The Imagination of Disaster was developed by Susan Sontag to explain the popularity of 1950s science fiction movies. Sontag asserts the popularity of these films rested on post-atomic fears of US culture being taken over (by the “Communist Other”) or annihilated altogether.
Today, in a post Cold War, post 9-11 world, the Imagination of Disaster has (d)evolved into The Imagination of Terrorism. The fear of the destruction of U.S. culture still exists, but is now being chiseled away with every terrorist act. People look over their shoulder, fearing that they will be the next victims of terrorism. Rather than instant annihilation, the Imagination of Terrorism encompasses one of gradual destruction.
Popular science fiction film today often reflects the Imagination of Terrorism, and J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek (2009) franchise is an example. In Gene Roddenberry’s original work, continuing after his death, “acts of terror” can always be overcome and flawed societies set right. Terrorism is an isolated incident, and “terrorists” are reformed or eliminated, their acts erased—Kahn is killed, the probe is answered, wars resolved. Only the Borg stand as a recurring enemy, and they too are handled without much lasting damage. Picard, after all, escapes.
However, in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) the threat of terrorism and its effects is ever-present. Nero, the terrorist of Star Trek, is defeated, but not before he kills Kirk’s father, Spock’s mother, and destroys an entire planet. Terrorism alters all of history, and the goals and technology in the new universe reflect this threat.
Into Darkness is an even more explicit Imagination of Terrorism. The film plays out as a series of terrorist attacks reminiscent of those commented by Al-Qaeda. An archive/secret base is blown up. A Starfleet base is attacked. Most importantly, multiple buildings are destroyed 9-11 style, Kirk gives an epidictic presidential-esque speech, and a dedication to the victims and first responders of 9-11 appears at the end. Unprovoked explosions and a constant fear of being the next victim is always present in Abrams’ Trek, just as it is in other films released concurrently (e.g. Man of Steel). Kahn, after all, was killed in the original film; in Into Darkness, he lives to terrorize again. Into Darkness represents not just the apocalyptic present, but also the apocalyptic process.