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Star Trek - The Americanization of Space

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2001 28 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. An Introduction to Star Trek
2.1. The Star Trek Universe
2.2. The Star Trek Series

3. Science Fiction as a Mirror of Reality?
3.1. Star Trek in the Historical Context
3.2. Star Trek: A Mirror of U.S. Politics?
3.3. The Colonization of Space

4. The Marketing of Star Trek

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

‘The Americanization of Cultures’ is an interesting and equally important topic, but very complex as it includes many different aspects. Americanization influences nearly every sector of life, at least in most European countries. Often enough, the process of Americanization is not even noticed as such anymore. Americanization means the influence of, or the adaptation to, American values and moral ideals, to the American political system, to the American way of life, to American popular culture, and so on. Obviously, the media, and especially the medium of television, plays an important part in the process of Americanization, as American productions such as Hollywood movies, television series, soap operas, and talk shows are broadcasted in countries all over the world. As the influence of the media cannot be overestimated, I decided to analyze the science-fiction series Star Trek, a successful American television series that reaches a large audience in many countries. Star Trek attracts viewers from very different social background, viewers of different age, and of different nationalities. Therefore, an examination of Star Trek as an example of American popular culture is interesting; as the series is an American production, it can be assumed that the series conveys American values and reflects the situation of the U.S. in many respects. My intention is to analyze what is American about the future described in Star Trek, what American ideals the series disseminates, what messages it conveys, and why this idea of the future not only proves to be popular in the U.S., but is a success worldwide.

Of course, a distinction has to be made between the original Star Trek series of the 1960s, and the later series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1980s), Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (1990s). I will concentrate on Star Trek, the original series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. These two series differ significantly from each other in their presentation of political and social issues. That is the reason why Star Trek is suited for the analysis of U.S. society and the change of American values over a long period of time. To the series Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager I will refer only in a few sentences.

I am aware of the fact that it is very hard for people who have never or only irregularly watched Star Trek to understand the differences between the ships and the crews, not to mention the different alien races and their home planets. In this respect, Star Trek is comparable to any other soap opera; a lot of its fascination derives from the familiarity with the characters. And I do not want to bore my readers by giving a precise definition of all the aspects of the Star Trek universe, by listing the species, the planets, the conflicts, and the astrophysical phenomena. The series is only interesting or entertaining if one has a certain preference for science-fiction stories, or at least American soap operas. Nevertheless, it is inevitable to give a short introduction to the content of Star Trek, but I really try to make it brief.

Moreover, in contrast to other articles and books on the phenomenon of Star Trek, I decided against going into the details with the description and analysis of single episodes. I analyze the series as a whole, not the sequel of episodes. First of all, there will be a description of the Star Trek universe, followed by an introduction to the series Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager. Second, I will examine in what respects the series is a mirror of reality. This includes an analysis of Star Trek, the original series, in its historical context; the question in how far both series reflect social and political developments; and, as the last point, an examination of how the issue of colonization is treated in Star Trek. Finally, a short survey of the marketing of Star Trek will be given, as this is an important issue in the context of Americanization.

2. An Introduction to Star Trek

I will divide the introduction to the series into two sections. I will give a geographical definition of the universe as it is presented in the series; introduce the ‘United Federation of Planets’ and its military organization ‘Starfleet’; and describe some of the future technical inventions. Second, I will give short summaries of the different Star Trek series. There will be a description of all the Star Trek series so far, although this research paper is first and foremost concerned with an analysis of Star Trek, the original series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The intention of this introduction is to underline the complexity of this invented universe and to give an insight into the ideas that are mediated in the series, to the message the creators want to convey.

2.1. The Star Trek Universe

In Star Trek, the universe is divided into four quadrants, logically sequenced as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Quadrant. The Star Trek homepage offers a description of the division of space into different areas, as, for example, the Alpha Quadrant is “[t]hat quarter of the Milky Way Galaxy appearing to be located between 6 and 9 o’clock if the great plane of the galaxy is viewed as a clock face and the 6 o’clock position bisects the Sol system.” In the 23rd century, Alpha and Beta Quadrant are explored and mapped, and in both there are many inhabited planets. The Earth, situated in the Alpha Quadrant, is now a nearly perfect planet; its inhabitants are peacefully united as one nation; poverty and illness have been eradicated, and the environment is not polluted anymore. Since there are no fights among the earthlings themselves, conflict only occurs in the greater context of galactic wars.

The Star Trek universe is inhabited by all kinds of species, but most of them have human shape. Their appearance is similar to that of Humans, but some have additional bulges on the nose and the forehead, or a different ear shape. Many of the species of Alpha and Beta Quadrant have joined the United Federation of Planets, which “serves as a strategic and economic alliance” (Collins 148). Interestingly, Humans have a leading role in the United Federation of Planets, because the Earth serves as its capital, and most of its main institutions are located in the former U.S. The Star Trek homepage informs us that “Starfleet Command, Starfleet Academy, and the Federation Council are all based in San Francisco, while the UFP President’s office is in Paris.” Due to the fact that so many different species combine forces and share their knowledge, the United Federation of Planets is always in charge of the latest medical and technological equipment, which guarantees high living standards to all its members.

Despite the fact that the members of the United Federation of Planets aim at a peaceful co-existence and mutual support, they need a military organization to protect them from outward aggression. “Within this promised world, the oxymoronic ‘peaceful’ military organization known as Starfleet promises democracy for the United Federation of Planets – the galactic United Nations – and a resolution to painful human events” (Harrison 1). Starfleet has at its disposal many space ships designed for different purposes, but the most famous is the ‘U.S.S. Enterprise,’ “a faster-than-light starship representing the zenith of twenty-fourth-century technology. Built by the United Federation of Planets, it is owned by Starfleet yet in service to all. Its mandate is to expand the collective wisdom, keep the peace, and provide compassionate aid to all who need it; . . . ” (Greenwald 3). Starfleet explores the universe and wants to contact other species peacefully. Officially, the contacting procedure is strictly regulated by the ‘prime directive,’ which, for example, prohibits the interaction with civilizations that have not yet achieved the knowledge of light speed travels.

In order to explain how humans can survive in space for years and at the same time maintain high living standards, the creative producers of Star Trek introduced many futuristic machines and technologies. Of course, what Star Trek is mostly associated with is ‘beaming’. The transporters of the Star Trek future are able to dematerialize people and materialize them again at a point of destination within a certain radius. The beamer allows people to go from ship to ship, or from ship to planet and back, so that there is no need for shuttles. Beaming already became extremely popular with the original Star Trek series. The author Lawrence M. Krauss reports that “[b]ased on an informal survey I carried out while walking around my campus the other day, the number of people in the United States who would not recognize the phrase ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ is roughly comparable to the number of people who have never heard of ketchup” (Krauss xvi). People are really enthusiastic about this kind of transport, and beaming quickly became synonymous with the series.

Furthermore, the ‘warp drive’ allows star ships to drive faster than light. This explains how the extremely large distances can be done within a short time. The so-called ‘replicators’ can reconstitute matter and produce everything that is needed out of pure energy, no matter whether food, medicaments, or spare parts are required. This is very comfortable, as no storage room is needed for such things. A universal translator instantly allows the verbal interchange with other species, and there are many more inventions that enable Humans to live in space.



ISBN (eBook)
590 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz – Seminar für Englische Philologie: Forschungs- und Lehrbereich Amerikanistik
Star Trek Americanization Space Americanization Cultures



Titel: Star Trek - The Americanization of Space