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Alternative pasts, presents, and futures in Star Trek: Historical engagement and representation through popular culture

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Abstract

Star Trek has long used its unique situation as a socially and politically engaged television show to approach contemporary, historical, and futuristic ideas of race, labor, gender, nature, landscape, and place. The concept of alternate perceptions of history continues to provide engaging insights into historical representation. This paper explores how Star Trek, as an example of performance, media, and popular culture, contributes to dialogues of alternate pasts, presents, and futures. It builds upon these concepts to engage with and influence geographical dialogues of public space, nature, geopolitics, and societal structure. I explore examples from the television show and the wider universe, particularly two episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that are both influenced by historical figures and events and, through time travel, reveal their own historical narratives. While Star Trek continues to operate in fictional space, constructing an ‘idealized’ future and imagined landscapes, this paper recognizes that its influence shapes an experienced and an embodied sense of alternate past, present, and future.
29
Alternative Pasts,
Presents, and Futures
in Star Trek: Historical
Engagement and
Representation through
Popular Culture
Mark Alan Rhodes II
Department of Geography
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44240
E-mail: mrhode21@kent.edu
e Geographical Bulletin 58: 29-39
©2017 by Gamma eta Upsilon
ABSTRACT
Star Trek has long used its unique situation
as a socially and politically engaged television
show to approach contemporary, historical,
and futuristic ideas of race, labor, gender,
nature, landscape, and place. e concept
of alternate perceptions of history continues
to provide engaging insights into historical
representation. is paper explores how Star
Trek, as an example of performance, media,
and popular culture, contributes to dialogues
of alternate pasts, presents, and futures. It
builds upon these concepts to engage with
and influence geographical dialogues of
public space, nature, geopolitics, and societal
structure. I explore examples from the televi-
sion show and the wider universe, particu-
larly two episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space
Nine that are both influenced by historical
figures and events and, through time travel,
reveal their own historical narratives. While
Star Trek continues to operate in fictional
space, constructing an ‘idealized’ future and
imagined landscapes, this paper recognizes
that its influence shapes an experienced and
an embodied sense of alternate past, present,
and future.
Key Words: Star Trek; popular culture; his-
tory; imagined landscapes; futures
GEOGRAPHIES, FUTURES, AND
STAR TREK
Star Trek first aired in 1966, followed by
thirty seasons across six different series, with
the newest premiering in January 2017. e
various television shows, thirteen feature
films, well over one hundred works of litera-
ture, and numerous expressions of fandom
through conventions and exhibitions have
found their way into the very fabric of our
society, influencing even NASA’s first named
space shuttle: Enterprise. Star Treks place
both within and beyond popular culture has
enabled it to engage with critical social and
political issues. is engagement is enhanced
30
Mark Alan Rhodes II
through the show’s ability to approach mod-
ern, historical, and futuristic ideas of race,
labor, gender, nature, landscape, and place.
Because Star Trek is set between the years
2151 and 2378, even events that occur in our
near future, when viewed through the nar-
rative of the show, are examples of alternate
“past” narratives. is mirror “back” into our
future enables these alternate pasts to become
manifest as alternate presents and futures.
Jane Palmer wrote that “the often invisible
past may be a source of unexpected alternative
futures” (2014, 30). Furthermore, it is impor-
tant to recognize that our understanding of
the past is simply the consumption of events
interpreted and written by those with the pow-
er and means to do so. In this way, our past is
simultaneously real and imagined. Depend-
ing on who holds power and how that power
is challenged, there are any infinite number
of very “real” pasts which can be consumed.
ese alternative histories, particularly within
science fiction, as Barney Warf (2002) stated,
hold “important implications for social and
spatial analysis” and are inexplicably tied to
alternate futures. Uncovering these alternate
histories, and giving power to the voiceless,
exposes alternative pasts for present and future
consumption.
