I see you.
To see is to dream. To see is to know, to understand, and to accept. To see is to recognize what is still pure and true underneath all of the lies. To see is to unearth all that I have tried to hide, all that is broken and dirty.
To forgive is not to wipe the slate clean; to forgive is not to forget. To forgive is to love in spite of what you know. To forgive is to love because of what you know. To forgive is to love more than you ever thought you could, in the process becoming more than you ever thought you could. To forgive is to truly see.
And to truly see is to look past the facade–the image, the representation–as an inferior copy of who I really am (and maybe it’s not really even me at all). To truly see is to love.
I see you.
To this day, I still remember the first time that I rejected Gender Studies as a valid area of concern: in college, a friend had joined the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and I had declined an invitation to attend. I was, at the time, sympathetic toward women but still too caught up in notions of second wave feminism to identify with a cause in any formal way (well, that and the challenge to the already fragile male ego made joining such an organization an impossibility for me at the time). I am not proud of this moment, but not particularly ashamed either—it was what it was.
How ironic, then, that issues of gender have become one of my primary focuses in media: the representation, construction, configuration, positioning, and subversion of gender is what often excites me about the texts that I study. Primarily rooted in Horror and Science Fiction, I look at archetypes ranging from the Final Girl and New Male (Clover, 1992), to the sympathetic/noble male and predatory lesbian vampires of the 1970s, to the extreme sexualities of the future.
In particular, I enjoy the genres of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction because they allow us to grapple with deeply-seeded thoughts, feelings, and attitudes in ways that we could never confront directly. And, unlike traditional religion, which often attempts to tackle “the big questions” head on, media can provide a space to explore and experiment as we struggle to find the answers that we so desperately seek. The challenge for our students is that so much of American culture is steeped in traditions that reflect underlying aspects of patriarchy; from economics, to religion, to politics and culture, America’s values, thought, and language have been influenced by patriarchal hegemony (King, 1993). All of a sudden, we begin to question what we have been taught and wonder how history has been inscribed by men, afforded privilege to males, restricted the power of the female, and subjugated the female body (Creed, 1993).
And, the female body, as a site of contestation, provides a solid point of entry for a discussion of gender issues; gender is inextricably linked with sex—Clover, for example, argues that sex follows gender performance in Horror films (1992)—and also inseparable from discussion of the bodies that manifest and enact issues of gender. Consider how women’s bodies have traditionally been tied to notions of home, family, and reproduction. The basic biological processes inherent to women serve to define them in a way that is inescapable; as opposed to the hardness of men, women are soft, permeable, and oozing. On another level, we are treated to an examination of the female body through depictions of birth gone awry: from Alien, to possession (and its inevitable consequence of female-to-male transformation), to devil spawn, we have been conditioned to understand women as the bearers of the world’s evil.
Issues of birth also raise important notions at the intersection of science, gender, and the occult. Possession movies, in particular, have an odd history of female “victims” that undergo a series of medical tests (evidencing a binary that our class has come to label as Science vs. Magic/Faith) and feature male doctors who typically try to figure out what’s wrong with the female patient—they are literally trying to determine her secret (Burfoot & Lord, 2006). Looking at this theme in a larger context, we reference the Enlightenment (which was previously discussed in our course) and La Specola’s wax models as examples of scientific movements in the 17th century (and again in the 19th century) that sought to wrest secrets from the bodies of women, evidencing a fascination with the miracle of birth and understanding the human (particularly female) body. (La Specola as a public museum had an interesting role in introducing images of the female body into visual culture and into the minds of the public.) Underscoring the presence of wax models is a desire to delve deeper, peeling away the successive layers of the female form in order to “know” her (echoes of this same process can assuredly be found in modern horror films). It seems, then, that the rise of Science has coincided with an increased desire to deconstruct the female body (and, by extension, the female identity).
