A little late in the game but I thought I would throw my hat into the ring on the issue.
There has been some contention surrounding making a prominent character, Hikaru Sulu first portrayed by icon George Takei and then later John Cho in the reboot films, was made officially gay in the most recent film incarnation, Star Trek:Beyond.
This has caused varying reactions within and without the Trek fan community, all informed in their reactions from various backgrounds, and in their relationships to either the character or the franchise as a whole.
This article shall examine some of those various vocal contentions out there.
Canon Purist Position (as I call it):
This position, as with many canon traditionalists, is critical of either subtle or not so subtle changes made to a character from the original material. In the case of Sulu, the argument is that Sulu being gay somehow fundamentally compromises his original depiction as a symbolic figure of multiculturalism (in this case as ambiguous Asian representation).
In Star Trek Beyond, according to writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin, the change was made as an homage nod to George Takei.
Takei was not nodding back, as in an article in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, George Takei was disproving of making Sulu canonically gay (even if it was in an Alternate Universe), stating: “…Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought.” Takei had been trying to talk to the filmmakers into creating a new character instead of using a canonically straight character, with unfortunately little success.
Living up To the Promise Position (as I call it).
This position lies in the contention that Trek as a whole has been sorely lacking in prominent queer representations, particularly human ones, and has not lived up to its promise of all-inclusive equality and discourse on the human condition that premises the foundation of the ideology of Trek at its core. Certainly there has been some representations here and there, but they were usually isolated to a handful of episodes throughout the franchise’s decades long tenure, and mostly to aliens.
The pro position claims that having Sulu being gay, despite the objections from Takei and others, at least gives something towards those Trekkers looking for themselves in Star Trek without devolving into a few isolated appearances or venturing down the tricky slope into Tokenisim. Pegg claims he chose not to create a new character in an article from The Guardian, outside of the nod to Takei, is because he was afraid it would be seen precisely as a token. Particularly as this is the third film of the new universe series (and one of the excuses he uses to explain having a canonically gay character that wasn’t in the original).
These are perhaps the most prevalent positions in the debate over Beyond’s Sulu in bare bones.
So the question then: Who is right?
Much like with many other contentious debates, there is no clear right or wrong side in this issue.
Of Traditionalists end, which has the highest support of the two in the general reaction mishmash floating online do have a point: the Star Trek Franchise does need its own new character, which is something that the fanbase has been asking for a long, long, LONG time.
The new movie franchise was all about a fresh new start with an AU concept that does allow for things like new prominent characters of whatever identity to come to the fore, and if they are written well, then there is no excuse for not having one already.
There is even a perfect spot such a character could take up that was never really filled until Tasha Yar came along in ST:TNG ,that was never filled in TOS (at least not steadily), the Security Chief. There is no Security Chief in the latest films either,and with the crew a bit more settled, thus provides a perfect spot to put in a prominent character, a place for optimum re-appearance possibilities without treading the dangerous ground of one off the token.
The “fresh take” that the latest three films promise does cling a little too hard to what came before it in some aspects -cough! Into Darkenss, cough!- such as maintaining the main character lineup without introducing new long term faces to the main crew, this has hindered more then helped, at least in regards to some of Pegg’s intentions.
Though to be fair, introducing a new character would have worked better if they were introduced within the first or even second film certainly, but if written smart there is definitely a spot there for a new character provided they continued as a regular throughout later films.
As for whether it compromises Sulu’s character…well not much really, at least in my opinion.
Takei’s Sulu was a Swordsman, a Botanist, a friend to others, and had a great personality. He was a family man with a daughter, had excellent command ability, and did well as an et al Asian culture figurehead for the times, especially with so few positive representations during the period he first appeared.
Cho’s Sulu is a Swordsman, a Botanist, has personality, is a family man with a daughter, has excellent command ability, and retains his ability to be a multicultural symbol representing Asian culture. Being suddenly gay doesn’t take away any of the fundamental core qualities of Sulu and what makes him important to Star Trek as a whole, with the only difference perhaps being that Sulu now relate to even more identities in Asian culture, and presents one of the few prominent Asian Queer characters to ever grace mainstream Western Cinema, especailly tied to such a prominat franchise juggernaut as the Star Trek franchise, just as original Sulu did for television with Asian culture in the 60’s.
As a plot point in and of itself outside of Old vs New Sulu contention, it actually aided in small way to providing an added emotional connection between one of the crew to the “giant show globe in space” during the climax and didn’t override the main story. In fact, the gay reference is very subdued and brief, and Sulu doesn’t even mention the word “Husband’ at all, or display any other sort of overt intimacy with his significant other except an embrace.
In the end, Sulu being gay doesn’t detract from what made Sulu who he is and why we love him. But at the same time, the Star Trek Franchise as a whole does need more inclusion. This could be better facilitated with a new character that is given development outside of just their queer identity, with well written parts, great acting and preferably a human character (to avoid the “othering” argument of science fiction).
Fortunately with the upcoming show Star Trek: Discovery this coming May, it has been stated that Brian Fuller, one of the creators along side Alex Kurtzman, was particularly concerned with making sure there was better representations within the cast, including queer representations, and there has been press releases that have stated there will be a prominent Gay character. Hopefully the show will meet with expectations in a way that the attempts with Sulu in the films were not as able to reach and the Star Trek Franchsise, finally, can keep its promise of equality.
*Note: Major Spoilers in this article! Do not read this if you are planning to watch the Show! (This article is continuously updated).
In recent years we have seen an emergence of children shows that have challenged the mainstream traditionalist standards. But none of them ever quite fully embrace their own powers of dissent quite so much as one particular animated family series that came out in 2013, the fantasy/sci-fi show known as Steven Universe (2013-present) created by Rebeca Sugar (the first solo woman creator at Cartoon Network).
Steven Universe is a vital artifact of queer discussion, and by studying various episodes of how queerness is worked in the series; I will prove its importance as a gloriously queer failure to be mainstream.
But before we get into discussing the episodes what do I mean by “failure”?
According to gender and queer theorist Dr. J. Halberstam, the term “Failure” is an “anti-nationalist discourse in dissent in the era of the superpower.” or to be “Queer” is to regularly and willingly choose to fail within the terms of normalization (or mainstream) that society has set-up (Halberstram, J. p.27-52 & Halberstram, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014).
