SCIENCE FICTION & FEMINISM
Sci-Fi & Feminism
Origins & Evolution of Science Fiction
As with most things including literature, science fiction has progressed and changed a lot over the years. Many works of science fiction were simply rough copies and following the altready-established patterns of prior authors. However, there has always been authors and creators that push the envelope and forge new questions and storylines that have not been realized or conceptualized before. As it relates to science fiction, this started in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th century.
19th and early 20th Century
Given the amount of time that has passed since then, the science fiction visionaries of the 19th century are well-known to anyone that studies or follows the subject. Perhaps the most well-known name was that of Mary Shelley and her work Frankenstein as published in 1818. Many, but not all, people who are scholars of the science fiction genre assert that this was the first contribution to the genre (Armitt, 1991). It is also the first instance where a scientist is shown to have gone rogue and become a “mad scientist.” The story of Frankenstein, otherwise known as The Modern Prometheus, was a novel written about a mad scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein actually ends up creating a monster that is self-aware and full alive using some rather interesting tactics and methods. Many people attribute the name Frankenstein to the monster he eventually creates, but that is actually incorrect as it was only the scientists. As it turns out via the narrative in the book, Victor Frankenstein is trying to recreate and reform a rather large man that was spotted and recounted by Captain Robert Walton, a man who desired to explore the North Pole. This is how the monster becomes an idea and an obsession for Victor and eventually his creation (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
There are heavy influences from the women in Victor’s life, so feminism and women-focused thought is definitely there. For example, Victor gains an adopted sister when he is five by the name of Elizabeth Lavenza. He eventually falls in love with this sister. On the tragedy side of the spectrum, there is the loss of Victor’s mother to scarlet fever. This drives Victor Frankenstein into his work even more. Another female-related event happens when there is a murder of Victor’s brother William. The primary suspect for that crime, and the person eventually hung for the offense, was William’s nanny Justine. Victor personally thinks the Monster (his creation) did the crime but he does not believe that anyone would believe him if he tried to tell them as much. The Monster then faces a bit of rejection here and there and eventually demands female companionship because the females and other people already in the world reject him. The rest of the book is one act of violence against another, a lot of it perpetrated against women. The Monster is pursued by Victor to the North Pole but Victor does not kill him even though the Monster had killed many of his beloved including Elizabeth (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
Mary Shelly was actually quite young when she wrote the book. Also, it is clear that this is obviously the first intersection of feminism and science fiction as the first science fiction book ever written was written by a woman and a young woman at that. An asterisk to the above is that her name was not attached to the first edition as printed in 1818. Only when the second edition was printed in 1823 was her name associated with the book. The book was anonymous for its first printing. Shelley actually dabbled in a lot of different arts and habits but they all centered on writing. Not only did she do a lot of fiction (e.g. Frankenstein), but she also did a lot of non-fiction work such as travel work and biographies. She lived a long and storied life until passing in 1851 at the age of 53. As the math would indicate, Mary Shelley was a scant twenty years old when Frankenstein was completed and she started writing it when she was only 18 years old (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
Other names that are tossed around sometimes predate Shelley because they contain at least elements of what is now commonly associated with science fiction such as utopias, aliens, the general concept behind a mad scientists and so forth. For example, the mad scientist approach that Shelley took is asserted to have started with the work of Shakesphere when he wrote The Tempest. As far as utopias, one could argue that New Atlantis by Francis Bacon had a utopian feel to it, although that book was never completed. Both of those works were started and/or finished in the 17th century…roughly two centuries before Mary Shelley got her foot in the proverbial door (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
However, even is the proverbial door was already open a crack when Shelley got to it, she kicked it open and others followed her at around the same time or shortly thereafter. Other examples from the 19th century would include The Last Man in 1805 by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville, Le Roman de l’Avenir in 1834 by Felix Bodin, Le Monde Tel Qu’il Sera in 1846 by Emile Souvestre, the Mummy by Jane Loudon in 1827, Louis Geoffroy’s Napolean et la Conquete du Monde in 1836, Defontenay’s Star ou Psi de Cassiopee in 1854, Camille Flammarion’s L. Pluralite des Mondes Habites in 1862 and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race in 1871. Each of those works set a new pathway that had not been explored before or at least not in the precise way that was done by that author (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
The work of Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainvill was a prose poem that was actually published before Shelley’s Frankenstein, being that his work predated hers by more than ten years. What made this work science fiction in the eyes of many is that it talked about a planet Earth that was in the process of dying off. It was indeed a depiction of the wend of the world. The basic plot is that a man is studying a care in Syria. A spirit appears to the man it is soon revealed that the earth is becoming steril and thus people having new children will no longer be possible. Ergo, it will only be a matter of time before the people of the planet are dead and gone due to the inability to reproduce and keep the world replenished from a population standpoint. The plot then involves traveling to see Syderia, the last fertile woman, as well as Adam as depicted in the Christian Bible. It is revealed that God has decided the world shall end and that is what ends up happening eventually (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
As for the works that came after Shelley as mentioned before, they each explained and covered elements that were unique and cutting-edge at the time. Bodin and Souvestre both surmise and try to guess as to what the coming centuries of history will be like. Jane Loudin speaks of a person who is resurrected like Lazarus and this occurs while the world is in political crisis. Concurrent to this crisis is the presence of technology that involves gas-flame jewelry and houses that can be moved from place to place via a series of rails. The work of Louis Geoffroy was different and new in that it explored what would have happened if Napoleon had indeed not failed and had conquered the world. In other words, it was a bit of exploring alternative realities and timelines. Defontenay’s work looked at an alien world and civilization while Camille Flammarion generally speculated about the same, that being alien life on other planets. The work of Bulwer-Lytton bore a strong resemblance to that of Defontenay except that it specifically covered the active discovery of a new sort of life on a distant planet (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
Before getting into the next major age of science fiction, there are two names that cannot be skipped over and those are Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Julese Verne lived a ltitle later and a lot longer than Mary Shelley as he lived from 1828 to 1905. After studying in Paris in the mid-1840’s, he started writing in the form of stage comedies in 1850. He then churned out a number of books that are still revered to this very day. On the other hand, HG Wells was more focused on social criticism and review as he was a blatant anti-Marxist who wrote about that and other things. His more revered works include The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Anyone who has paid attention to movies over the years should recognize a couple of those as they have been made into movies, sometimes more than once (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
Magazine era (1926 — 1960)
Most of the progress of science fiction noted above was in the form of plays or books. However, a new medium emerged starting in the 1920’s and that was in the form of magazines. They were also commonly referred to as pulps. They actually started being produced and published in the very late 1800’s but really didn’t emerge as a firm and ensconced genre until the 1920’s. These magazines were typically a bit over 100 pages in length and were a little smaller than a typical 8×11 paper as seen in copying machines and the like. Pulp magazines were successors to the “penny dreadfuls” and “dime novels” of the years before. The genres that were printed in these pulp novels included science fiction but also included a lot of other genres such as war, human, romance and adventure (James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