In similar ways, we saw echoes of this mentality embodied by Daniel Graystone as he struggled to understand Automaton Zoe’s secret earlier in the season. Speaking to a larger ideology of Science/Reason/Logic as the ultimate path to truth (as opposed to emotion/intuition), we again see an example of the female body being probed. And although Automaton Zoe is not a cyborg in the strictest sense of the term, we can understand her as a synthesis of human/machine components–this then allows us to incorporate previous readings on the presence of the female cyborg in Science Fiction.
Given our class’ focus on faith in television, however, we can also consider how female transgression has roots in Christian tradition as demonstrated by the story of Eve (which is also a story about the consequences of female curiosity in line with Pandora and Bluebeard)—how many ways can we keep women in check?
Restricting depictions of female sexuality and pleasure represents one such method according to Kimberly Pierce, director of Boys Don’t Cry (Dick, 2006). Tied to a morality influenced (in America, at least) by Christianity, we have come to consider sexuality (in general, and female sexuality in particular) as something sinful and worthy of shame. We see sex as something grounded in the material, or indicative of lust; sex, necessary on a biological level, can cause tension as we fail to reconcile its presence in our lives.
Addressing this notion, Gary Laderman argues that we might benefit from a reconsideration of our moral position on sex and religion, likening an orgasm to a religious epiphany or ritual. In essence, Laderman suggests that, as we climax we are released from the concerns of this world (even if for just a moment!) and exist in a timeless space where our individual sense of self melts as we commune with an entity/feeling that is larger than ourselves (2009). Put simply, we transcend. Further, as we continue with issues of the sacred and sex, we begin to see that the relationship between religion and sexuality becomes more complex as we look to Saint Teresa (as popularized by Bernini’s sculpture) and Saint Sebastian with an eye toward BDSM. Here, we have religious ecstasy depicted in visual terms that mirror the orgasmic andcontend with issues of penetration with respect to male and female bodies.
Picking up on the discrepancies between male and female bodies, our class began to note ways in which traditional gender archetypes of male and female were challenged by “Things We Lock Away” (here, here, here, here, and here) while others chose to examine the ways in which lived religion was embodied by females. Are these particular manifestations of lived religion typical for women? To what extent does the show support traditional gender norms and it what ways does it challenge them (if at all)? We can argue that Zoe takes charge of her life, but she does so by ascribing to the role of “Woman Warrior,” a role that might be viewed as empowering, but is, in fact, degenerative as aspects of femininity are stripped away–in becoming a warrior, the female transforms her body into that of a male through the use of force. (We can also certainly talk about the imagery conveyed by the sword as Zoe’s weapon of choice.) Women, in short, are powerful when they emulate men. Contrast this with portrayals of the “new” female hero as seen through the eyes of Miyazaki (Spirited Away) or del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and we begin to understand just how much Zoe ascribes to traditional notions of masculine/feminine.
But all is not lost. “Things We Lock Away” saw the birth of Chip Zoe (in reference to Chip Six from Battlestar Galactica), who, like her namesake, represented a manifestation of the divine born out of a connection with that which makes us human. Recasting power in terms of self-acceptance and love, the truly progressive feminist heroes and heroines are the ones who tap into the strength that we all have, showing us that we all have the potential to become more than we ever thought that we could (think Buffy before and after the end of Season 7 minus the Slayer Potential birthright).
But, as we all know, braving the depths of ourselves and coming back alive is no easy task–we need only look back at “There Is Another Sky” in order to understand just how fraught this path is. And so, throughout the episode, we see examples of people suppressing and repressing their base instincts: running to V world and indulging in illicit behavior in order to remain “civilized” in Caprica City; the lingering shot of Daniel’s floor, upon which Tom Vergis’ blood will forever be inscribed (notice the one at peace is the one who acknowledged the brutality of the situation at hand); Amanda and Lacy allaying their guilt over their acts of betrayal; Tamara clinging to her human identity as the only sense of self that she’s ever known. When it comes to our humanity, we hide, protect, obsess over, and fetishize the best and worst parts of ourselves; if only we could take a page or two from the new hero and realize that the answer has always been–and will always be–love.
