Check out former USIH blogger Mike O’Connor’s newly published article, “Liberals in space: The 1960s Politics of Star Trek,” in the newish journal, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. Here’s the abstract:
Among television programs of the late 1960s Star Trek was somewhat anomalous in tackling philosophical and political themes, and in doing so in a consistently liberal voice. Its statements, however, reveal not only the highest aspirations of the period’s liberal project, but also the limitations and unresolved tensions of that approach. This point is exemplified by considering Star Trek’s treatment of the two most significant issues of the era: the African-American civil rights movement and the ongoing crisis of the Cold War. With regard to the first, Star Trek took a strong and unambiguous stance in favor of what one might call liberal color-blindness. Yet by the late 1960s, the rise of Black Power and the growing white working-class backlash against the civil rights movement had raised questions that liberal color-blindness could not answer. As a result, Star Trek’s racial politics unintentionally reflected the limitations of the integrationist framework. Star Trek was more conflicted and less confident about the issues of Vietnam and the Cold War. The series consistently articulated anticommunist “establishment” or “Cold War” liberalism, while simultaneously featuring the equally strong, yet contradictory, message of the pacifist anti-militarism reminiscent of the counterculture and New Left. Yet Star Trek’s undoubtedly conflicted position on the Cold War embodied less an unreflective or illiberal spirit in the show than a broader split within the American left itself, between liberal anticommunism and countercultural pacifism. Star Trek was unable to provide a venue, even in a fictional universe, in which these contradictory positions could co-exist.