The Trouble with Tribbles, Is That They’re Not Treadknicious
by David Kennedy Bird
Abstract: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei are brought in as expert witnesses to talk about the ontological status of tribbles; Shatner and Takei get into a tiff over who did or did not attend whose wedding; and Leonard Nimoy admits that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not his finest moment.
One of the recurring themes addressed on this blog is ontology: it’s one of the major branches of philosophy, and involves the discussion of reality, identity, what things are, what kinds of things there are, how things are to be named, understood, categorized. We’ve talked about the ontological status of flockbinkers, unicorns, disgruntled postal workers. We’ve talked about the ontological status of wamwams, Your Mom, and a shopping spree at Whole Foods where you get away without spending more than $187.00. We’ve talked about the ontological status of Republicrats, Democricans, this blog’s readership, and Conan O’Brien’s haircut.
But you know one entity that has not been on the receiving end of our trenchant philosophical analysis?
You know: tribbles. The little furry puffball things from Star Trek. Isn’t it high time we took the bull by the horns (as it were) and investigated the ontological status of tribbles? Of course it is. You know it is.
Indeed, it might be argued — with some degree of force — that “the trouble with tribbles” is that we don’t yet know whether they are treadknicious. In such a situation, it is often recommended that one appeal to established expertise. And who, i ask you, would know more about tribbles than the cast of the original Star Trek television series?
The Good Reader: Their moms would.
The Blogger: What?
The Good Reader: If you want to know all about tribbles, you should ask their moms.
The Blogger: You know what? You said something very similar when we were talking about flockbinkers a few years ago.
[Editor’s Note: Here is a transcript of that conversation.]
The Good Reader: Well, good on me! I consistently say the thing that makes the most sense. If you want to know all about something, whether it’s a tribble, a flockbinker, a philosopher, or a unicorn, you just go ahead and ask its mom.
The Blogger: But of course, the mother of a tribble would be a tribble as well, so all we’re doing is creating a hall of mirrors. A cute, furry, purring, ravenous hall of mirrors. Here’s the problem: both a tribble and its mother are representative types of a larger category, the very category that is under….
The Good Reader: [placing her hands over her ears] I can’t hear you, i can’t hear you, i can’t hear you.
The Blogger: Well, i guess that puts that particular discussion to bed.
The Good Reader: And by the way, don’t think i didn’t catch that bit about taking the bull by the horns. I did. I saw that. You might as well have said flockbinker. Take the flockbinker by the horns.
The Blogger: [sigh] I don’t believe you’re ever going to let go of that obsession you have, with whether flockbinkers have horns. We’ve been over this.
[Editor’s Note: And here is a transcript of THAT conversation… although, be warned, the question of whether The Good Reader is the same person as The Timid Reader is a somewhat complicated one.]
The Good Reader: Yes, we have. And — as usual — you sidestepped and danced around the issue and refused to give a straight answer to the question. So i still don’t know whether flockbinkers have horns.
The Blogger: Well, i fear the issue of the hornlessness or hornfulness of flockbinkers will have to wait until another day. Today, we have other fish to fry. Or, more accurately, tribbles.
The Good Reader: We’re having fried tribbles?
The Blogger: Hah! It might be more exact to say that we’re roasting tribbles. I’ve invited a panel of experts to come on the blog to discuss the ontology of tribbles, including the burning question of whether or not they are treadknicious. It’ll be like we’re having a celebrity tribble roast.
While waiting for the panel of experts to assemble, why don’t we assemble a summary statement on what tribbles are… you know, for the uninitiated… and of why someone might understandably wonder whether they are treadknicious?
Tribbles were first introduced in Season Two of Star Trek, at the very end of December, 1967, between Christmas and the New Year. That now-iconic episode was called The Trouble with Tribbles. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who was not excited about the episode — he thought it was too comical and it violated the sense of gravitas that he was wanting to foster in the series — figured that it would do less damage if buried in the middle of the holiday season when people would be likely to be watching other things. Hah!
Tribbles appeared subsequently in various episodes of other series that were part of the Star Trek canon, including Deep Space Nine (Episode: “Trials and Tribble-ations”) and Star Trek: Discovery (Episode: “Context Is for Kings”).
Tribbles are small and round — spherical or slightly oblong. (A tribble can be held comfortably in the palm of one hand, or in two hands together.) They are covered in thick fur all around. Tribbles are basically headless guinea pigs with no legs and no teeth.
