by Michelle Erica Green

This article originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

People tend to think of special effects and extraterrestrials when they think of science fiction. But even as they explore outer space, entries in the sci-fi genre have proven a fertile medium for exploring human customs and values. Filmmakers can't really know what a futuristic or alien world might look like, so they project their hopes and nightmares onto their imagined visions, often asking how a futuristic or alien society would deal with the social and political issues faced by people of our own era.

Star Trek, one of the best-known and most successful sci-fi series in the world, has spawned four television shows and nine movies so far. Yet the space battles have never excited viewers as much as the struggle by captains and their crews to uphold the stellar values of the United Federation of Planets.

In the 1960s, the mere presence of women and people of different ethnic backgrounds on the Enterprise bridge suggested the equality of all humans. The Vulcan creed "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," introduced in Is There In Truth No Beauty? (Episode 62), advocated the acceptance and celebration of differences among individuals. And Starfleet's Prime Directive, forbidding interference with developing cultures, offered an alternative to the historical glorification of conquest.

Other science fiction movies serve as cautionary tales about the consequences of human shortsightedness. Planet of the Apes, an allegory about class struggle, ends with the discovery that humans have destroyed their own planet. The X-Files: Fight The Future warns of the possibility that even in our own era, unscrupulous people might choose to side with alien invaders to retain positions of power.

Despite the intergalactic span of science fiction, domestic themes are frequently present. Lost In Space and the animated Jetsons-The Movie concern futuristic families trying to retain happy homes in the midst of new technology. Radical efforts to control the population result in domestic upheaval in the classic Loganís Run. In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Kirk struggles with the loss of his own son when he rescues Sarek's.

Inspector Gadget humanizes technology by introducing a police officer with high-tech devices built into his body. The Iron Giant, an animated sci-fi movie about the past, also contains good messages for kids, insisting that a robot created as weapon can choose to be a hero. Though futuristic movies may be set in imagined eras, their robots, aliens, and human characters illustrate how we can all be better people today.

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