“A Private Little War” and Media Challenges to Political Rhetoric

Star Trek, in part, was created as a means to critique foreign and domestic political policy on a national basis in the form of television. The show focuses on the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise and their journey through space and beyond as they visit distant planets and peoples. Through the adventures of this ship, the production crew is able to critique the government in an allegorical manner.

In the episode “A Private Little War”, the captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk, revisits a planet that he had visited many years before. He is surprised to find that the inhabitants o the planet are now able to use flintlock rifles when the last time he had visited, they were just discovered gun powder. Kirk discovers that this rapid advancement is due to a war initiated by a rival group on the planet who was receiving advisement from a Klingon administrator. The rival group was also receiving weapons from the Klingons, which resulted in the rapid industrialization. Kirk, in an attempt to preserve peace and a balance of powers on the planet, decides to provide weapons to the native group thus breaching the non-intervention policy of the Federation, a national organization dedicated to protecting peace throughout the universe.

This episode in particular garnered much criticism for the Star Trek production crew as only a short time before the airing of the episode did they sign a petition acknowledging their protest of the war in Vietnam. The episode served as an allegory for the Vietnam War , but as Sarantakes explains in his analysis of the series, the episode “had been reworked to suggest that the United States was attempting to do the right thing in a situation in which there really was no good course of action.” The ambiguity of the episode led the public to question the validity of the crew’s protest of the war.

Star Trek, like many other fantasy and science fiction media, takes advantage of its fantastical nature in order to indirectly comment on the current state of affairs in a country. With television, especially as it became a greater consumed and common form of media distribution, the acceptableness of content was under greater examination. Through allegory, writers were able to present their own ideas to the public and allow the public to form their own beliefs based on the information or perspectives presented to them. The public can choose to accept the information presented to them as truth, especially with science fiction where the truth is a possible future that could occur as shown in the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory”, or it can choose to reject the messages. Either way, fantastical genres allow writers to model real life situations in a way that is indirect enough where the upshot of the situation is clear, but the allegorical counterparts may not be.

Television is not the only form of media consumed by the public that attacks controversial issues. In Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses a very isolated and concentrated population to model the events of world war two. He uses a group of young boys, who represent both innocence and two separate ideologies (democracy and communism) at war with each other. The characters of this fictional setting does not make it the ideal environment to overtly criticize the war, however the young ages do emphasize the absurdity of the ideologies and actions of both parties.

 

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2 thoughts on ““A Private Little War” and Media Challenges to Political Rhetoric”

  1. I think your point about the mass-dissemination of information through new modes of communication like television is especially pertinent today. More specifically, I think the advent of television has provided a new platform by which producers can impart and propound their opinions on potentially contentious issues. For example, American Sniper is a movie regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The wars (their purpose, righteousness, efficacy, etc.) are largely contentious, but the message the movie imparts is not: patriotism for ‘serving’ your country. This is not too surprising given the director of the movie was Clint Eastwood, a relatively conservative (and concurrently anomalous) voice in Hollywood.

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  2. I like your analysis of Lord of the Flies as political commentary, as you point out that the young ages of the boys on the island “emphasize the absurdity of the ideologies and actions of both parties.” I think that science fiction is most powerfully used as a reflection of the world, to allow people to see how ridiculous their actions are. It can provide a third party perspective that doesn’t necessarily portray one side as good and one as bad, but both as making potentially bad decisions. Both Lord of the Flies and Star Trek do this, presenting audiences with an entire situation and letting them see that both sides may not handle this situation in the most effective or morally right way.

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