Site Loader
Rock Street, San Francisco

     Television has significantly influenced
socio-political debate for generations, challenging pre-established notions of
race, gender and our shared societal norms and values. However, despite the
social significance of television, some may claim that storytelling does not
maintain the substantial influence with Jason Holland claiming in the ‘Independent’
that television is a ‘pale substitute’ when compared to cinema and, therefore
lacks the social impact. In this analysis, we will be exploring the socio-political
influence maintained by one of the most diverse and progressive broadcasts of
the 1960s-‘Star Trek’ (NBC, 1966-1969).


     During the 1960s, at the time of ‘Star Trek’s’ release, Hollywood was
dominated by Anglo-Saxon men, retaining a large portion of roles within movies
and television. This absence of diversity lead to a considerable lack of roles
to be given to ethnic minorities causing a  considerable gap in representation against the
thriving Black, Asian and Hispanic communities (contributing to 11%, 0.6% and
3.5% in the 1960s respectively). This, however, seemed to change with the introduction
of the original ‘Star Trek’ series, portraying strong, independent characters
who broke through the confines of race to be given a leading role: the seductive
‘Uhura’ (as played by Nichelle Nichols) to play the first black woman she saw
on television that was not “a maid” and was even claimed to be an inspiration
for youth of colour, including the infamous Whoopi Goldberg, a now
entertainment tycoon. In fact, ‘Star Trek’, excluding a racially diverse cast, was
the first show to portray an interracial kiss in 1968. This was highly
controversial since Hollywood had banned depictions of interracial
relationships from 1930 to 1956 and U.S. laws forbade interracial marriages up
until 1967. Although only being a small step in the right direction, it sparked
debate amongst communities to challenge racial prejudices brought about by generations
of systematic institutional racism and, henceforth, allowed for representation amongst
developing communities to offer as inspiration.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

     However, despite this, many could argue
that the diversity in some characters could be for a more detrimental purpose
than originally expected. The character ‘Uhura’ could be said to go through a
process of fetishisation as explored by Marxist, Pietz, also known as commodity fetish, states that “false
consciousness based upon an objective illusions…can turn material objects
into commodities concealing exploitative social relations, displacing
value-consciousness”. Additionally, this view of fetishism is
situated as the point at which objective institutional systems are
“personified” by individuals. In short, the idea that ‘Uhura’ is that
of ‘forbidden fruit’ her strong role could just be diluted down to her being
that of a sexual being, moreover a strong, black character.


     In terms of social relevance, ‘Star Trek’ has always been pushing the
envelope, as well as promoting people’s interest in science, many would claim that
the focus of the show steadily deviated from that original intent and has moved
away from its scientific, to encourage a more politically correct, with the
show being centred a world where equality of gender and race was achieved. When
the show was created, Altman notes, NBC was very much pushing for diversity in
its casting, in such shows as the Bill Cosby-starring ‘I Spy,’ which started in 1965- in part as a push from the
network’s Stanley Robertson, who was one of the few African American television
executives. “Diversity was important to him and he was dealing with racism,”
says Altman. “In a way, he was the Sidney Poitier of television.” The series included
Nichelle Nichols, who played the communications officer Lt. Uhura, a rare
position of authority at the time for a black, female TV character. This idea
promoted, yet again the breakdown of established prejudices surrounding race
and gender and largely affected the accepted social norms and values of the
60s, leading to further political discussion and debate and legislative reform.

     On the other hand, the show did perpetuate
ongoing thoughts and concerns regarding colonisation and exploitation. The shows
premise was of teams exploring the universe on a ‘civilising mission’, whereby
they indoctrinate other galaxies into their alliance, furthermore, those who
did not comply were deemed to be that of enemy of the states and fought within
areas such as the ‘neutral zone’. This, despite ‘Star Trek’s’ marvellous attempt to create a diverse cast is
foreshadowed by their imperialistic characteristic, further perpetuating
notions of colonisation in a modern age, drawing the idea that, those who are
not integrated into modern western civilization are savages and brutes.
Furthermore, George Byron Koch, discussed the idea of the ‘Fear of the other’,
whereby, as people, a key defining characteristic of human society is
tribalism: its tendency to gather in groups which define themselves by certain
common characteristics, and differentiate themselves with other groups and
individuals who do not share these characteristics.  The idea of ‘fearing the unknown’ from within ‘Star Trek’, however, could draw upon
the social and political attitudes maintained by America in the 60s to foreign
countries, as if acting like a metaphor by which individuals reflect and mask their
ignorance of other cultures and the desire to conquer and Westernise third world


     The show also explore notions of communism
and a classless society. In the book ‘The Ultimate Star Trek and Philosophy:
The Search for Socrates’ writers Kevin S. Decker, William Irwin, Jason T. Eberl
all argue that the show challenges notions of materialistic possessions and a
classless society as originally explored by Marx, arguing that the show discusses
notions of ‘utopia’ and how, as a society we can transcend capitalist greed for
the greater good of exploration and travel.

