In both the episodes “The City on the Edge of Forever”, and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, the crew of the Enterprise is portrayed as inhabiting a futuristic, science and democracy based utopia. Whilst the accomplishments of the Utopia may be laudable: advanced technology to travel the stars and the ability to keep entire planets stable and fed, these two episodes suggest a certain bias in the creators of Star Trek in creating their utopia. The primary bias is that the utopia is very ethno-centric, in that its philosophies and origins are explicitly linked to the rise of the United States of America. At the same time, Star Trek seems to be aware of this bias, and probes the flaws of this vision in “City on the Edge”.
Having viewed “Battlefield” before “City on the Edge”,I did not initially perceive how much Star Trek draws from America to create its utopia. However, there is very much evidence for this in “Battlefield”. One of the things that has troubled me about this episode is how the creators seemed to want Cheron to be an allegory for racism in America, and yet their were so many holes and discrepancies between the two. The wars between Bele and Lokai can be compared to so many on earth, namely just about every civil war that most every country has experienced at one point or another. It also makes a lot of suggestions of genocide, and yet there is no explicit mention of the Holocaust, the Khmer rouge, or the countless atrocities that have been committed on the pretense of hate and race. Thus it seems inexplicable that, given a whole human history of violence, the crew of The Enterprise, and the writers of Star Trek, only find the experience of African Americans significant (The parallels and between the episode and civil rights were worked out in last week’s blog posts). This problem seemed to disappear when I realized how important America is to Star Trek’s utopia, with “City on the Edge” serving to provide my epiphany. If the federation is a uniquely American Utopian project, then it makes sense that American slavery would be so important to the crew. America must have gotten it right after slavery. Yes, they enslaved and discriminated at one point, but they were such progressive and upstanding people that they were able abolish it and, a few centuries later, spread their message of peace and acceptance throughout the galaxy in giant warships that tend to fire torpedoes at nonconformist aliens. OK, I implied a lot there, but the gist of it is this: The Star Trek universe is not necessary a “utopia” where suffering is abolished and the “human condition” is cured. It is instead an American utopia, one where every piece of American history until the shows creation has placed America in line to lead the world into a wonderful future, one where a handsome young man from Iowa is free to pursue his dream of captaining a spaceship and traveling back in time to fall in love with a 20th century pacifist.
Wait and second. Of all the beautiful women in history, Captain Kirk goes back in time to fall in love with an imaginary pacifist during the Great Depression? As for Edith Keeler, it has occurred to me that she is more symbolic then just being one of those random binaries in time that if switched from 0 to 1 causes the collapse of the known universe. Yes, it is true that “City on the Edge” helped me understand that Star Trek was an American utopia. However, Star Trek’s American project is reveled every time the ship is call “USS: Enterprise”, and thus without this episode it would still be an American utopia. Instead, it is much more contemplative, providing commentary on the utopia itself, and suggesting that it is not as perfect as the starched spandex uniforms might suggest. In his desire for Edith Keeler, Captain Kirk lusts for a peaceful utopia. Between this dynamic and the placement of Keeler before World War II, before the US solidified its power in the 20th century (and further on as implied by the episode), there is a strong suggestion that Kirk, the Federation, and the young United states of America all have a desire for peace. And while the episode suggests that the United States actions in WWII saved the American utopia, the symbolic death of Keeler suggests that something beautiful was lost in the processes. The way in which Kirk feels so strongly for Keeler, and is so devastated (perhaps more disturbed, as he does not allow his inner emotions to take over for very long), implies that such people and ideals no longer exist in his world. Keleer’s utopic view of a technologically advanced future does not captivate Kirk because it is the place he comes from, but what he wishes the Federation could truly be like. Thus a more tarnished view of the Star Trek American utopia is introduced, one that is less fanciful and egotistic towards the American way of life. Yes, the Federation holds great power, and the capacity to improve lives. At the same time, there are costs to this Utopia. In order to achieve it, America had to listen to its military strategists, not its idealists, and it can be inferred that the Federation has had to continue its fight into the future. In doing so, idealists like Keeler have been cast aside or left unheard, something that appears to have left a heartache in the souls of the futuristic American utopia.
My thoughts on the two Star Trek episodes have left me with a couple of questions. In respect to the Americanized utopia, are the creators of Star Trek trying to just provide entertainment that will jibe with a mostly American audience, or do they truly believe that the key to the future lies in America?
Also, in “City on the Edge” the idealism of Keeler was shown to be naive in the face of Nazi Germany. Are the writers of Star Trek suggesting that this is the fate of America, and any utopia to stem from it? Is America fundamentally a country torn between idealism and reality? Could an interstellar civilization really be considered a utopia if it is based upon this?