The science fiction iterations of the magazines took on a life of their own. Names that emerged on the pages of these magazines included James Joyce, TS Eliot and Virginia Woolf, yet another female pioneer in the genre of both writing in general and science fiction in particular. Common themes that were explored included the idea of expanding and contracting both identity and time units. Once the 1930’s rolled around, things really started to get interested as new and very big names (both present at the time and future) that included Isaac Asimov, Donald Wolheim and others. George Orwell got involved in 1948 with his work “1984.” That work, which has persisted in popularity and pop culture/political science relevance to this very day (e.g. Big Brother references), spoke of a totalitarian regime that controlled and manipulated people through the use of technology. Other names that came through around that time include Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. The lines between fiction and were blurred in a jarring way when Orson Welles had a radio version of War of the Worlds that was broadcast on a radio station. Obviously, this was a shock to the system of many people who though the broadcast was real and thus they started to panic. This roughly coincided with the supposed unidentified flying object crash that allegedly occurred in the vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 (James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
Perhaps the best example of the magazine era of science fiction during the World War era was the one known as Asounding Magaine. That magazine was edited and controlled by John W. Campbell. The magazine published stories and offerings from science fiction stalwarts like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. The magazine also led to a sharp rise in the public stock of Scientoloty creator L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard is well-known for his work Dianetics and a few of the Astounding-published treatises focused on that work of Hubbard (James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
What followed shortly thereafter is what is commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Indeed, the 1950’s was full of science fiction movies that are still held as cutting edge and dominant in the genre even today. This is despite the fact that special effects and so forth have advanced exponentially in the days, months and years since then. Movies that set that trend included Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Them! & Destination Moon. Those works were based on much of the same people already mentioned including Campbell, Heinlein, Bradbury an do sorth. There were also some works by John Wyndham including the Day of the Triffids and the Kraken Wakes (James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
New Waves (1960 — 1980)
The Gold Age was at it speak in the 1950’s and is generally agreed to have ended by 1960. This is when the New Wave started. It seemed to have started when Briton Kingsley Amis published a literary summary and review of the science fiction genre. This was a point where many feel that science fiction moved from being an ancillary or secondary part of fiction and writing to being a primary one. A seminal piece of work that came later was Dune, as written by Frank Herbert in 1965. Dune included a lot of themes that are now extremely prevalent in science fiction including a strange new galaxy, rather odd religious views and rituals and so forth. Another name that came out of the ether was Roger Zelazny who wrote within the sci-fi-laden genres of fantasy, religion and even some social commentary on the same (James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
Post-Modernism & Science Fiction
Science fiction has a strong relation to post-modernism. However, the word “post-modernism” has different definitions for different people. However, there is usually a linkage between that term and virtual worlds or hyper-reality. The genre ostensibly hit its apex in the 1990’s and many hold that it ended quite quickly when 9/11 happened in 2001 (SFRA, 2015; James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
Chapter III — Different Science Fiction Mediums
As been made clear through the years per the resources and sources cited to this point, literature forms of science fiction have been common for years. Whether it is larger books, novels, short stories, magazines and so forth, the printed medium has been around for more than a century and will surely linger in some form for some time to come. Indeed, online book-seller Amazon, bricks and mortar-based seller Barnes and Noble as well as more regional and local book-sellers are still chugging along in terms of selling physical medium even if the market has constructed and become more online in nature. Indeed, Barnes and Noble used to have a competitor in the form of Borders Bookstore. Much like Circuit City vs. Best Buy in the electronics store market, two big names constricted to only one (DFP, 2013; Graser, 2013).
Comics are technically an off-shoot of literature but it deserves its own category given the major differences that exist between common literature and comics. Comics are very much driven by pictures and other cues that are simply not present in many to most books and this includes science fiction books. The comic book has been around for roughly as long as the magazines mentioned before as they date back to the very early 1900’s. They still exist in strong form to this very day although the shift to online and digital content has changed the landscape just a bit. The big names of the comic industry over the generations have included EC Comics, Planet Comics and Amazing Stories. The names and titles that have been the biggest and boldest include Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, and so forth. However, one sub-section of the comic genre that deserves separate mention due to have graphic and distinct it has and continues to be is manga. As far back as the 1950’s, there were manga pioneers like Osamu Tezuka and Katsuhiro Otomo. The brand and character names that have dominated include Akira and Astro Boy. Even the French and the Britons have had their own comic variants. There has also been a blend of American and manga-based story-telling and presentation known as graphic novels. Indeed, many graphic novels have been translated to the silver screen in the form of movies like Constantine and V for Vendetta, just to name a few (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Manga, 2015; DC Comics, 2015; Marvel Comics, 2015).
Film & Television
The invention of the television and, later on after that, the television show and movie represented a huge opportunity for science fiction writers and creators. Indeed, the television and movie mediums allowed the Golden Age of science fiction to be the seismic shift it was for general fiction and so forth. Of course, the first so-called official movie ever made as both sad and history-changing as that movie was The Birth of a Nation. Created in 1915, the film was a silent one that chronicled the Ku Klux Klan, the tenuous North/South relationship after the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Further, the “black” people in the film were actually white people in blackface (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; IMDB, 2015).
However, the first science fiction film is actually considered to precede The Birth of a Nation. That distinction is assigned to Georges Melies and his film Le Voyage dans la Lune in 1902. The film, also a silent one, used trick photography and light manipulation to depict a ship traveling to the moon. Some great movies, many based on wonderful science fiction books, were soon to follow. A movie adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in 1910 and then there was the emergency Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1920. The latter was based on a book by Robert Louis Stevenson. The pattern continued with 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in 1916 (originally written by Jules Verne), The Impossible Voyage, Conquest of the Pole, and The Lost World. The first “feature length” film in the genre is generally attributed to Himmelskibet, as the film was nearly an hour and a half in length. Himmelskibet was a Danish film about a trip to Mars (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; IMDB, 2015).
Speaking of space travel, the Golden Age of science fiction was coupled with the space missions of the 1960’s and 1970’s to lead to the space-themed movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Indeed, there was the first of the Star Wars movies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, both of which came out in 1977. Star Trek, the other gold standard science fiction movie franchise in history besides Star Wars, released its first movie in 1979. Not long after, there were other new movie creations or adaptations of prior books such as the aforementioned Dune, the Alien series, ET the Extraterrestrial and so on. Some of the movies showed aliens to be vicious and murderous while others showed them as friendly and harmless (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; IMDB, 2015).
When the internet came to be a commonly used technology starting in the 1990’s, a new brand of science fiction came to pass in the form of “cyberpunk” and similar genres. Cyberpunk is attributed by many to have started with Neuromancer by William Gibson in 1984. That book seemingly set the tone for many works that came after it in terms of stylistic form and the themes used (Melzer, 2006). The Star Wars movies continued on as three prequels, Star Trek: The Next Generation came along in both television and movie form (much like the Original Series predecessor) and there were also some major box office smashes such as Independence Day, Armageddon, District 9, Pandorum, the continuation of the Terminator series (which had started in the 1980’s when the original film was released), Avatar and others (IGN, 2015). There were some duds in the group, however, The Salvation installment of Terminator was not a huge success and some of the films (e.g. Avatar) were criticized and lampooned for the thinly veiled social commentary that was being levied against the United States and/or humanity at large (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; IMDB, 2015).