      However, despite this, there still
maintains traditional stereotypes and roles associated with race and gender,
with no female lead ever taking charge of the ‘Enterprise’ in the original series
retaining a white male lead to take the star role as Captain. In conjunction, even
though there were more progressive elements to the show from my modern day
perspective, women still play a minimal role in the show, are often portrayed
as weak or hysterical and emotional and supporting roles are occupied by the
“people of colour” unlike the white male majority and two leading white males.
There are not any racial slurs tossed about though there are more than a few
jabs at women.

     Furthermore, despite having a cohesive society
with an abundance of different alien species, their still maintains a lot of prejudice
amongst humans and their respective peers. Kirk often mocks Spock for not
conforming to the human standards of humour and sarcasm, and even pokes fun at
his dual heritage in the sake of comedy. This again relates to the ‘fear of the
unknown’ that, despite the integration of different species, there still maintains
a societal stigma against other cultures, offering an introspective function of
how we view people as a whole.


     The 1960s saw the Cold War reach new, and
potentially cataclysmic, velocities. The Cuban missile crisis could conceivably
have eradicated humanity. The economic and political ideologies which caused
the conflict, Capitalism and Communism, inevitably became attached to national
identities; Russia for Communism and America for Capitalism. When the network
forced Roddenberry to include a young male character, in order to attract a
female audience, he created Pavel Chekhov. Portrayed by Walter Koenig, the
character of Chekhov was an inherently contentious cast member. In the midst of
the Cold War, an era where it was entirely potential and in some likelihood
probable, that Nuclear Warfare could break out over the most minuscule of misdemeanours,
the inclusion of a Russian character in an American show was innovative given
the insatiable American desire to demonize and vilify their Cold War
ideological enemies. Gordon Allport argues that, through a process of generalisation
and stereotyping, has suggested that people find it easier to understand ‘categorized
information’, thus draw these conclusions to make sense of varying cultures and
nationalities. However, ‘Star Trek’ tried
to break through these prejudices, as not to alienate and progress the misconceptions
regarding Russia, breaking down barriers in an extremely tense time.

     In contrast, the show, sometimes did not
help in the way of progressing gender stereotypes, for example, the episode ‘Shore
Leave,’ our heroes beam down to a planet which, unbeknownst to them, turns
whatever fantasies they happen to be thinking of into a reality. For Yeoman
Tonia Barrows, her fantasy includes being ‘dressed like a fairy-tale princess,
with lots of floaty stuff and a tall hat with a veil.’ According to dialogue,
she wants to be ‘a lady to be protected and fought for.’ Of course, the
fantasies of the male members of the landing party are decidedly less passive
(McCoy gets a parade of women, Kirk gets to fight his academy bully and bed an
old flame, Sulu gets to fire an antique revolver, etc.). Eagly & Wood argue
that gender stereotyping and role allocation ’emerge during the preschool years
and are deeply entrenched by adulthood’. This suggests that, to the audience,
these are the maintained gender roles, with a considerable lack of challenge
for more strong female characters which could both inspire and represent a generation.


    So, to conclude, television drama can have
an exponential effect on the socio-political debate, challenging notions of
gender, race and ideas of societal infrastructure. These had real effects on
race relations within both Hollywood, with a steady increase in ethnic minorities
receiving major roles in television, as well as breaking down preconceived stereotypes
and notions of race established by outdated western values and sparking controversial
conversation of the time.

     Despite this, the show did perpetuate certain
gender roles, which may have proved detrimental to the fight of equality of the
gender, maintaining outdated forms of gender identity and femininity. As well
as this, a large portion of the characters were still white and, although beginning
to make strides, left a segment of communities unaccounted for and underrepresented

Post Author: admin


I'm Dora!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out