Everything below this point should be considered tentative and subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Please pay attention to in-class reminders, Canvas announcements, and emails.
Week 1 – Introduction
Lecture for Meeting 1: The first week will be spent introducing everything.
• Say hello to everyone!
• Read through syllabus.
• Introduce Star Trek and its appeals.
• Situate Star Trek and its role for this course.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “Amok Time” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: Tell us about yourself, including your interest in and exposure to Star Trek, and science fiction in general. Why did you decide to take this class, and what are your goals for this course?
Week 2 – Leading up to Star Trek
Lecture for Meeting 1: We will begin by introducing the course and its aims, ask and answer some basic questions about and assess everyone’s familiarity with Star Trek and science fiction in general, then look at the state of science fiction television shows prior to Star Trek.
• Previous science fiction exposure.
• Genre tropes, themes, and goals.
• Sci-fi TV shows before Star Trek.
• Benefits and limitations of telling sci-fi stories on TV (as opposed to books, graphic novels, or other media).
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Reading: Giles, D. C. (2002). Parasocial interaction: A review of the literature and a model for future research. Media psychology, 4(3), 279-305.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: What is the main theme of “Where No Man Has Gone Before?” What is Roddenberry trying to say about human nature and progress?
Week 3 – Cultural influences
Lecture for Meeting 1: Now that we understand what preceded Star Trek in terms of the genre of science fiction, we will look at the cultural influences which shaped Star Trek, including contemporary political events and cultural attitudes, Roddenberry’s secular humanism and the multicultural cast and, of course, Shakespeare.
• WWII, Vietnam, segregation in the U.S.
• Mod fashion, boy bands
• Roddenberry’s emphasis on secular humanism
• The importance of having a female writer, Dorothy Fontana
• The multicultural cast and their backgrounds
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “The Conscience of the King” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Reading: Kreitzer, L. (1996). The cultural veneer of Star Trek. The Journal of Popular Culture, 30(2), 1–28.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: How was this story influenced by Shakespeare (beyond the overt references) and an American society that recently saw the end of WWII? Explain the issues and discuss the resolution, in relation to the historical context and the literary framing.
Week 4– Media theory: Why we love watching Trek
Lecture for Meeting 1: We will delve into some psychological theory on the enjoyment of media—particularly identification, empathy, affective disposition theory, and elevation—to determine what makes Star Trek enjoyable as narrative media, as well as the reflection it inspires.
• Identifying with the bridge crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
• Character archetypes and how they facilitate snap judgments.
• Why we like “good guys” and love to hate “bad guys.”
• How emotionally moving moments inspire reflection.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (Season 1, Episode 28)
Reading: Barsch, A., Kalch, A., & Oliver, M. B. (2014). Moved to think: The role of emotional media experiences in stimulating reflective thoughts. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 26(3), 125–140.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: How does the portrayal of characters like Kirk, Spock, and Bones encourage us to identify with them? What narrative devices are used to frame the episode as a moral dilemma? How does the emotional interplay between Jim and Edith impact audience assessment of the ethical decision faced by the Enterprise trio? In reflecting on the implications of this episode, what did it make you consider or reconsider?
Week 5– Moral reasoning and moral intuition
Lecture for Meeting 1: Moral reasoning is the foundation of most ethical philosophy, yet it has been determined to be a post-hoc rationale for moral intuition, our emotionally-guided snap judgments which we make as a confluence of cultural mores and evolutionary responses. How do they relate, and how does this dichotomy relate to the Kirk-Spock dyad in TOS?
• The triumvirate: Kirk, Spock, and Bones as ethos, logos, and pathos (or spirit, reason, and irrational desires)
• Moral reasoning vs. moral intuition
• Vulcans as an exploration of pure moral reason
In-class viewing for Wednesday: “This Side of Paradise” (Season 1, Episode 24)
Reading: Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814–834.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: One uses “pure logic;” the other uses his gut. Using the theory outlined in Haidt (2001), explain the moral judgments of Kirk and Spock in this episode. Where do they disagree? When they agree, is it for the same reasons? Which method of moral judgment makes for a better Starfleet captain, and why?
