|Professor Putman holding a signed card from George Takei
Professor John Putman, how did your personal interest for Star Trek surged and how was it brought to the academia?
My personal interest developed as a young boy when I would watch the Original Series after school. I would sit in our living room easy chair and pretend to bounce around when Captain Kirk's ship was tossed about. Star Trek became an academic interest during graduate school when I saw The Next Generation episode, "The Measure of Man," in which Data faces a hearing that could possibly lead to his dismantling. In the episode Guinan compares Data's plight to slavery and so I saw how I could use this episode in concert with some proslavery documents as part of a writing assignment. After landing my job at San Diego State University I realized I could develop a course which uses Star Trek to help teach United States history since World War 2.
From a historical point of view, how important is Star Trek to the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century?
Since Star Trek is a television show we shouldn't make too much of it. However, it can provide us insight into many of the important issues the US and humans in general faced in the second half of the 20th century and beyond. The series offered social commentary on issues like race, politics, war, gender, sexuality, etc. and encouraged viewers to think and reconsider their own views. Beyond that, the show is clearly part of American culture as evident by the myriad of parodies and references that nearly everyone is familiar with.
In my view Star Trek reflects reality while helping to build it, just see the amount of social criticism that the series has always brought in their stories and how it simultaneously influenced art and science through time. How do you see these relations?
No doubt Star Trek's impact goes beyond just viewership and box office receipts. It has and still in some ways inspires people from engineers and scientists to philosophers. We see it from cell phones to holographic technology. In addition, it changed the nature of science fiction television by setting the bar higher and demanding more of its audience.
With your experience as a researcher, what advice would you give a Brazilian researcher that wanted to research Star Trek, so that this research made sense at regional level, for example?
While Star Trek is an American television show produced by American writers for initially an American audience so for the most part it reflects American culture and society. However, many of its themes are also universal like what it is to be human. Moreover, even those themes or messages aimed at an American audience can be applied in some ways to other places. In terms of research, it would be interesting to see how different audiences see or interpret the messages through their own prisms.
Interview in portuguese: http://edootrekker.blogspot.com.br/2017/01/entrevista-com-john-putman-professor-de.html