Star Trek & Avatar Cultural Critiques

Nicholas Evan Sarantakes suggests that makers of Star Trek used allegories to critique U.S. foreign policy and to show how America could play a powerful and constructive role internationally. For example, “Patterns of Force” is one allegory that promoted a democratic approach to foreign policy. In the episode, Kirk and Spock, two officers, travel on the Starship Enterprise to Ekos to discover why John Gill, a researcher, disappeared. They discover that a Nazi movement, introduced by Gill, has taken control of Ekos. Kirk and Spock enter the Nazi headquarters and learn that Gill was drugged by his deputy. After getting a doctor to neutralize the drug, the two learn that Gill started the Nazi movement “to unify the planet.” The Enterprise officers persuade him to call off the attack of a nearby planet Zeon. According to Sarantakes, the episode suggests that “the United States should make no effort to impose its will on other countries. Regardless of motivation, attempts to intervene will have repercussions for which Americans will be responsible.” This argument that America should not intervene in other countries is elucidated when Gill tells Kirk that “non-interference directive is the only way.” Additionally, “Patterns of Force” is used as an allegory to imply that democracy is the superior form of government. Kirk directly tells Spock that the leader principle is the major problem with the Nazis. Thus, the episode suggests that a form of government in which one leader is in control is inferior to democracy because it often leads to violence.

Science fiction and fantasy writing is commonly used as a tool to challenge political and cultural ideologies, Star Trek being one of many examples. One reason it gives writers an opportunity to challenge certain ideologies is that writers can use metaphors or allegories to critique things indirectly. Because the writers are not directly challenging ideologies but instead using allegories to do so, it is more discrete and less obvious; therefore, backlash is less likely to result. Another example of science fiction that provides a cultural critique is Avatar, a futuristic movie about a planet Pandora. People on earth need resources and go to the planet to secure them. They use force to move the Pandoran race in order to secure their resources. The movie is pro-environmental and anti-war. It also shows what the world would be like if indigenous people were able to keep their cultures, instead of being taken over by European colonizers. Both Star Trek and Avatar are examples of science fiction writing that indirectly offer critiques of cultural ideologies.

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek & Avatar Cultural Critiques”

  1. Similar to many science fiction works from the 20th century, Avatar critiques a modern issue that many people fail to recognize and to address. This movie is a really important allegory for the impact of selfish governments on native peoples and their land. Currently, the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline impacts the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and people and threatens their public health and welfare, water supply, and cultural resources. Although science fiction exposes certain faults within society, it is important to connect the critiques within the movies to issues within the the real world. Exposure to Avatar could potentially jumpstart more support for the protests against the Pipeline, and ultimately, protect the Sioux land. The goal of these critiques is to reveal a downside within society. Science fiction creators are not only tasked with the job to successfully provide an analysis of society, but also garner support against the issue being uncovered. I believe James Cameron’s work with Avatar perfectly reflects an achievement of these two goals because he merged the science fiction story with actual philanthropy work, an inspiration to viewers around the globe.

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  2. I think Avatar is a great example of how science fiction and fantasy stories can be used to critique society. I’ve often heard people compare Avatar to Pocahontas, the Disney film. Both movies appeal to the viewer’s emotions to garner support for an indigenous people. I also with the previous commenter how the situation presented in this film is particularly relevant today with the Dakota Access Pipeline. The rights of indigenous peoples are still being threatened today in America and the lack of awareness or of caring is incredible. Movies have an ability to indirectly raise awareness or bring attention to an important cause. Many people could watch Avatar and Pocahontas without being aware of the message and political undertones implicit in the film. However, it may subconsciously or consciously change the opinions of the viewers. Awareness is the first step to making change and science fiction and fantasy films have a unique platform to raise awareness and it is great that Avatar brought awareness to a vital cause.

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