October 19 – “Intersectionality”

//October 19 – “Intersectionality”
October 19 – “Intersectionality” 2018-01-07T15:01:49-04:00

Media

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, 2011. (Available on Amazon Video)

Star Trek: The Original Series. Let that Be Your Last Battlefield. Season: 3 Ep. 15 (Available on Netflix and Amazon Video)

Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Outcast. Season: 5 Ep. 17 (Available on Netflix and Amazon Video)

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Image Comics, issues 3 and 6 (Available for digital purchase for $.99 here. I’ll also leave physical copies at Draper, and can e-mail a free link)

Theory and Commentary

Rutledge, Gregory E. 2000. Science Fiction and the Black Power/Arts Movements: The Transpositional Cosmology of Samuel R. Delany Jr. Extrapolation 41(2): 127-42.

Assignments

Project Proposal Due

Extra Question for this Week

Which is the more important science fiction visual icon?

Dessert Tower  Tardis

11 Comments

  1. Stacy Shirk October 18, 2016 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if persecution were relegated to the past, if we could say “there are no such barbaric people anymore”?

    “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” aired in 1969. I applaud the show’s bold indictment of prejudice and hate, especially in such a fraught time. Towards the end of the episode, Bele talks about the “obvious visual evidence” that separates him from Lokai, and of course the Enterprise crew don’t even notice the subtle difference. Do you think if aliens came down to our planet, they would feel the same about our absurd racial prejudices?
    The ending is especially striking, with the description of mass quantities of unburied corpses, a world emptied of sapient life, and images of bombed out buildings, all due to hate and pointless war. It’s easy to see what the show is getting at, but I wonder – how does it make you feel to know this episode was written nearly 50 years ago? Have we gotten better, worse, are we still the same? Does this episode inspire hope, despair? I went back and forth a little bit, and I’d be interested to hear how other people felt.

    I also want to discuss people’s feelings about The Outcast. I know there are those who feel the episode didn’t go far enough in its exploration of LGBT issues – do you agree? How do you see the ending (cop-out vs. indictment, etc)? Personally, I thought it was a strong reflection of the twisted way in which many people view the LGBT community, with an appropriately tragic and sad ending. What terrified me most was the J’naii justification for their “therapy” – that they truly believe those with gender identities are sick and need to be rehabiilitated. This episode aired almost 25 years ago, and it sickens me that people STILL use and believe this rhetoric to justify their close-mindedness surrounding those who are different from the “norm”. I guess my questions for the TOS episode also apply to the TNG episode.

    On the bright side, these episodes really drive home what to me is the true beauty of science fiction – it provides a way to explore complex and controversial issues, even in a space where more mainstream entertainment might not be able to do so.

  2. Johnathan McCauley October 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Regarding the Star Trek episodes (and other things):

    – is it worse to retain your individuality and experience prejudice or suffer assimilation and lose it? The Outcast episode made me think a lot about this.
    – is prejudice or discrimination (perhaps not the way we think of it) inevitable if we are to retain our individuality? Can we really expect the paramount level of tolerance that would be required of all members of our planet in order to have our individual distinguishing character traits (physical and non-physical) exist in a prejudice free world?
    – is the line between individuality and assimilation/acceptance blurred as so many other poles we have discussed in this class? To a certain extent, don’t our weaknesses (prejudices, dislikes, preferences) play a sizable role in determining our identity?

  3. Sam October 18, 2016 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    1. One of the important terms Gregory Rutledge keeps coming back to in his “Science Fiction and the Black Power/Arts Movements: The Transpositional Cosmology of Samuel R. Delany Jr.” is that of “double consciousness.” This is W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept, of viewing one’s self at once through your own eyes, and through the eyes of the societal Other who harbors prejudices against you. How present is this double consciousness throughout this week’s media?

    Is it at all in play in Codependent Lesbian Alien Seeks Same, where it seems that Zoinx and the other aliens are blissfully unaware of how they appear to earthlings beyond their desired romantic encounters? What about Lokai in Bele in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield?” Or are they too blinded by their hatred of the Other to be cognizant of how they view themselves or are viewed by others? In “The Outcast,” Soren’s anxiety about how her gender expression will be received seems to readily illustrate the concept. Does Penny Rolle’s narrative in Bitch Planet subvert it?

    2. Intersectionality is a mode of analysis that requires the consideration of many variables and facets of identity at once. It is difficult to find media that manages to address multiple dimensions of selfhood at once, even within SF, which has such radical responses to race, sexuality, and gender issues. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was made 20 years before “intersectional” was a formalized term. Is it intersectional? Does it speak of something beyond race? Can it still contribute to the concept and discussion of intersectionality if it doesn’t?

