The first time I heard of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy as analogues for the Freudian concepts of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego, was in the late 90’s from science fiction writer Peter David. I loved the use of pop culture icons to better illustrate what good old Freud was getting at.
Whether you believe in Freud or not, whether you agree with who is fulfilling which concept, this is still lots of fun. So, let’s get started.
Kirk as the Id.
The Id is all about the pleasure principle. It’s the part of us that just wants to fuck and eat and have fun. It also always wants to win. To dominate. To be the best. To hell with morals and societally expected norms. The Id, like Kirk, will cheat whenever possible to get whatever it/he wants. Kobayashi Maru, anyone? That Kirk is so easily identifiable with the Id makes sense not just for his numerous libidinous cravings, his quick descent to anger (even madness) when provoked, but also for his unending deep-seated need for exploration and excitement. The reason Kirk couldn’t be happy with that desk job as Admiral is because of the Id. He wanted to be out in the shit. And naked. A lot.
Spock as the Ego.
The Ego is where all the boring maintenance kind of behaviors take place (they have to happen somewhere). The Ego is responsible for much of our behavior, and, accordingly, it thinks it is the boss of everything else. So, having Spock embody the Ego actually makes it a little bit more sexy than it really is. Because, hey, everyone loves Spock.
If the Id is the pleasure principle, the Ego according to Freud is all about the reality principle. This includes things like waking up early enough to catch the bus to go to work. Eating a balanced breakfast that includes Bran. Getting to sleep at a reasonable time. Spock excelled as the Science Officer on the Enterprise because it was his job to make sense of everything the spaceship encountered. When they find a hole in space and end up traveling back in time, who did everyone look to for an explanation? Spock. When they discovered that rock creature that looked liked a giant meatball, who tried communicating with it? Spock. Who was the only person on the bridge smart enough to look through this machine for explanations? Spock. Spock, Spock, Spock! All this talk of Spock and the Ego, and is it any surprise that Spock thinks he is the most important person ever? Both Spock and the Ego act as if they are the most important part of the ship/psyche. Hello? It isn’t called Ego for nothing. Spock and the Ego are the workhorses of this particular theory of human behavior.
The Ego and Spock likewise have numerous disadvantages than can skew the results and expectations of the entire human being or starship. Freud believed the Ego used numerous defense mechanisms to avoid unpleasant anxieties. One of those defenses is called intellectualizing, or the attempt to remove emotion from one’s experience of life. Spock as a Vulcan also practiced this defense by the societal decision to repress the emotional aspects of their psyche. So to Spock and the Vulcans the Id really is giving in to the devil. They just refuse to go there. Likewise, the Ego and Id are in constant competition for immediate gratification of the senses, and, you know, the benefits of having a job, decent friends, and a place to live. The fact Kirk and Spock hated each other in the beginning (at least in the newer movie) but eventually become best friends (in the older movies) speaks to the power of opposites.
Bones as the Super Ego.
In between the larger, flashier roles of Kirk and Spock, Id and Ego, is Bones and the Super Ego, the most complicated of the 3 parts of Freud’s version of the psyche. The Super Ego is not just our conscience, it is also the part of ourselves that embraces and believes in the power of human potential. It is the part of us that believes in the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. It governs behavior from a moral and societally relativistic position.
As a result, the Super Ego insinuates itself and manipulates both the Id and the Ego from taking over the entire show. Who is constantly outraged by Spock’s “cold blooded” rational demeanor and stark decision making? Bones. Who keeps Kirk from shooting every sentient alien life form they discover and/or getting space STD’s? Bones. Who can argue both Spock and Kirk into invalidating their own decision-making processes? Bones. Who is the only person on the show always telling other people what he is as opposed to what they want him to be? Bones. If the Id represents the emotions, and the Ego represents actions, then the Super Ego represents the spirit of man.
Kirk. Spock. Bones. They work so well together because they fit together, and they work off each other. When Spock goes through Pon Farr and becomes more Id-like than Kirk, everyone (including the television viewers) knows something is just wrong. Out of synch. When Kirk (as he was want to do) goes completely mental in certain episodes, either Spock has to use the Vulcan neck pinch on him, or Bones has to sedate him. So there you go: the Ego and the Super Ego keeping the Id in check. Until next week.
And the Mirror Mirror episode involving the alternate universe where Spock has a goatee and Chekov is trying to kill Kirk and Uhura is nearly naked? That is an example of characters with absolutely no Super Ego. Sociopaths basically. And what a kick, what an obsession, we collectively have in alternate reality storytelling where we can enjoy viewing characters we so identify with but suddenly are dark and unredeemable. Dark Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Bolivia from Fringe also fulfills that role.
Wasn’t that fun? This is what therapy can be like. So give me a call and we can start.
Next time: The Gilligan’s Island Astrological Appendices. (Just kidding, but thanks go out to DBT for telling me about it.)