock the Super Hybrid and the Problems with Hybrid Vigor

Spock–is there anything that motherfucker can’t do?

Seriously, the man has not met a computer he couldn’t fix, a foe he couldn’t neutralize, or a mind he couldn’t meld. The only game he ever lost at is pon farr (which, I imagine, is why many Trekkies have such a hate boner for T’Pring) and even then he technically won at the kal-if-fee. (You might argue that Spock failed the Kobayashi Maru at the end of Wrath of Khan, but I’d say coming back from the dead counts as a pass.)

Spock’s vegetarian, Plomeek-infused awesome sauce unfortunately falls into a trope known in the biology world as hybrid vigor, which refers to “superior” offspring created by members of two different species mating. Optimally, the wee baby animal will have all of the strengths of mommy animal’s species and daddy animal’s species with few or none of the two species’ shortcomings. Spock has the supersmarts, strength, and long lifespan of a Vulcan and the adaptability and innovative thinking of a Human. Now, why’s this hybrid vigor business a bad thing again? Well, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, alien species on Star Trek represent different nations and ethnoracial groups, and, even when it’s not entirely clear what group of real life Earth people a given Star Trek alien species is supposed to correspond to, interspecies interactions and conflict are metaphors for intercultural/racial tensions and cooperations. (Which makes that scene where Wesley Crusher asks a new Benzite crewmember how people of his species tell each other apart really messed up. Shut up, Wesley.) In Star Trek logic, Spock’s hybrid vigor results from metaphorical race-mixing.

There is a version of hybrid vigor for humans whose forebears come from different racial groups. You might have heard of this version of hybrid vigor by its other name, “OMG, mixed race people are sooo beautiful!” followed by a list of examples: “Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, that guy who was on CSI but got killed off…” Of course those folks are good-looking; they’re Hollywood actors. There are very few casting calls going out for homely people of color. But that doesn’t mean homely-looking mixed race folks don’t exist. I assure you, there are numerous mixed race people who if they were members of *NSYNC would be Chris Kirkpatrick. You might be one of these people. It’s okay; I’m sure you’re a very nice person.

Beyond looks, the overwhelmingly white mainstream media in the US has theorized that mixed race people are invulnerable to certain genetic diseases and will eventually come to end racism (the logic being that if everyone was  the same color there’d be no racism). In the public imagination, mixed race people are really, really ridiculously good-looking, super-healthy, and destined to end one of humanity’s greatest evils.

Mixed race people are obviously superheros.

Metaphorically mixed race characters like Spock feed into the ridiculous expectation of hyperability in mixed people. Sci-fi/fantasy is teeming with hybrids and half-breeds who are more awesome than awesome. It’s list time.

  • In Harry Potter, some of the strongest wizards are half-bloods (remember, of course, that magical blood quantum is weird), including Harry, Voldemort, Remus Lupin (best DADA teacher ever), Severus Snape (Potions Master and leglimens who can fly), Tonks (Metamorphmagus and auror), Minerva McGonagall (animagus), and Albus Dumbledore (the greatest Wizard to ever live, possessor of the Elder Wand, Magical Scotland’s Most Eligible Bachelor).
  • Angel has the half-demon/half-human Doyle who gets visions directly from the Powers that Be and has super strength in demon form. There’s also Connor, a classic Dhampyr. Both of his parents were vampires, but the quirkiness of magical genetics has rendered him somewhat of a vampire/human hybrid. Connor has many of the benefits of being a vampire (super strength, speed, and endurance), but his human qualities negate any of the vampiric weaknesses (soullessness, the need for blood, vulnerability to the sun, crosses, and holy water). One could argue that Connor is a hybrid of a souled vampire and a normal vamp, but the unprecedented nature of his birth doesn’t allow us to compare his superpowers to other Dhampyrs in universe.
  • On Once Upon a Time, as an egg, Dreamy/Grumpy was, um, fertilized with fairy dust (that was accidentally dropped on him by his future true love… ew). Unlike other dwarves, Dreamy/Grumpy is able to imagine a life outside the mines and fall in love. Seeing as love is the strongest adhesive available magic possible in the Once universe, the ability to fall in love or give love counts as a superpower.
  • Merlin on the BBC programme is the child of a human woman and a Dragonlord, and totes fated to bring magic back to the realm and bring about the age of Camelot while being the most powerful wizard ever.
  • In Wicked, Elphaba’s ability to read the Grimmerie stems from having a father from Kansas and a mother from Munchinland.
  • And, of course, there a million too perfect original characters and self-inserts in fanfiction (and, let’s face it, in pro-fic) who are 1/2 unicorn, 1/2 catperson, 1/2 elf, and 1/2 vampire while somehow being a relative of a main character.

