Science Fiction’s Political Nature as Seen in “Star Trek”

In Sarantakes’ article, “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series”, he mentions several allegories used by Star Trek creators to deliver political messages to audiences. One such allegory is the Federation’s “prime directive”. In the Star Trek universe this regulation is the cornerstone of the Federation’s policy when it comes to dealing with other cultures and essential states that Federation officials are to “avoid interfering in the natural development of less developed societies”. At its core the principle echoes a very real anti-colonial sentiment present in the critique of American foreign policy during the 1960’s counterculture era, that of Star Trek’s original airing. The continued use of the prime directive as a plot device in many episodes, including “Errand of Mercy” acts as representation of importance of understanding “the limits to power, even American power”.The prime directive reminded viewers that  even in the hands of the “good guys” needs, power to be kept in check else it be used for the wrong purposes.


Science fiction has the unique advantage of being set in the future, so that it can address the current social and political issues, under the veil that it is written about a futuristic/fictional world or society. For example, if a subject seems a little too controversial to be considered for the subject of another genre in media, simply placing it in a futuristic, speculative period separates it from the current era, at least enough that the material flies under the radar of censorship. Star Trek’s critique of imperialistic tendencies during the strict censorship of the Cold War era highlights this ability. Every time someone talks about the future, the conversation is inherently extremely political, as their personal ideology is representative of what they believe society should eventual progress towards. In this way the science fiction genre is always politically charged, and has been an avenue for many artists to remain controversial while avoiding censorship.


One thought on “Science Fiction’s Political Nature as Seen in “Star Trek””

  1. I really like and completely agree with how you talk about science fiction being set in the future, and how this makes it possible for science fiction works to address controversial and heated topics such as ingrained political and cultural ideologies. When such critiques of the government are addressed directly, they would quickly be labeled as treason, and discord would ensue.

    I especially find this interesting, since one would think that it does not matter whether a theme is under the disguise of science fiction /fantasy or under no disguise. However, that is not the case here, as works under the disguise of science fiction and fantasy are able to challenge “deeply seated political/cultural ideologies” without too many ramifications, while works that provide direct criticisms often face a great deal of backlash. Thus, many creators of literature hide their controversial criticisms and challenges under the disguise of science fiction or fantasy.


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