Steven Universe as an artifact of programing geared with children audiences in mind, is a beautiful failure to adhere to the popular mainstream tenets of this target niche, it shakes the foundations of what defines both children’s programing, and foundation ideologies of children themselves. Why and how is important in highlighting why it is so uniquely queer.
All Children are Queer?
In the works of Dr. Kathryn Bond Stockton, she theorizes that all children are essentially queer.
Not born destined to be straight, that heteronormativity is in fact an illusion that is instilled in children through various forms of conditioning (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This is a radical theory that fails to adhere to the mainstream contention that one is born with their orientation, and defies the set belief in the liner progression of the heteronormative straight child into the ideal of marriage (one woman and one man) and then procreation as a “natural progression” forces children to in fact not develop linearly at all, but develop sideways under the reeling in conditioning of various authority figures and media that play a large part in informing the expected realities of a mainstream citizen (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Stockton’s theory fails the dominant mainstream desire of silence in regards to the queerness of children by challenging the figure of “The Child”, which is a dominantly believed in being this state of divine purity bolstered by a pillar of innocence and weakness, or as Stockton puts the figure:
“..A creature of gradual growth managed away and bolstered by laws that ideally protect it from its own participation in its pleasure and its pain.”– Quote, Stockton, K (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This child figure idealism echoes into our media consumption, particularly in anything directed towards children. Animation especially is still not taken seriously as a medium for adult, children, or something in between. This is a sentiment carried across both cinema and television despite some of the magnificent strides made in family shows like Animaniacs (1993-1998), Hey Arnold (1994-2004), Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002), Over The Garden Wall (2014), Avatar Franchise (2005-2014), Adventure Time (2010-present), .etc. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16).
Granted that is a belief that has been seeing a decline in the recent decades, there are entire adult fan communities that are proud to declare their appreciation for particular animated shows originally geared towards the younger set, one of the most infamous at present being Bronys (predominantly Adult men who enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic).
But there is not only still a certain level of ideological prejudice lingering around animation due to its target audience origins, even accepted titles aside. Some modes of animation, particularly family oriented animation, remain predominantly segregated from live action fare, and to severe degrees, is even condemned in some parts when crossing ageist, and in the case of Bronys, gendered lines as well. This particular fanbase are quite commonly criticized and mocked for liking a show geared towards a “little girl” audiences, despite the fact that Brony’s speak of a resistance to desiring the mainstream ideology of masculinity. Enjoying a community that gathers around a decently written show espousing the morals of friendship through diversified characters and character growth and in no way speaks about who they are as men or women, only as people and their desire for something more then what they can commonly find in media.
This underlying notion of child ideology affects a harsh ageist binary line in a medium like children’s television that is still, regardless of strides made and evidence to the contrary, considered to immature to be worthy of serious discourse, and many mature topics combined with both the view of what a child is combine into what dominant culture defines both animation and children’s programing, leaves little room for appealing to subject matters that are very much a part of a child’s development, and should be recognized.
Sexuality is one of the bigger taboos in children’s animated television, and as a result there were very few, if any, that contained any sort of dominant queer characters or themes. Though the rebellious context of animation as a medium does utilize the general disdain of serious consideration to its advantage regardless, and thus within the optimum ground Steven Universe takes an entertaining delight in confronting mainstream ideologies of the Child and their distinct queer identity overall in a television show that defies the ideology of children’s programing. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16 & Halberstram, J. p.27-52 & Halberstram, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014.).
It’s a Fluid Universe
Gender fluid/Transgender/Nonbinary individuals have found a long history of difficulty gaining a competent visible foothold in children’s television.There have been some strides over the years within other programing such as Orange is The New Black, The Fosters, Transparent, etc. (though non-binaries and gender fluid are still relatively left out in the cold), but in children’s animated programming, prominent upfront representation has been willingly ignored by producers, primarily because of either internal unconcern, ignorance, or prejudices, or the more popular concern of of negative flack from the general public because The Child Figure is considered to immature to question such things as gender identity. And of course the old argument or the show being singularly remembered only for queer moments, as brief as they are, and not for the rest of the show as a whole (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16, & Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Only in the past decade or two has programming for children started to shed some of the strict gender polarization that was given strong emphasis in particular in the 1980’s, particularly for commercial purposes, and shows began appearing that broke down some of the strict gender categories, particularly within the last 5-6 years, though these attempts were often not quite as upfront and certainly not with a main character.
For example, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic introduced the concept gender fluidity as an actual existence within the canon of the show through a minor character (Big Macintosh) who is shown to desire a state reserved strictly for female characters (being an Alicorn princess). In another episode “Brotherhooves Social” Big Macintosh donned a female persona to be with his little sister during a festival for sisters, but it interestingly wasn’t played for some sort of gag, as it usually goes in these sorts of set-ups, whether children’s shows/films or adult. When he was found out to be a stallion, the judge was not upset by it, in fact stating “…The Sisterhooves Social has always had a loose policy when it comes to what counts as a sister”. In “Do Princesses Dream of Electric Sheep?” Big Macintosh shows his greatest dream/desire to be an alicorn princess in a transformation scene that homages famous anime Sailor Moon, another show with its own history with queer characters.
There are other examples of course, but a common thread in these instances is that these incidences of queerness have either been alluded to (Korra The Last Airbender- Bisexaul characters), stated off screen (Adventure Time- Princess Bubblegum/Marceline) or kept as brief little moments isolated in an episode or two such as MLP or shows like Hey Arnold and Gravity Falls (both had brief depiction/reveal of a gay couple).
Steven Universe unlike other Western children’s shows however takes it a step forward by using both allusion and overt queerness, with the later in the majority. Breaking down the heteronormative gender and sex categories in their episodes, and best of all isn’t afraid of utilizing main characters while doing it.
For example in the episode “Tiger Millionaire” (Season 1, Ep. 9, 2014) Steven discovers that Amethyst, one of the other main characters, sneaks out at night to go to an underground wrestling arena. When she is in the ring she transforms herself into the heavily muscled Purple Puma and is addressed as male.
In this setting she revels in her hyper aggressive masculine identity, glorying in being free to express this side of herself “in the ring nobody can tell me what to do and if they try,I hit them in the face with a chair” (Amethyst, 02.49). Later in the episode when the other two Gems Pear and Garnet storm the arena expressing their displeasure with Amethyst and Steven’s actions (he’d joined up with Amethyst at this point as a wrestler) Steven intervenes with his fighting family to explain the Purple Puma’s stage backstory:
“…He was the wildest cat in the jungle, so wild the other cats couldn’t take it so she, I mean he, went to look for somewhere he fit in, somewhere with other people who were also misunderstood…that’s why we are all here, to be wild and body slam each other and wear cool costumes and make up nicknames, and…uh…so can’t we just have this? Can’t we just…wrestle?”– (Steven, 09.30).
