Often depicting elements of the real world, fiction is a powerful tool to criticize society. In “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Sarantakes discusses Star Trek episodes and their similarity to Cold War events. For instance, Sarantakes mentions The Doomsday Machine, an episode of the original series which aired on 20 October 1967.
As the episode begins, the Enterprise is answering the call of the USS Constellation. Kirk and his crew board the vessel. Commodore Matt Decker, the commandant of the ship, informs Kirk that the USS Constellation has just lost a battle to a destructive machine, “The Doomsday Machine.” When it returns, Kirk decides to detonate the Constellation near the machine in order to destroy it.
While this episode is one of adventure, it draws a clear parallel with the ongoing arms race. Indeed, the episode “ ends with an exchange between Kirk and Spock about nuclear weapons: “Ironic isn’t it. Way back in the Twentieth Century, the H-Bomb was the ultimate weapon—their dooms-day machine. And we used something like it to destroy another doomsday machine. Probably the first time such a weapon has ever been used for constructive purposes.”” This quote directly criticizes the destructive power of the nuclear weapons used during the Cold War, claiming that these warheads would only bring destruction when used. Overall, the episode is intended to warn the viewers of the dangers of the arms race, as all eyes focused on the War in Vietnam.
Overall, science fiction is able to challenge ideologies without necessarily be seen as a political piece thanks to its setting. As most science fiction pieces are set in the future, the characters seem to be able to look back at what happened and draw conclusions and lessons that the society does yet not understand or plan. Moreover, the fictional story and characters can be used to portray real life characters without being “fixed” to a certain character. For instance, in the last Star Trek movie the character of Kirk was inspired from Nixon, but Kirk is not a realistic representation of the President, but the character is rather used to denunciate one aspect of Nixon’s presidency. Fictional pieces can criticize one specific aspect of the country’s ideology without necessarily portraying all of it.
Another example of criticism through fiction is the Terminator sequel. In the movies, humans are oppressed by the machines that they created. Their robots turned against them, and launched a nuclear war that almost completely wiped out the human race. Attempting to show the danger of the arms race and the insecurity that new technologies bring about, Terminator is an efficient critic of Cold War (and even present-day) ideologies. The evil portrayal of the killer-machines and the description of the harsh living conditions of the humans arouse pity and fear among the audience, and the viewers are supposed to take action to prevent such disasters from happening.