The American Monomyth (excerpt)

Jewett and Lawrence

Does Star Trek have a message? Are its concept of the universe, its scheme for the mission of the Enterprise, and its array of characters essentially trivial and meaningless? Does it have a message beyond the brilliantly entertaining presentation of space travel?

The United Starship Enterprise is on a five-year mission to explore the galaxy. She is one of twelve starship-class spaceships under orders of the United Federation of Planet Earth, with a crew of 430 men and women and a gross weight of 190,000 tons. Since her speed on space-warp drive far exceeds that of light, the in Enterprise explores and carries out assignments, making only infrequent contact with Federation authorities. Given this format, the episodes permit the Enterprise to intervene on her own initiative in the affairs of other planets, playing the role of cosmic sheriff, problem-solver, and plenipotentiary.

The leader of this semi-autonomous space probe is Captain James T. Kirk, the youngest man ever to be assigned a starship command, and a brilliant, irresistibly attractive and hard-driving leader who pushes himself and his crew beyond human limits. He always leads the landing party on its perilous missions to unexplored planets but, like a true superhero, regularly escapes after risking battle with monsters or enemy spaceships.

Kirk's main cohort, Mr. Spock, is cut even more clearly from superhero -material. He is half human and half Vulcan, which gives him ". . . extra-keen senses, prodigious strength, an eidetic memory, the capacity to perform lightning calculations, telepathy, imperturbability, immunity to certain diseases and dangers, vast knowledge especially of science." As played by Leonard Nimoy, Spock is a strong, ascetic character of pure rationality, his emotions kept strictly under control by his Vulcan temperament. The emotional tension is hinted at by his slightly Satanic appearance, including pointed ears. A Spock feature that has fascinated the female writers of the stories is pon farr, the periodic rutting season which renders all Vulcan minds powerless and threatens death if union with an appropriate partner is not achieved. Nimoy reported that the question of Spock's extraordinary sex appeal emerged almost any time I talked to somebody in the press. never give it a thought . . . to try to deal with the question of Mr. Spock as a sex symbol is silly."6 One wonders whether even television stars use a little bubble gum on occasion.

All the remarkable powers of Spock, Kirk, and his crew are required to deal with the adversaries of the good ship Enterprise. The Star Trek universe is populated by two vicious races of bad guys. The "Romulans" are similar to the Vulcans in ability and technological development but are highly ". . . militaristic, aggressive by nature, ruthless in warfare, and do not take captives." The "Klingons" are even worse, though less intelligent. David Gerrold's description is delightful: "Klingons are professional villains. They are nasty, vicious, brutal, and merciless. They don't bathe regularly, they don't use deodorants or brush their teeth. . . . A Klingon is a good person to invite to a rape--or even a murder, provided it's your own. . . . Klingons build their battlecruisers without toilets . . . drop litter in the streets . . . pick their teeth in public. And those are their good points. . . . Clearly such villains are more symbolic than individual," 7 threatening the peace of the galaxy in a way that requires constant vigilance by the Enterprise.

To counter these threats and to cope with the weird, aggressive powers that seem to inhabit all earthlike planets of the universe, the Enterprise acts as galactic redeemer in episode after episode. As Gerrold explains, ". . . The Enterprise IS a cosmic 'Mary Worth,' meddling her way across the galaxy . . . to spread truth, justice, and the American Way to the far comers of the universe." The format of Star Trek accentuates this role by keeping Kirk and his ship out of communication with Earth. The captain becomes ". . . the sole arbiter of Federation law wherever he traveled . . . a law unto himself." The story thus fits into the genre of the isolated zealous hero or nation, answerable only to a higher law and fighting for right whenever called to do so, a theme America has tried to act out in recent times. And like a sophisticated American, Captain Kirk does not allow himself to become "paranoid" about the enemies who are out to get him or the planets he must destroy in the fray. In a spirit worthy of Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest," Kirk's ". . . enemy is an adversary to be met with strength and even destroyed, if necessary, but not necessarily a villain with whom no reconciliation is possible. Peace really is his [Kirk’s] profession."8