While the episode can be seen as a commentary on pro-wrestling overtly, this episode also can be read subversively as a very solid allegorical lesson in acceptance of being one’s self in the multiple ways people present themselves, and accepting that outlet, particularly the environments, of expression.
Amethyst, who is one of the prominent characters on the show, often enjoys fluid gender expression multiple times throughout the series.
Granted the above mentioned episode is an early example of allusion, more then overt, but wait, there is more.
The show meanwhile also acknowledges and attempts to break down/comment on the binary gender tropes common to popular fields of animation.
Anime in particular is referenced due to the show in part being inspired by the medium, and often pays homage to its roots in many episodes, despite the medium certainly being rife with binarisim.
One of the most visible subversion of gender norms used on Steven Universe is the common anime trope of “the magical girl” or “mahou shoujo.” This is a character trope usually considered female, and geared towards female audiences. Some of the most popular in North America being shows like Sailor Moon, Tokyo MewMew, Pretear, and Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000) just to name a few.
“Magical girls” are usually small cute figures or cute voluptuous figures, having a magical transformation before a battle with a lot of melodramatic gestures and speeches sometimes involved, and devices such as bubbles, hearts and flowers combined with a gendered feminine color palate such as pink, which is utilized ALOT (tvtropes.org, Magical Girls).
The main character Steven is the embodiment of that trope combined with some characteristics that are associated with boys, creating something entirely new, and something entirely unlike his anime counter parts. He dissolves gendered expectations, and the expectation of main characters having to be recognizably gendered/heteronormatized. Nearly everything from his present state to his origins has a distinctive failure to be a mainstream boy character.
In the episode “An Indirect Kiss” (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014) Steven’s status as being based on the magical girl trope is emphasized when he tries to access his mother’s healing magical tears (healing powers and tears long in animation also firmly categorized as feminine).
Trying to do so in his efforts Steven moves in the melodramatic gestures and stances of a transforming magical girl, with profuse roses and pinkness (pink roses very much a dominant theme and symbol of his power carried over from his mother Rose and prominent throughout the series) (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014).
In the episode “Sadie’s Song” he has no problem dressing up in exorbant make-up and a dress and singing a pop song in front of his town when his friend Sadie bows out of the show. There is no mockery in the moment, and the audience takes enjoyment in his performance.
Steven is an embodiment of numerous female gender trope signifiers such as his powers being primarily defensive, nurturing, and life giving, forming in a manner associated mainstream as female with his most distinct personality trait being empathy, something that is given little, if any, light in a male identified character, no matter the target audience, particularly in a male hero character.
Much of the show’s roots, particularly Steven’s own Gender fluid depictions, come from early queer sources.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is considered one of the biggest inspirations for Steven Universe, a show about a girl who decides she wants to become a Prince, an anime that is considered very queer leaning for its time.
Steven Universe references this root in the show through various scenes: such as Steven pulling out his mother’s sword from Lion’s head in a similar manner that Utena pulls out a sword from Anthy’s chest, and Pearl’s swordsmanship is a copy of a fight scene of Utena’s.
There are also the mixing of mainstream gender codes within the show: Lion, whom as a male lion is considered a masculine symbol (often associated with Kings) is combined with the color pink and a vaguely heart shaped head design which are female gender codes, and Healing (feminine) combined with spitting as a mode of use (masculine), just to give a bit of an example.
Then we start to get even more queerly overt with the introduction of Fusion.
In “Giant Woman” (Season 1, ep. 12, 2014) the viewers are introduced to the concept of fusion for the first time, which is the ability for two or more gems to merge their bodies and minds (provided they are compatible) into a new being, which has a distinctly different identity and name.
First it is an element expressed through the gaze of Steven.
Periodically throughout the episode Steven expresses his desire to see the fusion (whom is called Opal) and sings a song (04.02) about that desire. At first it comes across as almost auto-erotic in his fixation, but then the last line of the song reveals his true desire.
“…But if it were me, I’d really wanna be a giant woman,
a giant woman!
All I wanna do, is see you turn into a giant woman…”- (Steven, 04.45).
In “Alone Together” Steven and Connie manage to fuse and create Stevonnie, a gender neutral or genderqueer individual who was only prominent in one episode and briefly there in another until seasons 3-4 where they are given more screen time.
They are never referred to as “he” or “she”, usually referred to as “They,” and are often considered attractive by both males and females alike, though Stevonnie seems to be somewhat unaware of the later.
The visual depictions of characters are also continuously used to challenge the gender binary.
The show is careful to depict a wide variety of body types, both male, female, and otherwise. This is in part because of its embracement of its own medium as an animation within its character designs. Wide shouldered and muscular females abound here, such as Sadie, Sadie’s Mother, Jasper, the Rubies, etc.
The best example of these though, has to have been the 2016 introduction of the character Bismuth in the show’s special 20 minute episode “Bismuth”, season 3, episodes 20-21.
Much like Steven, she embodies gender tropes normally distinct to masculine depictions: She is a guardian, a Blacksmith, and used to work in construction. She is distinctly aggressive and favors violent, even fatal actions against her enemies instead of just subduing and capturing them, but is also boisterous and affectionate with her fellows.
Her physical depiction however, is that fine line between genderless and hypermasculine.
The motivation of the show’s creator is also a big part in the inherent gender queerness.
In an article by Entertainment Weekly, she is quoted as saying that she wanted to “tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children.” She considers the gendering of children’s programing to be absurd (Howe-Smith, Nina. 2015).
The queering of gender isn’t the only aspect explored by the show.
An Erotic Universe?
Steven Universe is surprisingly rife with erotic content that acknowledges its queer characters and youth characters as physically intimate beings in a largely non-standard sexual way, and delights in going out of its way in its failure to keep things “behind closed doors” so to speak with intimacy.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of fusion was first introduced in “Giant Woman” but some of the intimate connotations were first fully realized in “Coach Steven” (Season 1, ep.20, 2014).