Week 6– Ethics and philosophy of Star Trek: TOS
Lecture for Meeting 1: TOS was purposefully imbued with a certain philosophical perspective and, when faced with moral decisions, the actions of Kirk (and the reactions of Spock and Bones) engender a particular code of ethics. This week, we spend some time learning some basic ethical perspectives in order to speak more clearly about the moral decisions we see in episodes, and to better understand the intentions of Roddenberry and other writers.
• Gene Roddenberry’s push for secular humanism
• Ethical philosophy: virtue ethics, stoicism, consequentialism, deontology, pragmatism (and how they apply to specific decisions and characters)
• “The needs of the many:” how the trolley problem isn’t a problem for Spock.
• The tension in TOS between secular thoughts and Christian producers
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “The Galileo Seven” (Season 1, Episode 16)
Reading: Kmet, M. (2012). Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s “vision of the future”: The creation of an early television auteur. Journal of the MeCCSE Postgraduate Network, 5(2), 55–74.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: Describe the ethical stance of Kirk and compare/contrast it with that of Spock. Reference specific opinions and decisions across all the episodes you have seen so far. Are they consistent in their ethical perspectives, or do some episodes’ portrayals of the characters conflict with others?
PICK A THEME TO EXPLORE FOR PAPER
Week 7– Theme 1: Star Trek as allegory
Lecture for Meeting 1: The ethical implications of Star Trek are important because we can apply them to real life. In fact, many episodes were written to give audiences a mirror with which to analyze cultural issues. Though allegories are present in all genres of storytelling, science fiction has a tradition of being allegorical. This week, we discuss how allegories are used, how science fiction is conducive to the use of allegory, and how TOS attempts to incorporate political messages into its episodes.
• The purpose of allegory (starting with Plato).
• How science fiction took the mantle in pop culture.
• Key examples in early sci-fi film and television.
• Highlighting the allegories in TOS, particularly for racism and war.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “A Private Little War” (Season 2, Episode 19)
Pairs well with “Balance of Terror,” “The Cloud Minders,” and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”
Reading: Birge, K. N. (2011). Framing politics in science fiction television: Problem solving through altered time and space (Masters thesis, Indiana University, Department of Telecommunications).
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: How do this week’s episodes present their real-world issues allegorically? Who are the different characters supposed to represent and what are the real-world relationships of which they are meant to remind the audience? What elements of the show’s production help and/or hinder the presentation of such a lofty message?
Week 8– Theme 2: The Federation as cultural modeling
Lecture for Meeting 1: The creators of Star Trek conceived of the United Federation of Planets as an ideal galactic community. Its mores, economics, and politics are contingent on some significant premises which often go unstated in the show, including technology that reduces—or at least sharply curbs—any unsatisfied market demand for food, shelter, and other essential resources. This week, we discuss the economics of a galactic federation—and the implications of asking people to act on their ideals in our less-than-ideal society. We will then attempt to unravel the conundrum as to which comes first: better people, or a more perfect world.
• The Prime Directive—who it protects, who it forgets.
• The legal system of Starfleet.
• How “good” and “bad” people result from societal frameworks in which they are placed.
In-class viewing for Wednesday: “Patterns of Force” (Season 2, Episode 21)
Pairs well with “Piece of the Action,” Errand of Mercy,” and “Journey to Babel.”
Reading: Webb, R. (2013, November 6). The economics of Star Trek: The proto-post scarcity economy [Blog post].
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: What are the most important elements of Star Trek’s world that allow the Federation to be an ideal society? Which elements are we missing in today’s modern society? Can the human race overcome its fallible nature to create a better world, or do we need a better world before we can act more virtuously? What are some useful “first steps” we can glean from watching Trek?
Week 9–Theme 3: Still just a product of its time
Lecture for Meeting 1: This week, we will review all of the instances when TOS fell short of its lofty goals. Then, we’ll discuss how much it detracts from the viewing experience, as well as the longevity of the series.
• Why do all members of a (non-human) species act the same?
• Officers in miniskirts: the status of women in the 23rd century.
• Portrayal of alien humanoids as native Earth-like “primitives.”
• Progress for women and minorities, but limited and often problematic.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “Plato’s Stepchildren” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Pairs well with “Mudd’s Women,” The Omega Glory,” and “The Paradise Syndrome.”