The emergence of a “new media” has come to pass with the emergence of the Internet as well as social media as being major players in our culture and society. For example, journalism used to be only the dominion of the three major broadcast networks, those being NBC, CBS and ABC. That changed quite quickly once CNN, Fox News and MSNBC came into existence on the cable band and thus the 24-hour news cycle was created. The journalism genre and world further changed when blogs and smaller websites from all parts of the world and life in general created their own news sites as it became much easier and cheaper to create video, web content and otherwise present an image of competence and capability that simply was not possible in prior decades. Nowadays, news can be viewed on the regular broadcast channels. However, there are a ton of other options including podcasts, YouTube, electronic magazines and other materials that are tablet- or phone-based and so on. The new trend of “new media” was seemingly set in stone when the Drudge Report broke the Bill Clinton sex scandal in the 1990’s (Carr, 2011).
Much the same evolution has happened with science fiction. At one point, physical media was the only thing out there. After that came television and movies as the video medium came in to either couple with or even replace the written medium of newspapers and books. However, technology such as tablets and smartphones has made the dissemination and consumption of science fiction much easier and it comes in many forms. Movie trailers use to be seen only as an introduction to a feature film in a movie theater. However, one can now see movie trailers on regular websites, YouTube, mobile phone or tablet applications, on video streaming devices like Roku and so on. In many ways, the technologies and ideas represented in science fiction works that are decades old are now showing up as real technology. As was stated in Arthur C. Clarke’s third rule, simple science to the learned is “witchcraft” to the uninformed. Just because something could not be explained back then does not mean it doesn’t have an explanation that could be offered…it just was not fathomable at the time (Steel, 2015; Yanez, 2015).
Steaming music and video has created a new age of technology and consumption of media. While many people still do and will probably always prefer the physical medium (e.g. physical comic books, bound reading books, etc.), the world of the internet, mobile computing and even regular desktop computers has made it much easier to find, download, view and disseminate media and the science fiction material out there is no different. Those that want to read comic books can forage through the local hobby store or they can just view and download them online. However, the one major pathway that has become the conduit for all of this is video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and others. Rather than people having to buy discs, video tapes or other media to get the shows or movies (including the older shows and movies) that are desired, they can simply be rented or bought via a streaming service. Rather than having to allocate shelf-space in a home, these steaming services allow one to view or technically own these movies or shows in a digital “cloud” space. Whether it is the 1950’s era movies or newer stuff like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Supernatural or others, all of them are part of this new revolution. This would also apply to books, graphic novels and even comics as many of them are digitized and can be viewed. Obviously, the physical medium is still there for those that wish to use it. However, it takes more time and can cost more money to take that path and it would seem to get worse for these physical preferring people as time goes on and the world becomes more digitized. Even the streaming services and devices themselves are stratified. High-definition content is usually available but there are also devices and movie forms that are non-HD in nature and they usually cost less. One potential barrier to entry regarding the streaming option is that someone must have an internet connection and, to a lesser extent, other networking and wireless hardware to truly enjoy the experience. Some go so far as to convert disc and streaming content to local copies so as to be able to view the media independent of an internet connection or a distant service (Narayanan, Ye, Kaul & Shah, 2014).
Chapter IV — Common & Recurring Science Fiction Themes
Science fiction has been around long enough that most things have been done before and they will typically fall within one or more main archetypes. Even so, some movies tend to envelop and engross people more than others. For example, Battlefield Earth was a box office and home video dud while Avatar is still talked about and a sequel (or several) are craved and in the works. This section will cover the common themes that are commonly experience in the science fiction genre books, graphic novels, comics, television shows and movies.
Rockets, Spaceships, Space Habitats & Virtual Environments
As noted above, science fiction and television shows will cover one or more of a given subject within the wider science fiction sphere. The use of space travel and other related themes is no different. One example would be Star Trek. They made light or heavy use of all of those subjects. For example, there were ships galore and even individual rockets that took off or landed on planets, space stations, outposts and so forth. There were space habitats whereby new planets were explored, colonized, worked at and so forth. There were also virtual environments such as holodecks and so forth. Other movies and shows were a blend of less of those. For example, the Matrix series was only on planet Earth but the premise of the movie is that the people of earth were slaves to the machines in the form of being their “batteries.” They would be plugged into their virtual framework and would live their lives within that framework. All the while, their thermal energy would provide fuel for the robot empire that become “alive” on a level not unlike Skynet in the Terminator series (IMDB, 2015).
Then again, not all space-bound movies are about anything crazy or unworkable in the modern times but yet the movie is still science fiction. For example, the premise of the movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock is absolutely not a stress given the real-world disasters or near-disasters experience by the Challenger, Columbia or the Apollo 13 astronauts. The same thing could be said for Star Trek given that the entire series ran across the same rough timeline several centuries in the future. It was done a way that addressed many of the social and cultural questions of today. However, there were some major changes that were covered. That will be covered more in-depth in the next section (IMDB, 2015).
Robots, Androids, Cyborgs & Aliens
Yet again, we have come to another section that is used in bits and pieces or all at once. An example of “all or once” with the general use of robots, androids, cyborgs and aliens would be the Transformers movies. In that movie, one had a series of robots that were from an alien planet and that were coming to the planet earth to find energy and/or conquering. In other cases, there was a drilling down into one section of the subject. Such an example would be the book and eventual movie adaptation I, Robot by Asimov. Another movie that had roughly the same plot but was handled in a completely different way was the Short Circuit series. While some may laugh out loud at such a comparison, there is little debate that Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and Sonny from I, Robot had similar paths. Both were initially created as part of a larger collective but the two both, each for their own reason (malfunction, different design, etc.) grew their own reasoning set and consciousness, both with different results. The I, Robot movie, as adapted from the Asimov text, was a blend of a lot of science fiction theme including mad scientist (in a different way), dystopia, robots/cyborgs, and so forth (IMDB, 2015).
Perhaps the most notorious cyborg/androids out there are those from the Terminator series and “Data” from Star Trek The Next Generation. There was also the use of time travel with both series, although Star Trek did so independent from the android talk. In the case of Terminator, the cyborgs/androids in question are used as trained robotic assassins that move around within time to kill or protect their charged target. For much of the movies, the object of protection or destruction is John Connor. Of course, Connor’s mother Sara Connor is majorly involved as well. John is the leader of the resistance in the future once Skynet is active and running and the robots try to head off the resistance before they start by killing off their eventual leader (IMDB, 2015).
Regarding Data from Star Trek, Data is an android that looks and very much acts like a person but is actually completely robotic and parts-based in nature. Data, as portrayed by Brent Spiner serves as an actual officer on the bridge of the Enterprise under Captain Picard, as portrayed by Patrick Stewart. Data and his android brother Lore are both created by Noonien Soong, whom many would consider a mad scientist. This is perhaps further proven when Data becomes more of a vulnerable and clumsy android while Lore becomes the “mad scientist” part of the equation. Indeed, the plot that plays out is very much a Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde plot line fused into one with three overall players rather than one or two (IMDB, 2015).
Most of what is noted and covered above would be that of robot-only devices. Indeed, Data/Lore, the Terminators, the robots in I, Robot and those in Short Circuit were all robot-only in that they had no biological parts or subcomponents. There are other robots, known as cyborgs, that have both human and robot parts. If one were to get technical, the cop Spooner in I, Robot, although born human, was himself a cyborg as he was born completely human but had robot parts added to his body after the car accident depicted in the movie that predates where the movie picks up. Indeed, Spooner’s arm, lung and rib are all robot parts because the human versions of those parts were replaced post-accident (IMDB, 2015).
