Star Trek: Science Fiction and the Critique of Society

In “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Sarantakes describes how the original Star Trek TV show commented on current political issues within the Cold War era, such as the Vietnam War.  One episode that critiqued U.S. foreign policy was “Errand of Mercy” which aired on March 23rd, 1967. “Errand of Mercy” introduced this allegory to the Cold War that was continued throughout the show and in the future movies. The episode depicts a conflict between the Federation (the United States) and the Klingons (the Soviet Union). In this episode, “the USS Enterprise travels to the planet Organia to warn its seemingly simple, agrarian society of an impending Klingon invasion.” Similar to the Cold War, in this episode the major superpowers only “challenge one another only through indirect means.” This episode was also important as it introduced the idea of “the prime directive” which was the Federation’s mission to not interfere in the development of societies with under-developed technologies. This mission was quite anti-colonial and a direct challenge to typical American foreign policy. Especially during the Cold War, America attempted to use its power to ensure that foreign countries become democratic and to stop the spread of communism.

Science fiction enables people to critique society without harsh criticism or backlash as the story can be set in an alternate dimension or in the future even though it is truly commenting on the present day. Science fiction and fantasy are appealing genres because anything can happen. By using these genres to comment or make political statements, writers are able to attack ideologies without attacking the audience or society directly. Star Trek utilized its platform and science fiction genre to comment on American foreign policy during the Cold War. Another example of science fiction that comments on society is Uglies, a novel by Scott Westerfeld. In the novel, teenagers are called “Uglies” before their 16th birthday when they receive cosmetic surgery to become “Pretties.” In this society, identity is solely based on appearance and conformity is idealized. Westerfeld uses this novel to critique how obsessed America is with “beauty” and “image.” He also encourages individuality by critiquing a society based on heterogeneity. Both Star Trek and Uglies comment on and critique American society through the lens of a society in the future.

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