Nowadays, as never before, media are of crucial influence on the contemporary society. This influence might be both positive and negative depending on the message outlined in certain media. On the other hand, the phenomenon of media’s influence is largely conditioned by the society it is created in. In this regard, the interconnection between society’s requirements and media creation exists. In this regard is meant not a simple law of supply and demand but more crucial social phenomenon of social development and evolution. That is why a distinction between media and media should be made. There are media which is about satisfying desires of customers; it can be called low-level and consumptive media. On the other hand, there are media which impact generation and are meant to effect society from within; they can be called high-level media. The aim of the present essay is to look into the impact of the second type of media on American society. The chosen media is Star Trek.
The Breakthrough of “Star Trek: The Original Series”.
Looking at Star Trek from the contemporary perspective, it may seem that the Franchise was always there and that it is simply part of the science-fiction media world. It can be also argued that there was nothing similar before it. Although the Franchise created the model for the science-fiction on the wide screen and in various aspects of futuristic movie-making, it also had a curial impact on the American society of that time and further generations, as well (Davis 164). In order to understand the extent of changes the first TV series of “Star Trek: The Original Series” should be analysed.
First of all, the series were created and originally aired in the late 1960s. It was still the time of the Cold War and increase of the arm race between USA and the Soviet Union. The time when space technologies were viewed as means of nuclear weapons delivery and thus means for world annihilation (Sarantakes 77). From the social perspective, the American society was characterised by paranoia for everything alien and diversity was synonymous to an adversary or enemy, not to mention the fact that racism and social intolerance were still widely spread (Sarantakes 83). This was the environment into which Star Trek was born.
The immediate message sent by creators to the target audience, which referred to adults rather than children, was that diversity and peace are for the common goodness. This message was immediately vivid through the crew of the spaceship: Montgomery Scott ( a Scottish man), Uhura (an African-American woman), Hiraku Sulu (a Japanese American) and, finally, Spock (alien of half-Vulcan decency). Another prominent and quite self-explanatory character was Pavel Chekov (a Russian), who appeared in the second season of the original series (McAvoy 543). The importance of this crew was in promoting diversity and unanimity of human values through ethnical differences and certain cultural prejudices. In this regard, the director Gene Roddenberry aimed at showing that unknown did not necessarily mean hostile and alien. The essence of crew’s cooperation was humanism and mutual desire for further growths and development, which was particularly vivid on the example of voyages and day-to-day issues characters had to face (Davis 165).
Although it may seem that, in order to change something in a society, collecting inter-cultural crew and teaching about humanism in every-day decisions is not enough, Star Trek proved it possible. This was particularly relevant for the Afro-American population. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was the first female African-American to get an equal role to the White colleagues. Her role as an equal member of the space crew was a breakthrough for many African-American girls who wanted more than racist society could give them (McAvoy 541). From the feminist perspective, the role of Uhura can be viewed as a crucial step forward in the African American female emancipation and self-expression, in popular media (McAvoy 549). From another perspective, this role and diverse crew depicted already existing social reality, which needed reemphasis on the wide screen for people to realise and accept existing changes.
The Cultural Perspective of Influence.
Except for being a breakthrough for social perception of the posed issues in the American society of that time, Star Trek was also of a significant cultural impact on audiences, not just in USA but worldwide. In this regard, the impact can be viewed from a few perspectives. First of all, the Franchise proclaimed the importance and actual necessity of humanism for human survival and that war cannot bring eventual success to any nation. Peace between nations, equality of diverse persons and dominance of morality and rule of law were the founding stones of the described reality (Buzan 178). Looking into these values, it becomes immediately vivid that these values correspond to the American notion of democracy. Further on, it can be argued that the Franchise promoted American democratic values in a quite non-intrusive and elaborated way. Showing how main heroes resolve every-day moral issues in the futuristic reality, the audience unwillingly was making parallels with their everyday life (Buzan 179). From the learning perspective, it was the case of following one example but still based of freedom of will and personal responsibility for actions.
Looking on the matter from the international perspective, it can be argued that Star Trek Franchise as an embodiment of the main issues existing in the American society and ways of their resolution, showed the international audience the evolution of the American approach to the existing situation (Sarantakes 82). While the first series was more driven by the desire of exploration of the unknown and subsequent evolution of civilisation as the main goal of common cooperation, the second series of “The Next Generation” concentrated on exploration of the essence of humanity in its every embodiment and ideal for every living creature to follow (Davis 164). In this regard, Star Trek became the book of universal wisdom of human existence and it aimed at teaching people how to improve themselves.
It may seem that the target audience of any futuristic movie or series should be children, and they are the ones who can follow examples from the movies, but, in fact, the target audience of Star Trek was always adults. Although adults would not follow existing examples blindly, those examples would make them think about the issues described and similar issues in the reality contemporary to them (Sarantakes 81). In this context, Star Trek was teaching the American society that the Cold War was not about Soviet people, who were the same human beings but that it was about the lack of humanity in the existing regime which had to be fought. Thus, it can be summarised that, through the promotion of contemporary democratic values, Star Trek, as high-level media, was building minds and perceptions which resulted in contemporary opinion of various intelligent activists of our time (Buzan 176). Many of contemporary engineers and scientists were inspired by Star Trek as an embodiment of human capabilities and subsequent responsibilities.
Overall, from all mentioned above it can be concluded that Star Trek had a significant impact on the development of American society. The first contribution was in the realisation of unity and commonality of human nature irrespective of differences in ethnical and cultural specifics. In this regard, Star Trek was a breakthrough in the American society of 1960’s which was still quite racially and socially-divided. Secondly, from the international perspective, the Franchise aimed at promotion of the democratic and humanistic values, as the only values which could provide human survival as a species. In both cases, the main impact of the media was in changing people’s perception on the existing dilemmas and reality surrounding them. So, Star Trek effected human minds, and it achieved changes because it made people think. This is as much as media or any other way of influence may achieve.
Buzan, Barry. “America in Space: The International Relations of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica” Millenium, 39.1 (2010): 175-180. Print.
Davis, Adrienne. “Gran Torino” New Political Science, 32.1 (March 2012): 163-168. Print.
McAvoy, Paula. “‘There Are No Housewives on Star Trek’: A Re-examination of Exit Rights for the Children of Insular Fundamentalist Parents” Educational Theory, 62.5 (October 2012): 535-552. Print.
Sarantakes, Nicholas Evan. “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series” Journal of Cold War Studies, 7.4 (2007): 74-103. Print.