★ ★ ★ ★
By Mike Hembury
I’ve always been a big science fiction fan, ever since I was a kid.
I love all that stuff.
I’d spend all day reading Asimov or Heinlein—or even watching clunky first series Star Trek—and go out at night and look up at the stars and think of what was possible.
What was going to be possible.
What people now could only imagine, but what one day, might become reality.
It’s a taste that has stayed with me throughout my life, mutating into many forms, forking off into cyberpunk with the rise of the internet (namechecking the great Pat Cadigan here), or into sci-fi horror with kick-ass Sigourney Weaver in the first Alien films, or into dystopian fiction like Margaret Atwood’s unsurpassed Year of the Flood.
To tell you the truth, I never really liked standard Hollywood fare. Star Wars sucks, big time, for example. Too many gender and ethnic stereotypes, pandering to a white, western, male audience. And fighting the evil empire in favour of a monarchy? Really?
But nowadays I find myself shying away from dystopian fiction.
I have enough trouble dealing with the dystopian nightmare our world is turning into.
I write this a couple of days after sixty thousand assorted nationalists and Nazis demonstrated in the streets of Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day. Banners called for an end to immigration, for a “White Europe”. For an “Islamic Holocaust”.
Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, called the demonstration “a beautiful sight”.
A few hundred kilometres further west, in Bonn, Germany, the COP23 climate change conference are trying to come up with a way to stop us from sending the planet permanently down the shit chute.
Meanwhile, just being alive and breathing in New Delhi is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.
So, with race war and planetary destruction firmly back on the agenda, that’s more than enough dystopia for me.
Having said that, I couldn’t resist going to see Blade Runner 2049 recently.
There has been a lot of hype about it being such a cool film, beautifully shot, cutting edge, yadda yadda.
In short: I had to go.
I’ll spare you the plot details. You can check them out here, if you’re interested.
But allow me to give you my summary.
It cost $140 million and it really got my goat.
The film spends about 3 hours worrying about whether the main character is a human, or a replicant (synthetic human), or has any free will, or is secretly the miraculous love-child of a replicant and original replicant hunter Harrison Ford. There’s even talk of revolution and joining the resistance.
Stirring stuff, you might think.
Deep, even. Meaningful.
But there are two things in the film that don’t get talked about.
One is the weather. The planet is trashed. The environment devastated. Post-apocalyptic stuff. So it basically posits the climate apocalypse as more or less now.
Sure, I’ll go along with that.
But the other elephant in the room is the total enslavement and objectification of women.
In Blade Runner 2049, women are represented as:
- A holographic computerized-but-sexy domestic servant program, with an overwhelming desire for a “real” relationship with her owner
- A psychopathic killer replicant
- A cop
- Various prostitutes
- The original replicant/blade runner love child locked away in a room somewhere.
Everywhere in the film, women are either servants, or for sale.
Ok, you could say, this is the point. It’s a dystopia. It’s like the environment. It’s just backdrop. It’s a warning.
Yeah? Well I don’t buy it.
Why just show it? Why not reflect on it? Why not have a character—a female character, goddamit—comment on it, discuss it, resist it?
There’s one gratuitously misogynistic scene where a newly born replicant—a naked, adult woman, her body glistening with synthetic amniotic fluid—is disembowelled with a scalpel by her “maker” for the “crime” of being sterile.
It’s gross, and difficult to watch.
And like the whole film, it left me feeling, above all, angry.
Images of women are everywhere in this film. Huge naked holograms. Giant statues in sexualized poses. And yet, in terms of consciousness, and subjective input, they are nowhere. I think it is this that gives the film its sense of pervasive misogyny.
The huge representations of naked women seem somehow to literally belittle and even threaten the main character. A whole part of his quest has to do with discovering that his memories—a core part of his personality—actually belong to a woman who is locked away in a sealed room for her own safety.
This is so classically Freudian it would make me want to laugh out loud if it wasn’t so unfunny.
I was really troubled by all these representations of women until I started seeing them as a metaphor for male insecurity, emotional infantilism and the repression of the female element in male heterosexual identity.
Having said that, the positive take-away for guys in this film is that the hero saves his daddy, kills the bad psycho woman, and dies a happy death re-uniting daddy with daughter (and himself with his hidden alter ego?). In fact, if I remember correctly, the main character also dies from stab wounds to the stomach, so symbolically also receives his own womb-envy punishment for being unable to bear children.
And for women, the positive take-away in this film is…
Ah no, scratch that. There is no positive take-away for women in this film.
But hey, nothing new there. I guess if you are a woman you’re used to that.
After all, it’s a Hollywood product of the Hollywood system.
What else should we expect in the age of Weinstein, #MeToo and presidential pussy-grabber in chief Trump?
I don’t know what we can expect, but I know what I, personally, want, and feel it’s reasonable to demand.
I want visions of future life that don’t just depict oppression of more than half of humanity as the natural state of things.
I’ve had it with male angst, self-hatred and fear and hatred of women being passed off as entertainment. All that is just backward-looking reactionary bullshit.
I want a way forwards.
Hope in the face of dystopia.
Entertainment, sure. But encouragement. Inspiration.
Just some basic human dignity for women would be a start.
In another, parallel universe—the one we happen to be living in—evidence is piling up which made the connection between mass shootings in the USA, whiteness, and domestic violence. It seems that a history of domestic violence can be the canary in the coalmine when it comes to a propensity for killing lots of people. Seems that a lot of straight white guys are not getting what they feel is due to them, so they take it out on their womenfolk first, then on society. And looking at the Weinsteins of this world, it seems that a lot of men in positions of power can’t resist using that power to perform sexualized acts of aggression and violence against vulnerable women, and, in some cases, men.
It’s not just the predatory men that are the problem. It’s the positions of power themselves.
In other words, we need not only to take the men out of the power equation, but to abolish all positions of uncontrolled power, wherever they occur.
In the workplace, that means organizing against sexism in all forms. This ought to be basic trade unionism 101. It’s a power issue, and a self-defence issue, and a safety issue.
In a domestic setting, protection and safety are of course much more difficult to ensure. We need to ramp up social services, women’s shelters, education, self-defence courses. And in the US: Remove all guns from domestic offenders.
And like in the workplace, organizing—breaking out of isolation, and breaking down structures of male power and privilege—are key.
I think if the outrage that has emerged from the #MeToo revelations results in a strengthening and further radicalisation of the international women’s movement in the face of seemingly all-pervasive male violence, then this will be a good thing. But does anyone seriously believe that liberation is possible under the terms set out by a patriarchal capitalism so imbued with toxic masculinity?
Police killings of black people didn’t stop under Obama. There’s no reason to expect that simply having a female head of state, or a female member of the board, is going to make much difference to systemic violence against women either.
I think society needs to be organized differently.
I think we need to be organized differently. Organized, coordinated, networked, differently.
If you’re a man, start with yourself. Be ruthless. Implement a zero-tolerance policy for woman-hating violence and sexist bullshit. In your own life. In your own heart. In your own behaviour. Among your friends, with your colleagues.
If you’re a woman, go ahead, get angry, get militant. Get organized.
Save the future life of the planet.
Because here’s the positive take-away for women.
You are the revolution.
Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England. He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order. You can follow Mike on Twitter here: twitter.com/schnappz
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