In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the epicenter of this change in the stream of history is 1936 New York, a bleak setting where men stand in long soup lines at the 21st Street Mission and Captain Kirk and his first officer Spock are forced to steal ragged clothes off a fire escape in order to avoid notice (Spock’s ears are of particular concern to the natives).
But even against this grim backdrop, what Spock terms “a rather barbaric period in your American history,” elements of Victory Culture make their way into the scene — signs seen throughout the episode read “Buy Bonds” and “Please Register”; a cart bearing the words “Victory Ice Company” is clearly visible on the street as Kirk steals his twentieth-century garb; and when a young woman overhears Spock calling his companion “Captain,” she asks excitedly, “Did you serve in the war together?” That the script calls for these small details reveals a determined effort on the part of Star Trek’s writers and producers to ensure that viewers recognize the vital importance the episode puts on pride and confidence in the United States; though the economic boom of the early twentieth century collapsed in the 1930s, hope for the country’s future is depicted as remaining buoyant.
This particularly applies to confidence in future military and technological preeminence.
Edith Keeler, the unsinkable manager of the 21st Street Mission, encourages her down-and-out guests with a vision of “the days worth living for” — “One day soon,” she asserts, “Man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom, energies that… will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world, and cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope, and a common future.” Keeler’s faith in technological progress (in the atomic bomb no less) could not be more starkly different from the anti-war movement’s distrust and rejection of military advances.
While on the television set Keeler described military technology as a potential force for good in the world; outside, the anti-war movement protested President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War — in October 1967, six months after “The City on the Edge of Forever” aired, thousands of protesters would demonstrate on the steps of the Pentagon; and in less than a year, America would be rocked by the audacity and near-success of the January 1968 Tet Offensive. In Keeler’s speech, Star Trek unswervingly upheld Victory Culture confidence in the United States both as an unequaled military might and the foremost force for good in the world, even against a growing tide of opposition to the war in Vietnam.
This is a slightly retooled version of a paper I wrote for an American Studies class this semester: It had pretentious subtitle and far fewer parenthetical comments. The only quotes are from the episode dialogue itself. But remember kids, if you’re going to use any of my research, make lots of citations—they’re fun! And if you don’t, you could go to jail for a long time because plagiarism, my friends, is a felony*
*That’s a lie, but the world “plagiarism” does come from the Latin “plagiarus,” which means “a kidnapper.” That’s actually kind of cool. Not the kidnapping part—the etymology.