Category Archives: Popular Culture

Media Representation & Islamophobia

In my RBA I plan to analyze the comic series Ms. Marvel and its lead, Kamala Khan, as a response to Islamophobia in media representation post-9/11. By examining the creation of the image of the Muslim male as a terrorist and therefore a dangerous “other”, I hope to determine the importance of media representation and how or why it is effective in supporting a specific national image. Furthermore, I plan to establish how Kamala Khan is a response to this rhetoric and in what ways her story and character reinforces or subverts it, particularly as a possible response to assimilation pressures and the erasure of hyphenated identities.




The connection between education and the Space Race

My topic for the RBA is to analyze whether the Space Race resulted in meaningful and effective educational reform. In my analysis, I plan to examine multiple primary and secondary sources  in order to show how educational reform was short lived and did not live up to expectations.

First, I will explore the different pieces of legislation passed, and the effect that this legislation had. Next, will analyze both long term and short term trends and factors that help determine how the educational sector in the United States was influenced by the Space Race.

Here is my visual brainstorm:

Social Critiques in the 1960’s Political Satire Boom

I am researching the 1960’s  influx of American black comedy and satirical films which profoundly affected the entertainment medium as well as society itself.  Analyzing and mapping the influence such films had on the film industry and American culture is integral to understanding the full psychological and societal effects of Cold War rhetoric on citizens.

Humor has always offered an outlet for myriad emotions, however when artists express political frustration through humor their work usually evolves into a satirical work. Satire is a medium that allows artists to be critical of societal institutions while simultaneous expressing the feelings of anxiety, fear, and insecurity, in a humorous way. Most academic discussion around the so-called ‘satire boom’ of the 1960’s, revolves around the notion that the presence of these films reflected a changing popular opinion of capitalism and American foreign policy. Humor was mixed with comments on the fear and anxiety surrounding the ever-present threat of nuclear devastation to create some incredibly black comedies during this time period that reflected that growing shift in cultural attitudes. However, through the viewing of these films I’ve found that the more important target of their jokes is rather the social norms of the era.  In this way, satirical films caused the audiences of the 1960’s to not only look critically at the government, military, and nuclear politics, but to also turn that critical gaze upon themselves. My research focuses specifically on such critiques made by specifically on Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three (1961), Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966).


Alien Invasion!

I’m currently researching the various alien invasion films of the Cold War era and their role in serving as a replication of Cold War political anxieties and social disorder. My topic directly stems back to Cold War containment culture and the utilization of pop culture as a means to indirectly examine national discourse.

There are numerous perspectives and analyses of these alien invasion films. One prevailing belief is that alien invaders represent the possibility of Soviet invasion; given Cold War tensions, the possibility of nuclear war made this scenario all the more terrifying. This idea of direct invasion is also coupled with the invasion of Communism in the minds of Americans, as shown in various mind control-esque films. A different analysis stems from xenophobia of the era and the fear of individuals from the developing and third world immigrating to the United States; oftentimes, these films presented friendly aliens who seek to coexist with Americans, but are often driven out due to American aggression and lack of tolerance. This leads to another interpretation of these films: a critique of the militaristic state and violence of the United States; films that contain this idea feature the United States as the antagonist due to their aggression against friendly invaders, causing viewers to redefine who the “real dangerous aliens” are. Finally, alien invasion films often serve as an examination of social anxieties and contain relevant topics like gender roles, masculinity, familial and racial tensions, and conformity. In my RBA, I am possibly interested in exploring the negative effects of alien invasion films on viewers of the era in generating hysteria; while these films often served to critique the 1950s American way of life rather than create fear, I’m interested in researching the misconstrued interpretations of these films as a result of Cold War anxieties.

The Dark Side of the Moon

I plan to research the legacy of the space race and how the space race has affected society with regards to education and innovation, both in the short term, and in the long term. This is applicable in today’s world because, even four decades after the climax of the space race, we face the consequences of the proxy war everyday.

There are numerous different perspectives on this matter. Some of the sources I have come across have described how education has been enriched dramatically de to the space race, and the effects of the enrichment are still felt today. On the same note, some scholars affirm that the space race fueled innovation and fundamentally revolutionized popular culture to the extent that they are all evident in today’s society. These scholars take on an optimistic stance on the legacy of the Cold War and believe that the the effects are still evident today. On the other hand, there are just as many scholars who take a negative stance on the legacy of the Cold War. For instance, many claim that following the moon landing and the Soviet Union’s collapse, space exploration’s popularity spiraled downwards. All of a sudden, the space became demystified, and with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States had no motivation to continue exploring space. As time moves forward, we must face the reality that the space industry is getting more and more privatized. However, the freedom that comes with privatization also comes with a price as the political subsidy culture of the past is on its deathbed. Many scholars assert that this makes failure more plausible, and even likely.   As can be seen, a large number of scholars hold a wide array of opinions regarding the lasting legacy of the space race.