Of course, perhaps one of the better examples of a human that become robots to varying degrees would be Darth Vader from the Star Wars series, the title character in the Robocop series and a few others. Of course, Darth Vader evolves from being the father of Luke Skywalker and he is depicted in the prequel series of the movies as Anakin Skywalker. Later on, he is nearly killed in a light saber fight but his body and consciousness is fused with that of a robot and he becomes Darth Vader. In the case of Robocop, a human police officer by the name of Alexander James Murphy is killed by a gang. His body is harvested and is used by the Omni Consumer Products corporation (otherwise known as OCP in the movie) and he lives on in cyborg form (IMDB, 2015).
Mad Scientists, Damsels in Distress, Mind-Reading Machines & AI
As pervasively noted earlier in this report, mad scientists are something that have been around for all of the science fiction genre as the beginning of the genre, that being Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, is the start of the genre. There was also the film in the 1970’s, known as Young Frankenstein as depicted by Gene Wilder, that sort of continued the store that was started under the Victor Frankenstein character. When it comes to damsels in distress, that part of the genre is quite wide and could include a lot of genres that are both in and out of science fiction. There are even a lot of children’s movies that could be looped in and some of them could be called science fiction. Indeed, the first Shrek movie involved creatures (ogres, talking donkeys and such) that could be considered science fiction in nature. In the first Shrek movie, Shrek is to receive payment for going to a castle to rescue a damsel in distress from a dragon. Interestingly enough, the dragon becomes a friend (and more) to Shrek, the aforementioned talking donkey and so forth. However, the damsel talk does technically hold (IMDB, 2015).
For more conventional examples, two good examples of artificial intelligence would be VIKI in I, Robot and Skynet in Terminator 2. In both of those cases, the artificial intelligence systems are constructed by humans. The rules that those systems are supposed to follow are pre-designed and crafted in advance and both are turned against them by their machines. With Skynet, it is full-on war with conquering being the only goal. In the case of VIKI in I, Robot, the reasoning is to “protect” the humans from themselves. As far as mind-reading and forcing the truth out of someone, there are some common examples. There are the “mind melds” as done by Spock in the Star Trek series. There are the realistic or completely contrived instances of “truth serum” and other coercive techniques used to get desired information out of others. There is the montoring of people in the Matrix and the “code” that is spit out as they move and operate in the Matrix. Conversely, the people in the Matrix can be taught things. Indeed, this is how Neo-learns Kung Fu and how Trinity learns to fly the helicopter in the first one. Indeed, the information flows both ways in that movie. There was also the recent movie Transcendence where Johnny Depp’s character uploads his consciousness, in all of its forms, into a computer so as to sort of cheat death (IMDB, 2015).
Genetically Engineered Animals & Plants
This is another example of art imitating life rather than the other way around. Of course, genetically engineered plants and animals are nothing new in the real world. However, movies and shows started to set the trend as well. Just like with Shrek mentioned earlier, one could point to a kid’s movie to make this point. For example, the original Willy Wonka movie with Gene Wilder was filled with the plans, working and products of a man who genetically and otherwise engineer products that were not heard of outside his lab. Wilder resembled his mad scientist character in many ways throughout that movie even if he turned out to have a good heart at the end of it all. The television shrinking, the everlasting Gobstopper and other parts of the movie all prove that he was doing a little of playing God and mad scientist with his wares (IMDB, 2015).
A good example of animals being lab-created or lab-altered was the Jurassic Part series. In that movie, the dinosaurs were indeed really extinct but are brought back to life through the use of their DNA as extract from fossils and such. One of the films that covered genetic engineering from a human perspective was obviously Gattaca. The joke with Gattaca is that the title of the film is spelled using only the letters found in the human genetic sequence. Once again, there is a blending of one major plot point in science fiction with a few others. For example, the premise of Gattaca is that a genetically “inferior” man takes on the identity of a man who is of “stronger” genetic material so that he can engage in space travel. Further, his lower status in the genetic echelons of the movies means that he is relegated to a “lesser” and more menial job and he refuses to accept this (IMDB, 2015).
Sexuality, Reproduction, Gender & Politics
Perhaps one of the best shows or movies to point to when discussion families and how women fit in as far as science fiction goes would be Star Trek with the Next Generation iteration being the best place to focus. In that movie, there is little talk of one big thing that has a huge influence on gender, politics and reproduction, and that would be money. At least, this is how it is handled when only the “Federation” people like the ship’s crew are involved. Other cultures that they come across are fixated on money, family, and gender to varying degrees. However, a lot of that is negated when it comes to Federation-only subject…at least most of the time. There will be more coverage of the Star Trek timeline when speaking about the intersections of feminism and science fiction. However, the material is obviously and completely there for anyone that wishes to view it. Suffice it to say that there are many shows and movies that perpetuate the subject of whether men and women are equal, whether all people think they SHOULD be equal and the implications that family and reproduction has on the subject (IMDB, 2015).
Utopias & Dystopias
This is yet another common theme that is seen in many science fiction movies. Movies that cover this theme are usually one or the other. However, there are other movies that cover them both in one or more ways. For example, Escape from LA and the Book of Eli are solidly only dystopian in nature. Other works are more distinctly utopian in nature. However, most utopian/dystopian films or shows are a blend because it often comes to a major shift that takes place or perceptions. For example, the aforementioned I, Robot movie could come off as a utopian view for many people. However, Spooner never felt that way and he turned out to be right in the end. In other films, there can actually be a dichotomous situation where a utopia exists for some people but a dystopia exists for others. The aforementioned Gattaca movie could be seen that way by some (but not necessarily all) but another movie that came out call Elysium where there were people discarded into the doldrums of society so that the better off could live better shows how people are chosen for their fate rather than realizing it based on their own actions alone. Movies that are more solidly dystopian only would include Priest and Judge Dredd (IMDB, 2015).
Chapter V – Intersections between Feminism & Science Fiction
Now this work of research shall deign to enter the parts of literature, film and so forth that clearly intersect between science fiction and feminist thought. The ease in which these two parts of life and culture would cross might seem to be contrived and artificial to some. However, it is quite easy to see how they would interact with each other and indeed they have for many people for decades now. One such person that has fully believed and committed to this is the feminist scholar by the name of Donna Haraway. Born in 1944, she is currently the Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department and Feminist Studies Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz (EGS, 2015).
Perhaps explaining her fixation and interest in both science fiction and science, it is noteworthy that she is a prominent scholar in both the science and technology fields. While some may throw around the term “postmodern,” many label her as a post-gender person. Back in the 1990’s, it was noted that a post-gender person is someone that is a blend of neo-Marxist and post-modernist. Some may say she sounds like a nut but this is a woman that graduated from Yale University. She earned a total of three undergraduate degrees at Colorado College, those being zoology, philosophy and literature. Her time at Yale was for her doctorate. She engaged in a series of bantering and theorizing with other noted feminist Lynn Randolph from 1990 to 1996. The tossed around such subjects like political consciousness, techno-science and feminism (EGS, 2015). When it comes to feminism and Marxism, there are others who have formed a linked between those two sociological ideals. One such person was Dorothy Smith (Hier, 2005). The post-gender themes mentnioned above are echoed in other places such as in the work of Helen Merrick (Merrick, 2009).
