Thursday, January 11, 2007

This is an important abstract. Helpful comments, please. :)


Caught Between a Modernist History and Postmodern Potential: Death and the Afterlife in Star Trek: Voyager as a Microcosm

American society is mirrored in its popular culture. The contemporary American move from a modern mindset to a postmodern view can be seen in a parallel shift in Star Trek: Voyager—particularly in its dealings with death and the afterlife. The primary ideology of the series is often modernist, relying heavily on science, logic, and the ideas that a concrete truth can be found in any situation and some order in any chaos. Yet the series also contains many postmodern elements: pluralism, a certain amount of cultural relativism, and a well-developed sense of cooperative community rather than a competitive society.

The Star Trek: Voyager series is a succession of shows setting modern thought and postmodern thought side-by-side—sometimes rather uneasily. This dichotomy represented—and currently represents—a similar stage in American society: rooted in modernism but gradually incorporating increasing doses of postmodernism. Voyager showcases this slow transition most frequently in its treatment of death and the afterlife; the postmodern leanings of the show are most thoroughly explored in terms of doubt and anxiety related to death.

As envisioned by its creator, Gene Roddenberry, even future human society has not been able to solve all of the mysteries of the universe; in an era of highly advanced technology (in which scientific explanation is venerated), death and the afterlife remain a blank spot on an otherwise meticulously charted map of human experience. As a result, many of the characters in the Voyager series who narrowly escape, witness, or in some cases actually experience death, are drawn to divine explanations for events. Some of these events strengthen the convictions of the characters and others tear them apart.

The presence of a culturally and religiously pluralistic mentality in Voyager presents certain difficulties: each experience or belief is treated with equal respect and is therefore presented as being equally “true,” conflicting significantly with the modernist base on which the Star Trek outlook is built—and raising even larger questions. Why would one religious belief be “true” on one planet and not on another? If the divine is at work rather than the rational or scientific, how is order kept in the galaxy? Can multiple truths exist throughout the galaxy? What constitutes a “genuine” god and what differentiates this god from a “false” one? If different religious truths exist in different locations, then do one’s beliefs “work” when hurtling through another star system? If so, are they then carried by the individual—and does that suggest that the individual constructs them? The questions are endless and the answers elusive. Yet this does not deter the writers of the series from portraying such a postmodern attitude as a practical—indeed highly “evolved”—one.

Voyager takes, as all science fiction is so uniquely able to do, the issues pertinent to contemporary (or even future) society and de-contextualizes them in order to provide a fresh—but often still poignantly relevant—perspective on these concerns.

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