Star Trek and the Nuclear Arms Space Race

In his essay on the original Star Trek series, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes covers the connection between the episode “Assignment: Earth” and the nuclear arms race in the 1960s. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise travels back in time to the 1960s and observes the US military’s deployment of a nuclear weapon system in space. They then cross paths with a future-seeing human from a distant planet, who ultimately destroys the nuclear weapons platform in the atmosphere to prevent an outer-space arms race.

Sarantakes claims this episode demonstrates that “unless the two global superpowers of the 1960s change direction, they will take their own societies and the rest of humanity down the same path of ruin.” As demonstrated by this episode, it seems that the advancement of military technology would lead only to more options for the complete destruction of both sides; thus, the first step in reducing conflict would be to avoid new fronts for nuclear weapons altogether.

I think the unrealistic scenarios of sci-fi/fantasy writing cause people to view it more explicitly as fiction, separating it from the issues of the real world. As a result, governments and large organizations are less likely to view it as a threat, preventing efforts at censorship and suppression. Furthermore, the often-immersive experience of reading sci-fi/fantasy allows readers to see the full depth of the larger ideas involved. Readers can therefore understand the complexity of certain issues presented in the writing, which may challenge views of political and cultural issues in the real world.

I think the 2009 movie District 9 self-consciously provides a cultural critique. The movie follows a government worker working on the relocation of alien refugees to an internment camp in South Africa. The movie takes place in 1982, during the Apartheid. Thus, it makes clear the main views towards refugees and outsiders, as well as the problems that may arise from such views.

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