In my RBA, I hope to demonstrate that while the space race did bring about innovative methods of exploring space, the space race itself did not live up to its potential and did not have a lasting legacy.

The Pueblo Incident

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 Sarantakes outlines the various instances in which the science fiction classic Star Trek used allegories to explore, support, or condemn the issues of the day. For instance, the Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident” references the incident involving the USS Pueblo. On January 23, 1968, the crew of the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korean forces and accused of espionage. While the outside world waited to learn the fates of the captured seamen, Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, decided to proceed with filming an episode of Star Trek based off of the event. Both the writer, D.C. Fontana, and Roddenberry realized that the story’s origin lacked subtlety; Roddenberry went so far as to refer to the episode as “The Pueblo Incident”, while Fontana assumed the television network, NBC, would be unhappy with the story. Changes were made to the initial script, Sarantakes writes, as “sensitivity to public sentiment demanded such a move”.

In the episode, Captain Kirk orders his ship into enemy territory in order to steal cloaking technology that the Romulans have developed. Taken hostage aboard the Romulan vessel, Kirk proceeds to fake his own death with Spock’s help then goes undercover as a Romulan to search for the cloaking device. Although Kirk is successful in retrieving the device, Spock is captured and put on trial, where he claims that as his duty as a Starfleet officer is “to protect the security of the Federation”, the course of action that he and Kirk pursued was justified. Sarantakes states that “the theme of the episode is that efforts to preserve international peace and stability, even actions such as theft, deception, and espionage that would be unacceptable in some other context, were legitimate because they served the moral and ethical purpose of prevent large-scale death and suffering”. This episode therefore also upholds the moral right of the actions of the USS Pueblo crew.

The speculative nature of both the science fiction and fantasy genres allows writers to explore the extremes of the possibilities of our actions and the potential consequences of our beliefs. Furthermore, science fiction and fantasy has mass appeal; the use of storytelling captures a large audience that might not be engaged through other means, while relatable characters can provide a foundation through which the reader might gain a new perspective. Through science fiction and fantasy, we can effectively analyze the risks or rewards a certain path might bring. For example, The Sultana’s Dream, first published in 1905, was written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain as a response to gender roles in Indian society. It presents a feminist utopian vision of a futuristic India governed by women: the men are now the ones forced to observe purdah while the women run the community. Through the lens of a science fiction short story, Hussain imagines how a society in which gender roles are reversed might function; furthermore, she examines common beliefs of how gender should be performed.

Cultural Commentary in Science Fiction

In the article, Sarantakes discusses an allegory of the nuclear bomb and its destructive abilities. In an episode titled “The Doomsday Machine,” the crew of the Enterprise is tasked with destroying what is described as a “giant, planet-destroying death machine” (Sarantakes 88). This “death machine” essentially parallels the nuclear bomb, which has the ability to inflict great destruction on Earth. Having already destroyed planets in the Star Trek world, the machine continues on its path, and the crew goes to great lengths and experiences loss (Commodore Matt Decker dies) to neutralize its threat. This serves as an allegory for containing nuclear weapons during the Cold War, as these nuclear weapons can essentially destroy its host planet, and great effort is required to stop this weapon from inflicting mass destruction. Therefore, Star Trek is able to paint a negative picture of nuclear bombs in citing the damage it creates if used.

It is often difficult to bluntly challenge prevailing political ideologies, as shown through the difficulty in tackling topics in Star Trek directly. Therefore, science fiction generates an opportunity to explore topics that parallel actual political/cultural ideologies through subbing out real-world events and ideas for fantasy. This allows viewers to form opinions about these detached topics without essentially generating their opinion on these topics’ real-world counterparts. Therefore, science fiction allows creators to help guide viewers towards certain beliefs through creating alternate examples that are exempt from the pre-conceived notions and beliefs of the viewers. The creators also do not face the backlash associated with discussing real-world topics directly.

The Twilight Zone serves as a good example of cultural critique. Not only does the show use allegories to discuss current events as in Star Trek, the show also distorts society to comment on the possible effects of certain social and cultural behaviors and practices on society.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (In 300 Years)

In his essay, Sarantakes recounts the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow the Universe” wherein the Star Trek gang has the opportunity to end Hitler before the rise and fall of the Third Reich would take place. In this case, the allegory of “fascism” is more so a direct reference. There is no stand-in for communism or Red China; Hitler and the third Reich are actually in the episode. In one scene, for example, Spock and Kirk talk in the (depiction of) real NSDAP headquarters. However, the key message of this particular allegory is the moral righteousness of democracy. Upon reflecting on their intervention in the course of history, the Star Trek gang realize that “intervention – no matter how well intentioned – is a mistake.” This realization bolsters the “supremacy of democracy over other forms of government.”