In this episode Garnet and Amethyst decide to fuse to create Sugilite (another giant woman). The dance that follows in Sugilite’s creation is unmistakably erotic, a lot of pelvic movements and provocative gestures, and ending with Garnet in a decidedly hard-to-interpret-as-anything-else pose with her legs spread wide, and Amethyst leaping head first between her thighs at the moment of the merge (01.36-02.07).
The erotic nature of this is also signified through Pearl who bears a keenly embarrassed look on her face, as she tries to block Steven’s view, who is quite excited by the display (01.36-02.07).
With this implication of the more intimate nature of fusion firmly signified in the viewers thanks to this episode, when “Alone Together” mentioned earlier comes along, viewers are introduced to the uncommon sight of two child characters, one of which whom has shown to have a crush on the other, engaged in their own form of intimacy when Steven and his friend Connie merge together into Stevonnie while dancing.
They are encouraged to be the experience that Stevonnie is by Garnet; despite Pearl’s objections to the inappropriateness of it.
In an article by the editor of “Polygon” Carli Velocci comments on how the Stevonnie character can be perceived as a positive metaphor for consent, in an entirely non-sexual context (Velocci,C. 2015). Indeed, the notion of consent in fusion is brought up by Garnet herself in the show as well more then once, particularly in the episodes such as the 5 episode Steven bomb of the second season when Pearl abuses her relationship with Garnet (and by extension 2 others) lying so that she can experience the joy of fusing with Garnet and being Sardonyx. Garnet’s anger over the incident, started in “A Cry for Help” (season 2 ep 11), took an unusually realistic turn by not resolving for several episodes of the Steven Bomb, quite awhile by Steven Universe standards of cannon time, emphasizing the severity of of the lesson of using intimacy and relationships for self gratification. Not to mention her reaction to Homeworld’s forced fusions of deceased gems in some sort of Frankenstein defilement in episode “Keeping it Together” (Season 2, ep 8).
A Queerly Romantic Universe?
Later on in the episode “Jail Break” (Season 1, ep. 52, 2015) it is revealed that Garnet herself is in fact a fusion, the personification of the romantic relationship of two female identifying characters Ruby and Sapphire. They are often depicted as an overt couple since their first appearance: kissing, touching, hugging, arguing, flirting, and physically acting as a couple on the show.
Soon after the revelation that Garnet is a fusion, there is a musical reveling of the relationship, sung by her as she battles Jasper in a lyrical flip-off to traditionalist narrow mind-sets that Jasper and the rest of Homeworld (the antagonist faction in the show) embodies (05.16-07.35).
There are other overt queer relationships and desires as well such as Pearl and Rose, a relationship that echos the old style chivalrous love depicted between medieval knights (Pearl) and a royal (Rose).
Rose was not exactly a saintly character when it came to some of her relationships, whether romantically or with friends and allies, though she is primarily depicted as a saintly sort of figure at first. As the show goes along, her dehumanizing pedestal is carefully deconstructed without outright sending her into anti-hero or villain in disguise, more into someone who has faults, who is the leader of an army where thousands died in a war, and had a certain ambivalent streak existing in an odd symbiosis with the figure head of love and empathy on the show.
She herself was the focus of a love triangle between Pearl, her first and most devoted follower, and Steven’s Father Greg. Pearl and Rose are the first attempts by the show to depict desires in a same gender relationship. Watching Pearl’s struggles to deal with the fallout of no longer having Rose and losing out to Greg (both of which had been in competition with each other for her, it is revealed in later episodes) is part of her defining story arcs in the show.
Pearl in this sense could be seen as something of the tragic queer figure stereotype common in many early television and films, but what makes her character work in this instance is the writers failure to fall completely into that easy trap of drama by actually trying to resolve the tragedy and not even leaving Pearl singularly pining.
Certainly her love for Pearl does play out through a large portion of the show to the point where she will sometimes break her motherly role to Steven and address him as Rose, or work out her relationship with Rose through Steven and Connie, but when season three and season 4 came around, the show actually confronts Pearl’s lingering inability to deal with Rose’s loss and her losing out to Greg.
In “Mr. Greg” (season 3, ep 8) the two prominent characters actually resolve their relationship as old love rivals, and Pearl finally comes to the realization that she has to move on, despite how hard it is to do so. This was done most poignantly through a song number “It’s Over Isn’t It?”
After that episode, Pearl’s growth in this direction is later shown in her attraction to Mysterious Stranger (has no name) a female presenting human with bright pink hair who looks similar to Rose, and even gets her phone number at the end of the episode “Out of Beach City” (season 4 ep 6).
The show was also not afraid to delve into presenting abusive/unhealthy relationships and the the Fusion known as Malachite, formed from the antagonist Jasper and Lapus-Lazuli, was utilized in this.
After Jasper and Lapis are separated in “Super Watermelon Island” (season 3 ep 1), they meet again on board a boat in “Alone At Sea” (season 3 ep 15). Jasper, much to the surprise of everyone, instead of attacking outright, beseeches Lapis to rejoin with her again. In a very dark moment for a character on the show, Lapis, who had always been shown as ranging from defeatist, to kind, to dead-pan, with an underlying determination that has appealed to many viewers over time, reveals a deeply cynical, self-hatred as she admits to how much she enjoyed causing Jasper pain, felling power over the other when she kept the both of them as Malachite trapped under the ocean, but eventually she rejects Malachite’s appeal to her desires.
While the topic matter of abusive relationships have made it into children’s television from time to time, even in animated kids shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and their episode “The Mask” which was also decidedly dark in its tone, as well as queer through allusion.
“Alone at Sea” presented something of the allure of destructive relationships, and didn’t have a clear victim/abuser tropes utilized in other attempts from other shows. Steven Universe also shows an uncommon complexity to the scenario in that those within the relationship recognize that what one desires may not be necessarily what both are able to cope with, and it can lead to something harmful and unhealthy for both.
Malachite is an appeal to the addictive nature of unhealthy relationships as well as pointing out that often being rescued from such relationships wont work unless those themselves in it see it is unhealthy and recognize it as such.
Malachite also puts a bit of a light in depicting queer abusive relationships. Often in media queer relationships as being romantic or some great big tragedy, or something temporary for gratification. In North American Society there has been a recent push to recognize that abuse in same sex relationships does happen, but they are not treated with the same severity as an abusive straight relationship, and certainly rarely, if ever depicted on television. This is in part because there is an ideology surrounding power dynamics in relationships, in that males are considered the more powerful body capable of abusing the less powerful body, female. This notion is not supported in same-sex relationships, and thus not given as serious attention as straight relationships. In fact, male abuse victims in straight relationships also suffer from this very outdated and incorrect ideology as well.
