thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

How to Be Awesome Like Alison Hendrix

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

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Welcome to the final day of Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’ve been featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our final contributor, Rachel B., gets at the heart inside the neuroses of Alison Hendrix.

Guest Contributor Rachel B.

In Orphan Black’s first episode, Alison Hendrix is nothing more than a Social Security card in a safe deposit box. At first glance, this seems an apt metaphor for the woman herself: contained within the cold, sterile routine of her highly regulated suburban life. Unable to think or live outside the box. Indeed, when Felix asks Sarah early in Season 1 why she decides not to inform Alison about the more frightening characteristics of the as-yet unidentified Helena, Sarah explains that if Alison knew the truth, she would “crap her lululemons.”

And sure, Alison is brittle and jittery. Sure, she walks and talks with the uptight carriage and demeanor of a woman on her last nerve, wound up, edgy, often self-medicating. Sure, she seems fit to do little more than teach figure skating classes, distribute snacks at soccer practice, and host the monthly potluck.

But here’s the thing: she is a survivor. She doesn’t fall down, helpless, when confronted with the enormity of not only her identity as a clone but also her peril. When her fellow clones begin to be picked off one by one, she doesn’t hide. She doesn’t run away. She acts. She buys a gun and has Beth teach her how to use it. She does what she can to help, financing Clone Club’s investigation into how they came to be and why someone seems bent on erasing them. When Sarah says she needs Alison’s help, all the schedules and activities of suburbia go out the window: Alison sends off her doof of a husband with a cutting barb and sits sentinel at her arts and crafts table with a gun and the pink clone cell phone. “Stupid suburban Alison” can actually handle a great deal of truth.

How to be awesome like her?

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How to Be Awesome Like Cosima Niehaus

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 28, 2014 at 7:32 am

cosima

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our second guest contributor, Larissa Ennis, describes the multi-faceted stability of Cosima Niehaus, the brainiest clone and the one all of our writers wish they’d gotten to before Larissa called dibs.

Guest Contributor Larissa M. Ennis

We are introduced to Cosima in season 1, episode 2 “Instinct.” Cosima is introduced moments after the German clone Katja Obinger is murdered in front of Sarah-playing-Beth Childs. The disembodied voice over Beth’s cellphone demanding that Sarah/Beth find the German’s briefcase snaps Sarah back to reality as she reels from Katja’s murder, the revelation of another look-alike, and her near miss with a sniper’s bullet.

While to Sarah the woman on the phone is simply a mysterious voice assuming she is Beth, to the audience the voice promises that Beth and Katja aren’t the only “twins” (which Sarah is calling her multiple doppelgangers at the moment); there are more clones to come. Late in the episode, Sarah tracks down Allison, who reveals Cosima and the truth about who—or what—they are.

I must confess I find Cosima the most relatable of the clones. In season 1, Cosima Niehaus is a PhD student studying developmental evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota; in season 2, she pits her brains against the corporate brawn of the Dyad Corporation and goes to work for them, a double-agent out in the open, as Aldous Leekie knows that having a happy clone researcher will get him a lot more results than no clone researcher at all.

While Alison and Sarah can pass for one another, or the departed Beth (and do) quite easily, Cosima has a style all her own, an eclectic fashion sense that helps set her apart. She doesn’t skimp on the eyeliner, a liquid black shaped into a vintage cat eye. She wears awesome black-rimmed glasses, slightly hipster but definitely intellectual; her clothes are a hodge-podge of thrift store finds, and her hair… The hair.

Cosima’s hair is almost impossibly cool, thick and black and shaped into awesome dreadlocks, which she wears back perpetually. But while she often slips into California slang, using “dude” liberally, her hair never seems to approach embarrassing white-girl-with-dreads territory.

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How to Be Awesome Like Helena

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 27, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today, we have guest contributor Bethany Jacobs writing on the deliciously diabolical, chillingly childlike Helena.

Guest Contributor Bethany Jacobs

*spoilers throughout!*

Aspiring to be like Helena is not for the faint of heart. And I’m not referring to having the stomach for getting shanked by rebar, cutting off tails, and sniper-busting a half dozen faces that LOOK JUST LIKE YOURS. All this ferocity is as much a symptom of Helena’s systemic brainwashing as any inherent badassery, and let’s be honest—nobody wants to be the Helena who has suffered horrific psychological and physical abuse by the religious zealots in Orphan Black known as Proletheans. Or at least no one should want to be that Helena, though to each her own. But there is a profound appeal to this rogue clone, and I submit that a great deal of it comes down to her being one of the fiercest, slyest, and most unapologetic people in contemporary television—and that’s saying something given her sisters are grifters, cops, murderous housewives and sexy-ass scientists of the genius persuasion (among other persuasions that I particularly enjoy).

