Since the 1960s, attitudes, behaviors, and values in mainstream media have undergone tectonic shifts, corresponding to changes in popular culture. Whether media leads or follows popular culture or whether these are mutually reinforcing may be debated. However, little doubt exists about the importance of mainstream media to popular culture.
In the days of yore when I was a graduate student during the 1960s, and televisions were not a commercial staple in every room, and when a new episode of the television series Star Trek appeared, every ambulatory person in the residence would crowd into the TV lounge to be mesmerized by the adventure. Such was its popularity, the original Star Trek series and subsequent series and movies continued another 43 years to 2009, and I am not counting similar popular productions, such as Star Wars.
Changes in religion, family values, and popular culture left many youth and graduate students stranded in an uncertain and confusing world. Star Trek was deeply appealing to youth because it provided a fantasy of a possible future for young minds during a formative period. The future was not only one of technology, gadgetry, and discovery, but one guided by an implicit value system and model of social relations and organization.
At this point I think it cogent to again remind the reader that the Star Trek world is one based on fantasy, and in a fantasy world, anything is possible. The Star Trek world is based on a military model. Individual roles depend upon hierarchy. At the center is the Captain, his First Officer, and the officers in charge of Starship functions (based on graduation from the Star Fleet Academy, class status, and certification). The officers provide expertise to maintain the crew and ship’s function while the Captain and First Officer are responsible for meeting the Prime Directives and pursuing the aims of Star Fleet Command and the Federation Council.
The Star Trek officers are culturally and racially diverse, including officers from other worlds. Origin from another world might suggest a different species, but in the Star Trek narrative, this does not negate cohabitation. Spock, for example, is half-human and half-Vulcan. Individual differences among crew members sometimes conflict with the Starship regulations. This provides occasional dramatic relief from typical plots constructed about “exterior” threats. For example, Spock, with his half-human parentage, and Worf, reared by humans, are subject to urges that change their usually cooperative demeanor. when impelled to perform rites that cause dereliction of duty. On these occasions, the Captain’s understanding and intervention smooths the way to a happy conclusion. The Starship crew, except perhaps for the Chief Medical Officer, are politically correct.
In stark contrast to Star Trek mutuality, the interpersonal style of Star Trek antagonists, the Klingon and Romulan Empires, was characterized by mutual antagonism, hostility, and internal maneuvering for “Alpha position”. The over-riding impression given by Klingon and Romulan interpersonal relations was “nature raw in tooth and claw”. The Klingon and Romulan empires provided a caricature of commonly held masculine characteristics. Male competitiveness, determination and self-assertion were cast as destructive and abhorrent. The contrast was “between us and them” between masculine conflict or feminine concern. A still later threat was the Borg. The Borg were constituted by assimilated aliens into a hive mind of uncaring, unfeeling automatons.
The Star Trek fantasy with its Federation Council, Star Trek Command, conscientious Captain, officers selected for expertise, and politically correct crew mirrors central planning, hierarchy, obedience, and self-sacrifice. Star Trek governance occurs in the context of external threats, the Klingons, Romulans, and Borgs, and the mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Thereby the Star Trek fantasy particularly resonates with “danger from without” whether in the form of “terrorists” or “rogue nations” with the modern mandate for experts to apply “scientific” method to dangers, small and large.
With the waning of cultural tradition and religion, the Star Trek fantasy world has served as an unacknowledged template for meaning, purpose, and direction to generations of youth. This warm and fuzzy world of comradery and common purpose contrasts with the experienced world of difference, disagreement, and uncertainty. Antagonists, those that are “other” are external to the closed system of social organization. Not unsurprisingly in the Brave New World of Star Trek, antagonists are not warm and fuzzy, but unabashedly assertive and competitive.
The appeal of the Star Trek Fantasy is the same appeal that captured countless people in Europe and Asia to the siren call of fascism and communism. The ideal world of shared beliefs, harmony, and purpose dictated that those who did not fit did not belong. Those that did not fit were rejected from the system, expelled, or exterminated. In his book. Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg argues that, unlike its European and Asiatic counterparts, an American fascism would possess a soft countenance disguised as education and social programs, but fascism nonetheless.
Fascism, whether “hard” or “soft”, is in direct opposition to traditional American culture and its constitution. The constitution vests rights and responsibility in the individual, not in the collective. The individual is so protected that the person is given freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and, yes, even the freedom to bear arms. Individuals, as independent agents, aggregate and separate to their purposes and those that they serve. They are not bound to an “ism” or to a group fantasy of beliefs or purpose. Therefore, traditional American culture and its constitution promote individuality, experimentation, newness, and the cultural and technological creativity that arises from difference.
Fascism, no matter how seductive the fantasy, insures sameness, stasis, infertility, monotony, exclusion, and ultimately hatred. It becomes what it presumably was intended to defeat. The cure is ever worse than the disease.