This conceptualization, coming out of
the transdisciplinary field of futures studies,
has yet to find traction within geographic
research. Geographers often allude to the fu-
ture, through geopolitics (Dittmer and Dodds
2008) and landscapes (Kadonaga 1995), but
we have yet to engage with the nearly fifty
years of literature, methods, and theory de-
veloped in the field of futures studies. is
field explicitly addresses the role of futuristic
perceptions to tangibly alter our present and
our remembrance of the past. One exception
to geography’s oversight of futures studies is
the work of David Hicks. Hicks (2007, 181
citing Bell 1997, 236) applied futures stud-
ies – focused on “discovering or inventing,
examining, evaluating and proposing possible,
probable and preferable futures”—to geogra-
phy through education. is article was one
of the first times geography addressed futures
studies, and it offered valuable perspectives
into an enhanced geographic curriculum and
pedagogy that encouraged students to actively
construct their work around and apply it to
perceived future issues and concerns, such as
climate change. Hicks, however, does not offer
applications of futures studies beyond educa-
tion and pedagogy.
Despite being one of the longest run-
ning and most successful science fiction
franchises, Star Trek is woefully underrepre-
sented in geographical engagement, despite
the recent popularity in popular geopolitics,
cinematic geography, and fictive geographies
(Sharp 2000). Probably most notable for
geographic engagement with Star Trek was
Jason Dittmer’s (2010) monograph, which
began by using Star Trek as an allegory for
geopolitics. While only a short engagement,
Dittmer (2010, xiii) viewed Star Trek not as
something that “followed from ‘real’ geo-
politics,” but something filled with agency,
because to him “[Star Trek] was geopolitics.”
Heather Mair (2009) also engaged in this
discourse of Star Trek as both imagined and
real in an analysis of Vulcan, Alberta. Much
like Riverside, Iowa, has transitioned from
the fictional to the material “pre-” memo-
rial landscape of where Captain Kirk will
be born, Vulcan, Alberta1 has become a Star
Trek-themed tourist destination. Besides
hosting signage, artwork, and events from the
franchise, the “vulcanization” of Vulcan chal-
lenged the community identity by, at times,
forcibly embedding ideas of post-capitalist or
post-racial society into a traditionally con-
servative community. Here Star Trek went
beyond landscape and “became part of the
mix that shapes how community life if ex-
perienced over time” (Mair 2009, 480). In
both cases Star Trek is not relegated to simple
representation of history, but becomes active,
embodied, and experienced. In this article,
I engage with Star Treks role as a memorial
landscape, as a space and place of memory,
and with its ability to create alternate pasts,
presents, and futures, through an in-depth
examination of two episodes of Star Trek:
Deep Space Nine (DS9).
31
Alternative Pasts, Presents, and Futures in Star Trek
is work forms a new geographical frame-
work utilizing futures studies. Ahlqvist and
Rhisiart (2015, 94) cited the necessity for
the field of futures studies to continue (and
particularly expand) upon its history of criti-
cal engagement to
contribute in social theory through its
transdisciplinary aspects, through its
methodological basis, or through its
orientation as a discipline combining
empirical analysis, specific philosophi-
cal basis, imagination, and a practical
planning orientation.
While Sardar (2008, 893) stated that geogra-
phers were among those engaging with futures
studies, Toni Ahlqvist (a geographer himself)
and Martin Rhisiart (2015, 94) failed to cite
a single study when they stated that human
geography was among those social sciences
that critical futures studies needed to further
engage. is provides further evidence not
only for the need to critically engage, as ge-
ographers, with the field of futures studies,
but the amount to which that engagement
has thus far been underdeveloped.
Futures studies engagement with geogra-
phy, beyond a 1997 special issue in Futures
(Batty and Cole), has been limited. Except
for Saunders’ and Jenkins’ (2012) research on
the role of fear and the envisioning of a future
as a response to absent narratives in educa-
tion, recent research does not follow the call
for a transdisciplinary, socially engaged, and
multi-perspective geographic engagement
with futures studies. is paper begins a
critical geographical engagement with futures
studies, utilizing an understanding of a so-
cially constructed ideal of the past and future.
Davies and Sarpong (2013) stated that it is
not the individual components, political and
economic influences, imagining of the past,
present or future, or the affect of art that
forms a study. Rather, an analytical futures
studies framework develops from attention
to multiple scales, institutions, actors, and
times. Futures studies’ unique situation at
the confluence of many social sciences and
the transdisciplinary nature of blended meth-
odologies, perspectives, and disciplines is a
valuable tool for the future geographer.
is work also engages with a unique aspect
of landscape studies: imagined landscapes.
