The Power of Political Commentary through Pop Culture

“We could do our anti-Vietnam stories, our civil rights stories, you know. Set the story in outer space, in the future and all of a sudden you can get away with just about anything, because you’re protected by the argument that “Hey, we’re not talking about the problems of today, we’re dealing with a mythical time and place in the future.” We were lying, of course, but that’s how we got these stories by the network types.” –John Meredyth Lucas, the producer of the final season of Star Trek

The words of John Meredyth Lucas ring very true, as, throughout time, popular culture and books use this alternate universe containing events very similar to those within our own. This alternate universe gives creators the ability to comment on political issues without being labeled outright as “political commentators.” In addition, popular culture donates a stage for its users to publicize their voice in all forms of expression: writing, art, or, in Star Trek’s case, acting on the small screen.

While I am not personally a watcher of Star Trek, it is very interesting to see the juxtaposition between the Star Trek world and our own. The tv show occurs three hundred years in the future, in an era in which America (or the Federation within the show) is set to discover other inhabitants within space. This action is similar to real-time America’s desire to exert its influence on all parts of the world. Another juxtaposition, as explained by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes in “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of US Foreign Policy”, is between the Klingon enemies and the Soviet Union. Similar to the faceless Soviet Union enemies, within Star Trek, Klingons are represented as one dimensional, evil characters without any background that could add to their characterization. The Romulans, another enemy to Star Trek America, are compared to the Chinese, as they are “highly militaristic, aggressive by nature, ruthless in war and do not take captives.”

The idea of “prime directive”, as introduced within Star Trek, is very important as well. It basically signifies that the Federation  is not allowed to interfere in the lives of those that they encounter. This idea is very similar to the anti-colonization rhetoric heard by many throughout America’s history.

The commentary of the Cold War within Star Trek reminds me very much of the commentary on the Russian Revolution within George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Both the writers of Star Trek and Orwell utilize alternate realities to lay a situation on another field. When a person watches the news, in many cases, he/she has a preexisting opinion that overrides a lot of the facts that are heard. However, when this same person is not personally involved in and connected to this environment, it is easier to take an unbiased look at a situation. This is exactly what “Animal Farm”, Star Trek, and many other forms of pop culture allow watchers/readers/observers to do.

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