Star Trek’s Utopia

free essayPopular culture has always been sensitive in its reflection of major social and historical changes, since it unconsciously represents collective attitudes and stereotypes about certain events. In such sense, the evolution of comics is a hidden archive of the most significant events in the American history, starting from the Olympics in Nazi Germany and ending with modern terrorist attacks. The cult television series and franchise Star Trek is no exception in this regard, showing hidden stories and cultural fantasies, embodying them in the most daring and unexpected images. Despite the convention of science fiction genre in the show, it reflected the major socio-cultural shifts in the US and beyond. Moreover, the series is an attempt to build a perfect world where someone can realize the most ambitious scenario of the world order, particularly in the context of scientific and technical progress, Nuclear Holocaust, and the Cold War in general.

The basic idea that realizes the utopian narrative of Star Trek is the lack of economics (post-scarcity). As a result, there is no need to have such fundamental capitalist things as money, bank, competition, credit, and savings. The characters in the series often mention that they do not have money, alluding that they also do not need any material things to live. In fact, this idea contradicts capitalism, which is focused on the production of money, and, ultimately, wealth. Hence, business in Alpha Quadrant does not exist, except for a few cultures where it is seen as part of a religious cult. In other words, business and financial means do not have any sense in the show due to the fact that they have no social use and vice versa. In this sense, the idea of missing the economy is closer to the Soviet project of equal salaries and benefits for all the people, which is exactly the core of Marxism. However, people accumulate capital because of “the expansion of trade and manufacture” (Marx, 1845), and, therefore, capitalism also has historical logic. Consequently, the series combines both socialism and capitalism, reflecting “wider ideological discourses and meanings” (Hall, 1977, p. 97), namely the confrontational ideologies of the Cold War.

At the same time, the series has mirrored a shift in the US economy, which resulted into crisis in the postwar time, forcing people to seek higher earnings. It means that money for the American people were not abstract and useless things but the only method of survival. Another notion is that such a way eventually becomes an end in itself, which is the object of criticism in the series. On the contrary, Star Trek proposes an opposite model of human life, which is close to “a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism” (Webb, 2013). It is neither socialism nor capitalism, but something in between . In this world no one works as long as they do not want: “It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity” (Webb, 2013).

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In other words, citizens of the Federation have the possibility (but not money) to buy as much as they want for their use, but not to abuse the system capabilities that can stop the senseless waste of resources. Finally, residents have no financial need to work since they have ample opportunity to live in comfort, and many refuse to do something in such a world. It reminds the period of hippies, who also rebelled against the bourgeois system. This idea conflicts with Brecht’s position: “For the fertility of the soil is not the question, nor men’s love for the soil, nor their industry in working it; what is of prime importance is the price of grain and the price of labor” (Brecht, 1935). For him, people should work on their private sectors, not for the government, but the concept of Star Trek does not contain such an idea . However, the issue is that the series does not reflect the theme of motivation, where money has always been a stimulating impulse for all sorts of social activities. There is a logical question in episode 26 Neutral Zone from season 1: “There is no trace of my money. My office is gone. What will I do? How will I live?”. The phrase represents not only the world of Star Trek but also the real capitalist world, where money is a basis for both commodity-market and human relations.

Another level is the realization of socialist implications, because the show offers the equality of all nations and races. The original series was one of the first science fiction shows where black actors were the main characters, and it proved that skin color could not be an obstacle for harmony. On the one hand, the idea of individualism is fundamental for this TV series, which is expressed at different levels of civilization. According to Marx, the first principle of all human history is “the existence of living human individuals” (Marx, 1845). Moreover, the humanistic mission of the United federation of Planets was designed to rescue individuals from injustice within the universe . Hence, the series also explores the problem of education and enlightenment, which requires an individually-designed approach to each person. As a result, the human race is, perhaps, the most educated since successfully embodied such a method. On the other hand, the socialist model provides the idea of equality since there are different races and cultures on the ship. In the series, there are many characters which simultaneously belong to two races. After all, Spock is a “half-breed” character, and he is forced to give his blood to save the man in A Journey to Babel, although he does not belong to this race. Therefore, Star Trek is partly a “liberal-humanistic project” that mirrored the achievements of civil rights movements (Bernardi, 1997).

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The idea largely resembles the Soviet socialist system, which under the slogan “unity of nations” initiated the invisible colonization . However, Star Trek also criticizes a racist problem in the United States, offering a humanistic program of equality. It hides the implicit allegory for the Cold War and the Vietnamese War, condemning not require the use of weapons (Franklin, 1994). In both cases, Star Trek is still a utopia because it ignores specific historical conditions, proposing a generalization. In this case, Bernardi notes that “Star Trek’s liberal-humanist project is exceedingly inconsistent and at times disturbingly contradictory, often participating in and facilitating racist practice” (Bernardi, 1997). This could be explained by the fact that the show has reflected various views on race that have changed in parallel with the emergence of new series.

The ability to create all things due to the replicator reflects the idea of scientific and technological breakthrough, which was important for the United States and the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War. The competition between the two world powers took place at different levels, where the technique was, probably, the most powerful way of manipulating mass consciousness. Accordingly, flying to space and weapons manufacture were the markers that determined the influence at the geopolitical world stage. However, in the series, such an issue does not exist as the replicator can do any material thing (Yglesias, 2013). Obviously, this idea reflected the major issues of the American material culture, where the cult of things was the basis of life for many people. In fact, popular culture rather actively responded to this in the 60s, and the idea of a replicator was the most compelling, but equally utopian. Since a man itself is a material creature that exists within the culture, he/she cannot avoid wealth: “They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals […] by producing their means of subsistence, men are indirectly producing their actual material life” (Marx, 1845). But the problem of postmodern consumerism lies in the fact that that it dictates such material things that a person does not want. Therefore, Star Trek depicts a situation where someone can get anything, even if it would be another extreme of human existence.

In conclusion, Star Trek is an example of a utopian narrative that includes key social and ideological problems of its time. On the one hand, it was an attempt to create an ideology that is contrary to capitalism. There is no money and no need to produce material benefits since everything is available thanks to the replicator. In its place, the series proposed a situation where all races and genders are equal, and their utopian existence embodies the historical patterns of socialism/communism. Furthermore, they have equal rights in their duties, including the ship of Federation. On the other hand, matter and things are important for this world, because technology represents a positive idea of progress. However, Star Trek’s utopian narrative does not include an individual as a victim of totalitarian regimes (socialism) or consumerism (capitalism), but as someone that has already overcome this danger, even under the control of the Federation.