Drawing on the work of Crouch (2013),
Edensor (2005; 1997), Gonçalves (2016),
Johnson (2004), Merriman and Webster
(2009), Pollock (2004), Rogers (2012), Tyner
(2005), and others, this paper examines the
role of landscape construction through film,
just as others have understood it through
dance, theatre, literature, music, and art.
In this way, though some of the representa-
tions (such as an artwork or a stage) may be
visual and material, the experienced cultural,
political, social, and physical landscape is
constructed mentally. e impact this has
on the memorial landscape is equally sig-
nificant. Edensor (1997; 2005) for example,
described the role of the 1995 film Braveheart
in crafting an imagined, or “filmic,” land-
scape of memory and heritage in Scotland,
which permeated audiences’ perceptions of
Scotland and its history locally and globally,
despite certain historical inaccuracies. In this
case, the way audiences understood William
Wallace, the rural Scottish landscape, and
the significance of Scottish nationalism was
mythically crafted through the imagined
landscapes of the film. Harvey (2013, 153)
pointed out this changing trend of heritage
landscape analysis: from traditional enquiries
of the material “…towards an analysis of the
intangible and relational.” In this way, Star
Trek is one of these intangible and relational
landscape generators. In the examples be-
low, the show provides ideas of both future
and past urban, racialized, and class-based
landscapes, which can become internalized
as representations of what these landscapes
might be like.
Star Trek itself has attracted scholarly at-
tention from numerous fields, on subjects as
diverse as Cold War geopolitics (Sarantakes
2005), narratology, or the study of narra-
tives, (Jones 2016) and gender representation
(Dove-Viebahn 2007). ere are also many
examples of scholars engaging with the se-
32
ries as an illustration of alternative pasts and
futures. Some work has been done on role
of Star Trek: e Next Generation as a narra-
tive of jazz culture and a uniquely utopian
future (Jones 2016; Barrilleaux 2015), but
most other examinations take a more critical
approach. Of particular interest has been the
role of DS9 in breaking the racial hegemony
of “whiteness operating as the determinant
of historical memory” (Kilgore 2014, 31-32;
Alexander 2016; Pounds 2009).
DS9 ran for seven seasons starting in 1993
(2369 in Star Trek time) and stood apart from
the rest of the franchise in two very distinct
ways. First, the majority of the show took
place on a space station and not a mobile
ship, so the show became more about rela-
tionships (personal and societal) than about
exploration. Second, the captain Benjamin
Sisko was played by African-American actor
Avery Brooks. As the first Black star and cap-
tain portrayed in a Star Trek series, the show
was presented with a number of obstacles and
opportunities. e chief concern was Sisko’s
identity, as Alexander (2016, 151) wrote,
in other Star Trek incarnations, black
human characters had few, if any, ties to
black history and culture… While race
does not necessarily define Sisko’s rela-
tionship to the people around him, Sisko
retains connections to his racial heritage,
and it does help to define his character.
is is done through Sisko’s appreciation of
African art, his interest in the Negro Leagues
and famous Black baseball players, and his
family heritage centered on Louisiana and
Cajun food. My focus here is specifically on
Deep Space Nine and its conceptualization of
alternate pasts, presents, and futures.
Pound has argued that DS9 is set apart
from the rest of the series:
ese episodes suggest that at the centre
of this new Star Trek series is an inten-
tion to use its lead character’s compli-
cated identity through which his ethnic-
ity is threaded as a narrative engine for
generating stories that might go beyond
broken warp coils, trans mats and food
processors and begin to ask audiences to
be entertained by future societies’ unfin-
ished business in politics, religion, phi-
losophy (issues ranging from defining
terrorism vs. freedom fighting, examin-
ing euthanasia and exploring military
culture vs. peace, etc.), Terran vs alien
psychology, race (adoption of children
from one alien group by a member of
another alien race), being a bi-racial or
bi-species being, raising gender issues
and the imperialistic lust for power and
domination (Pound 2009, 215).
Although DS9 did so most explicitly, many
of the Star Trek series have followed creator
Gene Roddenberry’s vision that the show
fundamentally address current issues (Alex-
ander 2016). e Next Generation and Voy-
ager both tackled topics of race and gender,
for instance, in a multitude of ways (Jones
2016; Dove-Viebahn 2007).
