How Science Fiction Tackles Social Issues

Now science fiction movies are mostly just shoot-‘em-ups, but back in the day sci-fi was a medium to explore social issues. SF allowed us to examine the core elements of controversial issues without all the emotional baggage that went along with them. It’s easy to dismiss the genre when you have grown-up fans walking around in costumes and silver make-up, but SF employs disarming tools to tease core arguments from their tired rhetoric. Here pundits, smoke screens, and slogans are stripped away and we see a subject as though for the first time. We get to test whether the rules we create to guide our lives work in any world or are just arbitrary constructs. And back in the late 1960s, no science fiction did this better then Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, TOS (that’s “the original series” for those who actually dated in high school.)

Take the issue of Vietnam. It’s an understatement to say that back then it was hard for people to look at the Vietnam war objectively; on one side you had Jane Fonda, on the other Richard Nixon. (I don’t know about you but when I was a young boy, images of both of them used to get my blood pumping, albeit in completely different ways.) Put the issue on an alien planet and set up the plot so the Klingons are arming one side, the Federation the other, and an innocent, naïve alien species is in the middle. It becomes easy to see that simply arming both sides to the teeth is not the answer.

Consider too how complicated the subject of race relations was four decades ago. Star Trek simplified it for me. When a conflict between black-and-white striped aliens erupts onto the bridge of the Enterprise the absurdity of racism is dramatically illustrated. At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the only reason these two “races” so vehemently hate each other is because one of them is black on the right side and the other black on the left. Sure it’s silly, but in a time when laws were still on the books in the United States preventing interracial couples from marrying, you couldn’t blame the writers of Star Trek for being heavy handed.


SF allows us to take a step back, drop the baggage of associations we connect to an issue, and see it in a completely new light, testing our preconceptions.

Folksonomies: science fiction humanism

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/society/unrest and war (0.446946)
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Star Trek: The Next Generation (0.971528): website | dbpedia | freebase
Star Trek (0.955191): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (0.935441): dbpedia | freebase
Vietnam War (0.888720): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
Gene Roddenberry (0.777410): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago | musicBrainz
Richard Nixon (0.768289): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago | musicBrainz
Science fiction film (0.760790): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Star Trek: Enterprise (0.738143): website | dbpedia | freebase

 Star Trek Made Me an Atheist
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Farrantello, Nick (2009/07), Star Trek Made Me an Atheist, The Humanist, July / August 2009, Retrieved on 2013-01-05
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science fiction humanism


    05 JAN 2013

     The Power of Science Fiction

    What is it that makes science fiction so appealing? What can SF accomplish that other genres cannot?