Much of what Haraway has done in her professional life has involved a strong correlation between science and biology. Her first major work that can be pointed to was Primate Visions: Gender, Race, & Nature in the World of Modern Science. In that work, she states that there is a clear pattern of people putting a masculine flavor on everything for certain reasons and this leads to some correct conclusions getting minimized or even forgotten about. She goes so far as to attack the scientific conclusions of many Western scientists and scholars to the point of calling them “perverse” and otherwise intentionally misguided. She moved on to do A Cyborg Manifesto. In that essay that was published in 1985, she asserted that for women to have power, they had to recognize their position in a world based on domination and control even if that went against the nature of what many women would or should do given a certain situation. That being said, she states that “being” a female is something that is synthesized and described by many but she states that there is no singular way to method to describe being a woman as it is too varied and different from person to person and from culture to culture. Haraway is famously quoted as saying “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (Haraway, 1991; EGS, 2015).
Another name that has to be thrown out there as far as this science fiction and feminism discussion goes would be N. Katherine Hayles. She was born in the same decade and was a straight show down Interstate 70 from where Haraway was a the former was born in Denver and Hayles was born in Saint Louis. She was born around the same time (during the 1940’s) as Haraway and also part of the science fiction and feminism paradigms. Her education consisted of a Bachelor of Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Master of Science in the same at the California Institute of Technology. She worked a lot in the private sector as a research chemist at Xerox Corporation in 1966 and as a research consultant at Beckman Instrument Company for a few years in 1968 to 1970. She later got her Ph.D. In English Literature from the University of Rochester and has since shifted to a work of scholarship rather than working for private companies (Caldwell, 2015; Chicago, 2015).
Hayles is known for her works about humanism and post-humanism. Specifically, she speaks to the human condition as it relates to technology, culture and embodiment. She speaks about the “natural self” being drawn down as human or human-like intelligence is created and perpetuated within machines. She takes things a step further and states that there is not a firm line between the knowledge that a computer has or could have and what a person has. Indeed, that line would seem to be fading more and more by the day as technology improves and takes on a life of its own, so to speak (Caldwell, 2015; Chicago, 2015).
There are also the literature creators out there that specifically create feminist-driven science fiction. One such writer was Octavia Butler. She lived from June 1947 until her death in February 2006. She touched on a lot of social issues with feminism and gender concerns only being one of them. They included topics like race, gender, sexuality, the progress of peoples including minorities, ancient concerns and battles and religion. Perhaps her most well-known series was the Patternist collection which consisted of five novels. Those novels were Patternmaster, Mind of my Mind, Survivor, Wild Seed and Clay’s Ark. The basic premise is that there are two immortal characters and they have to decide how and when they will create their families. One of the characters is male and the other is female and they go in entirely different directions. The man decides to engage in a breeding program that creates people with high-end thought and other capabilities. The immortal woman decides to create villages. Another offering of Ms. Butler was the book Kindred as authored in the late 1970’s. That book depicts an African-American woman who is transported from 1976 Los Angeles to Maryland in the late 19th century. She specifically goes to meet her ancestors including white slave holder Rufus and a woman who was born free but was later forced into slavery. Lilith’s Brood is another book of Butler’s and focuses on Lilith and her genetically altered children and how they all try to escape Earth along with a few others so as to avoid a military group that is trying to wipe out the human race (Butler, 2015; Biography, 2015).
Another woman that explored the science fiction/feminist strata is still around and that would be Usula Kroeber Le Guin. The daughter of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and writer Theodora Kroeber, it is perhaps not a huge surprise what she ended up doing with her life. However, she did expand her horizons quite a bit. She actually met her husband when travelling to France. She had originally been planning to do a doctorate that related to the work of poet Jean Lemaire de Belges. However, her husband ended up getting his Ph.D. At Emory and she taught French at a college nearby. When Le Guin was a very young eleven years old, she submitted a piece of work to the aforementioned Astounding magazine. It ended up being rejected. She continued to write but did not attempt to submit any more works to publications or publishers for another decade. She tried again during the 1950’s but it was all rejected as well. However, she cut her teeth a bit more and started to experience success in 1970 when her work The Left Hand of Darkness won a Hugo and a Nebula award, both in the same year. What made that book quite interesting was the fact that the people in the book were sexless and androgynous in nature. Set in a universe known as the Hainish, it is still held as the most famous depiction and exploration of that subject. Further, she explored a world where there was not a separation or delineation between how women were or typically were and the same thing was true for men. Rather, the need or presence of attraction, sexuality and so forth was entirely cut out of life. Le Guin’s work, even if it took a time to be perfected and improved, was influence by the likes of JRR Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame, Leo Tolstoy but also from feminists like Virginia Woolf. She was also classmates with Phillip K. Dick but they were not acquainted with one another. In addition to touching on gender and feminism, she also firmly touched on other topics such as Anarchism, sociology in general, psychology, environmentalism and Taoism (Le Guin, 2015, Flood, 2014).
The next author to be covered in this review of science fiction feminists would be Joanna Russ. She also lived around the same time as the others mentioned although she was born a bit earlier. Born in 1937 and then living through 2011, she was born in New York City and ended her life in Tucson, Arizona. She combined words about science fiction, tales of fantasy and social criticism. Indeed, she had a book that was titled How to Suppress Women’s Writing. She made a forcible splash into the science fiction scene in the 1960’s about the same that some other women did the same thing. Even if she was just being who she was, the way in which she spoke out against male patriarchy and the fact that she was an “out” lesbian was surely against what the dominant culture warriors and theorists wanted to see at the time. She did more than four dozen short stories as well as some plays, essays and even some non-fiction works. The verbiage and words she used to assail sexist men who were trying to preserve male dominance was strident and right across the proverbial bough of those that would try to shut her up. She worked and operated quite deftly in a field that was controlled and consumed mostly by men and she did quite well at doing so. Indeed, while others only won one or two Nebula or Hugo awards, Russ ended up winning a dozen of those two awards combined (Fox, 2015; SFE, 2015).
If one wanted to look at a science fiction/feminist writer that was outside of the United States and that worked prior to the women already mentioned in this section, that person could be found in both respects in the form of Naomi Mitchison. The wife of Gilbert Richard Mitchison, who was British royalty, she could have used the title Lady Mitchison but never did in a public fashion. She lived more than one hundred years from 1897 to 1999 and wrote over seventy books. Her work that is considered her magnus opus is considered The Corn King and the Spring Queen as written in 1931. Many consider that book to be the best historical novel of the 20th century (Ascherton, 2015; Strange Horizons, 2015).
