“Science fiction… is a way of trying to describe what is in fact going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast sack, this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story.”
—Ursula Le Guin
The best science fiction is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves. It’s a way of reflecting on ourselves and our society. We use it not just to tell great stories, but to examine our problems, prejudices, achievements, and possibilities against the backdrop of galaxies.
There’s little doubt that this fact helps explain, at least in part, the decades-long success of the Star Trek franchise. For over 50 years it has used speculative storytelling to aid us in self-reflection, in the quest to better ourselves and build a more just world.
From its inception in the mid 1960s the show broke new ground by challenging social norms and defying taboos. They put a black woman on the bridge as a main cast member during the tumultuous civil rights era. The Original Series also had a Russian character working side by side with the rest of the crew as part of its main ensemble during the height of the Cold War and tensions with the Soviet Union.
It wasn’t just in character and casting choices that the franchise has butt heads with status quos and social norms. In all nine past and currently airing Star Trek series, the creators and writers have used episodes and storylines to examine a wide variety of social, cultural, political, and philosophical issues and questions.
Deep Space Nine addresses racism in “Far Beyond the Stars” as well as a variety of questions related to the morality of war through the Dominion story arc. DS9 also had the first ever same-sex kiss on television and addressed imperialism, holocaust, and genocide with stories about Cardassia’s occupation of Bajor. The show also took on issues of poverty, homelessness, and revolution in “Past Tense.” Star Trek Enterprise looks at issues of war and revenge in the Xindi story arc. The Next Generation addresses issues of feminism and gender norms in episodes like “Who Watches the Watchers” and “The Outcast.” TNG reflects on native american genocide and relocation in “Journey’s End,” and both TNG and Voyager explore issues of authoritarianism through stories about the borg.
I haven’t even touched on the newer shows. This list could go on for pages. But in brief and in addition to the above, various episodes and story arcs throughout all the various Trek shows are also used to explore ideas about what constitutes life, cultural relativity, the nature of consciousness and the self, genetic modification, the religion versus science debate, various other issues of ethics and morality, and so much more.
At Quark’s Bar we’re here for All. Of. It.
Quark’s is the place within Unimatrix Zero where you’ll find all kinds of riveting discussions about Star Trek as a mirror for our world today. You’ll find articles exploring the issues and questions Star Trek has addressed, how it has tackled them, and what it has had to say about them. And don’t worry, the dabo tables are still here too, as is that ridiculous dartboard!
So we hope you’ll stick around, and come back often. Grab some hasperate, an Andorian Ale, and have a seat at the bar. The conversations promise to be stimulating.