But I can’t be the only one who thinks that Helena is somehow bigger than the other clones, right? Even as she rocks the same feline muscularity of her sisters, she’s got a hugeness to her that stresses once again Tatiana Maslany’s incredible skill at bringing multiple distinct characters to life. Helena is a body, a presence, all her own. Is it her ravenous appetite? Is it the jacket and combat boots and hair? Is it her shrieking, discordant electronica theme, declaring everything that is discordant and horrific about Helena herself? But her larger-than-life presence coupled with an insanely violent streak shouldn’t fool anyone into missing the complexity of that same theme, which builds a haunting melody out of chimes, percussion, piano and eletronica magic. This is no simple soundtrack. Sarah Manning’s quasi-affectionate nickname for the Ukrainian assassin is “Meathead” (“Do not call me this,” Helena always retorts). It’s charming, but inaccurate. Though she is eccentric, and single-minded—a walking blunt-force trauma—Helena is also intelligent enough to lead the Toronto police on a fruitless cat-and-mouse chase. She’s a brilliant tracker and strategist. That she is even remotely functional given what she has endured throughout her life, that she has a moral compass apart from Prolethean teachings, speaks to a strength of character that beautifully complements her physical power and vigilante skills.

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How to Be Awesome Like Sarah Manning

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Next up, Sarah S. on Sarah Manning, the complicated central protagonist of Orphan Black.

Sarah S.

Even though each of the clone characters on Orphan Black is played by Tatiana Maslany, Sarah Manning is the chief protagonist. Even when you realize you’re watching an “Alison” episode or a “Helena” episode, these plots always run alongside the main narrative centered around Sarah.

As viewers, Sarah is our entrée into the Orphan Black universe. Unlike her “sisters” Cosima, Alison, Beth, and even Helena, Sarah does not know what she is and so we discover the details alongside her. She is our touchstone for the entire narrative of clones, monitors, the corporate Dyad group, and the zealous Proletheans.

Sarah also develops substantially throughout the series. She begins a cynical grifter, only too willing to steal a dead woman’s life and enlist her long-suffering brother, Felix, into her schemes. Her reasons for these actions are ostensibly venerable: she wants to reconnect with her daughter, Kira, and escape her violent, druggy boyfriend. Yet the likelihood that she will succeed in these goals remains dubious. If Sarah really wanted to parent Kira, she would be parenting her, not leaving Kira with the woman who raised Felix and Sarah, Mrs. S. Her shadowy origins have made Sarah rootless, shiftless, untrusting, and untrustworthy. No wonder Felix rolls his eyes and Mrs. S. vows not to relinquish Kira.

But everything changes once Sarah finds herself not only assuming the identity of a cop who could be her identical twin but also discovering that she’s one of several clones. Most notably, when the going gets hard, Sarah cowgirls up. So here is how to be awesome like Sarah Manning.

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How to Be Awesome Like Beth Childs

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

Beth cast photo

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” First up, Brian Psi on Beth Childs, the clone who exists almost entirely in inscrutable past tense.

Brian Psi

The clones of Orphan Black are haunted by the ghosts of those who have died before their time, sisters who our characters will never come to know, and whose fates they may come to share. In the first season, Katja is a warning to the others of their propensity towards sickness, and is killed by the assassin that will soon be targeting the others. In the second, it is Jennifer Fitzsimmons, whose harrowing video diaries prior to her death amplify our concern for Cosima, who is suffering from the same rare respiratory ailment.

I’d like to focus on Detective Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Childs, the show’s ur-ghost, whose death in the pre-credits sequence of the very first episode is the show’s primal scene, its great moment of uncanny, existential ‘WTF-did-I-just-see?’.

The pilot episode of Orphan Black is titled “Natural Selection” after Darwin’s mechanism by which the smartest, strongest, and swiftest pass on their legacy, while the slowest and slightest do not. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ Its very first scene stages the only encounter between Sarah Manning and Beth Childs. Both of them are upset—Sarah about her inability to see her daughter, Beth about pain that we do not learn about until much later. While Sarah huffily paces the train terminal walkway, Beth ritualistically removes her shoes, jacket, and purse, leaving them in a neat stack. Turning to see her double Sarah staring at her, Beth abruptly walks in front of the train that she has come to kill herself with. Sarah is horrified, but not so stunned that her survival instincts leave her. She grabs Beth’s purse and flees.

