Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Trek's Manifest Destiny? Imperialism and Star Trek

Trekdom will soon publish an indepth review of Jay Goulding's 1985 Empire, Aliens, and Conquest: A critique of American ideology in Star Trek and other science fiction adventures.

For the meantime, we'd like to spark debate with several quotes. Does his argument hold water? Is he being fair to Star Trek?


[On Star Trek...]

Star Trek continues to legitimize the frontier mentality and to provide role models for viewers. On this account, it is certainly in the interest of multinational companies which operate in the Third World to see Captain Kirk and crew remain on the tube to spread the American world-view...

What we come out with is a banality of the beyond where space looks remarkably like North American society with the same values and beliefs as present day only better because of science and technology's instantaneous travel thanks to warp speed. The Russians and the Chinese are no longer threats. In Star Trek we only hear about Earth. Apparently a solution to world power struggle has been resolved with the U.S. in its familiar hegemonic position. The Federation is now free to bring equality to all of those new planets in the final frontier by colonizing them and organizing them to maximize production.

The Federation of the Twenty-Third Century is free to go about its business of securing private property in space and establishing democracies - at gunpoint if necessary, with Earth and a few planets in a militarily superior position. Despite this intragalactic imperialism, the Federation persistely claims that it is not empire-building.

Then, the arch-enemy Klingon and Romulan Empires appear as straw men. Even though the tactics of these foe are different from the Federation their goals are similar. It is suffice to say here that the bad guys use direct domination to subjugate their prey while the good guys lure the prey into well-conceived political and economic traps where they can give orders to themselves. This 'stick to carrot' relationship is the major means of ideological success for industrial democracies. It is much easier to dupe people into role playing than to use brute force. But the threat of force is omnipresent...

Behind the friendly, helpful hand of the Federation with its statutes of full and free develpment we have two major forms of domination: a cultural domination which leads Kirk and friends to teach aliens how to be American; and a political domination based on devasting firepower...

The philosophy of political primacy fits neatly into both Star Trek's scenario of exploration/exploitation and into American imperialism. Both the micro and macro schema justify the U.S.'s policies of military intervention in the Third World whether it be for ideological domination or material gain...

This science fiction imperialism in space is as real as the U.S.'s imperialism in the world today. Television viewers subtly condone this system of inequality every time they uncritically watch programs like Star Trek. The more that viewers learn to accept inequality through the medium of fantasy, the more they learn to accept it in real life.

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