Ostensibly, Star Trek depicted a utopian
future that is non-racial, non-classed, and
non-gendered. However, Kilgore has pointed
out the irony in the often Western-oriented,
white, human-centered future of Star Trek
where command still remains “the exclusive
right of white (human) males (from Iowa)”
(Kilgore 2014, 34). ese barriers were later
broken down by DS9 and Voyager.
e importance of Star Trek is not always
in the narratives it provides, it is in the way
those narratives are delivered. Because the
show is set in the future, it enables audiences
to view the show’s past (which can be our
present, past, or future) in a different per-
spective. In other words, when the characters
travel back in time, they may be traveling
to the time that the show was made, or to
any time between the date the show was
produced and the date the franchise is set
in. us, it is possible for the characters in
Star Trek to travel back in time to the viewer’s
future. is enables historic stories that are
often untold to be revealed (or changed),
helps understand political or social move-
Mark Alan Rhodes II
33
ments through their embodiment in an actor,
and enables the viewer to visualize past or
future places and landscapes. ese may be
landscapes we have experienced, imagined,
or know nothing about; all are made ‘real’
through the art of science fiction.
EXAMINING THE GEOGRAPHY OF
STAR TREK
By conducting critical narrative analysis
on Star Treks content and imagined land-
scapes, I explore the various ways that Star
Trek engages with historical and cultural
geography, memory studies, and the role
of popular culture in our understanding of
history and memory. Narrative analysis has
long been used in literature, film, music, and
poetry as a means of extracting geographic
meaning from media sources (e.g. Tyner et
al. 2016; Tyner et al. 2015a; 2015b). Central
to narrative analysis is the interpretation of
broad themes used to generate meaning.
My focus in this manuscript is on two
episodes, both within the same series. I do
so for several reasons. First, the series, Deep
Space Nine, is heavily cited as the most influ-
ential and provocative of the franchise when
it comes to dealing with historical narratives.
Second, the two narratives I chose are both
time travel episodes that venture both into
our not-too-distant past and into our future.
ird, these two episodes are closely linked
to my own expertise in early 20th century
African-American history and current issues
around the privatization of public space.
e second method I use is landscape
analysis. Landscape analysis focuses on the
extraction of memory, history, and culture
from space and place. Landscapes are win-
dows into the ideology and narratives of
those who shape, influence, and experience
them, and in the case of Star Trek, offer valu-
able information about the role of the past,
present, and future in historical representa-
tion and narratives. Significant as well are
the ways that audiences come in contact with
these narratives, and that those in power
script those narratives. Landscapes include
both material artifact and performance, a
palimpsest of past, present, and future so-
cial and cultural practices and their material
evidence, in this case through sets, stages, and
cinematography (Schein 2009). Not only do
landscapes reveal ‘social worlds of the past’,
but they represent continued values of the
present (Doss 2010).
IMAGINED LANDSCAPES &
ALTERNATE “PASTS” OF STAR TREK
When speaking of Star Treks creation of
imagined landscapes out of events (altered,
invented, and/or recreated) in our past,
present, and future, the options are endless;
the holodeck2, time travel, and flashbacks
continually offer glimpses into the fictional
world’s past and often our own present, past,
or future. What follows are two examples of
Star Treks creation of these virtual landscapes
through the use of time travel. In each sec-
tion I describe and analyze the imagined
landscapes and fictitious narratives, how
those imaginary landscapes are also sites of
alternate pasts, presents, and futures, and
how these concepts situate more broadly
within actualized historical landscapes and
narratives.
“FAR BEYOND THE STARS” AND
THE EMBODIMENT OF THE PAST,
PRESENT, AND FUTURE
The most-cited episode in the entire
franchise regarding exploration of historical
narratives is DS9s “Far Beyond the Stars
(Kilgore 2014; Alexander 2016). In the
episode, Captain Benjamin Sisko, played by
the African-American actor Avery Brooks, is
exposed to an alternate reality where he is ac-
tually a 1950s New York City science fiction
writer named Benny Russell. e episode
embodies a past of both Star Trek’s and our
own universe, and explores issues of racial
bias, segregation, and violence. While not
based on any one specific story, the narrative
hearkens back to one of Brooks’s own roles, as
Paul Robeson, the African American singer,
Alternative Pasts, Presents, and Futures in Star Trek
34
actor, political activist, scholar, and athlete.
