100 sci fi women #86: Casey Newton

Disney's TOMORROWLAND Casey (Britt Robertson) Ph: Kimberley French ©Disney 2015

Casey Newton is resourceful, smart, determined and idealistic. She is willing to break the rules for a good purpose, especially if it involves keeping her dad in a job. She is a nascent scientist and inventor: she devises ingenious approaches to trying to stop NASA decommissioning a launch site – both to protect her father but also because she believes in a future of discovery and invention which is embodied by space travel.  She is willing to take a journey on the basis of a glimpse of an exciting future full of scientific discovery and human endeavour. But Casey isn’t just a dreamer; she can protect herself in a fight and is brave in the face of killer robots and other unexpected dangers. But most of all her idealism, and her intelligence, are enough to ensure that the world is saved, and that a better future is built, which supports dreamers and inventors like her to blossom and continue to save the world.

Dad: Why do you love the stars so much, Casey?
Casey Newton: Because I wanna go there.
Dad: But it’s so far away.
Jenny Newton: It’ll take a long time. A real long time. What if you get all the way up there and there’s nothing?
Young Casey Newton: What if there’s *everything*?

7 Songs in 7 (ish) days: Come As You Are Nirvana

4 of 7

The other part of musical life at university was the discovery and growing love of seeing bands and wearing flannel and Docs and being grunge. Possibly the culmination of this was spending a summer floating around in the pool at Allen Grove reading a book and listening to Nevermind on repeat (meant I didn’t need to get out of the pool). Of course, I late had a moment of great shame when i didn’t realise I was on the same plane with the band when they toured sometime later until it was nearly too late.

 

7 Songs in 7 (ish) days: Bass (How low can you go)

Song 3 of 7

There were two major parts to music during university: one was dancing and the other was bands. Today, dancing. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s going dancing was a big part of life, There were different clubs for different nights of the week. And they changed from time to time.. Those were the days when a phone call at 10ppm could get me out of bed and into town because we didn’t really start dancing til 11pm. The music ranged across the years from Salt ‘n’ Peppa amd Push It, through New Order and into house music, Here is an example of the kind of thing that would get one onto the dancefloor, even if you never knew its name.

 

7 Songs in 7 Days: Duran Duran Careless Memories

As a teenager music was very important to me and Duran Duran was everything. I slept under the giant poster, I cut up magazines and stuck them to my school books and folders, we debated who was our favourite (mine was Simon) and I saved up to buy their cassettes and singles and albums and everything. Duran Duran was the first concert I went to. I was entranced by the glamour of the videos for Rio, I loved the weirdness of the lyrics from Seven and the Ragged Tiger and while there were many bands I loved during the 1980s, none came close to Duran Duran. The best thing though is to find how much I still enjoy listening to their music, how much I shouted lyrics like a teenager when I saw them play again a couple of years ago, and that Simon still looks hot with a microphone in his hand.

7 Songs in & Days: Racey “Some Girls”

Here is Some Girls by Racey from the album Smash and Grab – the first album I ever purchased. Seventies pop at its finest, demonstrating some of the movement into synth that would dominate the 1980s. Nowadays there is a lot of other 1970s music I would listen to well before Racey, but to a ten year old with dollars to burn, Smash and Grab was the best. They were really my One Direction.

Scorching.

scorch trials(Image from Box Office Democracy)

Of the three dystopian franchises aimed at teenagers that are about at the moment, The Maze Runner is my least favourite. I think it is largely because its world is much less well developed and less coherent than either The Hunger Games or Divergent but also it is, in part, because it is so much less progressive or interesting in its depiction of female characters. In the original film there are essentially only two in the whole film, Teresa, who turns up half way through, and the evil character Ava Paige, and neither is more than two dimensional. The Scorch Trials has more women on screen, but it still barely scrapes past the Bechdel test (I think there is about two sentences exchanged between Ava and Teresa). It is interesting that a film which so studiously ensures it has a beautifully multiracial cast (even if it is the South Asian who is the first to die), still can’t manage women and girls in a particularly effective way. Yes, Brenda is an interesting addition who is smart and capable, but, like Teresa, she really only is defined in terms of her relationship to Thomas. And it is great to put two girls with guns and the ones who find the gang, but it might be nice to give them some sort of personality or role in addition to the guns. While it is true of pretty much all the characters that there is little to them and less reason to care, it feels particularly acute with the women – they are all acting out some archetype or another. To be honest, I liked this more than the original film which was terribly predictable, and at least we got a bit more insight to what is actually going on, but it might be nice to develop some characters who actually have depth.

Evil blondes from the future

Since the inception of film as a visual medium, blonde women have played important signifying roles. Femme fatales of film noir, the victim in horror films, the highly sexualised dangerous  woman – it has often been easy to chart the path of the character by one of her key signifiers, her hair colour. There are notable differences – Hitchcock made Grace Kelly a very different blonde in his films and she was never a victim while Joss Whedon chose to deliberately subvert horror tropes by making Buffy small and blonde. Nonetheless, there is generally a consistent archetype to the televisual blonde.

