Live Long and Prosper

The Branding Wisdom of Star Trek
Index

Successful branding permeates our culture. A simple but meticulously designed logo calls to mind a company and its products, services, history, and vibe. A concise but eloquent tagline conveys a company’s values, mission, and individuality. According to the principles of mind-share branding, the recognition of these often intangible qualities defines a brand’s equity. Douglas B. Holt explains that “the more firmly rooted” a brand is in the minds of consumers, the stronger it is. The process of mind-share strikes some similarities with the mind-meld practice used to share consciousness in the sci-fi television series Star Trek; it is not surprising that this series would also generate a stellar example of how to achieve longevity in branding. Recent reincarnations of Star Trek not included. We’ll leave the topic of losing brand equity for another day.

 

LLAP is an acronym of the famous address: ‘Live long and prosper.’

The phrase first appeared in the lines of the iconic character Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in ‘Amok Time’ (1967), the opening episode of Star Trek’s second season. This salutation quickly entered the English lexicon and is now congruous with Star Trek. The statement carries the “symbolically heavy load” that Holt ascribes to cultural icons.

LLAP holds the tenets of both mind-share and cultural branding. Star Trek is often described as ‘ahead of its time’. Being made during the rebellious 1960s, during concurrent movements of Women’s Liberation, Civil Rights, and Anti-War activism, Star Trek embodied a future of idealistic resolution to society’s current challenges. Where the people of Earth were united in exploration of the final frontier – outer space.

LLAP is more than a salutation. It is the ultimate expression of life and death, encompassing the mind, body, and soul. This paper is about revealing the complexities of a memorable motto: to ‘Live Long And Prosper’, and to examine where it started, what it means, and where it’s going…

The Mind

My mind to your mind… my thoughts to your thoughts…

‘Live long and prosper’ is typically spoken by members of the Vulcan race, to which Mr. Spock partially belongs. He is a scientist hailing from a planet where logic trumps emotions. For Vulcans, LLAP is the equivalent of the Hawaiian ‘Aloha’ and the universal Muslim stament of peace (Salam) – serving as both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Given both the frequency of the phrase in the series and the pragmatism of its speaker, its emotional significance is easy to miss. While many know of LLAP, far fewer are aware of the correct response: ‘Peace and long life’. The greetings can also be reversed, with ‘live long and prosper’ following ‘Peace and long life’.

LLAP means the speaker is hoping you will live a fulfilling life with an abundance of wealth and goodness. To add some complexity, you have to factor in that Star Trek is set hundreds of years in the future, in a time when money is not the primary driving force in society and that a Vulcan’s average lifespan is 200 years.

(The first appearance of ‘Live long and prosper’ on Star Trek episode that first aired on September 15th 1967)

 

To discover the origins of LLAP is also an endeavour of the mind. George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby included a description of an art student ending with the appeal, “May he live long and prosper!”. A line from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet reads “Live and be prosperous: and farewell good fellow.” Despite this literary evidence, it is unknown if Star Trek writer Theodore Sturgeon adapted or created the phrase.

The Body

…almost all of Spock’s mental feats require that his non-physical mind interact with either his own physical body or the physical body and non-physical mind of another.

If actions speak louder than words, then the LLAP hand gesture is even more important than the phrase itself. When Vulcans greet each other with ‘Live long and prosper’, they also raise a hand with their fingers forked apart in a V-shape between the middle and ring fingers. Leonard Nimoy not only contributed to the popularity of the phrase, but was also responsible for the addition of the hand gesture which became its branding complement; a logo that could be enacted both bodily and visually.

Although this gesture appears simple, not everybody can do it. Forking the fingers is physically awkward, and some fans and actors alike found it impossible (including Nimoy’s Star Trek co-star William Shatner). The actors who lacked the dexterity used fishing line or invisible tape to do it.