In fact, the episode was also careful to show that that Lapis, the slighter, smaller, distinctly feminine body type, was the abuser in the relationship between her and Jasper, who is distinctly larger and physically more powerful.
Steven Universe makes a point to depict both the loving, the tragic, the wrong, and even the abusive types of romantic relationships that exist, something that flies in the dominant conventions of their only being a specific type of romance, the kind that reassures the happy ending, which Steven Universe doesn’t promise, despite the packaging.
Steven and the Family.
It should also be significant to note that Steven Universe also features a visible queer family dynamic, often in contrast with the mainstream Nuclear family dynamic, and does discuss this from the point of view of both Steven as a child from the former, who doesn’t understand how having 3 mother figures (one that also doubles as a sisterly relationship), and one father who doesn’t live in the home. Steven doesn’t even conceive of anything in his family dynamic as different.
This theme of family was done in “Fusion Cuisine” (Season 1, Episode 32) quite well when Connie’s parents want to meet Steven’s parents, whom they had been led to believe were a nuclear family by their daughter.
The episode did well at portraying Steven’s point of view on the matter, showing his confusion with the “Nuclear Family” dynamic, without even understanding the term right from the beginning, as something “other” in contrast to his own norm, highlighting that their is no real norm in regard to family in the first place, highlighted well by Steven’s confrontation with Connie over the issue, and Connie’s parents reaction to the truth of Steven’s family situation.
Basically, as long as a child was reared with proper discipline and boundaries in the eyes of Connie’s parents,they saw no problem with who was enforcing it.
The family dynamic has long been a bone of contention in the debates of Queer representations on television. Some believe that depicting monogamous same sex nuclear families promotes a sense of absorbing queer identity into a non-threatening hegemonic ideology informed by heternormativity, and certainly something that is prominent when Queer families are depicted in family shows, whether animated or live action. Shows like The Fosters and Glee for example. This stance can be seen again as part of making the queer child grow sideways, preserving a large part of the linear hetero ideology of marriage with a single individual and children to follow.
Here, we have Steven who is being reared in an environment without those expectations, with a house hold with several mother/sister figures, many largely unmarried, and wile some are in a committed relationship, they do not define as his sole parents. in fact Steven universe touts something of a community of people helping in raising the child instead of a rigid two parent parental structure of the nuclear family dynamic, whether straight or same-sex.
So in conclusion Steven Universe is a glorious failure to be a mainstream children’s show. It overtly subverts, declares, and challenges viewers in dominant ideologies about children, queer representations in television, intimacy, relationships, gender, and family while also providing a fiction which speaks to the queerness of all children in general with a strong emphasis on embracing and communicating ones identity and uniqueness.
This is an important show in the continuing steps forward in children’s programming.
Rosewarne, Lauren. American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture. Praeger, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013. Kindle EBook.
—“ The Gay Chapter : Homosexuality in Animation,” p.1-16.
Prof. Jack Halberstram, “Interview with Prof. Jack Halberstram”, 2014 Summer School for Sexualities, Culture, and Politics, Research Centre for Cultures, Politics and Identities (IPAK) Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK), Singidunum University, September 05, 2014. Online Video. Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKDEil7m1j8
Rebeca Sugar, et al.
Steven Universe. United States: Cartoon Network, 2013-present.
Velocci, Carli (2015-07-14). “What a children’s show can teach us about sex and healthy relationships”. Polygon.
This is a textual analysis that relates to the opening of the film The Battle of Algiers directed by Pontecorvo in 1966, or the first 6-7 minutes of the film.
To summarize the film briefly, it is a Italo-Algerian production war film centered around events happening during the Algerian War of 1954-62 of rebellion against the French government in North Africa and has often been considered by many to be an important commentary on urban guerrilla warfare. It’s had a fair amount of sociopolitical controversy, particularly in France where it wasn’t screened for five years until it was later released in 1971.
In the opening of The Battle of Algiers, much like later imagery in the film, inverts the imagery of encirclement by first placing the spectators within the point of view of the French soldiers with their Algerian prisoner, whom they appear to be treating somewhat decently until it is implied that they had been torturing him into revealing the whereabouts of his compatriots, politically positioning the audience on behalf of the colonialists perspective (the French soldiers) leaving the spectators largely indifferent to the fate of the “othered” (the Algerian prisoner) on the opposite end.
The inversion of the political positioning happens when the point of view shot is shifted from the point of view of the soldiers, whom are storming the streets and buildings soon after, to that of the Algerians, particularly poignant when the spectator’s point of view is suddenly squashed, like an invisible participant, among all the gathered Algerians that have been pulled out of their homes and made to stand huddled in the center of the apartment building. Then the point of view shifts back to that of the soldier point of view as the leader of the raid is talking through a wall to some hidden rebels, though before the flashback happens, there is a close up of the rebel’s faces and the sound of the commander talking through the wall at them, putting the spectator back into sympathizing with the Algerians again.
There is a sense of constructed identification in the tail end of the opening before the flashback with particular focus on the fact that the ones hidden in the wall are a family. From an audience that has a cultural stress on the importance and/or sanctity of family, the sympathies of the spectators will lie in that of the Algerians hidden in the wall going into the flashback, though an aberrant reading could be taken from this opening, in that the soldiers have not killed the Algiers, despite the aggressive nature in taking the building. They were seen cleaning a prisoner up and offering him a uniform to protect him from retaliation despite his earlier treatment, and the leader of the unit trying to reason with the rebel in the wall, giving him a chance to surrender and save his family, though perhaps that is a bit of a stretch in interpretation. Still, someone who comes from a culture that might look more favorably on duty above comfort of others might look at this sequence and see it as the French soldiers trying to do their jobs reasonably, though from a Westerner perspective in particular it would not likely be read as such. The fact that the soldiers didn’t kill anyone, just getting the Algiers out of their way while doing their duty, could work against the anti-colonialist agenda somewhat, though the oppressive logic of colonialism (absorb those who are willing to cooperate) is still displayed regardless with the scene in which the prisoner is forced to wear his oppressor’s military uniform.
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The pressure of modernity within society, particularly within the urban environment, and it’s encroachment upon the traditional notions of the workplace and leisure time is contemplated in films like Modern Times (Chaplin, 1936) and Playtime (Tati, 1967), particularly as a critique of the impact or possible impact of technological innovation and echoing anxieties of the mechanic vision at the expense of the person.
