A Rose, By A Vulcan Name, Would Smell As Sweet. Essay, Research Paper
A Rose, By a Vulcan Name, Would Smell as Sweet.
Social commentary is dangerous. In addition to risking social and political censure, the commentator must carefully convey the message. In directly addressing a problem, one risks alienating an audience before making one’s point. If one indirectly approaches said problem, one may appear to lack conviction or a point. Star Trek: the Original Series takes a third path, that of allegory. Unfortunately, as the television series belongs to the science fiction genre, its social significance is often disregarded. However, upon examination, it is clear that the veiled nature of commentary in Star Trek is vital.
An allegory addresses issues, usually current political or social situations, through a fictionalized account. This is useful to protect the teller of the tale from legal or political persecution, as evidenced by “Lewis Carroll’s” Alice in Wonderland. Allegory may also use situational hyperbole to exaggerate a situation until its social impact is obvious, as in Voltaire’s Candide.
The cloak of allegory serves both functions, after a fashion, in Star Trek: the Original Series. Rather than protecting the creator, altered representations protected the integrity of the story line from network censors. For example, the episode “A Private Little War” depicted the Federation, the series’ protagonist organization, warring with the Klingon nation, its nemesis, on a tiny primitive world (Star Trek). In all actuality, the episode was a declaration of pacifism aimed at the follies of the Vietnam War. Such a declaration might be blocked by censors as unpatriotic or lacking in viewer allure, were it a straightforward statement of the evils of Vietnam. As a story, however, it avoids such charges and may be distributed to the masses via television.
Situational exaggeration is also utilized to drive home important points. A problem may not be apparent to an average person. Thus, the allegorist expands the
problem, inflating it beyond normal context to make its import apparent. The creators of the Original Series achieved this through symbols. In the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” two “alien” men, whose faces were half black and half white, were featured. The white half was on right side of one man’s face, and the left of the other’s. Due to this difference, the two races had fought one another until only two survived (Star Trek). This seems merely a tragic story. In actuality, it is a comment on racism. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” tells the viewer a familiar story, the differences between the two men are minimal, as are the differences between races on Earth. Their faces are composed of the same colors in differing combinations. So, too, are the colors of humanity the same, merely present in differing proportions.
Hidden within fiction, serious themes pervaded the Star Trek of the 60’s. Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek franchise, outlined a utopian future where the iniquities of the present are absent or conquerable. Those evils included racism, intolerance, sexism and war. Ethnocentrism is denounced by a multi-ethnic cast, which features characters of many nationalities and worlds in prominent positions. The familiar theme of racism arises again in “Balance of Terror.” Cold War paranoia is represented the fictional humanity’s own “Cold War” with the Romulans, an apparently inimical race. This episode also calls to mind the persecution of Americans with Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. The character Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, bears a resemblance to the Romulan enemy, and is therefore denigrated and labeled a traitor by his own comrades.
Though the humans of Star Trek exist in cold or outright war with beings from other worlds, this state is portrayed as deplorable. “Everyone always wants me to do space battles,” Gene Roddenberry once said, “Well screw them. That’s not what Star Trek is about (Walsh 2),” and this pacifism is extolled by the characters of the series. The “Prime Directive,” the central concept of Star Trek: the Original Series’ exploring culture, is a sort of code of honor derived from Roddenberry’s feelings on the Vietnam War. It forbids interference in the development of civilizations less powerful or technologically advanced than Earth’s.
Numerous attempts were made to depict gender equality; unfortunately, in this the Original Series failed. Viewers interpret an analogy featuring slavery, bigotry or second-class citizens as a statement pertaining to racism rather than sexism. The issue must be approached directly, if not obviously. In the original pilot of the Original Series, the first officer is female (Gross 3). The character was dropped by the time the second pilot aired. A unisex uniform, consisting of pants for both sexes, graced the second pilot (Gross 2). The uniform disappeared thereafter. Two prominent characters, Lieutenant Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols) and Yeoman Rand (played by Grace Lee Whitney), are female. However, the characters function in socially acceptable roles. Uhura is, essentially, a telephone operator and Rand serves as the Captain’s secretary. This demonstrates how essential to the series’ social criticism allegory is. Those issues, which could not be disguised, did not appear in the show.
The Original Series was not the only television series of its time, which dabbled, in social commentary. Some of its contemporaries were “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family.” These shows reflected societal discomfort through the portrayal of outsiders. Racial concerns could not be shown directly so, “if you can’t talk about “Black,” “Yellow,” or “Red” people, you can disguise them as “Green” people (Peterson).” Another show which might be taken as allegory is the 1964-1966 series “The Invaders,” which featured an alien invasion only one man was aware of. This has definite overtones of Communism-related paranoia. However, the potential for allegory is never explored in these series beyond their premises. None attempted to lead the way to Utopia through example.
Star Trek: the Original Series featured progressive ideas, ideals, and ideologies. A message of “harmony and humanism” (Zoglin 1) illuminates the stories and their fictional universe. Though belonging to a genre that is, to many critics, nothing more than a literary punching bag, it examined issues too often untouched. The Original Series advocated tolerance, gender equality, and altruism. Through allegory, Star Trek transcends mere entertainment and becomes an education in possibility. Though shrouded in a veil of symbols and legends, the light of Roddenberry’s message remains unobscured.
“A Private Little War.” Star Trek: the Original Series. NBC. 2 February,1968.
“Balance of Terror.” Star Trek: the Original Series. NBC. 15 December, 1966.
Gross, Edward. “Primetime Directive.” Cinescape 8 September 1996. 13 November2000. .
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” Star Trek: the Original Series. NBC. 10 January, 1969.
Peterson, Michael. Telephone interview. 12 November 2000.
Walsh, Michal. “The Torch has Passed Off-Camera, Too.” Time 28 November 1994. 13 November 2000..
Zoglin, Richard. “Trekking Onward.” Time 28 November1994. 13 November 2000..