While its designation is unofficial, LLAP’s forked fingers are often used to represent the series in American and British sign language. As handheld devices become extensions of our physical bodies, the gesture was fittingly added in Unicode standard in 2014 as U+1F596 🖖 (“RAISED HAND WITH PART BETWEEN MIDDLE AND RING FINGERS”).

This hand sign has become symbolic of Star Trek. When series actress Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) met President Obama in the White House both of them did the gesture.

U.S. President Barack Obama poses with actress Nichelle Nichols, White House Photo, 2012-02-29

 

The Soul

He entrusted you with his very essence, with everything that was not of the body. He asked you to bring him to us and to bring that which he gave you, his katra, his living spirit.

The spiritual significance of LLAP is comparable to the Yin and the Yang. The good and bad in everything.

The two-part exchange of ‘Live long and prosper’ and ‘Peace and long life’ is structured in the format of the Hebrew Shalom aleichem (with the response Shalom) and the Arabic address As-salāmu ʿalaykum (with the response Waʿalaykumu as-salām). Both mean ‘Peace be upon you’, and are met with the inverted reply ‘Upon you be peace’. In adopting this structure, a phrase from the canon of science fiction joins that of global religion.

LLAP’s accompanying hand gesture is steeped in secrecy. In fact, when Leonard Nimoy was a boy during an Orthodox Jewish prayer ceremony, he was told to cover his eyes during a specific part of the prayer. The curious young Nimoy peaked out and saw the Kohanim priests chanting while doing the hand gesture.

(Mosaic in the synagogue of Enschede, source Wikipedia)

 

The gesture that Nimoy witnessed as a child formed the Hebrew letter ‘Shin’, which represents ‘Shaddai’ or the Almighty God. In this spiritual context, the gesture is performed in conjunction with the Birkat Kohanim, a priestly blessing also known as the raising of the hands.

Nimoy grew up speaking and reading Yiddish, he explored spirituality throughout his career, studied the Kabbalah, and spent “years of diligent practice and self-denial” mastering the hand gesture. Later, when the opportunity came to flesh out his character Mr. Spock and the Vulcans, Nimoy suggested the gesture as a visual complement to the address: ‘Live long and prosper.’

Just as many religions define our world in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, Spock’s character was constructed from the duality of virtue and vice. He was given an intentionally sinister look by series creator Gene Roddenberry, sporting menacingly arched eyebrows and ears. In a 1973 letter Roddenberry explained: “I did purposely give him a slight look of the ‘devil’ because I thought that might be particularly provocative to women, particularly when his nature contrasted so greatly to this.”

Yet Spock is also a character that is almost god-like. He is superior to his peers in both strength and intelligence. While this duality contributes to a compelling character, some have gone so far as to theorize Spock as an invocation of occult satanism.

 

Branding that endures

The final message shared by Leonard Nimoy before his death was a tweet reading, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” Nimoy’s parting address set the LLAP hashtag trending across the universe. Every day there are new tweets with #LLAP from an astounding variety of people.

Remember, next time someone hits you with an #LLAP, feel free to hit them back with a #PALL, for peace and long life!

The duality held in Spock’s character can be read more clearly now in “Live long and prosper” than ever before. Would it be a gift to live a long life, surrounded by an increasingly decayed society? To prosper while others suffer in poverty? You will find the duality in everything if you look from divergent angles.

Effective branding speaks to contemporary cultural circumstance, but withstands the trials of time. Such longevity rendered LLAP immune to the conclusion of the Star Trek series. When we read LLAP, hear it spoken, see it motioned, or receive it in emoji-form, Star Trek and its philosophical dimensions meld immediately with our minds.

LLAP is a brilliant motto designed to stimulate your body, free your mind, and pierce your soul. It has transcended pop culture and is boldly going where no phrase has gone before. To the stars.

Live long and prosper!

L.L.A.P.


    • To learn more about the life and work of Leonard Nimoy check out the documentary ‘For the Love of Spock’ available on Netflix

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Daniel Libby
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