Modern Times reacts in its critique as a more contentious relationship. The “Man versus the Machine,” in which technological progress is viewed at an antagonist level, and usually at the expense of the person, or in the case of this film, the worker sacrificing the dignity of the person in favor of making him just another function of the great machine of industry.
The film describes the “othering” of the worker from his own humanity, such as in the scene in which Chaplin’s character, The Tramp, is hooked up to a machine that feeds him a meal without sacrificing “valuable man-hours.”
Another example, when The Tramp, repetitively uses his wrenches to turn the nut on an ambiguous something, repeating the same motions over and over again, performing a function of the whole. He is so subsumed by this act that he continues to try to tighten things with his wrench even when he is no longer working, seemingly blinded to anything other than his mechanized small corner.
With Playtime, and the character Hulot, he is swept up in a world and society that has fully embraced technological innovation and gadgetry. Unlike Modern Times more antagonistic relationship between person and machine, Playtime utilizes a more resigned air. Hulot becomes the definitive bumbling leaf caught up in the remorseless wind of “progress.” There is no outright battle, merely Hulot being cluelessly overwhelmed, shunted and shuffled without any clear idea how to get along, “othering” those through him, that can’ keep up with progress and at some point becoming lost to the system.
In both films in settings like the workplace, both show a sense of being subsumed by the machine of industry. In in a scene in Playtime Hulot becomes lost in the cubical/box area of the average paper pusher, everyone so closed off (literally) in performing their assigned tasks that no one even realizes there is someone lost among them because everyone has a set purpose (at the risk of sounding cliché) like cogs in a machine. In Modern Times Tramp is literally lost in the internals, the cogs, of a giant machine when he is sucked into one at work.
There is a further sense of the invasion of modernity, how a society becoming ever more interconnected, fascinated, and mechanical to the point of wearing away of the public and private sectors to the point of reducing society to a frame work of recurring voyeuristic invasion of both the workplace and the home.
For example, when Hulot wanders into a place of business, he is made to wait in a clear walled waiting room open to the gaze of whoever happens by. Further sense of being judged or reminded that one is constantly under the scrutiny of others lie in the pictures of important individuals placed on each wall. Reminding anyone who sits there that they are under the constant regard of those around you and above you. This sense of constant observation is also echoed in Modern Times, though perhaps in a more abrupt “Big Brother is watching you” sense when the boss of the factory constantly watches his employee’s through a screen, ordering them to do this and that, separating the need for personal contact between authority and worker, furthering the sense of class division in the workplace.
Unlike Modern Times however, Playtime presents a more all-inclusive mechanized society. In a scene, Hulot is made welcome in the home of another and his family, we see that it satirizes the rupturing of the “private home” by reducing it to a voyeuristic show that anyone in a passing car can observe, satirizing the preoccupation with television replacing the fireplace in the home by framing various homes in a manner similar to one watching a television as they watch the latest programs.
In conclusion, both Modern Times and Playtime through comparing and contrasting, show a certain critique for the evolving technological urban environment, even if their approaches are somewhat different.
Many people, including myself I have found, enjoy the more practical approach of applying contemporary filters to better conceptualize concepts, including such philosophical positions as Pragmatism. So I have endeavored for this paper to further this proclivity to facilitate towards understanding some of William James’ notions of pragmatic truth by coupling it with the film The Truman Show (1998). Further I shall be using Michael Bacon’s “Pragmatism: An Introduction” (P. 33-35) as a summarized source of James work to better apply these notions to various aspects of the film, using scenes and concepts derived from the narrative.
I believe that by applying some of William James pragmatic theory of truth to film, the philosopher’s concepts can be better utilized in discussion with key aspects of the movie coupled with James’ notions, to better grasp how pragmatic truth functions within a more contemporary medium of understanding.
Synopsis of The Truman Show.
The Truman Show is a satirical dramedy written by Andrew Niccol. The plot surrounds a man who has been raised his entire life believing that the people he knows, his job, his very world is real, when in fact, he is in reality the only unknowing member of a television show, called The Truman Show, the dream child of Cristof (Ed Harris) the shows director and creator. The movie further shows Truman facing the fact that his entire existence was conditioned, and molded in a contrived environment, and finally the reactions of those complicit in this continuance of the contrived environment (1998).
Pragmatic Truth and Truman.
William James subscribes to the concept that humans are not passive participants within reality, and that our truths within reality are reflective of our current, active participation, and James believes that an individual plays a role in the creation of one’s own truth (Bacon 33).
This was a notion also prescribed by James contemporary, C.S Pierce, who also valued experience as necessary to truth (Bacon 33). Both these esteemed thinkers reason that our pre-existing prejudices cannot be expelled by a mere maxim to doubt everything, as some skeptics, such as the Cartesian, might approach the concept of truth (Bacon 33-35).
This notion can be coupled with a scene from the movie to better facilitate understanding. When the lead character, Truman (Jim Carry), is first confronted with the truth of his reality; in that everything around him is built for him right down to the sand he walks on, which is the desperate claim by the character Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) as the truth, but in this early scene it doesn’t register to him, nor inspire any doubt in him as to the validity of his reality. Why? Why could he not even consider the words she said, why not accept it as truth?
James might answer that as far as Truman the Individual is concerned, he had no relevant experiences to help him play an active role in confirming the truth that his world was, in fact, fake or even entertain the possibility of being remotely suspicious of the world around him within that present moment. He already had the pre-existing prejudice that was conditioned by his current reality through others within this reality that both played a role, and guided his played out role in constructing the veracity of his existence. Therefore, because of these pre-existing prejudices about his reality, and there being no present practical reasons to doubt the truth of his reality, he therefore cannot accept Sylvia’s claim that his reality is fake
It is later that he is challenged with experiences which contradicts his worldview which lays the ground work leading him to taking an active role in constructing this new truth himself. His experiences such as the radio announcer that suddenly follows his every movements as he drives, the elevator with no set back, his dead father mysteriously appearing out of nowhere, etc., and through the increasing transparency of the fabrications and cover-ups, he’s being primed through his experiences to be lead towards a paradigm shift of reality (that his world is a fabrication) and disregarding the old paradigm (that his reality is authentic), which becomes impractical to Truman the more he is faced with the artificial construction of his life.