    3. In “The Outcast,” species equates to gender and sexuality, or in this case, genderlessness and asexuality. This is complicated, and also pretty ahead of its time for 1992, but I am having trouble with it, and with giving it a nuanced reading now. One reason is that it conflates sexuality with gender expression, which is problematic. Soren’s brainwashing is a horrific mirror of the mentality the episode was indicting, but it, and other aspects of the story gave me pause.

    How could this allegory be improved? Is it improved if we view it as a transgender allegory instead of a gay one? Is it different if the ending allows Soren to maintain a degree of agency, to fight against the injustices of her world? Is it better if, in some weird ode to sexual and cultural conservatism, or as a comment upon human exceptionalism and the application of human morality to non-human species, we find that in the J’naii’s evolved state, sexuality and gender really are reversions that should be cured? (That is a strange, and uncomfortable place to go) Or is it better if the queer character could have been a crew member, with a story and life not entirely intertwined with their gender and sexuality, not someone completely Other, who we could see as more than a metaphorical place holder?

  4. Ivan Martinez October 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    1. Codependent Lesbian Space Alien wins the price for most hilarious film I saw all year! My giggling started about ten seconds into the film and didn’t stop until the movie was done. So it was hard to think about class issues watching it. But I did feel that much of the movie’s merit was in its honesty. The city, the neighborhood that we know so well, became the stage for beautiful love stories, and now those characters forever inhabit the village in my head. I’m sure there’s a lot I’m missing, what’s the meta-narrative? Is it about being an alien? Marginalized? I think the alien’s appearance could be a reference to Klaus Noomi, a great, long forgotten icon of gay St. Marks Place.
    2. Gregory Rutledge describes the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry as a liberal humanist and praises the Voyager’s “pluralistic crew”. I agree. The man for sure had his heart in the right place. But could we say that Star Trek is aligned with feminist values? I
    3. I think the real feminism is with “Bitch Planet”. The constant use of naked black bodies. And well, it’s a story about an out of control totalitarian patriarchy. Now that’s feminism! Now here’s my question: What the hell is going on with sci-fi comic books and feminism? I think of Trees and its transgender super-hot character, I think of Fables and its all female roster, then there’s bitch planet (and I’m not even a geek of this stuff, this is just the surface). Do we have a feminist avant-garde or something going on? Cool girls have a long tradition of spreading their voice through periodical publications, maybe this is a great realm for them.

  5. Matthew Dischner October 19, 2016 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    1) Is the world portrayed in Star Trek TOS too utopian? I understand it exists as a foil to all the social issues it tackles but it almost seems too unrealistic to take seriously. I did find the ending of that episode quite powerful, but everything leading up to it was a little bit of a let down. I recognize the historical significance of the episode, but it doesn’t seem to hold up quite like the TNG episode did. Is that due more to our own social progress?

    2) What role did the men play in “Codependent Lesbian”? They didn’t seem to advance the plot, and while there seemed to be some message surrounding their behavior and actions, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I’m inclined to believe their existence served a greater purpose than just to be a foil for the female characters, but still I’m not sure what that purpose was.

    3) “Bitch Planet” seems particularly intriguing, and I plan on reading the rest of it ASAP. What intrigued me most in the story was the character of Mother Seibertling. I really couldn’t tell where she stood within the system. Obviously the work she does is to uphold the status quo, but she did seem at times truly sympathetic towards Penny. It makes me wonder where woman actually stand in the system presented in the comic. Is an empowered woman a realizable thing within the system, or is that squashed entirely?

  6. Sigrid von wendel October 19, 2016 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I think the J’naii episode would have been more interesting/challenged the status quo more if Soren was played by a male instead of female actor. But maybe the world wasn’t ready for Riker to kiss a dude on screen in 1992?

    Rutledge brings up interesting points about race and SF (or as he puts it, FFF) audiences. Is SF/FFF a way for white people to comprehend and come to terms with their own racism? Is it a means of bringing “Black culture and concerns to a predominantly White audience”? How diverse is the SF audience? Does that matter? Some part of me wonders… It’s all well and good for a room of predominately white intellectuals to sit around talking about how SF represents and reflects divisions and discrimination in our culture, how it portrays oppression and otherness, but what do the oppressed others in our reality (who are supposedly reflected in these narratives) think about that? How does the identity of the authors and audience impact the way that difference is portrayed?

    Do beings always look for difference as a means of organizing society? I know there are some cultures and systems that seemingly have less hierarchy, but there is still a division of labor, sometimes along gender lines, or other lines of difference.