It’s that little voice in the back of our heads that never quite goes away; tinged with shades of guilt, fear, shame, and regret, we hide the things that remind us that we are fallible. We lock away the things that make us human. We transform, grow and stretch—we become—and we hide the traces of who we were. Desperate to be clean, we compartmentalize the worst and call ourselves civilized.
Clarice, still clinging to the one idea that she ever had (not, I would add, unlike Joe Adama from earlier in the season), chases after Zoe for all the wrong reasons. What Clarice doesn’t know—and will probably never understand—is that Zoe has already become a face of God. (The avatar has allowed her to achieve eternal life, but this is, as we know, not the same thing.)
Ultimately, the universe of Battlestar Galactica and Caprica has only ever really taught us one thing with respect to salvation: God is love. The rub, however, is that we must learn to love as God loves: without question and without discrimination; we must learn to love all of ourselves, which is, after all, the greatest love of all.
Take a breath and go.
I stepped into the lobby of the talent agency and glanced at the sprawl of magazines on the coffee table. “What was I getting myself into?” I thought, “I had one shot to convince these people that I could hang.”
On a recent Thursday night, I found myself interviewing for a board position in the West Los Angeles Alumni Club. As I sat around the conference table, I began to berate myself silently for showing up too early and having to make awkward conversation with an established board member. To my surprise, however, we quickly shifted to a topic that I knew something about.
“Have you seen Glee?” asked George Ross.
I have to be honest; I was excited about Glee from the moment that I saw a promotion for the show. I was never a choir kid in high school but I’ve developed an appreciation for good arrangements through my many hours spent listening to college a cappella.
George Ross (yes, that’s his name) and I proceeded to chat briefly about the show as I began to explain my thoughts about the song selection and why the show worked—ruminating on popular culture is what I do, after all.
After we parted, I didn’t think much more about the show or about musicals until my coworker broached the subject at dinner a week later. We began discussing Moulin Rouge after it was mentioned that I had strong objections to the film.
“What’s so bad about it?” Lauren queried.
In my head, the lights dimmed and a screen came down behind me as I prepared to launch into my diatribe explanation.
Back in high school, I was naive and I whole-heartedly bought into the romantic aspects of Moulin Rouge. Yet, watching it now, I reflect on how much I’ve grown since then. I am still swept away by the idea that the perfect love can transport you to places unknown and that there are moments of greatness in any relationship, but I also know that the dark side of love never goes away.
After all is said and done, after the wild ride of passion is over, you realize that love doesn’t—and can’t—conquer all. The good guys don’t always win and there is no such thing as happy ever after. Dreams do come true, but just as easily broken. The great poets have it wrong: love can’t move mountains, make rocks cry, or raise the dead. You see that we are human after all and that love isn’t always forever.
I promise that I am not bitter about this whole thing, but I do think that we as young people are so entrenched in the mystique of love that we attempt to feel a glimmer of the emotion any way that we can. We do what we can to connect to others and to avoid rejection, and this sometimes leads us to do things that we shouldn’t. We’ve all heard stories about women confusing sex with love, but also think about the times that you’ve used sex to make someone stay—maybe it’ll turn into a real relationship?—or agreed to unsafe sex just so someone would notice you.
Rather than bemoan the downfall of love, I think that this perspective offers a bit of freedom. Through all of this, we find that we have, in ourselves, the invincibility that we ascribed to love; we discover that no matter how we are challenged, there’s a part of ourselves that only we can give away. We realize how fragile and precious the feeling is—and how lucky we are to have it.
In the end, doesn’t that make it all the more worthwhile? Committing yourself to something knowing that it’s imperfect, knowing full well that the magic doesn’t last? To me, that makes it priceless.