Around that same time, she forayed into the feminist realms of publications and thought when she demanded that birth control be more widely used including in some very controversial ways. That work was squelched and suppressed as obscenity. When it was published, it was heavily censored due to what was deemed to be graphic content not suitable for public consumption. Not all of her work was science-fiction based although her historical writings about Hitler and Mussolini before those two came to their apex in the 1940’s before being stomped out was quite prescient in nature. However, her science fiction work was some of her best including Memoirs of a Spacewoman in 1962, Solution Three in 1975, To The Chapel Perilous in 1955 and so on. An interesting tidbit about Ms. Mitchison is that she was one of the proofreaders for the Lord of the Ring series as published by JRR Tolkien. In addition to her written works, she was also very activist in nature. Mitchison was an active socialist in the 1930 but she was a little off-put by what the Soviet Union was going in the early 1930’s. Many would probably agree with her on that. However, she was also heavily in favor of eugenics and aggressive means of birth control (Ascherton, 2015; Strange Horizons, 2015).
When it comes to science fiction and feminism, Melissa Scott if a name that has to be mentioned due to some of the personal convictions and patterns that she has engaged in. Like the aforementioned Joanna Russ, she is a lesbian. She had a partner by the name of Lisa Barnett and was with her for nearly thirty years until Barnett’s death in 2006 due to breast cancer. What makes Melissa Scott unique is that she covers feminist and science fiction issues while also dabbling in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) interests and culture. The settings and scenes depicted in her writing are over-the-top and grandiose. Despite the presence of LGBT characters and themes in her writing, it has never been a major focus of the writing, the scenes or the story. It is just “there” as part of the story as if it is normal and just a regular detail of the story. Perhaps that is her intent and this stands in contrast to much of the movement that wishes to unapologetically position and forward the presence of such people in modern life even if they are a stark minority of the larger public (SFE, 2015).
Another name that has to be put out there is actually a man by the name of Samuel Delany. Often referred to as Chip, he has delved into several fields with science fiction being just one of them. Like Russ and Scott mentioned before, Delany is a homosexual and has identified himself as such since he was a teen. What makes his sexuality more than a little interesting is that his wife Marilyn Hacker was a lesbian and, due to the complexities of their relationship, people often referred to Delaney as bisexual. Themes that Chip Delany commonly came back to include sexuality and sexual attitudes. Perhaps this is why he is often lumped in with the other authors listed above. In Trouble on Triton, one of the major themes in that book was how sexuality and gender identities in a society have a strong relation to socioeconomic factors and this all ties back to primitive and pre-wired thought patterns that some people seem to have. Speaking of primitive peoples, one of Delany’s books talks about a gay man living in the second century under the reign of an emperor (EGS, 2015).
Comics & Manga
The aforementioned comic books and manga often touch many fields with science fiction only being one of them. When it comes to the American entertainment sphere, the presence of comic books being present in movies is hard to miss. There has been a whole slew of movies from prior or current comic books such as X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, Iron Man and so on (DC Comics, 2015; Marvel Comics, 2015). Manga has been a little less prominent in the United States but it definitely has a foot-hold. Of course, manga is much more ubiquitous and common in Japanese culture given that this is where its roots are. Names that are present both in the West and the East relating to Manga include Big X, Bio Hunter, Deus Vitae, DNA, Gail Force and others (Manga, 2015).
One person that has dabbled in all of those comic genres mentioned above is actually a woman by the name of Kelly Sue DeConnick. She is an American-born comic book writer that is fairly young in that she was born in 1970. She is a comic book writer, editor and she even adapts manga comics in a way that can be consumed by an English-speaking and American audience. She is the writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble in the Marvel Comics sphere. She also writes Ghost for the Dark Horse Comics group and Pretty Deadly for the Image Comics collective. She has gone on record several times as saying that she is willing to push the envelope to get people out of their “grooves” and comfort zones. At the same time, she has also said that she does not do so just for the sake of doing so. She mentioned that she has a motive and reason behind doing so other than just to make noise. One storyline arc that cannot be skipped is that of Carol Danvers, a fictional character in the Marvel/Avengers space. She debuts as “Ms. Marvel” in the first edition of Ms. Marvel in 1977. That storyline was an offshoot and subplot of a Captain Marvel edition back in the late 1960’s. The character is apparently about to be brought back as part of the current strain of Marvel and Avengers movies that has been going on for roughly ten years now. That movie is due for release in 2018. The prior installments of that franchise include The Avengers (another is on the way), two Thor movies, two Captain America movies, the television show Agents of SHIELD and three Iron Man installments, among others. There are several other women moderately to prominently positioned women in those marvel movies aside from the forthcoming Ms. Marvel. They include Natalie Portman’s character in the Thor movies and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in the Iron Man series. Perhaps the biggest woman thus far would be Black Widow as portrayed in several of the timeline’s movies by Scarlett Johansson. She has not yet gotten her own feature film but she has been prominently positioned in several of the movies thus far (DeConnick, 2015; Marvel Comics, 2015).
Other Film & Television
When it comes to television and film that is not comic-driven in nature, one can look to the 1927 film Metropolis. That film was co-written by woman Thea von Harbou. Another author of that film, although not credited, was Fitz Lang. That film was depicted as a futuristic urban dystopia that was occurring during the Welmar period. The son of the city’s ruler, a man by the name of Freder, tries to partner with a poor worker woman by the name of Maria to meet somewhere in the middle and overcome the huge chasm that existed between the classes during that time and in that area. The film culminates with a “false” Maria who is actually a robot. The false Maria’s actions lead to the imperilment of many workers’ children and a mob burns her at the stake. This reveals that the “person” they were trying to kill was not Maria. Shortly thereafter, the major villain Rotwang tries to kill the real Maria but falls off the cathedral and dies. This leads to characters Freder, Fredersen and Grot forming a partnership. Maria fulfills a commonly the role of mediator in the movie, something that many would associate with women and the female mindset. Also interesting is that the false Maria is very much listened to and complied with despite the fact that she is a woman, and a poor worker one at that. It is fairly safe to say that this movie would have had a quite different feel and function had a man written it rather than a woman (IMDB, 2015).
One of the most, if not the most notorious science fiction franchises of all time is the Star Wars franchise. It has taken on several changes over the years. The original three movies in the series were done in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. There was then a second trilogy that ran from 1999 to 2005. That first trilogy was actually designed to be the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes in the timeline. The three done from 1999 to 2005 are the first, second and third in terms of chronology. George Lucas has since divested himself of the rights to the franchise in favor of the ABC/Disney empire. Episodes seven, eight and nine are now in the process of being worked on with at least some people from the originally released trilogy coming back for the film. Among those include Harrison Ford, who portrayed Hans Solo, and pseudo-feminist icon Carrie Fisher. However, not all of the words about Fisher’s work in the original series was all that positive. Indeed, her almost comical “ear-muff” hair-do and her golden “come hither” outfit when she was kidnapped. However, she did shift over the duration of the series including from being a sexpot to being a more emotional and supportive woman depending on the situation and the movie. However, one strain of thought that has to be covered here in terms of reality and how it translated to the Star Wars movie is that the movie was written in part by Leigh Brackett. She wrote the first draft of the movie and is credited as being one of the two writers of the final film, with the other being Lawrence Kasdan. One of the linchpins of the Emperor Strikes Back plot was that Darth Vader was seeking revenge for what happened in the first film. Part of that, although certainly not all, was the pursuit and kidnapping of Princess Leia (Fisher). However, Hans Solo was also involved in that extortion. Luke was forced to decide whether he would finish his Jedi training with Yoda or if he would rescue his friends (IMDB, 2015).
