SF as Social Commentary: Star Trek

Anyone who has been to college or university – even some quality high schools – knows that there are science fiction novels that are designed specifically to send a MESSAGE. Books like Orwell’s 1984 or Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We are specifically designed to convey a message to readers about society. The science fiction veneer is a thin disguise for what is essentially a political or societal diatribe. We have all struggled to read these kinds of books, tried to find some entertainment value in them amongst the monolithic social commentary. Many of us would much prefer to read plain-old for-fun type science fiction.

But what is that? Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Scratch the surface of that and you will find that the prototypical Military Science Fiction novel is lousy with political and social commentary. Bradbury’s Farenheit 451? Oh, please. The book is practically a manifesto. Even his Martian Chronicles have ruminations about politics and society.

Well, what about science fiction on television? Surely that is as divorced from social commentary as you can get. Televised science fiction is like a western but with rayguns. No social commentary and no politics. Something like Star Trek?

If you are under the misapprehension that the original Star Trek series was merely a “Western in Space” if you fell for Gene Rodenberry’s bait-and-switch description of the show to Network executives as a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, then you are in for a rude awakening.

As David Gerrold explained on his own Facebook Page:

“I was there. I know what Gene Roddenberry envisioned. He went on at length about it in almost every meeting. He wasn’t about technology, he was about envisioning a world that works for everyone, with no one and nothing left out. Gene Roddenberry was one of the great Social Justice Warriors. You don’t get to claim him or his show as a shield of virtue for a cause he would have disdained.”

“Most of the stories we wrote were about social justice. “The Cloud Minders,” “A Taste Of Armageddon,” “Errand Of Mercy,” “The Apple,” “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” and so many more. We did stories that were about exploring the universe not just because we could build starships, but because we wanted to know who was out there, what was our place in the universe, and what could we learn from the other races out there?”

Star Trek was about social justice from day one— the stories were about the human pursuit for a better world, a better way of being, the next step up the ladder of sentience. The stories weren’t about who we were going to fight, but who we were going to make friends with. It wasn’t about defining an enemy — it was about creating a new partnership. That’s why when Next Gen came along, we had a Klingon on the bridge.

This is a small excerpt from a much larger article. There is so much more to this topic and Jack Mackenzie’s article in the second issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly goes much further in depth. You can read the entire article and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!