I don’t think dramas initiate social change, but they certainly reinforce it.
The only work of fiction that I can think of in American history that visibly changed society was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But it was a literary adaptation of an idea that was spreading rapidly: abolitionism. It reinforced an existing trend.
Because fictional presentations of an idea can grab people’s attention, occasionally we can learn some principle more readily. We have a hook on which to hang the idea.
I got to thinking of this with respect to my favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I did not watch the series initially. My teenage son persuaded me to watch it after it had already become popular. He would record the show during the week, and we would watch it on Sundays. That was my day off.
I was never a Trekkie, but I enjoyed the show. My favorite character was introduced later, Lieut. Worf. Sometimes the writers gave him the funniest one-liners in the history of the series. They were funny because they came out of his mouth. Also, I was impressed with Michael Dorn’s tremendous achievement: nobody recognizes him when he goes out in public. The only other celebrity like him was Gene Simmons of KISS. I spotted Simmons’ advantage in 1975. I never saw or heard KISS, but I immediately saw what Simmons had done — and with a name stolen from an actress.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
I got to thinking about the series. The three shows that I remember best all had to do with time. One was the show where there was a time loop, which is a kind of Star Trek version of Groundhog Day. It preceded Groundhog Day by one year. I am not the first person to note the similarity. The Web has lots of links to this connection. It was titled “Cause and Effect.” Of course, the time loops really weren’t, in either show. They were semi-loops. Picard learned in each successive loop, finally finding a way out. Bill Murray’s character did, too. He become a decent man: progressive sanctification. That finally let him out of the loop. All’s well that ends well.
Problem: there are no time loops. Sad, but true.
The second episode that I most recall is among the most beloved of the entire series, “The Inner Light.” A space probe gets close to the Enterprise, and it renders Picard unconscious. He then relives a lifetime of a simple man on a distant planet. It turns out that the planet had been destroyed 1,000 years earlier. The justification for sending out a probe with the built-in memories of one representative of the entire civilization was this: the planet’s people wanted to be remembered. They wanted to have a sense of significance, and they hoped to maintain this significance by means of another person’s memories. His story could give them all significance, but only retroactively. Another man might learn their story from the probe, and then impute value to it.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)