The Voyages of Star Trek: A Mirror on American Society Through Time

Rowman & Littlefield. Oct. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9781538136966. $35. TV
The Star Trek universe is rife with danger, from malevolent alien races to cataclysmic astronomical events. However, the franchise has also posited an optimistic view of humanity, showcasing a unified Earth. Heath (anthropology, Indiana State Univ.) and anthropology scholar Carlisle cite this central tenet, along with StarTrek’s ability to mirror a changing culture, as the reason why it has survived for 50-plus years, spawning multiple TV series and films. The authors surveyed each incarnation for its handling of social issues and sampled still images from each series to see if the progressive ideas in the script were represented onscreen. The book summarizes each series (and devotes a chapter to the 13 movies), highlights key episodes, provides cultural context, and presents quantitative data on onscreen representation. The authors successfully chart the evolution of Star Trek, but their attempts to capture the zeitgeist of the times occasionally leads to generalizations that imply universal shared experiences. Surely not all Americans were happy and naive prior to 9/11? Their snapshot approach to onscreen representation also draws questions. Is it fair to say that 23 percent of the people shown on Star Trek: The Next Generation are Black when that statistic chiefly refers to the same three characters?
VERDICT Socially conscious fans will appreciate this study, which shows a real affection for its subject; however, skeptics may question the conclusions it draws.

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