Star Trek (and Science Fiction) as Safe Political Commentary

In his article “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Nicholas Evan Sarnatakes examines several episodes from the original Star Trek  series as commentary on the global and domestic political climate of the 1960’s, when they were produced. One particular example examined by Sarnatakes comes takes the form of an allegory for Nazi Germany, as the Enterprise encounters a planet on which a man from Earth has set up his own fascist regime. Despite creating the state in an effort to unify the planet peacefully, it soon devolves into a belligerent, dangerous force that threatens to attack nearby worlds. In the end, the conclusion is reached that the people of Earth must obey the “Prime Directive” as it is the only way to prevent the formation of such states. In all, this episode provided commentary on U.S. foreign policy initiatives, essentially saying that America should not interfere with the affairs of foreign nations as “attempts to intervene will have repercussions for which Americans will be responsible.” The episode also hints at the superiority of Democracy over other government types, particularly totalitarianism, as it’s noted that “[when] a man holds that much power, even with the best of intentions, just can’t resist the urge to play God.” Thus even through addressing the Nazism, the writers made clear the superiority of the U.S. over the Soviet Union.

Science fiction provides writers with a safe method of addressing sensitive issues as it adds at least one layer of abstraction to whatever they are discussing in their work. Instead of having to directly comment on a global situation, and make reference to real events, science fiction writers can instead speak in hypotheticals, and use only fictional characters with outlandish or absurd features to make their points. In this way they avoid being ostracized for directly challenging cultural or societal norms, as are instead simply inventing a society where they are different. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game provides another example of commentary similar to that made by the Star Trek series, as the novel describes a war predicated entirely on not understanding a group different from one’s own. In this way Card allegorizes racism, and shows its negative impact on all involved, thus commenting on the racist tendencies present in the modern world.

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