An interesting new archetype I have noticed in a number of science fiction films recently is the powerful, older,  evil blonde. Dr Ava Paige in The Maze Runner, Secretary Delacourt in Elysium and Jeanine in Divergent all exemplify this archetype. Powerful, manipulative and indifferent to the fate of others not of their caste. Willing to sacrifice anyone, Delacourt and Jeanine, in particular, aim to support and improve their own hegemonic privilege while Paige tortures children for apparently scientific purposes. Both Jeanine and Paige are closely aligned with science, while Delacourt is enmeshed in the use of technology. These women are technocrats, using science and technology for evil purposes and using need to be overcome by “good hearted” people with access to lower or no tech approaches.

These depictions are ideological from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, they posit the political and hegemonic power in the hands of women, concealing the general reality that these levers tend to be held by men. The societies in which they operate do not seem to have radically overturned gender norms to achieve this position where women are placed with power, in fact most of the gender relations within the films seem to indicate the reverse, that in general relations are not much further advance. All three of the women (and noticeably two seem to dress primarily in white), wear the feminised clothing, and, if anything, their privilege and separation from those required to do actual work is symbolised by their impractical shoes and tight skirts. In the world of Insurgent Jeanine’s main political rivals are men, and the leaders of the Factions she has assist her are also men – she is unusual in being a woman.  Similarly Delacourt is chastised by a male President and deals with a male CEO. These women are still exceptions, but they are the powerful evil centre. Inherent is an implication that women with power exploit it to maintain their own power and privilege, which, it could be argued is what male powers structures actually do.

Their close alignment with science and technological advance also serves to undermine the importance of scientific progress . In these films the heroes are all on the side of the low tech, with limited access to anything other than their own resources and ability. It is technology which serves to enslave in both Elysium and Divergent and the characters in the Maze Runner are trapped apparently in the service of science. The dystopic futures all three are set in seem to make the power of science enslaving and dividing, something the human spirit must fight against. The idea of the immaculate blonde serves to reinforce the rigidity of science and its danger. In Divergent this science-based approach is directly contrasted with the “humanism” of Abnegation, whose selflessness, low tech public service is pitted against the science-based command-and-control approach of Jeanine and her allies.

Whether this depiction of the middle-aged blonde as dystopian killer technocrat will continue remains to be seen, but it is interesting that it has emerged in three different movies made within a year of each other. As much as I like to see women in science fiction films, and older women who are smart and powerful is doubly terrific, it would be nice if they weren’t the evil one from time to time.

 

100 sci fi women #85: Nadia Cherneshevsky

Nadezhda Francine Cherneshevsky Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars Kim Stanley Robinson

Nadia is not the most glamourous of the women who make up the First 100 on Mars.  She is a practical woman, a calm woman, someone who gets on and does. In the early days of colonisation of Mars she is described as “the universal solvent” and she remains this throughout, quietly and industriously working to bring people together. Trained working on power stations in Siberia, Nadia loves to build, to create, to solve problems. While she would rather be driving a bulldozer, she comes to build other things as well – a constitution, a political coalition, a government and even a family. Describing herself of sturdy, Russian peasant stock, she does not see herself as beautiful, but others around her find her beauty and she has two strong relationships. She is able to use sense and reason and compassion to counter and soothe some of her passionate and emotional companions. Nadia builds Underhill while helping everyone else solve all the engineering process, she builds the constitution of the free Mars and then is its first President. But Nadia also knows that sometimes you need to destroy things to build and she is not without her passions. She is distraught by the death of her first partner, the revolutionary Arkady Bogdanov during the uprisings on Mars. She faces danger during the uprisings on Mars trying to save valuable infrastructure but when the revolution calls for it, she is willing to cause the destruction of Phobos, an entire moon. Nadia is the strongest woman on Mars, she survives, she builds, and she eventually has her own daughter to pass her strength onto. And she loves jazz.

I’ve got too much work to do, you know.

100 sci fi women #84: Gamora

Gamora Guardians of the Galaxy (film version)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora-101682-101718Gamora is the last of her species, adopted by the evil Thanos, responsible for the deaths of her family and race. She has superhuman strength and agility and is a highly skilled warrior and martial artist, but more importantly she is enormously clever and patient. She is willing to wait a long time to take her revenge on Thanos and his lieutenant Ronan, who she hates but masks this hatred in the role of the dutiful daughter and warrior. Having spent so much time amongst people she does not like, Gamora is slow to trust and to form friendships. Nonetheless, once made, she is a loyal friend with a strong sense of righteousness. She cannot let Ronan and Thanos destroy an entire world, and is willing to fight this even if the odds are hugely against her. When she sees Peter being affected by the Infinity Stone, she does not let him die alone; she is the first to take his home. She may be a warrior and assassin, but eventually she is willing to learn to dance.

I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I would be grateful to die surrounded by my friends.

I am going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.