Oftentimes the Super Hybrid is used to show that prejudice against hybrids or concerns about blood purity are unfounded. Voldemort is an exercise in irony, ranting and raving about the inferiority of Muggle blood and the danger of miscegenation while being the most powerful wizard ever and a half-blood. Voldemort subconsciously recognizes the hyperability of half-bloods in his fictional universe by claiming the half-blood Harry Potter as his equal. Within the Star Trek universe, Spock tries to show that he isn’t an abomination by being the best of everything. Ironically, Spock makes it harder for other hybrids by setting an impossibly high standard of hybrid achievement. And failure to live up to that standard feeds into prejudice against hybrids. “Saavik and Valeris died and remained dead? It seems hybrids are not as desirable as previously assumed.”

While authors are ultimately well-intentioned in trying to disrupt anxieties about racial purity within their fictional universes and in the real world, their dependence on hyperability is ultimately problematic. Their argument goes: “See? Hybrids are okay, because they can do all this cool shit!” To be worthy of existing, hybrids have to be hyperable. So, what happens when a hybrid’s just able? What happens when they’re disabled?

Enter Scorpius… sort of. Even Scorpius, that Magnificent Bastard, doesn’t fully subvert the hyperable hybrid trope. True, his thermoregulation impairment comes from having the worst of both worlds rather than the best, but he’s still hyperable in some regards. How can he be disabled and hyperable? Well, in general, most people who aren’t Spock are good at some things and rubbish at others. The same logic applies to disability and hyperability. Scorpius can’t regulate his body temperature; Scorpius can tell when someone is lying based on their heat signature. Scorpy doesn’t have the Scarran heat ray thing; Scorpy does have super-Sebacean strength. Scorpy needs cooling rods and his coolant suit to stay alive; Scorpy doesn’t need crystherium to retain his intellect. Scorpy also possesses Spock’s uncanny ability to survive. Of course, Scorpius’ resurrections are more Machiavellian than Christlike…

If looked at closely, Spock is in some ways as hyperable/disabled as his evil twin, Scorpius. Spock my be good at everything, but his affect is constantly being policed and monitored by the people around him. To Humans, he is too unemotional. To Vulcans, he is too emotional. Both parties watch him for the slightest display of Human emotion. Schoolyard Learning bowl bullies taunt young Spock to get him to display anger. Aboard the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy berates Spock for his refusal to perform the acceptable Human emotional responses. In “This Side of Paradise,” Leila Kalomi drugs Spock with pollen so he will admit his feelings for her. Kirk later mocks Spock about his heritage so that he will become angry enough to overpower the pollen. A similar scene occurs in the reboot film, wherein Kirk “emotionally compromises” Spock to the point that he must give up command of the Enterprise. Bate the half-breed seems to be a popular game in the final frontier. While Spock lacks a specific diagnosis or impairment, he is treated much like emovatypical and neurodivergent people. Because he is a hybrid, how he reacts emotionally is a matter of public opinion and blatant manipulation is fair game if it gets Spock to react with the desired emotion. Spock might not be a space crip, but he sure as hell gets treated like one.

So, maybe hybrid/half-breed vigor in sci-fi/fantasy isn’t as cut and dry as it first seemed. With some of the careful excavations I’ve been known to perform, disability can be unearthed in our Super Hybrids. The problem is I had to plenty of chewing to get at the gooey, disabled center of Spock. The man’s candy-coated with god-like hyperability and, as a metaphor for mixed race people, that’s kind of a problem. Spock and the other Super Hybrids seems to argue that folks in their fictional universes shouldn’t be afraid of miscegenation or bigoted toward hybrids because these hybrid characters have superpowers. Something eerily similar might be going on with hybrid vigor and mixed race people in our people. Portrayals of mixed race people as gorgeous and hyperable assuage anxiety about their existence. (Believe me, I’ve seen white folks deal with their discomfort with interracial couples by saying how cute their babies would be just for being mixed.) So the argument goes: mixed race folks are totes cool; they’re pretty, healthy, and going to save the planet. At worst, hybrid vigor as applied to mixed folks is fetishizing and violent. At best, it’s a flimsy excuse for acknowledging the right of mixed people to exist.