Feeding and Reproductive habits
Tribbles are omnivorous, although they prefer a vegetarian diet. Their ideal diet consists of whole grains, though under duress they will eat Rice Krispies treats, any breakfast cereals with the word “Cap’n” in the name, Ding Dong snack cakes, trail mix if it doesn’t have those yellow raisins in it, and, interestingly, the cheezy sausage balls that are such a hit at Christmas parties.
Okay, only the first part of that explanation was true.
Tribbles are hermaphroditic and are born pregnant. They reproduce at an alarming rate. A typical well-fed tribble will bear a litter of ten every twelve hours. If their exponential population growth is left unchecked, they can overwhelm an entire ecosystem. This, indeed, is The Trouble with Tribbles referenced in the Star Trek episode bearing the same name.
Suitability as pets
Tribbles are adorable, furry and cuddly, and they emit a soft cooing sound that is soothing to the human nervous system. They also multiply faster than Twitter accounts with the word ‘Stormy’ in the name. For this reason, it is recommended that only trained biologists keep them, and only under strict laboratory conditions.
Tribbles vs. Klingons
Klingons don’t like tribbles. Tribbles don’t like Klingons.
Whether tribbles are treadknicious
This really is the question, isn’t it? This is what it all comes down to. Hopefully, our panel of experts will be able to shed some light on this perplexing topic. And — what excellent timing! — here they come.
William Shatner: Well, the talent has arrived. Where is the script, and when do i get paid?
George Takei: [rolls his eyes]
The Blogger: Actually, i’ve invited the three of you here to draw upon your years of experience with tribbles.
Leonard Nimoy: If i have understood you correctly, the question on the table is: Whether, and in what sense, tribbles are treadknicious.
The Blogger: That’s exactly right! Mr. Spock has once again applied his rational intellect and identified the crux of the matter.
Leonard Nimoy: [rolls his eyes]
George Takei: The question really seems to hinge, doesn’t it, on what we mean by the word ‘treadknicious’?
William Shatner: Ooooohh. Mister Takei here appears to be quite the expert.
Leonard Nimoy: Ah, but George does know a thing or two about tribbles. If memory serves, George, didn’t you have a centerpiece at your wedding reception made up of several hundred tribbles bundled together with baling wire?
William Shatner: What? Is this true? A tribble centerpiece?
George Takei: I did! It was all the talk. Of course, you’d know that if you had bothered to come to my wedding.
William Shatner: Again with the wedding! [Shatner turns and directs his attention to the reading audience] This is his favorite theme. He never tires of harping on it. I have explained this at least seven hundred times, in numerous interviews: I never received an invitation to this man’s wedding.
George Takei: Ah, the old “my invitation appears to have been lost in the mail” ploy.
William Shatner: I barely even know this man. He was a supporting actor in a television show of which i was the star, a long time ago.
George Takei: And several films.
William Shatner: Right, the films, those too. And he can’t stop harping on whether or not i was at his wedding. Frankly, i don’t even remember. Maybe i was there. Who can remember such teency little details?
George Takei: Believe me, you weren’t there. Your ego would have taken up all the available space in the reception hall.
Leonard Nimoy: Gentlemen, as riveting as this discussion of George’s wedding guest list undeniably is, i think we’re losing sight of the main point of the discussion.
George Takei: Tribbles.
William Shatner: And whether there were any in attendance at George’s wedding.
George Takei: All the tribbles that were invited to the wedding, actually showed up.
William Shatner: Okay. That was clever. I’ll give you that.
Leonard Nimoy: The point at issue, if i may refresh the screen for a moment, is this: Whether or not tribbles are treadknicious.
Confucius: And, if they are, whether they are ‘treadknicious’ in the same sense in which flockbinkers are ‘treadknicious’.
Aristotle: You took the words right out of my mouth.
The Buddha: The way of silence leads toward clarity.
The Blogger: Enough already! Too many extraneous characters crowding up this blog post. Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, shoo! Off with you! You’ll all have other chances in future posts.
A Mysterious, Masked Bystander: Woww.
The Blogger: That includes you too, Owen. Sorry bud; we’ll feature you again soon. I think i hear Wes Anderson calling for you.
The Good Reader: Golly! I’ve never seen you take control of your own blog like that before. That was pretty decisive, there. I must confess — i’m developing a new respect for whether you even know what you’re doing with this ‘blogging’ thing.
The Blogger: [turning beet-red with pleasure] Why, that may have been the closest thing to a compliment you’ve yet paid me! I can’t even think straight!
Leonard Nimoy: [murmuring] You’re worse than Shatner.