In “Far Beyond the Stars,” Siskos Blackness is
both an element that is to be hidden from the
readers of the publishing house he is working
for and a barrier preventing him from writ-
ing the types of stories (with lead African
American characters) he would like to. In the
episode, Benny Russell attempts to publish
a pulp fiction novel about a futuristic space
stationed captained by an African-American.
roughout this process he is ridiculed by
those in the community and ultimately fired
from the publishing firm.
Brooks’s 1995 Broadway performance of
Paul Robeson, which depicts Robeson’s similar
experiences as a lawyer in 1920s New York,
came just three years before the airing of this
episode and significantly influenced DS9’s
writers and producers. William Shatner even
stated in e Captains Close Up (2013), there
would be no Star Trek without Paul Robeson.
In this way, history (albeit represented in a
fictional TV show with fictional characters)
is visualized through the characters in Star
Trek as embodied and empathized narratives
of the past.
e historical landscape is also a signifi-
cant portion of “Far Beyond the Stars.” Set
in 1950s Harlem, there are a number of
explicit and banal social and cultural refer-
ences played out on the landscape. In the
show, the publishing office itself is located
in the Trill Building, a play on words com-
bining Trill (an alien species common in
DS9) and the Brill Building (for which the
Brill Building genre of early rock-and-roll
music was named). Again, while this is just
a fictional landscape, this is still an act of
commemoration, just as a university might
name a building the Paul Robeson Cultural
Center or the W.E.B. DuBois Library. In
doing so, power is transferred via the com-
memorative process. In this case, the Trill
Building comes to memorialize “an influ-
ential source of national and international
musical activity at a crucial transitional stage
in the evolution of popular music” (Inglis
2003, 214). Further examples of the histori-
cal Harlem landscape are expressed through
boxing advertisements, street preachers, and
jazz clubs and street performances.
The alternative representation of the
past brings the opportunity for alternative
presents and futures as well. Star Trek chal-
lenges the audience not only to identify with
this embodied past, but to place it into the
present. is episode particularly highlights
the racialized violence of the 1950s. When
Benny rushes to help a Black friend of his
who has been shot by the police, he himself is
viciously beaten badly enough that he cannot
go into work for weeks, and even then must
use a cane. Similarly, redlining is brought up
when the local Black baseball star who plays
for the Giants mentions that despite being
wealthy he is still unable to live anywhere
outside of Harlem.
ese events and representations become
excellent examples of the blurring of past,
present, and future because of their contin-
ued relevance today. As Avery Brooks stated,
If we had changed the people’s clothes,
this story could be about right now.
What’s insidious about racism is that it
is unconscious. Even among these very
bright and enlightened characters—a
group that includes a woman writer
who has to use a man’s name to get her
work published, and who is married to
a brown man with a British accent in
1953—it’s perfectly reasonable to coex-
ist with someone like Pabst [the epi-
sode’s antagonist]. It’s in the culture, it’s
the way people think. So that was the
approach we took. I never talked about
racism. I just showed how these intelli-
gent people think, and it all came out of
them. (Erdmann and Block 2000, 56)
Such stories in popular culture—about the
real Paul Robeson or the imagined Benny
Russell—enable relevant issues to transcend
scale. ey originate as ideas which occur
to individual writers, those ideas are then
produced at a global scale through televi-
sion episodes aired around the world, and
are interpreted again at the individual level as
Mark Alan Rhodes II
35
audiences watch the episodes. Furthermore,
these ideas become embodied in a character
with whom audiences empathize and bond.
Dittmer and Dodds (2008) studied the role
of fandom in geopolitics, but fandom, the
deep emotional bond that bridges material
and virtual space, has an even broader impact
when ideas of equality or social justice tran-
scend the scales involved in the production,
distribution, and consumption of popular
culture.
e actors themselves speak for this process
in a series of interviews about the episode.
Supporting actor Armin Shimerman stated in
2002 that “Far Beyond the Stars” was “with-
out a question my favorite episode. Star Trek
at its best deals with social issues and though
you can say, ‘well that was prejudice in the
’50s,’ the truth of the matter is here we are
in the 21st century and it’s still there.” is
episode reminds us of that continued preju-
dice. Co-starring actor Rene Auberjonois said
it was “one the best [episodes] of the whole
series,” while Avery Brooks stated that “it was
the most important moment for me in the
entire seven years” (Mission Inquiry 2003).