The moral vision of Star Trek thus partakes of the spirit and rhetoric of the Pax Americana. Its basic moral principle is zeal for the mission. This is in effect what authors Lichtenberg, Marshak, and Winston celebrate in their comprehensive fan book, Star Trek Lives! They affirm an admirable equality of moral stature" on the parts of Spock and Kirk. "Each of them is that rarest of all things among men- a man of unbroken integrity . each remains dedicated to the striving, extravagantly willing to pay the price." But when one measures this moral quality against standards forbidding deceit, adultery, and violence, the lack of restraint is striking. What we have here is moral zeal attached solely to the mission and to their own vision of what amounts to "the American Way." It is a zeal transcending both due process and the moral code of the Federation's "noninterference directive," which Kirk has sworn on pain of death to uphold. This directive is consistently broken in Star Trek episodes when "necessary" for the fulfillment of the mission. It is an effective format for reinstating in the realm of fantasy some of the American values that floundered in the sixties against ugly obstacles in Vietnam. Dedication to the ideals would alone suffice, in fantasy if not in reality. Zeal for one's own value system justifies the intervention in someone else's. Gerrold writes that the cumulative message of Star Trek is that ". . . if a local culture is tested and found wanting in the eyes of a starship captain, he may make such changes as he feels necessary."9

The correlations between the Star Trek format and recent tragedies in American history are troublesome and painful, especially for those who happen to enjoy the (lan and imagination of this series. It would be foolish to blame programs like Star Trek for the debacle of Vietnam. What fascinates us is the connection between these correlations and the peculiar commitment a series like this evokes from its most dedicated fans. Richard Slotkin's concept of "National Mythology" provides an important clue.10 He shows how the historical experience of a nation provides metaphors and stories which assume mythic proportions in literature and art, so that the resultant myth exercises a reciprocal pressure on succeeding generations. It shapes the sense of reality and is itself reshaped by subsequent experience. Thus a national mythology may come to exercise the same unconscious appeal as the archetypal myths of which they are variants.

Despite the discrepancies in their quality and sophistication, Star Trek appears to be traditional reworkings of American ideology. But as one might expect, there is a hitch to this burgeoning mythic theory of ours.

At the surface level Star Trek stories seem to defy interpretation as mythic material with powerful unconscious appeal. The entire series takes a singularly dim view of myths, not to speak of legends, fables, and their primitive religious accouterments. Star Trek celebrates the freeing of the human spirit from superstition and narrow-mindedness. It wears the cloak of empirical science. It purports to be a future chapter in what Joseph Campbell called "the wonder story of mankind's coming to maturity." Campbell, the famous historian of world myths, argues that with the coming' of the scientific age, mankind has been set free from myths. "The spell of the past, the bondage of tradition, was shattered with sure and mighty strokes. The dream-web of myth fell away; the mind opened to full waking consciousness; and modem man emerged from ancient ignorance, like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn from the womb of mother night." Producer Gene Roddenberry would surely agree. The antimythic bias in Star Trek is clearly visible in the episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"

In this episode, the Enterprise lands on an unexplored M Class planet and the members of the exploration party find themselves in a Greek-like temple complex. A magnificent, muscular man rises to greet them with the words, "I am Apollo. . . . You are here to worship me as your fathers worshipped me before you." One crew member, archaeologist Carolyn Palamas quickly falls in love with Apollo and agrees to follow him.

As the episode goes on, eventually Kirk declares war on the god, whose powers seem to depend on an energy source that needs recharging. When Apollo disappears to recharge his power source, the crew decides to attack him in hopes of wearing him down. The Enterprise meanwhile prepares to fire phasers against Apollo's force field. When Carolyn appears again, Kirk tries to cope with her infatuation.

She becomes the spokesperson for Apollo, explaining to Kirk, "He wants to guard . . . and provide for us the rest of our lives. He can do it." Kirk responds that if she accepts Apollo, she condemns "the crew of the Enterprise to slavery!" She stares at him blankly.

Kirk pleads with her to remember ". . . what you are! A bit of flesh and blood afloat in illimitable space. The only thing that is truly yours is this small moment of time you share with the rest of humanity. . . . That's where our duty lies. . . . Do you understand me?"

The incandescing phaser beams from the Enterprise strike his power source just in time, reducing him to a "man-size being." "I would have loved you as a father his children," Apollo says, in anguish. "Did I ask so much of you?" Kirk's reply is gentle. "We have outgrown you," he says. "You asked for what we can no longer give."

Denied the worship so necessary for his being, Apollo's body begins to lose substance, and for the first time he admits the time of the gods "is gone. Take me home to the stars on the wind."