William Shatner: I heard that. And you want to know who’s “worse than Shatner”? I’ll tell you who’s “worse than Shatner.” [begins singing] “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, the bravest little hobbit of them all!”
Leonard Nimoy: I will freely confess that the “Bilbo Baggins” song was not my finest moment. Perhaps, though, under the present circumstances, i might be excused for bringing up a certain performance of “Rocket Man” that has become notorious throughout the internet?
The Blogger: Okay, fellas, fun’s over, back to the point. Tribbles. The trouble with tribbles. What reasons have we for thinking that they might be treadknicious?
George Takei: What does ‘treadknicious’ even mean?
Leonard Nimoy: If i am not mistaken, The Blogger has left it as an intentionally undefined term, to be used as a placeholder in the construction of logical syllogisms.
William Shatner: The trouble with tribbles is… perhaps that they’re topsy-turvy? Or that they twist and turn? Do they terrify toddlers? Maybe they’re terrifically telescopic. Maybe they’re tremendous and twisted.
George Takei: Nimoy, what’s he doing?
Leonard Nimoy: He appears to be listing off all the words he knows beginning with ‘t’.
William Shatner: For your information, it might help us to explain whether tribbles are treycarnivorous. Or not.
[Nimoy and Takei roll their eyes in unison]
The Good Reader: If i may pipe up in Mr. Shatner’s defense…? Putting together a list of things that begin with ‘t’ is probably as good a way to figure out what’s treadknicious as anything else. And Mr. Nimoy is right, too: The Blogger has NEVER defined the word ‘treadknicious’ on this blog. Not to my satisfaction.
William Shatner: [glances appreciatively at The Good Reader] The loyalty of my fans has always been deeply gratifying to me.
The Good Reader: Well, i mean, i wouldn’t necessarily call myself a — um — one of your — well, as i come to think about it, i suppose i must have seen Star Wars at some point.
[All present — with the exception of The Good Reader — engage in one massive rollicking communal eye roll]
Leonard Nimoy: It is undoubtedly amusing to make lists of words beginning with ‘t’ in the hope of gaining insight into what it means for a thing to be ‘treadknicious’. But…
[Nimoy hesitates, as if bracing himself for what he knows is coming next]
Everybody: Say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it, say it.
Leonard Nimoy: [sigh] …it is not logical.
The Blogger: I was SO hoping you would say that at some point.
Leonard Nimoy: Happy to oblige. It is every actor’s dream to be permanently ossified as a character he played on TV 50 years ago.
William Shatner: Especially dead ones.
The Blogger: What?
William Shatner: Dead actors. Didn’t you know? Leonard Nimoy has gone on to his eternal reward. Frankly, i don’t know how you got him to participate in this little panel discussion. He’s deader than a doornail.
George Takei: Yet he hasn’t lost his mojo. There are many among us who should do as well.
William Shatner: Hey, i resemble that remark! Look, at least i have the virtue of being very much alive.
George Takei: Expert opinion is divided on that point.
The Blogger: [indicating “time out” with his hands] So, fellas, fellas, are we any closer to determining whether tribbles are treadknicious?
William Shatner: It’s a terribly tantalizing train of inTerrogation.
George Takei: Please, just stop. I promise i’ll never bring up the wedding issue again.
Epilogue: A word on the relationship between Takei and Shatner
A simple Google or YouTube search will unearth a gold mine of material dealing with the ongoing feud between William Shatner and George Takei, including the burning issue of whether Shatner was invited to, and subsequently chose not to attend, a certain public event in which Takei was one of the, er, main participants. Some of the language i have here placed in their mouths comes pretty close to being a literal transcript of statements the two of them have made in interviews.
Second Epilogue: Leonard Nimoy’s immortal “Bilbo Baggins” song
You haven’t fully experienced the range of Leonard Nimoy’s talent if you’ve not heard, or seen the video for, his song The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (1967). It will turn your world inside-out. For what it’s worth, Nimoy has also authored a number of books over the years, including several volumes of sentimental poetry with titles like Will I Think of You? and We Are All Children Searching for Love. I guess when your public reputation has been built on the character of an emotionless Vulcan, you may want to go out of your way to establish your street cred as a man of deep feeling.
Third Epilogue: Shatner’s out-of-this-world rendition of “Rocket Man”
Nimoy had his “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”… and Shatner had his “Rocket Man.” This performance of the classic Elton John / Bernie Taupin song Rocket Man is equal parts hilarious, cringe-worthy, and in a strange way, insanely cool. And i think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til i can hear Elton John’s original version without thinking of William Shatner’s sendup of it.