/Space Force sounds like a joke thanks to pop culture: how that could be a problem for an important military branch

Space Force sounds like a joke thanks to pop culture: how that could be a problem for an important military branch

Summary: A quick Internet search shows that for most people, the Space Force is more a meme than a military branch.

Original author and publication date: Wendy Whitman Cobb – March 29, 2021

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Perhaps we need to watch Star Trek again, but this time as a documentary.

From the article:

The US Space Force has a serious role to play in the modern world. Its stated mission is to train and equip personnel to defend US interests in space. Given the increasing military and economic importance of space, the Space Force is likely to grow in importance.

But a quick Internet search shows that for most people, the Space Force is more a meme than a military branch. It has been the subject of jokes on “Saturday Night Live,” and Netflix was working on a comedy show before the service was officially formed. None other than Captain Kirk himself, actor William Shatner, has weighed in, arguing for the use of Navy ranks over Air Force ranks in the Space Force—after all, he wasn’t Colonel Kirk.

Given this relationship between science fiction and the Space Force, few people take it seriously. Modern pop culture depictions of the Space Force as a joke are distracting from the serious responsibilities the Space Force is taking on. I am a space policy analyst who has studied the Space Force’s relationship with science fiction, and my research shows this is creating a problem for the service.

Sci-fi goes in, jokes come out
There are two things to think about in the relationship between today’s pop culture and the Space Force: how existing sci-fi entertainment warps perceptions of the new military branch, and how those misconceptions lead to a comedic framing of the Space Force in culture today.

Science fiction has long had a strong influence on how people perceive space, and this has carried over to the Space Force. Social media and news coverage of Space Force often include references to “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Starship Troopers.” This isn’t surprising. People naturally use analogies to understand new concepts; it’s easier to understand new phenomena in terms of something you already know. Because the Space Force is a new service, people are turning to what they already know about fighting in space. The problem is that science fiction is far from the reality of what missions in space look like today

Despite the attention all this brings to the Space Force, if people are so deeply influenced by fiction that they find the Space Force funny or absurd, it could lead to a disconnect between public expectations and what the Space Force is actually doing, and ultimately, reduce public support.

While missions like surveillance and tracking satellites and space debris may not be as interesting as stories from “Star Wars,” they are fundamental to the global economy and national security.

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