This episode bears a clear message that the era of myths is over, that retreating into slavery to the gods of the past would be terrible. Moreover, the episode suggests that the ancient myths can be scientifically explained by assuming that space travelers played the role of gods. This theme has enormous appeal, judging from the popularity of works such as Chariots of the Gods."13 The episode implies that meaning is purely of this world, any threshold to mysterious, transcendent reality firmly denied. In contrast to the illusive message of myths and religions, the meaning of Carolyn Palamas' life is simply her "duty" to the only reality of which she can be sure, the "humanity" she shares. This conviction of Captain Kirk fits the spirit of the entire series. It is unthinkable that he or his crew, not to speak of the strictly scientific Spock, would credence to myths for a moment.

Yet the story line of this and other episodes follows a mythic pattern. David Gerrold, one of the writers of Star Trek defined Star Trek as ". . . a set of fables &emdash; morality plays, entertainments, and diversions about contemporary man, but set against a science-fiction background. The background is subordinate to the fable." This can be documented at those points in which dramatic coherence--that is, hewing to the mythic story line--caused scriptwriters to depart from the standards of scientific accuracy. For instance, the attractive young crew of the Enterprise never ages despite journeys through the light-year distances of outer space. Members of the bridge crew are regularly shaken off their seats by enemy torpedoes despite the fact that shock waves would not carry past a spaceship's artificial-gravity field. The scientific liberties are taken for dramatic effect, creating ". . . action, adventure, fun, entertainment, and thought-provoking statements."14 These are actually mythical elements that appeal to an audience schooled in a particular mythical tradition.

When one compares the themes of the series with the content of classical myths, similarities are immediately apparent. Isolating such content from the genesis and function of myths, we mention three patterns visible in "Who Mourns for Adonais?" The first is saga, which features a protagonist journeying to unknown and dangerous regions, undergoing trials to test his strength and wit. In the classical monomyth delineated by Joseph Campbell, a journey is undertaken in response to the requirement for each human to move from childhood to maturity through "the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth." But in 'materials embodying the American monomyth, the sap of maturation tends to be replaced by the defense against malevolent attacks upon innocent communities. Gene Roddenberry's original prospectus for Star Trek, featuring the format of "Wagon Train to the Stars," aims at saga. He planned the series to be ". . . built around characters who travel to other worlds and meet the jeopardy and adventure which become our stories." This correlates with the announcement at the beginning of Star Trek Programs, that the mission of the Enterprise is ". . . to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."15 Thus in the saga of Apollo's planet, the Enterprise had to be morally endangered by the gigantic face on the scanner, and it was essential for the protagonists Kirk and Spock to leave their command post and come face to face with the foe. It was obviously bad military and space-travel strategy, as many critics have pointed out. No sensible commander would send himself and the key technical officers on a landing party like this. But it is essential to the saga format and thus is characteristic of almost every episode.

The second mythic pattern visible in Star Trek is sexual renunciation. The protagonist in some mythical sagas must renounce previous sexual ties for the sake of his trials. He must avoid entanglements and temptations that inevitably arise from Sirens or Loreleis in the course of his travels. Thus Lieutenant Palamas is tested in the episode with Apollo, her sexual liaison endangering the survival of the Enterprise. After she renounces her passion, the saga can get back on course. In the classical monomyth this theme plays a subsidiary role in the initiation or testing phase. The protagonist may encounter sexual temptation symbolizing ". . . that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell," as Campbell points out. Yet the "ultimate adventure" is the ". . . mystical marriage . . . of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess" of knowledge."16 In the current American embodiments of mythic renunciation there is a curious rejection of sexual union as a primary value.

In Star Trek each hero is locked into a renunciatory pattern closely related to the mission. On long expeditions in outer space, there is, for example, no intrinsic reason why the captain would not be accompanied by his wife and family. This was customary for the masters of some large sailing vessels In the era of extended voyages. But that would violate the mythic paradigm. So Roddenberry describes the renunciation pattern: "Long ago Captain Kirk consciously ruled out any possibility of any romantic interest while aboard the ship. It is an involvement he feels he simply could never risk. In a very real sense he is 'married' to his ship and his responsibilities as captain of her." In numerous episodes Kirk is- in the situation Carolyn Palamas faced, forced to choose between an attractive sexual partner and his sense of duty to mission. The authors of Star Trek Lives! report that female fans

. . . vicariously thrill to Kirk's sexual exploits with gorgeous females of every size, shape and type--from the stunning lady lawyers, biologists and doctors who have loved him, to the vicious and breath-taking Elaan of Troyius, who ruled a planet but was willing to risk destroying her entire solar system for him. . . . Many see Kirk's loves as having a tragic element. There is affection and warmth in his response, and evidently the capacity for deep love. But very often the situation is impossible. He loses not through his faults but through his virtues, because of the demanding life he has chosen.

