From Fiction to Reality

In “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Nicholas Evan Sarnatakes discusses the ways in which Star Trek uses allegory to draw parallels between the US foreign policy during the Cold War and the rivalry between the Federation and the Klingons. The first episode that introduces this rivalry is “Errand of Mercy”. The episode begins with the two nations on the brink of confrontation, when USS Enterprise travels to protect an innocent planet from a Klingon invasion. After the first Klingon attack, Kirk and Spock are taken prisoner, but are then saved by the planet’s inhabitants’ secret psychic abilities. Sarnatakes argues that this episode establishes a Cold War-like dynamic between the Federation and the Klingons: “disputes remain, but the two interstellar powers would challenge one another only through indirect means.” The episode also introduces the main critique of the US foreign policy at the time. In the show, the ‘prime directive’ of the Federation is not to interfere with the less developed societies that lack the technology to travel in space. Presumably, space travel can be equated to nuclear capability in the context of the Cold War. Through such rhetoric, the show criticizes the Wilsonian impulse to spread the American political structure and cultural values to the less developed countries.

Science fiction and fantasy writing have the ability to challenge commonly accepted cultural beliefs and ideals by providing indirect but extremely applicable criticism of certain aspects of the society. Such creative forms of expression allow the authors to avoid the backlash against their opinions, as their work still remains primarily a work of fiction. This allows for a more honest and pointed criticism of the societal structure and/or values than many direct forms of expression can allow. Star Trek is one example of a creative outlet of the criticism and apprehension regarding the state of the society at a certain time. Another such example is a 2015 film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos called Lobster. The film depicts a dystopian society where all single people are put in a hotel and given 45 days to fall in love. If they fail to do so, they are turned into an animal of their choosing and let out into the wild. All the inhabitants of the hotel define themselves with one distinct characteristic (e.g. a limp, a lisp, shortsightedness, etc.) and search for their partner based on these shared characteristics. The strength of the society’s fixation on artificial compatibility is shown when the main character decides to fake psychopathy to be with the Heartless Woman, or when the Limping Man decides to secretly smash his head against various things to fake nosebleeds to be with the Nosebleed Woman. The film effectively employs satire and dark humor to exaggerate and highlight modern society’s obsession with dating apps and the changing perception of what love should be based on.

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One thought on “From Fiction to Reality”

  1. I have never seen Lobster, but I applaud your choice of connection to this weirdly relevant film. I think it is a great connection to the superficial dating culture in the US and even around the world. Online dating has become more and more meaningless through dating apps because there is a tendency to change one’s appearance/personality to appeal to another: the kiss of death in a relationship. However, perhaps this film is referring to even more than just dating apps and the basis of love. Maybe the film touches upon society’s obsession with characterizing people and even discriminating against them based on disabilities or abnormalities. By satirizing the different disabilities of each hotel resident, perhaps it is conveying a message that seeing someone as defined by their disability is superficial and wrong.

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