Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The T in James T. Kirk does not stand for tomcat

Even before Chris Pine gave us a hotheaded, womanizing Jim Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films, lots of people, including Star Trek fans, though of James Tiberius Kirk that way. The title of this post comes from Pocket Books’ guide for people pitching Star Trek novels, because so many pitches portrayed Kirk as a sailor with a girl in every spaceport port. A proposed 1991 Starfleet Academy film would have presented a “rambunctious, willful” young Kirk more concerned with chasing girls than classwork.

This is an excellent example of people completely missing the point, because this image is completely wrong.

When Kirk attended Starfleet Academy, he was serious. Very serious. “Positively grim,” in his own words (Shore Leave). His buddy Gary Mitchell described Jim as “a stack of books with legs,” (Where No Man Has Gone Before) adding that if Lt. Kirk was your instructor “you think or you sink.” Finnegan, a rowdy upperclassman, made it his personal mission to haze the oh-so-studious thinker throughout their time at the academy; Kirk apparently never retaliated until years later, when he squared off with a Finnegan simulacrum (Shore Leave).

This isn’t surprising. Kirk was a child on Tarsus IV when the colony’s director, Kodos, massacred half the population to cope with food shortages (Conscience of the King). Even though Jim and his family were spared, he probably knew people who weren’t, and he had to be terrified more executions might follow. It’s not surprising Kirk turned into a super-serious young adult who did not view life as just a bowl of cherries.

As to Kirk the womanizer, rewatching the first season of Star Trek has shown me that’s a myth too. Kirk’s not at all averse to flirting; he comes on to actor Lenore Koridian (Conscience of the King) and apparently flirted enough with Enterprise crew member Helen Noel (Dagger in the Mind) one evening that they were both slightly embarrassed to go on a mission together (though it’s also clear nothing physical happened). Kirk’s interest, though, is less hot space women (though being TV, the women are invariably attractive) as much as exceptional women. Former girlfriend Areel Shaw is a brilliant Starfleet JAG (Court-Martial); Koridian is a talented actor; Edith Keeler is a pacifist visionary persuasive enough to change the course of history (City on the Edge of Forever). We don’t learn much about Ruth, who appears in Shore Leave, but she seems more elegant than sex-bomb hot. Nor does Kirk come across as a lecher; when he and Areel kiss at the end of Court-Martial he reacts more like a teenager with a crush than James “Tomcat” Kirk.

Before anyone points it out, I’m perfectly aware there’s a lot more space-babe action in the next two seasons. But that usually involves Kirk being mind-controlled (Elaan of Troyus) or using his charm to gain an edge on their adversaries (Catspaw). I have a feeling rewatching them won’t change my opinion much.



  1. There’s a name for what you are describing. It’s called ‘Kirk drift.’ The gap between the public myth and the genuine character as written. You can apply it to Sherlock Holmes and James Bond too. But Kirk’s the poster child for it.

    In terms of actual real relationships with no ulterior motives or mind control involved, there are really only a few women that he actually fell for. I count Edith Keeler, Miramanee, and figure Carol Marcus and Ruth and maybe Areel Shaw as being Academy romances. It’s been made clear many times that Kirk’s real love is the Enterprise. I don’t think he’s inclined to get serious while he’s in the service.

  2. dbutler69

    Thanks for showing James Kirk’s real personality using actual examples from the actual original series.

    It’s also worth noting, according to These Are the Voyages by Marc Cushman, that James Kirk was supposed to be partially modeled on Horatio Hornblower, not a tomcat, to my knowledge.

  3. John King

    I thought the idea came from episodes in which Kirk was teaching alien women about kissing – I don’t remember how many episodes that was used but no where near as often as it feels like. 2 or 3 perhaps?.
    Also there was one series 3 episode which implied Kirk had a quick fling with one woman in his cabin (extremely quick in this case)

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