Star Trek: A Political Vehicle

During the Cold War, one method of commenting on US policy, both foreign and domestic, was through popular culture media. This was true through the original creation of the Star Trek television series. An example can be seen in the episode “Patterns of Force,” which first aired in 1968. The plot takes the Enterprise to a planet where a Federation researcher has gone missing. Despite previous knowledge that the planet’s peoples do not have the technology to develop advanced military capabilities, the world is discovered to have become a Nazi-like  regime. The leader, referred to as the Führer, is the missing researcher, who has been drugged. The crew of the Enterprise must attempt to stop him from ordering an expected attack on a neighboring planet. The show comments on the ineffectiveness of totalitarian rule, even if the leader has good intentions, because “a man holds that much power…just can’t resist the urge to play God” (Sarantakes). By portraying this governing technique as incapable of peace, the writers of Star Trek show democracy as superior. This can be seen as a method to combat the Soviet Union by strengthening democratic ideology. The episode is also an allegory regarding intervention. The researcher’s presence on the foreign planet is what spiraled the society into a state of violence. As Sarantakes states, “The implication is that the Untied States should make no effort to impose its will on other countries.” Star Trek in effect protests the prospect of American presence in Vietnam, because the intervention is believed to be futile, and could cause more harm than good.

As in Star Trek, science fiction has always been a popular vehicle for satire and for political statements. The reason is that whereas other forms of writing can be easily censored, either by government or publishing corporations, Sci-fi can always hide behind a facade of innocence and ignorance. It is easy to claim that a story in a fantastical world or era has no connection to modern or historical issues. An example of such is George Orwell’s 1984.Published in 1949, the futuristic novel warns of a totalitarian government with influence in every aspect of life, including omnipresent surveillance and perpetual war. Orwell wrote the dystopian novel during the onset of the Cold War and feared that a world controlled by spheres of influences could yield such societies. The book was banned and challenged throughout its history, but through its futuristic setting, it was able to survive and permeate to global audiences .

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One thought on “Star Trek: A Political Vehicle”

  1. 1984 is always a great example of allegory, because it represents so cleverly the horrors of a totalitarian regime. It is also interesting, because it foreshadows such horrors instead of commenting on present ones (it was published as the bipolar system of the Cold War it comments on is still developing). Thus, it has the unique capability to not only offer reflection on what it satirizes, but it also was able to influence how events unfolded. This is in direct contrast to “Patterns of Force”, which offers commentary on a past event. That being said, we cannot understate the importance of such critiques; history is always at danger of repeating itself, and the use of allegory to continue denounce past horrors helps ward off any possible reoccurrences.

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