By connecting the racialized landscapes
and spaces of the past to audiences well aware
of the current events of the present, episodes
such as this hope to influence change in the
future. Whether the issue at hand is racial
discrimination in the work force or racial
segregation and landscapes of violence,
presenting both the fictional and real land-
scapes and events of the past, embodied and
experienced through empowering characters
helps to challenge the continued social issues
we face today.
“PAST TENSE,” PUBLIC SPACE,
AND POPULAR CULTURE
DS9s story arc also explicitly engages in
debates and conceptualizations of public
space and protest. In the two-part episode
“Past Tense,” audiences are exposed again to
a historic narrative, only this time, despite
traveling back in time, the entire show takes
place in the audiences’ future. e episode
takes place 350 years before the time of
DS9, which situates the events in the year
2024, thirty-one years after the episode’s
1995 airing. e plot of the episode centers
on the notion that in the early 21st century
the United States abandoned economic or
medical support for citizens. Most cities then
create what are called Sanctuary Districts,
which were supposed to be safe economic
zones where the homeless and unemployed
could voluntarily go to seek employment and
safety. e landscapes we see through the
eyes of the Star Trek characters, however, are
virtual prisons, entire blocks where anyone
who is homeless, unemployed, or mentally
ill are forced to go and then unable to leave.
Inside, there are food and housing shortages,
internal gang violence, and daily examples of
police brutality. e plot of the episode re-
volves around staging a protest (known in the
24th century as the Bell Riots) to expose (and
ultimately end) this enclosure and criminal-
ization of public space and to bring back the
1946 Federal Employment Act, which was
dismantled at some time prior to the riots.
In the episode, the dialogue between Cap-
tain Sisko and Dr. Bashir is revealing as to
how the Bell Riots come to be memorialized
in the future:
Sisko: You ever hear of the Bell Riots?
Bashir: Vaguely
Sisko: It is one of the most violent civil
disturbances in American history and
it happened right here, San Francisco,
Sanctuary District A, the first week of
September 2024…
Bashir: Just how bad are these riots go-
ing to be, Commander?
Sisko: Bad. The Sanctuary residents
will take over the district. Some of
the guards will be taken hostage. e
government will send in troops to
restore order. Hundreds of sanctuary
residents will be killed… e riots
will be one of the watershed events
of the 21st Century. Gabriel Bell will
see to that.
Bashir: Bell?
Alternative Pasts, Presents, and Futures in Star Trek
36
Sisko: The man they named the riots
after. He is one of the sanctuary resi-
dents who will be guarding the hos-
tages. The government troops will
storm this place based on rumors
that the hostages have been killed.
It turns out, the hostages were never
harmed because of Gabriel Bell. In
the end, Bell sacrifices his own life
to save them. He will become a na-
tional hero. Outrage over his death,
and the death of the other residents
will change public opinion about
the sanctuaries. They will be torn
down, and the United States will
finally begin correcting the social
problems it had struggled with for
over a hundred years. (Past Tense,
Part I 1995)
ese conditions, while both fictive and
futuristic, are based in historical events and
speak to numerous geographical concepts.
Gross and Altman (1995) reveal that Ira Ste-
ven Behr, a co-writer of this episode, based
it upon two historical events: the 1971 At-
tica Prison riot and the 1970 Ohio National
Guard shootings which killed four and in-
jured another nine students on the Kent State
University campus.
Chief among these geographical explora-
tions is the theme of public space and its
privatization (Mitchell 1995; 1997; 2003;
2005). We see this trend continuing in our
future (or our alternative future). In the
episode, the characters who time-traveled
to what appears to be a ultra-modernized
San Francisco Financial District are almost
immediate accosted by law enforcement for
laying down on the sidewalk next to subway
station. Furthermore, once the protests in the
sanctuary campus begin, there is an almost
immediate response from local law enforce-
ment and then the federal military to use
force to quell the protest.
Post (2016), in a recent publication on
public space and memory of the May 4 sites
of Kent State, echoed these concerns about
the privatization of public space. Overall, we
are seeing the progressive neoliberalization of
spaces of assembly, free speech, and protest.