The Star Trek series gives insight into the effectiveness of using fiction to comment on contemporary and current social issues. The notion of fiction is fakeness and for this reason, works of fiction tend to carry less sobriety than those of actual historical research or analysis. But the message present is arguably just as salient towards the reader. For example, Robert Jordan did not actually exist, but For Whom the Bell Tolls imparts an unavoidable disdain in the reader for the fascista regime of Francisco Franco. In the same way, Star Trek carries a moral weight with the watcher. The shows, while seemingly mundane, subtly champions democracy as the supreme and most righteous form of government.

A Fictitous yet Genuine Critique of Reality

Throughout his article, Sarantakes analyzes and discusses the numerous allegories used in Star Trek. These allegories are used in Star Trek to relate to the international and domestic policies of the United States, and to critique them. One example of these allegories in the world of Star Trek discussed by Sarantakes is of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. The Federation was on the brink of war with the Klingons. Attack finally breaks out and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of the Federation are taken prisoners by the Klingons. The Organians are eventually able to free them, and they use their mental and psychic powers to end it all. This episode was used, in a sense, “to establish the basis for a Cold War-like confrontation: Disputes remain, but the two interstellar powers would challenge one another only through indirect means”(Sarantakes 81). Sarantakes explains that the allegory in Star Trek was used to symbolize the Cold War conflict, and to poke fun at the fact that while there were substantial disagreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, the confrontations remained indirect. The allegory is significant because it illustrates a central critique of American foreign policy.

In my opinion, both science fiction and fantasy writing serve as perfect settings to display controversial and provoking political/cultural views. This is because with fantasy and science fiction works, the criticisms of deeply seated ideologies come across as indirect. In other words, with both science fiction and fantasy, the context of the work is far away from reality. Thus, any interpretation is subjective: there is no single, definite extrapolation of the work. Outside of Star Trek, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-five also self-consciously provides a cultural critique of war and American capitalism in general. The novel, published in 1969, serves to portray to the general public the paradoxical makeup of American capitalism, and how, more specifically, the history of America is a tale of greedy and inhumane actions. This novel is under the genre of science fiction, and thus is able to provide a comprehensive critique of American capitalism, power, and racism without direct ramifications. In short, science fiction and fantasy works provide quintessential outlets for critiques of controversial topics, such as political and cultural ideologies.

Science Fiction: an Intergalactic Reflection of Earthly Folly

The Cold War marked a new era in American foreign policy: interventionism and the proliferation of American democratic principles. Accompanying this ideological transition was wave of media responses, many supporting American foreign policy in the spirit of patriotism. However, Nicholas Sarantakes points out that a silent form of media, namely science fiction, served as a social critique and opponent of American policy. Using Star Trek as an example, Sarantakes points to various episodes as allegories to US policy. For instance, “Patterns of Force” entails the USS Enterprise’s search for a missing Federation researcher, John Gill, whom the crew finds on Planet Ekos. Gill, disobeying the Star Fleet’s “Prime Directive” intervenes in the planet’s affairs by establishing a near-identical Nazi regime on the planet, even labeling himself as the führer. Captain Kirk and his crew side with the resistance force and apprehend Gill before he executes a plan to invade a nearby planet. To the crew’s surprise, Gill is drugged by the Ekonian Melakon who uses Gill as a puppet figurehead. Gill explains that he only implemented a Nazi regime in an effort to unify the planet and promote progress. Sarantakes explains that “Patterns of Force,” although entertaining, is really aimed at emphasizing that US intervention in other countries is a costly mistake. Sarantakes references Gill’s dying words: “the non-interference directive is the only way.” Highlighting the Nazi-like intervention by Gill as a tremendous failure, Sarantakes contends that Roddenberry used the episode to shed light on the potential for disaster in American international intervention during the Cold War.

Science fiction is commonly seen as solely a means of entertainment, and many people will see it as just that. However, the seemingly harmless genre, because of its perceived separation from politics and policy, is a vital medium for raising opposition to political ideology. As a form of entertainment, science fiction is never censored, but its growing popularity allows it to subconsciously influence the minds of millions of Americans. In other words, it is a way to introduce ideas of opposition to American ideology without being condemned or even detected. Another example of this theory is with Avatar, where humans develop space technology capable of reaching an alien planet with vital resources. In an effort to control the planet, the humans fight the indigenous species, who seek to protect their planet’s resources. This example of science fiction is an allegory to American imperialism in the Middle East and South America. Avatar subtly serves as an example that seeking to control other countries for the exploitation of resources undermines human rights and results in disaster.

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