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From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-war American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: The Original Series

  • Erin K. Horáková
Chapter

Abstract

Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) was produced at a time when American Jewish identity was undergoing profound shifts. Jews were becoming less marginalized in American society, less persecuted, more upwardly-mobile, and more central to American national self-conceptions. This essay will gloss that historical context and position the show’s lead actors, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner (both second-generation Ashkenazi/Eastern-European Jewish immigrants), in this framework, locating them simultaneously in discourses of community representation, alien otherness and passing. The chapter will examine the acknowledged and subterranean ways these actors’ performances are inflected by this identity, as well as the show’s textual attempts to reckon with the Shoah (Holocaust) in episodes like “The Conscience of the King” and “Patterns of Force” (this was also an era in which the Shoah was being reassessed, and more broadly culturally cathected as trauma). Star Trek provides an excellent means of teaching this range of Jewish cultural figurations and historical experiences, as well as teaching media criticism as a transferable skillset. In its dealings with Jewishness, Star Trek both fails and succeeds grandly, as art and as an articulation of its professed progressive inclinations. In using Star Trek as a means of discussing a moment in Jewish experience, we can open up classroom conversations about how the changes of this period have given rise to the US Diaspora’s current ‘Americanization’; how later Star Trek has negotiated this terrain and complicated these initial portrayals; and, more broadly, how media arises from and participates in shaping its era.

Keywords

Jewish Studies History Cultural history History of performance Cultural studies Trauma theory Star Trek 

Works Cited

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Recommended Reading

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    I have quoted extensively from the afore-cited Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion and Culture. This volume of essays would serve as a good entry point for students and educators interested in incorporating Jewish perspectives in their courses. If anyone wishes to brush up on the Third Wave of American immigration, during which the American Jewish community (in its current form) took shape, they might receive helpful grounding from George Tindall and David Shi’s foundational America: A Narrative History. It will also familiarize readers with the American historiographic framing of this period.Google Scholar
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    Anzia Yezierska’s 1925 novel Bread Givers, An American Tail (film, 1986), or the opening speech from Kushner’s “Angels in America” might provide students insight into both these events and their reception history.Google Scholar
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    Clips of Funny Girl (film, 1969) may help illustrate this. Note that Brooks, Streisand, etc. are producing Jewish-interest films roughly contemporaneously with TOS.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin K. Horáková
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowScotland

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