Two much stronger examples of a female character bucking the trends that have commonly been affixed and constant through the years was the Ellen Ripley character in the Alien series and Sarah Connor in the aforementioned Terminator series. When it comes to Ellen Ripley in Alien, it is interesting to note that the original plan for that movie was for Ripley to be a man…not a woman. Further, there was a character depicted later in the series that turned out, unknown to the others around her up until the last moment, to be a robot/android. However, the character was depicted by Winona Rider. The character was obviously a robot using the female form rather than in the male form, which is obviously more common within the scientific genre. Anyhow, the Alien franchise has created a total of four movies thus far (and other is apparently on the way) and Ripley has literally owned and dominated the screen whenever she is on it (IMDB, 2015).
As for Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, this is a person that is obviously depicted as very strong and strident while at the same time being motherly and caring for her vulnerable son. Even if she was ultimately fighting a losing battle without the help of the Terminator as depicted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, she still fought to the bitter end. She faced challenges throughout the movie. The movie starts off with a depiction of mental health officials treating her like she is clinically insane due to her ostensible machinations and perceptions of what happened in the first movie of the series. The film culminates with a confrontation at the end of the movie that occurs in a metal forge and creation plant. Sarah Connor is at one point fleeing with her son. The good Terminator (depicted by Schwarzenegger) is trying to help them while the evil and more advanced Terminator, known as the T1000, is pursing to kill John and Sarah Connor. As noted before, John becomes the leader of the resistance against Skynet when he grows up and Skynet is trying to head that off before it even begins (IMDB, 2015).
Anyhow, the good Terminator is temporary trapped and disabled by the bad one. This leads to a confrontation between Sarah Connor and the T1000. Rather than continue to flee, Sarah angrily and defiantly pumps one shotgun shell after another into the “body” of the T1000. Unfortunately, the T1000 is able to absorb the damage just good enough to survive as he is made of liquid metal and can shapeshift on demand. Thus, he is able to reform and continue to pursue Sarah again. Only after Schwarzenegger’s “good” Terminator reenters the scene and levies his own justice does Sarah and John get saved. The film ends with the good Terminator self-destructing himself so as to remove any possibility that Skynet will end up forming even after the cybernetics work that led to it is also destroyed. Sarah Connor’s character, like her son, is visibly upset about this but she actually ends up pressing the button to lower him into the molten metal because she knows that the Terminator is correct when he says that all of the evidence and the technology must be completely destroyed (IMDB, 2015).
This section will end with what is perhaps the best series of shows that explored a lot of social and cultural topics with feminism and family matters only being one, and that would be Star Trek. There were multiple parts to this show and it operated on a singular and definitive timeline much like the Marvel Avengers series still does. Indeed, the first installment was Original Series with William Shatner and the recently deceased Leonard Nimoy. The show ran on a real-world timeline of the mid-2200’s. The Next Generation installment ran from 2364 to 2370 and starred Patrick Stewart. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series was set in the years just after The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager was itself after Deep Space Nine. The latest show to follow the Star Trek universe was Star Trek Enterprise and it was reflective of the 2150’s or so. There were feature films only for Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek the Original Series. There were six for the original and four for Start Trek The Next Generation. There was also a film in which both Captain Kirk (The Original Series) and Captain Picard (The Next Generation) appeared. The recent films with Christopher Pike and Zachary Quinto (Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013) are meant to be prequels to what happened with Star Trek The Original Series but it sticks with Kirk and Spock and their timeline rather than going to prior ships or captains. While a lot of the material above is not feminist-related, it needs to be stated to set the proverbial back story. Each of the shows will be summarized briefly in a little more detail and then there will be an exploration of the major feminism and gender-oriented themes that they covered during their existence (IMDB, 2015).
Star Trek The Original Series was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry. The cast of that show was made up of the following:
Lenorard Nimoy — Mr. Spock
William Shatner — Captain James T. Kirk
Dr. McCoy — DeForest Kelley
Uhura — Nichelle Nichols
Scotty — James Doohan
Sulu — George Takei
Chekov — Walter Koenig
Nurse Christine Chapel – Majel Barrett
One major note about Majel Barrett is that she ended up marrying Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1969 (near the end of the original television run of the Original Series) and she was also prominently featured in Star Trek The Next Generation in multiple forms. However, the latter will be covered later. Perhaps the biggest statement and event that happened in Star Trek The Original Series was the culture-shattering kiss that occurred between Kirk and Uhura during one of the episodes. Actress Nichelle Nichols is black and the kiss occurred in a landscape that was late 1960’s television. As such, that happening was quite a big deal and it remains considered one of the major seminal moments of television since its inception (IMDB, 2015).
However, there was one thing in the Original Series that was not really resolved until the later iterations of the franchise. Indeed, women were commonly seen wearing uniforms that were skirt-like in nature rather than fully-covering uniforms seen in other instances. Also, the opening monologue in the Original Series (and even many of the future iterations) contain man-specific pronouns and words and thus implicitly shows a male-dominated landscape even in the 2150’s and beyond. However, that was probably more a product of the time in which the program was shot and created rather than a reflection of what the future could or should look like. It is unclear if this was intentional or not on the part of people like Roddenberry and the writers for the show. Regardless, there was only one female among the prominent characters of the show (unless one counts Barrett and many people would not) so there was obviously a lot of room for progress in terms of feminism in the scientific genre. However, the show was created and fostered in the 1960’s and Roddenberry perhaps could not put to the screen all that he wanted to do and portray (IMDB, 2015).
Where Star Trek: The Original Series fell flat, the next iteration of the show was much better. Started in 1987, the cast looked like this:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard — Patrick Stewart
Commander William Riker — Jonathan Frakes
Commander Georgie La Forge — LeVar Burton
Lieutenant Worf — Michael Dorn
Counselor Deanna Troi — Marina Sirtis
Lieutenant Commander Data — Brent Spiner
Lwaxana Troi/Computer Voice — Majel Barrett
Wesley Crusher — Wil Wheaton
Beverly Crusher — Gates McFadden
Obviously, there is a much larger contingent of women on this iteration of the show and this presence of women was much more heavily layered. As noted before Majel Barrett was also on the Original Series and she was used in multiple ways on this show. First off, the voice of the computer was a woman’s voice and it was Barrett’s voice behind this depiction. This actually continued in the Voyager and Deep Space Nine shows as well. Majel also depicts the mother of ship counselor Deanna Troi and she is known as Lwaxana Troi. The Lwaxana Troi character is both flattering and perhaps derivative (or even sexist) to some as she has some habits that are a little disconcerting and stereotypical. She is in a position of power and prestige on her (and her daughter Deanna’s) home planet of Betazed but she uses sexuality and attraction as a tool, she manipulates and grovels to no less than Captain Picard (and others) and she is very meddling and over-influencing to Deanna’s life in general. However, there are also some extremely redeeming qualities to her as well that reveal themselves as the show goes on (IMDB, 2015).