They go on to describe the renunciation. of sexual bonds for the sake of loyalty to the Enterprise and its crew. "Time and again, he had to make a choice between a woman and his ship-and his ship always won."17

This renunciation of sexual love for the sake of loyalty to one's comrades goes far beyond the classical monomyth. It is seen perhaps most clearly in the person of Spock. He is loyal to Kirk and his comrades at the expense of risking his life for them again and again, but he persistently resists the temptation of entanglements with the opposite sex. Nurse Christine Chapel, a beautiful, talented crew member who is hopelessly in love with Spock, receives the cold shoulder in story after story. Here is a man capable of the prodigious outpouring of passion triggered by the irresistible pon farr and yet incapable of lasting emotional ties" with women.18 Sex is an autonomous force here, distinct from Spock’s personality and capable of destroying his ability to reason. Since he cannot integrate it with his personality, it must be rigidly repressed until it overpowers him in the rutting season. Spock bears within his person the temptation threatening every saga with disaster-it must be fiercely renounced for the mission to succeed. Such a motif may not be true to life, and it is certainly improbable that there are sophisticated planets with pon farr rites derived from Puritan fantasies, but it is true to the mythic paradigm.

The third mythical pattern in Star Trek is redemption. In the classical monomyth the beautiful maiden must be redeemed from the clutches of the sea monster, the endangered city spared from its peril, and the protagonist redeemed by fateful interventions in the nick of time. This pattern is much more diffuse in the classical monomyth than in modem materials standing closer to the American pattern 'the classical hero may experience supernatural aid as he crosses the threshold into the realm of initiatory adventure and then returns, and he may confront trials embodying the redemption of others. But his own redemption takes the form of. mature wisdom, achieving atonement with his father, union with the goddess, and returning home with benefits for his people. The redemption scheme in materials like Star Trek has nothing to do with the maturation process. It fits rather the pattern of selfless crusading to redeem others. This form of selfless idealism has been elaborated most extensively by Ernest Tuveson in Redeemer Nation. As so frequently in American history, the Enterprise sense of high calling leads to violations of its "noninterference directive." If Kirk and his crew encounter an endangered planet, their sense of duty impels them to intervene. It may not be legal, or right, or even sensible, but the zealous imperative to redeem is all-pervasive. While Gerrold may have overstated in claiming that among the seventy-nine Star Trek episodes, ". . . there never was a script in which the Enterprises mission or goals were questioned,"20 he has accurately described the series as a whole.

While the Enterprise regularly plays the mythic redeemer role, Mr. Spock embodies it in a particularly powerful way. His half Vulcan origin makes him a godlike figure, peculiarly capable of effecting redemption. Spock consults his computer with superhuman speed to devise the technique of saving galaxies and men from prodigious threats, leading the audience to view him with a kind of reverence that traditionally has been reserved for gods. Leonard Nimoy’s interview, approvingly cited by the authors of Star Trek Lives!, points toward audience yearnings for an omniscient redeemer. The viewer sees Spock as someone

. . . who knows something about me that nobody else knows. Here's a person that understands me in a way that nobody else understands me. Here's a person that I’d liketo be able to spend time with and talk to because he would know what I mean when I tell him how I feel. He would have insight that nobody else seems to have . . . . 21

In short, Spock is perceived as a god, which matches the requirements of the mythical pattern, namely that without a superhuman agency of some sort, there is no true redemption.

These mythical themes help us to focus sharply on a paradox evident in Star Trek. While its themes occasionally contest the mythical world view, its format and stories are thoroughly mythical. To use Joseph Campbell's terms, it is as if space-age man, having emerged from the "cocoon" of mythic ignorance, awoke to find himself still enmeshed "in the dream-web of myth." This paradox of Star Trek reveals a myth of mythlessness. Its implicit claim to be antimythical and purely scientific is itself a myth--that is, a set of unconsciously held, unexamined premises. The Star Trek format may be a new set of wineskins, but the mythic fermentation within is as old as Apollo.

