Essay: adorno anti-capitalism Orion Star Trek television
Theodore Adorno, for example, didn’t like Capitalism even a little and he also disliked Jazz music, television, magazines, suburban bungalows, and women’s bare breasts. In fact, Adorno was so shocked when three German hippies bared their breasts and scattered flower petals over his head in protest of his boring lecture on Dialectics he went and died of a heart attack that same summer. But, you can bet that one thing these topless protesters and Adorno could’ve agreed on was Star Trek, and it’s certain neither of them had bothered to watch “Turnabout Intruder” that summer. Neither Adorno nor his sexy detractors ever found out how Kirk handled having his mind transplanted into the body of his ex-girlfriend.
Of course, they were in Frankfurt, Germany and couldn’t have watched the show if they’d wanted to, but I think they would have avoided it even if it had been broadcast on the ARD. The common view was that television was, just like religion, a kind of opiate for the unwashed masses. These technicolor spectacles depicting scantily clad green skinned women in go-go boots and tinfoil, these futuristic wonders with rubber faced lizard men wearing orange and red metallic kilts, only aimed to make the viewer want to buy things. Or, as Adorno put it:
“[The viewer] should be shown all his needs as capable of-fulfilment, but those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer.”
It’s undeniable that the real reason Star Trek existed was to sell Camel Cigarettes, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dodge Chargers, and Cheer laundry detergent, but it’s also true that Star Trek presented Roddenberry’s vision of an egalitarian future to an America where members of McCarthy’s House of UnAmerican Activities committee were still subpoenaing guys like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
Adorno should have taken the time to watch and enjoy Star Trek precisely because the show embodied the kind of dialectical contradictions that he was always talking about. The contradiction between the utopian future on the show and the advertisements for Cheer detergent or Coca-Cola that came along with it is the same kind of contradiction that Marx was getting at when he pointed out how alienating it is to work in a world where the aim of life isn’t to do or make anything useful but rather is just to make heaps of cash.
There are all kinds of strange loops and contradictions in the show itself, too. There is the one about God, for instance. The appearance of all these super-intelligent energy beings, or Blinking Light Aliens, pop up in order to cover up the strange contradiction between the super scientific rationality on the show and the empty nihilism that always threatened a crew that consisted of red shirts who didn’t even have the idea of a personal god to console them. There is the one about progress and exploration. Kirk and his crew came from a world where machines made every meal, where nobody starved and nobody was poor, but they kept landing on planets where people still lived like savages. It’s as though they couldn’t escape the contradiction that existed between the classes that existed in the 20th century just by fantasizing about some big space ship, and so these problems kept coming back as plot lines involving Orion Slave girls or dilithium miners.
[more to come]