March 13, 2009 “Watch this space” (or FP butchers all your favourite philosophies!)
A note of apology before I start. I am struck by fragmented memories of writings by Foucault and Irigaray – more like shards of glass lodged discomfortingly somewhere in my lumpy grey matter. So if I am torturing the logic of your favourite philosophers in the connections I’m making feel free to point it out. Nicely. Or feel free to kiss my arse if you’re going to be rude (best apology ever??).
However, we’re both horribly busy and disorganised, so we haven’t go there yet.
I am fairly surprised by the slamming it’s copped. I don’t uncomplicatedly like the show. I think it lacks the polish of Buffy and I find parts of every episode discomforting.
Part of that is the fact that people will say and do the most appalling things to Echo. Ostensibly because they are discomforted by the fact she’s a kind of ‘doll’, a kind of ‘robot’, the ‘she’s not real’ thing comes up again and again. But you cringe when you hear it and you also know that these are things that are said to and against women all the time, not just against Echo. Echo’s specific situation becomes a way to explore attitudes towards women while we get to see the things people say when they think they won’t be held to account as she’ll be wiped anyway. The cruelties and the underlying violence of the way people will speak about women if they think they’ll get away with it/it will be forgotten/the other lacks the power to do anything about it.
As WP has argued (or we have, or somehow we’ve discussed) it goes to the very heart of objectification – not just women objectified sexually, but women commodified, in all kinds of ways – women as literally objects, as property, as less than human. The Actives are set up as embodying this in a literal sense and the ways in which that plays out offers us chances to draw parrallels to women in ‘real life’ in ‘regular roles’. In what sense are women NOT objectified and commodified, their bodies, their emotional work, their domestic labour? It isn’t just tits and arse that are at issue with objectification – women are still concieved of in lots of ways as property, as things, as means to an end and I think this show offers us a way to explore that further.
I think that some of the criticism has stopped short in initially slamming a scenario without fully investigating what it is there for, what it intends to do. For instance, I want to know when we will get to go back and discover HOW Caroline ended up in this situation, what was the back story, how did she come to *be* “an Active”? How did the organisation get her to even come in for the meeting? There is presumably some way in which she was ‘beholden’ or caught…what’s the story there? And yes I *do* think it’s important.
I also think that so far we have seen some pretty interesting scenarios played out. Humans are ‘wiped’ and have ‘The Perfect’ personality programmed in for whatever the occassion.
This affects personality and physiology. How? Why?
When it does, and the professional negotiator turns out to have been a prior victim of sexual abuse we end up with a woman whose abuse led to her suicide causing the undoing of the perpetrator, beyond the grave, and THROUGH another woman. In some senses that woman DID face the perpetrator, did overcome what broke her earlier, and in another sense ‘Echo’ did that, made it possible.
To me, that’s some pretty powerful stuff, some pretty serious head-fucking around individuality and Cartesian dualism, and also…well it blew me away! So far I’ve heard it reduced to a cliche of the ‘frigid abuse victim’ which I honestly don’t see. Firstly who said anything about ‘frigidity’? The woman’s *breathing shut down* when she recognised her attacker, that’s not frigidity, that’s shock. Secondly that particular reaction gets us to go ‘WTF?? It’s not even ‘her’ body, or ‘Echo’s’ physiology…what’s going on?
It screws with a number of entrenched ideas that critical and cultural studies see violence in and value questioning, tugging at, overturning, examining the weaknesses in.
If you reduce people to convenient ‘meatsacks’, the mere ‘body’ in which to house whatever ‘ideal’ is required for a given situation, if you take away their memories and self will and ‘implant them’ with personalities…when the illness of the programmed affects the body of the programmeee…when the body of the programmee overcomes situations she was not programmed for., solves problems she’s not ‘equipped for’ because the programmers didn’t think of it,well account for this please Descartes!?
And since those ideas have produced some shitty shitty effects, particularly for women, and in terms of race relations, well I think that’s an idea worth fucking with.
What other ideas?
I want to discuss Foucault and the production of ‘docile bodies’ and how Whedon constantly draws the analogy that attempting to subdue and control people; even ‘for their own good’ is ALWAYS a terrible terrible idea. This time he is getting at this in a radically physical sense…these people are stripped of all capacity for self determination, in order to produce a placid *white noise* kind of subject,a ‘blank slate’ a walking ‘thing/person’ – ostensibly for ease of control, and self interest (easier to program for new assignments) and as was drawn out this week to minimise the violent impact of what they do to these subjects- the wiping process is described by those with a vested interest as safe, calm, undamaging, a good thing to do, but we are always allowed to see that it is violent, that these subjects have been sold a lie, that it is painful and demeaning in that they are continually subjected to the wipe and rewipe, the automaton responses….
But they never can contain or control can they? Already we’ve seen spillage from assignment to ‘blank slate’, recognitions, humanity, shock on the face of those who think they’re objectively ‘detached’, the ramifications of what they do explode outwards and outwards and outwards.
And then we have Alpha.
Anyway, there are a gazillion ideas that connect from the show to current reading and news, to feminism and theory. Too many to keep track of.
And I feel anxious about this post now, because I’m unclear of who initially mentioned which of the ideas above. As discussed with WP we get together, we chat, we watch the episode, and ideas tumble all over one another. When it comes to writing about the episode or the show in general, it’s hard to know anymore whose ideas are whose as fragments of ideas tumble across one another, interlock, connections are made and conversation shoots off in different directions.
But I figure that’s ok, firstly as you know, the ‘ideas’ we’ll be discussing will never be solely our own anyway, and there are problems with pretending that could be so (even if that’s a very common stance)…and also, I kinda like it, I like that it subverts the phallocentric idea of ‘knowledge’ and ‘objectivity’ and ‘the expert’ etc…it sounds a little like the basics I can remember of Irigaray’s discussion of ‘the feminine’ – that men are constantly talking about women’s ‘flightiness’ in conversation, her lack of cohesion, and the way in which she turns this around as a positive. And there we go again with overlap and enmeshed ideas – I believe it was WP who popped Irigaray in mind as her post will involve Irigaray’s ideas in a more comprehensive way…
Rather than that scopophilic approach of pulling all things to itself, to claim so kind of rational cohesion, and an ownership of knowledge and to say ‘This is truth’, and ‘I am an authority’ to the exclusion of other views, the feminine *does* constantly fold in on itself, is contextual, does self refer, does constantly touch, is multiple, fragmented, flight, takes many paths:
one must listen to her differently in order to hear an “other meaning” which is constantly in the process of weaving itself, at the same time ceaselessly embracing words and yet casting them off to avoid becoming fixed, immobilized*
Perhaps it’s too big a claim for the show as yet – but it’s leaking, it’s spiralling, it can’t be contained, pinned down, defined. I think this kind of overlapping, interweaving, imploding/exploding is partly the very *point* of a show fucking with subjectivity, dualism, objectification, misogyny and well probably other things I’ve missed.
So in short…I’m going to keep watching and WP and I will tag team on the episodes. We’re only like four behind! Too easy!
* Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One – p 103