Beth strips herself of self by leaving shoes, coat, and purse. By picking up this purse, with its photo ID and credit cards and police badge, Sarah impersonates or perhaps becomes Beth. She is for several episodes called Beth by people—Beth’s partner Art, her fiancé and observer Paul, his handlers, the other members of Clone Club—who don’t realize that they are separate people. Sarah lives in Beth’s apartment, works Beth’s job, sleeps with Beth’s fiancé… lives Beth’s life until it becomes too burdensome for her, and she, too, is forced to give it up (in this case, by confessing to Clone Club, to Paul, and to Art).

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Post-Post-Modern, Post-Post-9-11: Star Trek Into Darkness

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 9:46 pm
Sarah S.
 
Let’s get this complaint out of the way directly: the use of female characters in J. J. Abrams’ second offering in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is sigh-worthy at best, probably more like eye-rolling and groan-worthy, and possibly even merits serious hair pulling. Zoe Saldana is still awesome as Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness but her interesting updates, including linguistic genius and unwavering confidence, are undercut in this movie by her damsel-in-distress situations. Speaking of “damsels-in-distress,” Alice Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus (presented on IMDB as simply “Carol”) represents yet another female character who’s good on paper and easy on the eyes but doesn’t offer much but a way to nix any *ahem* suggestions of sexual tension between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Point, match, feminists.
 
That said, for all those who have been complaining that Abrams’ Star Trek isn’t “Star Trek” enough: you’re nuts! In this flick, perhaps even more than the first, Star Trek returns to its philosophical roots of exploring what it means to be human and how we strive to be the best iteration of that humanness. And yet, obviously, this is not your father’s Star Trek. It’s so filled with Easter eggs its villain is the biggest one of all (also: worst kept secret ever) while its loving nods to the preceding mythology temper any sense of snark or unending, frivolous “play.” Indeed, the film’s self-awareness of its changed universe is so meta, and yet so well-conceived in its own right, that it transcends post-modernism and becomes, what? Something that gets beyond that circling anxiety, frivolity, and/or simulacra of traditional post-modernism and into something that mingles our contemporary fears for the future (aka, obsessions with apocalypse), loves for nostalgia and technology, and twinging hopes that extraordinary individuals—particularly if they work in tandem—may be able to improve the world.
 

In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

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DARK SECRETS, Genre, and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

In adaptation, dystopian literature, Film, spoilers, technology, Uncategorized on July 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sarah S.

If you have not read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, I recommend that you go out, pick it up, and read it immediately. Better still, if you do not know the underlying premise or “twist” of the novel, I highly recommend you stop reading this post right now. Which is to say, this post contains spoilers and, while I acknowledge that anxiety over “spoiling” may be overrated in many circumstances, I really believe that Ishiguro designed his exquisite novel so that the twist be revealed with agonizing slowness and that you’ll enjoy the novel more if you don’t know. I didn’t know. I knew that the novel focused on three students who had grown up in a seemingly idyllic, British boarding school that had a DARK SECRET but I had no inkling what said DARK SECRET was. If you are similarly ignorant, please, stop reading this post and go read the book.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Never Let Me Go features Ishiguro’s achingly beautiful and slow style as likewise exhibited in The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World (one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read). But what particularly fascinated me about Never Let Me Go was its mingling of genres. On one hand, it’s a coming-of-age story, a Bildungsroman, about growing up and accepting one’s place in the order of things—albeit with a bleak, postmodern twist. On the other hand, and much to my surprise, Never Let Me Go is science fiction of the dystopian/utopian variety (see footnote below).* Or, if you prefer the more literary term, “speculative fiction” that asks “what if?” in order to question our current cultural trajectory.

The narrator of Never Let Me Go, Kathy H, is a clone—born and bred for her vital organs and other relevant parts, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy and every student at their boarding school, Hailsham. The clones’ existence creates a disease-free golden age for all of the world’s “normal” people. In the book, however, the reader only discovers this fact in bits and pieces scattered throughout the novel; indeed, Ishiguro forces us to work for the information, to read into and around what scraps Kathy gives us as she relates her story.

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