  7. Jane Excell October 19, 2016 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “The Outcast,” several members of the crew discuss gender roles over a poker game. Worf sparks the conversation by commenting that to use wild cards is to play “a woman’s game” and judges the androgynous race with which they are interacting to be “unnatural.” I find it interesting that it is another relative outsider, the Klingon among a group of humans (plus one android) who voices this prejudiced point of view. Does this imply that Klingons are less progressive than humans, and if so, does this reflect an implicit form of prejudice on the part of the writers, as mentioned in the Rutledge article, which questions whether early portrayals of Klingons may have a racist component?

    In that same episode, Riker tries to deny the gendered nature of his love interest by lying to the board investigating her femininity. However, even during his denial of her as female, he refers to her as “she.” Is this merely a reflection of Riker’s own inability to see beyond gender, or does it speak to difficulty that the show’s writers also had in thinking and writing in ungendered terms? Sidenote: I love this episode, and love the values of inclusion and tolerance that it was promoting in the early 1990s!!

    In issue 3 of Bitch Planet, the men in charge of the facility tell Penny that they want to “help” her and try to use electrical brain stimuli to help her envision her “ideal self,” but she resists them and refuses to conform to their twisted ideals. This reminded me of the forced “treatment” which the female alien in “The Outcast” undergoes, but in that case, she seems to be easily subdued. I understand that it would have been narratively difficult for the story to have an outcome in which she was not successfully brainwashed, but, especially in contrast with Penny’s story, I found the conclusion to this episode disappointing. What does it say that she was so easily changed? Does this weaken her character, or serve as a warning of the overwhelming power of her subjugators? Was there any room for an alternative scenario in which she is able to resist their treatment, but, in the interests of the overall TNG narrative, perhaps chooses to stay on her planet to assist others who face the same challenge?

  8. Charlie Peterson October 19, 2016 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    1. In “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” Captain Kirk gets into a power struggle with the intruder. Kirk attempts many moves. When all else fails to control the computer, Captain Kirk begins the self destruct sequence. Is a necessary condition of humanity the condition of freedom or death?

    2. Beale describes Loki’s race. I am black on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side. You cannot expect people like Loki to listen to reason. He cannot change. Change is the essential process. For example at a certain point in your own history people must have both been monochromatic. The theory is that all life evolved from one form. The higher forms came from the lower forms. Must life evolve from lower to higher? This lower-higher dichotomy seems prevalent across many of our discussions. Is the move of equality to be found in “raising” the lower forms or in deconstructing the spectrum.

    3. In the Next Generation episode the space pocket is “naturally cloaked.” Each of the species can’t see the other’s gendered nature or lack of gendered nature. In the Last Battlefield Beale’s ship is invisible. In Science Fiction and the Black Power Movement Rutledge discusses how science fiction does incorporate elements of Black Power, but the white reader simple misses it for lack of cultural knowledge. Is intersectionality somehow fundamentally invisible?

  9. jpetinos October 19, 2016 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    In her letter to readers concluding issue 6, Kelly Sue DeConnick, regarding the limits and strengths of satire, writes “But those aren’t the tools we have. What we have are questions.” What are the strengths and limitations of satire? How does satire function in these texts, and in science fiction in general, and when might simply pointing to questions, in conjunction with an audience, work on solving the problems the text uncovers?

    The commander kisses another woman, who is just his friend. What is our understanding of the meaning of a kiss and how does this understanding change when friendship is attached to it? Is the commander sexually attracted to his friend? Does this affect our perception of this scene?

    Worf looks physically different from the species with which he is playing cards. What effect does Worf’s appearance have on our (human) perception of his puzzlement with inter-species relations and gender differences? Also:”A warrior does not let a friend face danger alone,” what a great scene :’)

  10. Arline December 23, 2016 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    1. “Let that be your Last Battlefield” uses evolutionary arguments to discuss and anchor their arguments. What were the evolutionary arguments being used for racism at the time of air?

    2. How would the episode have been different had more of the Jenai been male?

    3. Will Jane feel just as alien on her new home world as she did on Earth?

  11. Sophie December 24, 2016 at 12:51 am - Reply

    1) In “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,” how does Jane’s relationship with Zonx contextualize her day to day reality as a queer outsider in New York City?

    2) In Star Trek: The Original Series “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” (season 3, episode 15), in what ways does this episode reflect relevant cultural conflict of the era, such as the Vietnam War? How can we compare this situation to contemporary conflicts, and is there a way to squash such disputes before they get out of hand?

    3) What was the impact among Star Trek fans in response to an episode like Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Outcast” (season 5, episode17)? Do the creators of popular shows such as Star Trek have a responsibility to shed light on issues that would normally not be discussed in mainstream media?

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