Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is ‘Star Trek’ actors’ feud real or a fraud?

Just when you thought it was safe to go to a “Star Trek” convention, Kirk and Sulu are fighting again.
Tales of how William Shatner is hated by most of his former “Star Trek” co-stars — with the exception of Leonard Nimoy — are legendary. But during the past few years, it seemed most of the old feuds subsided. That is, until the latest round of sparring broke out between Shatner and George Takei.

The latest flare-up began when Shatner complained on his Web site that Takei hadn’t invited him to his wedding. Takei then said he had invited Shatner. Takei issued the following statement: “It is unfortunate that Bill was unable to join us for our wedding as he indeed was invited to attend. It is our hope that at this point he joins us in voting NO on Proposition 8, which seeks to eliminate the fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry in California.”

The situation deteriorated from there. Shatner said something about Takei having a “psychosis,” and Takei responded by basically calling Shatner an egomaniac.

The back-and-forth continued. Takei sounded off on “Entertainment Tonight,” then Shatner retaliated with a video on YouTube.

It’s times like this that I’m reminded of a scene in “Fight Club”:

Narrator: If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?
Tyler Durden: Alive or dead?
Narrator: Doesn’t matter. Who’d be tough?
Tyler Durden: Hemingway. You?
Narrator: Shatner. I’d fight William Shatner.

Maybe Takei is like the unnamed narrator of “Fight Club.” He just really, really wants to fight William Shatner. At the rate it’s going, the Shatner/Takei feud will soon reach the epic heights of Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford.

Or will it?

I don’t have any evidence to back it up, but I have a suspicion that the war of words between Shatner and Takei is an elaborate put-on, just like the feuds in professional wrestling. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the greatest faux feud of them all: Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler.

In the early 1980s, Kaufman started wrestling women as part of his comedy act, proclaiming himself the “World Intergender Champion.” Lawler, a popular wrestler in Memphis, became incensed, believing that Kaufman was making a mockery of wrestling by beating up women. So, he challenged Kaufman to a match, which lasted all of a few seconds, as Lawler quickly dispatched Kaufman with a pile driver. When Kaufman got out of the hospital, he threatened to sue Lawler.

From there, the feud continued on television. Both Kaufman and Lawler appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” where Lawler slapped Kaufman and Kaufman, after a profanity-laced tirade, threatened to sue, well, just about everyone.

That led back to the ring, where Kaufman schemed with wrestling manager Jimmy Hart to trick Lawler. The plan worked, and instead of Lawler pile-driving Kaufman again, Lawler fell to his own signature move, delivered by other rival wrestlers.

But as Lawler now admits, the whole thing was, in wrestling jargon, a work, a scripted stunt engineered by the two of them. And it worked so well that some people still believe that maybe, just maybe it was real.

So, is that what Shatner and Takei are up to?

Think about it. The feud serves both Shatner’s and Takei’s interests. Takei can use it as a platform to speak out for gay marriage. Meanwhile, Shatner can use it to do what he does best, which is play up his exaggerated public persona, something he has been doing successfully since he portrayed himself in the 1998 comedy “Free Enterprise” and in the first batch of Priceline commercials. It’s a win-win.
But maybe I’m guilty of wishful thinking. Having to take sides in a battle of “Star Trek” icons is like a child having to pick sides in a divorce.

Probably the only way we’ll ever know for sure is if Shatner tries to pile-drive Takei or Takei hits Shatner with a steel chair.

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