Reading: Bernardi, D. (1997). “Star Trek” in the 1960s: Liberal-humanism and the production of race. Science Fiction Studies, 24(2), 209–225.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: Do the missteps of representing race and gender equality in Star Trek defeat its humanist aspirations? What is the worst transgression of TOS, in terms of race and gender, given the humanist message? How could we improve the portrayal of alien races? What would a truly egalitarian Starfleet look like?
ROUGH DRAFT OF THEMATIC ANALYSIS DUE FRIDAY
Week 10– Societal impact of Star Trek
Lecture for Meeting 1: The fandom behind the franchise is so fervent that it has become a phenomenon which sometimes eclipses even that of the show. Trekkies are the originators of the fan convention! This week, we look at the evolution of fan culture surrounding Star Trek, with emphasis on TOS and how the franchise blossomed during reruns as a syndicated show. We will explore the reasons people become such ardent fans, as well as how the show has inspired people.
• From bad ratings to six movies!
• Fan culture as a phenomenon.
• Where it gets weird (and it does).
• How Star Trek has inspired people to pursue science or prosocial professions.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: Trekkies (1997)
Guest lecture: Reverend Mary Ann Macklin, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, is an IU graduate with a background in law. She has a strong affinity for Star Trek and she will come to talk about how secular texts like Star Trek can be used to inform people’s beliefs about virtue and justice.
Reading: Jindra, M. (1994). “Star Trek” fandom as a religious phenomenon. Sociology of Religion, 55(1), 27–51.
Reflection post due before Meeting 3 discussion: Find an anecdote, one that was not discussed in class, about how Star Trek has influenced someone, either in popular culture or science. (Please share the link in your post so we can all read about it!) Discuss this story in relation to the viewings and the reading for this week. Also, why was it Trek in particular, as opposed to another space-oriented production?
Week 11– Spring break
I hope you enjoy your vacation!
THEMATIC ANALYSIS DUE ON TUESDAY
Week 12– Review and renew
To ensure that none of our newfound knowledge was lost over the break, I will spend the first class reviewing my lectures and our discussions, synthesizing their lessons back into the holistic vision for this course. Meeting 3 will be devoted to introducing the final project.
• Review everything!
• Go over final project.
• Answer lots of questions.
• Talk about the themes in Trek.
• Workshop everyone’s topics as a class.
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “The Cage,” the originally-unaired pilot episode
GROUPS / “LESSONS” WILL BE CHOSEN FRIDAY
Week 13– Lesson 1: Break the computer, “free” the people
Lecture for Meeting 1: Now that we have discussed the main themes of the show, we will spend some time on what is perhaps the most prevalent theme in the original series: fighting a computerized overlord and freeing a society of seemingly-subjugated simpletons. But, we will ask, what exactly are Kirk and company freeing these people to do? To work? To toil? To want and need and fight? Let us bring our knowledge to bear on this great ethical dilemma!
• Does destroying the ruling computer constitute a violation of the Prime Directive?
• When and where should Kirk interfere like this? Are all of these utopian-except-for-that-one-thing societies built on the same moral premise?
• What are the responsibilities of the Federation in assisting a society which has recently been “freed” by Starfleet? How can they be helped without sublimating their culture? Is it possible to preserve their culture while changing their way of life?
• What does the message of “sloth is sinful” say about the creators of the show, in terms of their cultural background and ethos?
• How does the show portray Starfleet, which also relies on technology, as being different from those cultures which are “completely” dependent on it?
• Are we in danger of automatizing ourselves into uselessness?
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “Return of the Archons” (Season 1, Episode 21)
Pairs well with “The Apple,” A Taste of Armageddon,” and “For the World Is Hollow, And I Have Touched the Sky.”
Reading: No reading—just work on your project!
Extra credit reflection post for Meeting 3 discussion: Is the achievement-based culture of Starfleet the ideal goal for humanity? These episodes are representative of at least half a dozen others, all of which promote the destruction of the “food-giver” or any other bliss-offering computer/overlord. Does true satisfaction come from the sweat of one’s own brow? Additionally, when Spock claims that Kirk is violating the Prime Directive in altering the evolution of a culture, Kirk argues that since the culture was stagnant, it was actually their duty to restore the struggle and return the control (and burden) of a society back to its people. Which officer do you think is correct and why?