While one is talking about the Troi character, one should also mention Deanna. There was some good and bad with her character. It is not hard to miss that Marina Sirtis (the person who portrays Deanna Troi) is what many in society would deem attractive, petite and feminine. However, the show perhaps took things a little too far. While she did wear the aforementioned skirts from the Original Series once or twice, she did usually wear a full length uniform like the men. In other words, she (and many of the other women) would wear the future equivalent of a pantsuit rather than something more feminine. However, it has to be pointed out that Deanna Troi’s outfit was very form fitting and she was often showing cleavage when she would wear the outfit. As such, it perhaps begs the question whether she was being portrayed as a vixen or “all looks” rather than as someone who was truly smart, into her job and committed to being a good officer. One thing that severely sways things in women’s favor and away from things that are negative is that only two people sat immediately next to Captain Picard. One of those people was Picard’s First Officer Riker. That makes a lot of sense and that should probably be true regardless of whether the First Officer was a man or a woman. However, the other person that sat next to Picard, and indeed on the opposite side from Riker, was Ms. Troi. A big asterisk in all of the above is that one of Deanna Troi’s major love interests in the series was indeed Riker. As such, that could (and at times did, for that matter) create some conflicts of interest and other problems (IMDB, 2015).
Another conflict of interest is also found with one of the more prominent female characters and that was Beverly Crusher. While some may hold that even a Chief Medical Officer is not a major character in a show like this, this was absolutely not the case with Ms. Crusher. First of all, Ms. Crusher was actually a widow with a son. The son turns out to be Wesley Crusher. Crusher the son turns out to be very smart and intelligent and he eventually becomes an ensign on the bridge. He often fills in for the Operations Officer (Data/Spiner) and other parts of the ship. There are two major complicating factors to the above beyond the fact that Captain Picard is making life and death decisions that involve two related people on his crew (Wesley and Beverly). The first would be that Picard and Beverly Crusher teaser a relationship more than once during the show. The other is the fact that Ms. Crusher became a widow due to events that took place on an away mission that Picard himself led. In other words, Picard is commanding two people whose husband or father died under his command, he is potentially becoming romantically involved with the mother and he is commanding and bringing up the son of said widow and the later father. This is obviously complicated to say the least (IMDB, 2015).
One person not mentioned in the cast sample above was Tasha Yar, portrayed by Denise Crosby. When the show first started in 1987, she was actually the Security Chief for the Enterprise. This ended abruptly in the twenty-third episode of the first season, known as Skin of Evil. Aforementioned ship counselor Deanna Troi is returning home from a conference and ends up crash landing on a planet. She ends up being surrounded physically and through force fields by a dark black liquid and shapeshifting creature by the name Armus. During the efforts to get Troi out of the ship, Tasha Yar (Crosby) goes down to the planet as the head of a security team. In the midst of a confrontation, Armus levies a bolt of energy at Tasha and she is killed immediately. It is interesting to note that she was indeed the head of security for much of the first season (the show ran a total of seven seasons) and she was the leader of the security team when she was killed. However, the fact that she did not even last one season as the security chief and the fact that she was replaced by a man (Worf/Dorn) is perhaps a bit telling. Even so, Yar’s character alone was an improvement on what the Original Series did. Further, Crosby was actually brought back in interesting ways in future episodes as the show went on. It came out later that Yar actually wanted off the show and out of her contract (IMDB, 2015).
The above covers some of the main feminism-related and female characters in the show, but to only look at that part of things would be less than wise. There were several episodes that had strong feminist themes (or were at least related to the same) over the course of the show. There were also general practices and trends that came and went. First off, the skirts that the women wore were basically limited to the first season. They basically disappear after that and were then relegated to the pantsuit style outfits that Deanna Troi would tend to wear. However, they were almost never as form-fitting and sleek as the ones that Troi wore. Second, Majel Barrett’s voice, as noted before, was always the voice of the primary computer but there would be limited instances where a male or gender-ambiguous voice would come up. However, the female voice was dominant (IMDB, 2015).
There are also a few storyline arcs that can be pointed to. One example is the Klingon species that is depicted by Lieutenant Worf and others. This should be mentioned when talking about feminism as even the women in that species were quite aggressive and even violent and this included sexuality and such. Indeed, the men and the women were very much into rough sex but the men would typically be expected to be the dominant one and would have to “conquer” or “take” their mate. It was an empowerment and abuse of women all at the same time. Another arc, as briefly covered before, are the conflicts of interest that can come up when there are family and other relations involved. The fact that Picard would have the situation he did with the Crushers is more than a little concerning. Also, two members of the bridge crew (Troi and Riker) having a relationship is also a little concerning. Perhaps the show considered those issues to be dead and gone but the outcomes of the episodes that related to those topics made it quite clear that the choices being made were probably not for the best. In the end, Picard and the others in power usually made the right call. However, it was very much an echo of the Skywalker dilemma in the second Star Wars movie. There is the question of whether one should react to their heart or to their mind and both choices directly involved women in peril (i.e. damsels in distress) and science fiction themes galore (IMDB, 2015).
There are some episodes that perhaps drive the point home very strongly. One such episode was known as Justice. It was actually only the eight episode of the show. The show would first seem to be idyllic and utopia but it turns out to be primitive and barbaric. The planet is typified by human-like men and women called the Edo who are in a Garden of Eden-esque environment where pleasure and fun are really the only things that matter…other than compliance. Indeed, people that do not comply are often condemned to death and this includes visitors. Precisely this happens with Wesley Crusher and this leads to Captain Picard being in a massive dilemma, as implied before, due to who Wesley’s mother and father are in relation to Picard. The offense that leads to the death sentence is actually quite minor as it involves Crusher falling over a white line and onto some plants. Beverly Crusher’s instincts kick in and she beams down to the planet to demand her son’s release. Soon thereafter, Captain Picard endangers himself as well and himself beams down. As it turns out, there is an unseen “God-like” creature that is acting as a deity to the Edo. Picard makes his case that such harsh and inflexible rules are not reasonable or rational and that exceptions could and should be made. The “deity” relents and lets the crew leave the ship. Obviously, there are themes of motherhood/feminism in general, religion and justice when it comes to all of the above (IMDB, 2015).
Another episode that had an even strong feminist bent was Angel One. Another episode from the first season, this episode was about a society where men and women were inverted as compared to the commonly accepted and known configuration seen in the United States and other countries around the world. Indeed, the women on Angle One are in power whereas the men are subservient. All of the people wear colorful outfits and the women do exude a strong sort of sexuality but it is not through the use of revealing clothing or other means that one would commonly associate with the women of the West, just as one example. Interestingly enough, the leading women among the group, a woman by the name of Beata, ends up having a tryst with Commander Riker. The premise of the episode is that there is a crew of men and perhaps women that has crashed on Angel One. However, Beata and her fellow inhabitants of Angel One run their government as an oligarchy whereby the women are deemed superior to men. Rather than this oligarchy being based on things like wealth, religion, bloodlines and so forth, it is specifically based on gender. One last episode that can be mentioned would be the one known as “11001001,” the fifteenth episode in the first season. There are two cyborg-type creatures known as Bynars are able to communicate quickly and efficiently using computer language, hence the binary nature of the episode title. Something that is quite clear from the episode, and something that is not all that commonly seen in the science fiction genre, is that the two cyborgs depicted in the show are obviously female. Other Bynars that appear in the episode are also ostensibly female due to their short stature, feminine voices and body shape (IMDB, 2015).
Chapter VI – Conclusion
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