Bottom line: people shouldn’t need to have super-abilities to be worthy of having a good life. The Super Hybrid perpetuates the belief that some lives need to be justified. The trope also metaphorically feeds into the fetishization and dehumanization of mixed people in the real world. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one half-breed on TV who has a couple disabilities, doesn’t work as hard they should, isn’t destined to save the world, and who the narratives demands be treated with dignity because they’re a person with intrinsic worth?

6 Responses to “Spock the Super Hybrid and the Problems with Hybrid Vigor”

  1. 1 qtip1992
    August 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    No i like ’em being superhuman, being mixed myself its fun to pretend im a boss at everything when watching spock…besides being mixed comes with its fair critisisms anyway similer to the way they pick on spock, being mixed is a easy thing to make fun of…so its nice to be able to have your own super hero….its similer to what the Black Panther does for Black people, know what im sayn?

    • August 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Not being mixed myself, I hadn’t considered that perspective before I read your comment, but I think I get what you’re saying. As a person with a disability, Scorpius is definitely my superhero–even if he fits into the evil cripple trope.

  2. 3 Anonymous
    March 2, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for writing your thoughts about this. I found your thoughts and examples really interesting, and I never really thought about the examples hybrids set in fiction is this way before.

    I’ve always been kind of sensitive to the issue, not because I’m biracial, but the whole idea of racial purity/ impurity hits buttons for me, as does the “never fitting in because you’re too much of one thing and not enough of the other.”

    I have to say though, given what you’ve said above, I appreciate when the hybrid is kinda special in this way, if only because it really sucks when you’re finally portrayed in a realistic light as a real, typical person with foibles and strengths, but everyone only sees the foibles and uses that to uphold the stereotype rather than change it.

    Also, for some strange reason, Spock’s super specialness never really bothered me, but the super specialness of other kinds of hybrids in other series, like Harry Potter, kind of did. Maybe because it felt like it was purely inborn/ innate in Harry Potter, but it felt like Spock really had to work for it (even if he got a head start).

    • March 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Looking back on this post after a few years, my thinking about Spock and this trope has definitely changed and become a bit more complicated. As you said, Spock really had to work for it. And I think one of his major motivations was the double-standard he was held to: if he appeared to have foibles and strengths just like everyone else, Vulcans would use Spock to uphold the stereotype of hybrids and humans. If he specialized like most Vulcans and humans, the Vulcans would put to the areas outside of his specialty and say that humans were just naturally terrible at those things. So Spock put himself through a lot of to be good at everything.

      In that sense, Spock isn’t one of the natural Super Hybrids found in other fandoms, but rather someone who is aware of that trope and tries to live up to it.

      Anyway, enough of my rambling. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment!

      • May 16, 2018 at 8:33 am

        Leonard Nimoy backs you up there, in a long open letter he wrote to a biracial girl in 1968: “[Spock] said to himself: ‘Not everyone will like me. But there will be those who will accept me just for what I am. I will develop myself to such a point of excellence, intelligence and brilliance that I can see through any problem and deal with any crisis. I will become such a master of my own abilities and career that there will be a place for me. People of all races will need me and not be able to do without me.'” (Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/27/389589676/leonard-nimoys-advice-to-a-biracial-girl-in-1968 )

        There is an interesting tension between “will accept me just for what I am” and “I will become such a master […] that there will be a place for me.” But Nimoy wasn’t writing abstract fiction there; he was writing from his own life: “He’s not totally accepted in the Vulcan culture because he’s not totally Vulcan. Certainly not totally accepted in the human culture because he’s part Vulcan. And that alienation was something I learned in Boston. I knew what it meant to be a member of a minority — and in some cases, an outcast minority. So I understood that aspect of the character, and I think it was helpful in playing him.” (Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/27/389575615/leonard-nimoy-on-mr-spocks-jewish-heritage )

        I might add that specifically he knew what it was like to be a member of a liminal minority: Ashkenazi Jews (and their Italian neighbors in the West End of Boston, and others) were considered “white ethnics.” That is, at any time you could hold them either to the “white” (i.e. Anglo-American) standard or to the “ethnic” one, I think that makes the parallel to Spock all the more pointed.

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Space Crip

People with disabilities? In my sci-fi? It's more likely than you think.

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