In the episode, not only is homelessness
criminalized, those who violate such laws
by not having a job in the ultra-capitalist
future literally become less-than-human and
are instead referred to through derogatory
code names such as “dims” (i.e. the men-
tally ill) or “gimmies” (i.e. the homeless or
unemployed). As one character in the show
states, “the social problems just got too big…
[people] forgot how to care” (Past Tense, Part
II 1995).
One problem we continually see in com-
memorative space is the continued exclusion
of certain narratives. Post (2016, 148, 150)
addressed these concerns in the context of
May 4 and “the annihilation of public space
as he stated, we need “a public pedagogy out-
side the classroom that empathizes with the
causalities of tragedies such as May 4 and
re-humanizes those victims…” Star Trek pro-
vides this pedagogy for both May 4 and other
excluded narratives through the processes of
embodiment. Humanizing narratives and
ideologies, and exposing discourses that have
been or are in the process of being threat-
ened, such as human rights, public space,
and processes of protest and activism, are key
functions of this episode. And while these
narratives are fictional, they instill powerful
ideas of what could be remembered while
still drawing from very real historic events
and landscapes, such as May 4 and the Attica
Riots.
CONCLUSION
Through the futuristic lens of history,
Deep Space Nine challenges hegemonic con-
ceptualizations of race and public space in
our past, present, and future. Viewing these
exposed (and often excluded) narratives
opens the possibility for an alternate future
on the grounds of a better understanding
of racial discrimination, police brutality,
homelessness, capitalism, and public space,
both in our past and our present. This re-
search paves the way for multiple future
Mark Alan Rhodes II
37
studies. Further engagement with Star Trek
by geographers is necessary, especially as the
films and new television series garner atten-
tion. The feminized spaces in Voyager, for
example, or a post-colonial or Marxist theo-
rizing of the franchise as a whole have yet
to be undertaken. Such work seems likely
to reveal future affect and power structures
imbued within the multiple manifestations
of the series. Further engagement between
media geographies and popular geopolitics
and futures studies is also necessary. Finally,
the material culture and spatiality of Star
Trek through exhibitions, conventions,
and other places of fandom have yet to be
explored.
Deep Space Nine explored racialized,
privatized, and exclusionary landscapes. e
landscapes, however, are unlike those of, say,
Martin Luther King Jr. (Alderman 2003)
or slave narratives (Schein 2009), whose
histories are rooted in a supposedly “true”
past. Here, an imagined future’s imagined
past (at times our present) is experienced
through film and television. is empowers
audiences to ask questions previously not
thought of, expanding both the experiences
of individuals and the possibilities of geog-
raphy (Kadonaga 1995). Such fictionalized
performances of memory are just as much
key elements of historical representation as
traditional memorial landscapes, because
they similarly evoke emotions, narrate
historical pasts in order to shape alternate
futures, and are emotionally, visually, and
sonically experienced. Likewise, science fic-
tion employs the power of memory, memo-
rial landscapes, and the development and
transcension of space and place to shape al-
ternative pasts and futures. In this way, both
science fiction and memory serve as powerful
agents for social justice and shapers of place,
space, narrative, and landscape. ese places,
spaces, narratives, and landscapes of Star
Trek , while often imagined, are embedded
with meaning which have continually been
written, re-written, and contested to address
alternate pasts, presents, and futures.
NOTES
1. Vulcan is the name of the planet and spe-
cies that Spock is from. Vulcans are both
the first alien species to formally make
first contact with humans and one of the
original and primary civilizations in Star
Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
2. In the holodeck, environments, people,
and experiences were holographic. ese
rooms, or alternative versions of the ho-
lodeck, were prominent features of e
Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and
Voyager. ey enabled those who expe-
rienced these spaces to speak to historic
individuals, relive pivotal moments from
the past, or combine these past people
and places with contemporary situa-
tions.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am indebted to my fellow panelists at
San Francisco’s AAG meeting for collectively
developing our ideas into this exciting special
issue. Fiona Davidson and Hannah Gunder-
man were particularly helpful in earlier drafts
of this work, and the editorial guidance of
Steven Schnell is also greatly appreciated. I
would like to further thank Chris Post, Jen-
nifer Mapes, and the anonymous reviewers
for their feedback. LLAP.
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