James believes that truth is connected to what is useful to believe (Bacon 33-35). We apply this notion to the movie by considering all those who were “in the know” on the fact that Truman’s life was a constructed television show, all the people within his constructed reality, and those who supported the shows continuation through viewership, the financiers, the producers, other media shows, etc. Everyone who is complicit in the Truman Show must suspend any disbelief of the lie that they know about the Truman Show, and the harsher morally questionable reality of it, because they invest themselves in the shows existence, the product of “Truman is real”. Their practical truth was that it was a television show, nothing more, nothing less, when taken at practical value with their own useful notion of reality.
The negation of any real moral question of Truman’s circumstances is a true belief, supported from the reliable habit amongst producers and viewers alike, that what happens on TV is not real, it’s just a show, and helps them cope with the reality of the show’s blatant manipulative nature of Truman as beyond any moral responsibility. Even within the end, when Truman leaves the show, rejoining the “real world”, the shows watchers go about their lives, no real commitment to Truman beyond as watchers of a commodity, and the whole truth of Truman’s experiences, or responsibility to Truman’s adjustment to the world, are dismissed as trivial and become a dead hypothesis (a belief, according to James, that we don’t have any great stake in) to the rest of the world (1998).
So in conclusion, various aspects of James Pragmatic concepts, such as the construction of truth based on the role of experience first exemplified in Truman’s scene with Sylvia, the active role one plays in creating their own truths that Truman does when he has his paradigm shift with his own reality, and finally the true belief of television, morality, and Truman as an individual while applying some of William James pragmatic theory of truth to all this, we can see that his philosophy of pragmatic truth more understandably functions within this more contemporary facilitator.
*note: You might want to see, or have a working knowledge of Blade Runner before reading.
Blade Runner (1982/1992) has often been commended for not only its breathtaking cinematic achievement in film making and its foundational impact within the Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction genre, but also for its ability to illicit philosophical dialogue amongst its thinking spectators, and one of those dialogues that will be centered upon in this paper is that of the Hero.
I will be discussing 4 key concepts of how we identify a hero, sticking to just these four rudimentary, but popular, key points for the sake of both space and the discussion at hand and then I will also touch base on the roles of Protagonist and Antagonist, as they are also important to how a hero can be defined, and how Roy as the antagonist can be role reversed with Deckard as the protagonist in the film, followed by my conclusion.
Being a hero, while there are many definitions, I believe can be defined with these following four key attributes: Change, Preservation, Sympathy, and Empathy. By applying them to a character such as Roy, an identified antagonist, we can see how he would embody the hero.
We shall begin with the first attribute: Change.>/p>
A hero is one who engenders change within themselves or a large group that helps to catalyze an evolution within an individual, small group, or society.
When it is just singular people who fall under this category, they are those who upset the status quo within themselves by realizing that their way of being is flawed. Once this recognition is made, the person then goes through various experiences that make them into a different person (also called character development). The journey they take to make the change, the fact that they made it at all, as well as the end result, molds them into the ideal heroic figure. An Example of this in narratives is the Hero’s Journey, a commonly known narrative formula, whose definition is pretty much above stated.
When it is just singular people who fall under this category, they are those who upset the status quo within themselves by realizing that their way of being is flawed. Once this recognition is made, the person then goes through various experiences that make them into a different person (also called character development). The journey they take to make the change, the fact that they made it at all, as well as the end result, molds them into the ideal heroic figure. An Example of this in narratives is the Hero’s Journey, a commonly known narrative formula, whose definition is pretty much above stated.
When a person engenders change within society, they are usually individuals, or small groups, that defy a certain pre-established, often flawed, concept such as the perception of a race, gender, species, etc. This common heroic quality can be found within the “Rebel Hero” archetype within narratives, as well as historical heroic figures from our own history. They embody our ideals of establishing/upholding morality.
Now that we have defined the first key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy, and we shall see if he embodies any of these qualities.
It is safe to say that Roy is definitely embodies the rebel hero archetype. Roy and his small band fellows rebel against how society views the meaning of their existence, which is the fact that the Replicants are slaves, created as the tools for the whims of humanity. The fact that they are slaves is stated straight off within the opening worded exposition in the film:
“ …Replicates were used off world as slave labour, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets…” (2:35).
Further, they are so denied being persons by human society in this narrative to a point that when they are executed, it is not given the same severely equal connotation referring to it as death or execution as a human being executed would have been referred, simply calling it “Retirement” (2:54) and thus, the movie cements the, as we recognize it, flawed ideal perception of persons within this society.
As stated earlier, heroes embody our morality, and a popular ideal of morality is that slavery, or the denial of treating those who have the sapient qualities of persons such as free will, emotions, etc. When this popular morality of every person having the right to be free is embodied in a person who stands against a society that we know to be acting in our purview as morally wrong, which is exactly what Roy does, we deem them to be a hero.
Granted, there is some debate about whether Replicants can be considered persons, so I will briefly touch on this.
Due to the fact that Replicant knowledge is derived from false memories (22:17), they are often considered less to the original in the way we view a copy of an original document to be lacking compared to the original, and thus of less worth. They are still memories however, sourced from beings that understand free will, thus we can postulate that it also provides the Replicants, who have the ability to cognate “more human than human” (21:46), with the framework to recognize autonomous thinking, as well as dignity as persons.
They are capable of emotions as well, exemplified in such scenes as Roy’s rage at the death of Priss (93:00) or Rachel’s devastation when she realizes she is a Replicant (33:15). Thus it is safe to conclude that the Replicants are persons as they embody autonomy and emotions as persons do.
Therefore since Roy is, from this understanding at least, a person and he embodies the moral right to be free, and he is rebelling against a society that says he is a slave, he embodies the first key concept of change found in a hero.
Now that we have covered change, we shall move onto its opposite: Preservation.
A hero defined in this attribute is one who embodies the ability to preserve something of value for the continued betterment/sake of others.
While the previously mentioned aspect of change as a vital component to individuals and society, there is also the necessity for preserving something in self/society that we recognize as valuable in maintaining. The persons embodying this attribute of preservation; sometimes do so at great cost to them. This can be found in the preservation of the value of the continuance of life, which can be found in the simple saving peoples lives and the preservation of the value of ideals/knowledge is also heroic, particularly through self-sacrifice, and is usually found in literature and cinema as archetypes of “The Martyr.”
Now that we have defined the second key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy.