INDIVIDUAL TNG POSTS DUE FRIDAY
Week 14– Lesson 2: Listen, learn, communicate
Lecture for Meeting 1: The other important lesson—the second most-repeated in the original series—is that war exists only between those who cannot communicate. With enough persistence and empathy, it is possible to communicate with anyone—even silicon-based lifeforms which scurry through solid rock. But is this always possible?
• How does Trek convey empathy, in terms of both the screenplay and acting, as well as the set design, lighting, and other production elements?
• The anatomy of the “Kirk speech.”
• When does empathy fail? How are intransigent characters portrayed in the show?
• Can communication solve our problems, or are there issues that remain despite a mutual respect and understanding?
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “The Devil in the Dark” (Season 1, Episode 25)
Pairs well with “Balance of Terror,” Day of the Dove,” “Arena,” and “Spectre of the Gun.”
Reading: No reading—just work on your project!
Extra credit reflection post for Meeting 3 discussion: There are several barriers to effectively communicating with other people, cultures, and species. The most obvious issue is a language barrier—but what about the fundamental differences in philosophy? Spock was able to communicate with the Horta, but what if they decided that an apology wasn’t enough? What if they kept retaliating? Let’s attempt to understand what Star Trek can teach us about seeing the “humanity” in others—and how that stance is potentially arrogant and limiting. What is ignored by this blind insistence on common-ground principles? And, on a positive note, what other messages in popular culture have a similar message and how does it help people connect to each other?
SCHEDULE GROUP MEETING THIS WEEK
Week 15—Lesson 3: Humanity is Sacred
Lecture for Meeting 1: As much as Roddenberry wanted to promote science, secular humanism, and cultural acceptance, there is a certain existential fear throughout Star Trek about what it means to be human, and how easily we can lose it—not through exchange and partnerships, but through technological upgrades. Being offered affordances beyond our means, either as captives or gods, will remove us from the morally praiseworthy treadmill of practice and progress.
• Is necessity truly the mother of invention? What is the role of adversity in relation to human well-being and progress?
• What about humanity cannot be emulated, simulated, or captured? When we download ourselves into new bodies, what is lost?
• How do other species and cultures illustrate help illustrate the unique strengths of humanity?
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Pairs well with “The Ultimate Computer,” What Are Little Girls Made Of,” and “The Enemy Within.”
Reading: No reading—just work on your project!
Extra credit reflection post for Meeting 3 discussion: What is the purpose of explicitly rejecting a pantheon of ancient Earth gods? What does Roddenberry want to say about humanity and its self-ascribed role in the new frontier of space? How is this episode similar to both pilot episodes (The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before) and where exactly does this position humanity? How does this balance between struggle and achievement create a forward momentum, technologically and culturally speaking? Which type of future does our contemporary society endorse, and will it be tenable under the same philosophy?
ROUGH DRAFT OF GROUP PAPER DUE FRIDAY
Week 16– Movies and beyond
Lecture for Meeting 1: After the end of Season 3, and a long hiatus filled with convention circuits, the voyages of the original Enterprise crew continued for several movies—even past the beginning of the second series in the franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The last movie is meant to send a political message, one akin to the end of the Cold War-era distrust and sabotage that characterized the 1980s and early ‘90s. Since we face similar tensions today, this tale of making peace with Klingons seems both a fitting end to our look at the original series—and a look forward into future Trek productions and contemporary political issues.
• How do the movies preserve the original crew while updating the aesthetics and values of TOS?
• How do future series shift framing and focus to more nuanced values?
• What new advances in technology, storytelling, and politics have influenced the evolution of Star Trek?
In-class viewing on Meeting 2: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Meeting at Hillcrest Cinema for movie screening.
Reading: No reading—just work on your project!
Meeting 3: Presentation day for final projects, wrap-up discussion for course.
PRESENTATION SLIDES DUE FRIDAY
Week 17– Finals week
This week, we will meet one last time. The first third of the semester, we learned how to analyze the series. Then, we broke down the themes behind the creation of the series. Finally, we explicated the lessons within the series. Now, we use these understandings to bridge our viewing into The Next Generation as you present your group projects!
• Finish group presentations
• Feedback for paper
FINAL PROJECT PAPER DUE FRIDAY