Star Trek emerged alongside mini-skirts, bellbottoms, and VW vans; flourished in the shadow of Madonna, big hair, and greed; and expanded with computers, Beanie Babies, and religious revitalization. Star Trek survived the culture shock of 9/11 and experienced a revival in the era of yoga pants, hybrid cars, and Starbucks. After more than 5 decades, Star Trek is alive and well, still voyaging through space and time. But, why is that? How has this science fiction franchise managed to anticipate and adapt to such rapid culture change?
In The Voyages of Star Trek: A Mirror on American Society through Time, authors K. M. Heath and A. S. Carlisle, investigate the enduring appeal of Star Trek, noting how it has mirrored, foreshadowed, and adapted to contemporary American culture from 1966 to the present. Through anthropological analysis, the authors examine the evolution of Star Trek by tying its storylines to events and developments in the U.S., assessing the extent to which the visual image of Star Trek is reflected on the screen from “snapshots” of randomly selected episodes and all of the films.
By examining how Star Trek addressed contemporary social issues through a sci-fi lens over time, the authors postulate, Americans can better understand their own changing culture. If StarTrek can continue to anticipate and adapt to our rapidly changing world, then it should remain a part of the cultural landscape for another 50 years, truly going where few franchises have gone before.
Snapshots taken from episodes and film scenes are analyzed on issues of representation of gender, age, and group identity. There is also a brief examination of the early fans of the franchise that documents how fanzines, licensed novels, comic books, and fan conventions grew the fan base after the original Star Trek series went into syndication in 1969. The fandom continued to grow during the interlude between that series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the growth was aided further by the rise of the internet and social media. While written from an academic perspective, Heath and Carlisle's work will appeal to a wider audience, who will certainly appreciate this overview of Gene Roddenberry's creation, his vision, and the core principles for the show and the adaptability of the franchise.
The Star Trek universe is rife with danger, from malevolent alien races to cataclysmic astronomical events. However, the franchise has also posited an optimistic view of humanity, showcasing a unified Earth. [Heath and Carlisle] cite this central tenet, along with Star Trek’s ability to mirror a changing culture, as the reason why it has survived for 50-plus years, spawning multiple TV series and films. The authors surveyed each incarnation for its handling of social issues and sampled still images from each series to see if the progressive ideas in the script were represented onscreen. The book summarizes each series (and devotes a chapter to the 13 movies), highlights key episodes, provides cultural context, and presents quantitative data on onscreen representation . . . Socially conscious fans will appreciate this study, which shows a real affection for its subject.
The Star Trek series, created by Gene Roddenberry, inspired many young fans to pursue careers in science, aerospace, and the military. Authors Heath and Carlisle are proof that Roddenberry’s influence was also profound on a new generation of anthropologists. Future producers and writers will find this a valuable guidebook for successfully working in the franchise. More importantly, legions of Star Trek fans will learn their love of Star Trek is founded less on their fascination with transporters, warp drives and holodecks, than their hopes for a better future.
The Voyages of Star Trek is a brilliant interpretation of that famous mission to boldly go where no one has gone before. Witty and engaging, it provides a unique and very readable exploration of how the Star Trek phenomenon interacts with the rapid cultural change in American society over fifty plus years of production. Readers interested in both contemporary and pop culture, and not only members of the Trek fandom, will be fascinated by the ways in which this study explores the validity of Trek’s acclaimed social statements of equality, feminism, peace, and military purpose.
A fascinating review of Star Trek through the lens of American history. The authors clearly illustrate, with collected data and episodic summaries, how each series has successfully—and not so successfully—adapted over the years to reflect the current culture. This may be the perfect book for anyone new to Star Trek who doesn’t know where to begin. With over 50 years of material to cover, the authors do a brilliant job of identifying the characters, experiences, and storylines that reflect the diversity of the American experience in a fictional world that so many have come to love.
An enjoyable journey through Star Trek history, and an arsenal of knowledge for those who would engage in the discussion, “But is it Star Trek?”