Science Fiction as Safe Commentary

Star Trek was a science fiction TV series about a United States-like interplanetary alliance. The creator of the series, Gene Roddenberry, and others involved in its production readily admit that certain episodes intended to provide allegorical commentary on American foreign policy. As Nicholas Evan Sarantakes describes in his Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series, one such episode was “Patterns of Force,” which commented on American superiority and interventionist philosophy. The plot of the episode leads the protagonists to encounter a Nazism based planet where they choose to intervene with the system of government for the sake of the constituents. The characters comment extensively about the superiority of a democratic power structure: “the main problem [with the Nazis] was the leader principle.” However, they also regret intervening in the politics of another society, noting that “The non-interference directive is the only way.” This is a clear allegory to the American interventions in the Third World and a comment that they are unwise.

Science fiction offers a number of benefits as a medium for political commentary. Since by definition many aspects of a science fiction piece are infeasible or unrealistic, a science fiction artist can always claim that their world cannot be an exact homomorphism to the real world on which it comments. For example, “Patterns of Force” includes a leader who is drugged into being a puppet for another leader, which cannot occur with current technology. On the other hand, the very medium of science fiction allows the artist to say whatever he or she wants since the world is completely made up. Therefore any commentary is possible.

One excellent example of pop culture that comments on American policy is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a movie released in 1956. This film commented severely on the McCarthyism-Red Scare era political scene, bordering on mocking the paranoia that it created. The mass hysteria depicted in Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a direct rebuke to the paranoia and hysteria propagated by McCarthy-supporting politicians.

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