How can this paradoxical myth of mythlessness be sustained? How does Star Trek convince its audience, consisting of an unusually high proportion of scientists and technologists, with stories that are so brazenly mythical and unscientific? Consider the episode "Spock's Brain" as an example. The beautiful Kara is mysteriously transported to the Enterprise, touches her bracelet to knock everyone unconscious, takes Spock to the operating room and removes his brain. When Dr. McCoy reports that no known surgical technique could restore the brain and that within three days Spock's body would deteriorate, Kirk responds that he will find the woman with the incredible knowledge: "I'll force it out of her!" He instinctively decides which unlikely planet to investigate and encounters Kara in her underground city, which worships "the Controller," now Spock's brain, which maintains the vast life-support system. The dull-witted women hold their men in primitive subjugation on the cold surface of the planet. A marvelous message helmet inherited from the men of ancient times gave Kara the directions for the brain transplant. The Enterprise landing crew breaks free from their guards and, directed by Spock's computer voice, enters the control room. Kirk wrests the bracelet from Kara, touches the proper blue button, and disables the painful electronic headbands by which the Amazons hold men in bondage to "pain and [sexual] delight." McCoy uses the magic helmet to reconnect Spock's brain. The sobbing Kara is certain that her, domineering cohorts will die without a "Controller" maintaining their luxurious environment below, but the Enterprises technical aid teams sexes together on the cold surface of the planet. Kirk is certain that the sex war is over now because ". . . cuddling is so much warmer than wood fires."23 This sexual version of Pax Americana is as wildly improbable in plot and timing as the mythical elements of Amazons and magical knowledge would lead one to suspect. But it is mythically coherent, combining the risk of saga with a timely redemption in the form of resurrection, weaving in the motif of sexual renunciation as Kirk and his crew avoid falling prey to the sexual delights of the Amazons. All this helps sharpen the question: "Why doesn’t the audience discern the transparency of the myth of mythlessness in an episode like this? Why do science students desert their labs for such Amazonian fare?

One key to the acceptance of Star Trek seems to be its emphasis on technical exactitude in the details of production. Roddenberry called this the "Believability Factor" and felt that it would be crucial to the acceptance of the show. "Our audiences simply won’t believe that this is the bridge of a starship," he stated, "unless the characters on it seem at least as coordinated and efficient as the blinking lights and instrumentation around them." The effort paid off in the enthusiasm of audiences composed of scientists, technicians, even space-center personnel, in the inclusion of a Star Trek program in the Smithsonian archives, and in the display of an Enterprise model adjacent to The Spirit of St. Louis. Highly educated fans like Lichtenberg, Marshak, and Winston speak of "the atmosphere of believability" in Star Trek: ". . . The ship lived. It flew. It went to real places. Where other science-fiction shows tried to gloss over scientific inaccuracies, Star Trek fought to create a wholly believable technology and a real universe." Star Trek Lives! extends this confusion between fact and fantasy to a conflation of the actors and their roles. Kirk’s nobility of character is reflected in Shatner’s ". . . real life in the tireless dedication to his work. . . ." Leonard Nimoy’s battles with directors to retain a valid characterization of Spock led fans to ask, "Does this sound like Spock? It does to us."24

But at least one crucial caveat is called for here. While exactitude and gadgetry are parts of science, they do not constitute the degree of scientific objectivity capable of calling one’s own myths into question. The essence of the scientific outlook is a critical state of mind, which is willing to examine all dogmas, including those of science itself. Karl Popper, a major interpreter of science has even argued that ". . . what we call ‘science’ is differentiated from the older myths, not by being something different from a myth, but by being accompanied by a second order tradition--that of critically discussing the myth." This is conspicuously lacking in Star Trek because the mythical formulas so crucial to the plots are never called into question. Indeed, the myth of mythlessness ensures that they not even be acknowledged. Instead of a rigorously self-critical scientific outlook, Star Trek offers pseudo-empiricism, an empirical veneer of gadgetry, and crew talk applied to a mythical superstructure.25

One of the most interesting elements of pseudo-empiricism in Star Trek is the "Idic" philosophy that Spock brings from Vulcan. It is a vague series of ideas, including repression of sexual energies into a rut cycle, concentrating on deriving personal profit from competition rather than being obsessed with winning, and placing one’s energies in technological manipulations. But the authors of Star Trek Lives! are impressed by the fact that ". . . the optimism of the Idic is implicit in the fact that this philosophy is practiced, lived, realized by a planet-wide culture, the Vulcans, and it works!" Whoa! Works where? Realized by what planet-wide culture? On television or in reality? The writers go on: "The Vulcan nature is said to be more violently warlike than that of humans, but their world has enjoyed peace for hundreds of years. A large part of Star Trek fandom is energized by the belief that this Vulcan concept of peace is the only one which will help our world survive. . . ."26

The language of this citation deserves close scrutiny. Under its pseudo-empirical cloak, Star Trek is presenting an alternative reality system so powerful and credible that a "belief" is "energized." And it is, of course, the "only one" capable of world redemption. This is the language not of science or technology, but of religion. The appropriation of this kind of belief system by individuals is described at great length by the authors of Star Trek Lives! They cite examples of individuals deriving a sense of courage and meaning from encountering this reality system. "In Star Trek, the fan escapes not from reality but to reality--to a reality where failure is only a prelude to success, where strength, determination, and integrity can earn triumph just as Spock has won his battle by virtue of his strength."27 In other words, there is a reality in the Star Trek fantasy that transcends petty problems, and it thus provides a means of salvation. The television programs communicate this higher reality to the audience, evoking faith and courage. Such language, suitable for inclusion in William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, leads us to the pop-religion theme of the next chapter. Before closing, however, it is necessary to suggest the need for a new theory of communication.

Despite the bubble-gum fallacy and the myth of mythlessness, pop-culture artifacts like Star Trek are developing visions of life and destiny capable of evoking powerful loyalties in at least some audience members. Pseduo-empiricism allows this to take place, convincing the audience that it is witnessing advanced science. As we confront the strange believability of such materials, there is need for a critical theory capable of cutting through the scientific veneer to the core, which unsuspectingly gives religious vitality to pop-culture artifacts. This veneer is growing denser and more difficult to penetrate.

When modern television was in its pilot stages in 1938, E. B. White wrote perceptively about the way the alternative reality in the picture box would someday threaten to displace the real world. "A door closing, heard over the air, a face contorted, seen in a panel of light, these will emerge as the real and the true. And when we bang the door of our own cell or look into another’s face, the impression will be of mere artifice." In the very year that the impression will be of mere artifice." In the very year that White uttered these prophetic words, an alarming confirmation was provided by Orson Welles’ radio drama, "Invasion from Mars." Welles and scriptwriter Howard Koch had taken H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and adapted it for the Mercury Theatre by presenting it as a series of radio bulletins. Koch chose Grover's Mill, New Jersey, as the site of the fictional Martian invasion. The program opened with the announcement that a fictional play would follow. The play itself was interrupted three times to reit erate the fictional character of the "news bulletins." But thousands fell into panic and fled from their homes. Police received reports that Martians on their giant machines had been sighted wading the Hudson to occupy Manhattan. Hysteria spread across the nation, giving rise to bizarre incidents: One husband found his wife listening to the broadcast with a bottle of poison in her hand screaming "I'd rather die this way. A church service in Indianapolis was dismissed when a woman announced that the world was corning to an end. A man in Oakland, California, volunteered to fight the Martians. Evaluating.the resultant hysteria, the New York Daily News applauded the simplistic solution pledged by the br idcast system: "Let all chains, all stations, avoid use of news broadcasting technique in dramatizations where there is any possibil'ty of any listener mistaking fiction for fact. The problem of mistaking fiction for fact" was far more subtle than avoiding broadcast techniques, as White was surely aware, when he predicted that a new sense of reality would be shaped by the media.

The technical wizardry of Star Trek has traveled impressively toward the fulfillment of White's prophetic statement. And more is yet to come as film companies seek new means of smothering sensory channels with an ever-increasing surfeit. We now have "Quintaphonic Sound" in the movie Tommy, which producs are real? That the odor seeping from under the seats is really a love potion capable of overpowering the inhibitions of the audience?

It is appropriate to develop a technomythic critical theory that will sensitize audiences to mythic content and the techniques of presentation that lend them credibility. It would thereby provide critical armor against the powerful sensory assaults by which pop culture conveys its mythic images. It would draw pop artifacts into the evaluation process from which no area of culture should ever be exempt. This might correct the curious anomaly by which the ideas of pop culture remain virtually aloof from the critical process that has painfully engaged every other area in current society. Apart from occasional and ineffective concerns over violence or sex, the media most frequently encountered by the public seem least subject to thematic examination. Public debate is warded off by the incantation, "It’s just entertainment."