It is safe to say that Roy isn’t about preserving society’s ideals, as we have pre-established that they are flawed. He is also kills with ease, and has a similar attitude to the humans that the humans have of him; though he doesn’t lessen them as beings in death by at any time referring to his killing as retirement, they are just in his way for the most part or no longer needed for his purposes. However, in the final confrontation between Deckard and Roy, Roy chooses to save Deckard’s life instead of letting him fall to his likely doom from the roof top (101:19). Here is an example of Roy willing to preserve someone’s life, even if there is the strong possibility that it will cost him later, as Deckard is his enemy.
So, while Roy perhaps doesn’t display quite as strong characteristics for this attribute, he did still choose to save a life, so he does, of a fashion, embody the second key attribute of being a hero.
The following last two attributes are, in my opinion, necessary tools that those who identify heroes need to recognize with heroic persons, or may also value within their heroes as valuable qualities that we recognize in ourselves, a reaffirmation of a person’s humanity, even if not human. So now let us dive into the third attribute: Sympathy.
A hero is one that other persons can sympathize with, even if not having experienced the hero’s misfortunes, and one who also embodies this ability themselves. Sympathy in its most generalized definition is “…the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc…”– quote, (Merriam-Webster).
For us as spectators to narratives, being able to sympathize about the troubles and misfortunes that a hero inevitably faces creates a bond of investment on our part in whether the hero overcomes their misfortunes and because we ourselves are creatures who define misfortune as a part of our existences in varying degrees, and recognize it for the most part as an undesirable state, even if we are not directly affected ourselves, we recognize something as bad, and thus worth our compassion. Thus we seek misfortunes in others, especially in our heroes, as it makes them more real to us in having misfortune because we want our heroes to be relatable, as they are our idols. Heroes in their sympathetic reliability usually give us this reassurance that misfortune in general can be given catharsis.
Then there is also, in some cases, where the spectator likes to see that the desirable protagonist be able to express sympathy for others, as sympathy for others is a desirable human trait which should be exemplified in our idols. For some, a hero is not a hero unless they can exercise sympathy for others plights and make the choice to correct it.
Now that we have defined the third key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy, and we shall see if he embodies sympathy.
We sympathize with Roy because we choose to be moved by the misfortunes and struggles he goes through trying to prove, perhaps more to him than anyone, the misfortune of his existence is more than that of a slave for others.
Roy also embodies the ability of sympathy for others by choosing to display mercy (showing compassion for someone who is otherwise within their purview to punish) which is a form of sympathy, towards Deckard (101:19), and because of his ability to both be a sympathetic character and to have the capability himself, if perhaps only the once, thus embodies the third key concept for a hero.
Finally we now reach the fourth key attribute in the discussion: Empathy.
A hero is some one that embodies the ability for us to form a visceral bond of recognition, a deeper level of understanding and thus investment in relation to our like kind.
While often misinterpreted with sympathy, empathy is more an instinctual reaction to a situation that causes us to feel as the other might feel due to underlining similar experiences or ideals. It is a less autonomous then sympathy, a more deterministic sentiment that allow for the instinctive reaction we have for others. An example would be, again referring to the film’s climax, when Roy tells Deckard: “…quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? [referring to Deckard’s fear for his life as he dangles of a building]…That’s what it is to be a slave.”-quote, Roy, (100.55).
So then, why is empathy important for creating a hero? An example to help answer this is looking at something we and the hero share viscerally: Struggle.
We, as persons for the most part struggle. It is a generally accepted fact that life is a struggle to meet a goal and is an integral part of our existence; indeed the most basic and key part of existence and evolution. Some may argue against it, but for the most part it is an accepted dominant belief.
Our heroes are ones that share this commonality, a realism that provides a bond of recognition with another like us on a deeper level like we recognize with each other despite not knowing another personally, or that person not even existing.
Roy himself is shown through the movie as he similarly struggles through his rebellion, his return to Earth with his team, despite the death sentence that it incurs (2:50) and his goal to meet his creator and demand answers, his mission throughout most of the movie. His very existence, from his point of view, the very meaning of his existence, is structured by struggle and since we are struggling beings, we are able to emphasize with him as both Roy and us struggle to define and promote our existence. Because of this empathetic bond we can establish with Roy, he embodies the fourth key concept in recognizing a hero.
Now that I have covered the four key concepts of identifying the hero, I shall now be interpreting the narrative roles themselves under discussion: Antagonist vrs. Protagonist. This will be a rather rudimentary section, but I feel is necessary for fleshing out how Roy is the hero and the film is his story.
I had already mentioned earlier that Roy’s assigned role in the film was that of the antagonist, but what is an antagonist? Can we truly interpret Roy as an antagonist based on the definition? What is a protagonist then? And can we interrupt Roy as a protagonist as well, based on that definition alone?
A basic definition of an Antagonist is “one that contends with or opposes another…”– quote, (Merriam-Webster). The antagonist is often a villain or undesirable person role within a narrative, but can also be just a fricative foil, not necessarily good or bad, that works in concert with the protagonist as a conflict. The Antagonist, of course, is not the one the story is about.
Roy does definitely fit the description of antagonist. He contends with, and opposes, not only Deckard, but the entire status quo of his world in regards to his species own existence. He even solidifies his role somewhat as a villain by being rather relaxed in killing and manipulating others to his own ends evidenced throughout the film.
So does that mean he cannot be considered a protagonist?
The basic definition of Protagonist is “…a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause…”-quote, (Merriam-Webster). They are also defined as the principal character in a narrative, usually the focal point to which one perceives a story.
Taking into earlier consideration some of the basic building blocks we use to define a hero, such as the sympathetic and empathic connections we need with our heroes, which I have proven that Roy does embody, and the fact that his position in the film as leader of a group of their own cause of denying that they are just slaves, a clear quality of the protagonist, we can indeed define Roy as the protagonist in the first part, and the moments of his character arc worked through the film for the later.
Comparatively, if we took Deckard, who is considered as the protagonist, we can see that he is not a leader, beyond his own minor defiance near the end in disappearing with his female love interest, another Replicant. Deckard is in every way a servant to the whims of his own perceptions of Replicants, with the hypocritical exception in his lover, though it is never clear if he comes to accept her as a person. He really does not exemplify the qualities of the hero of a story as well as Roy does. One can just as easily define him as the antagonist, as he works more as Roy’s fricative foil as the personification of what the Roy is rebelling against. In fact, Roy has not outright acted against Deckard until Deckard kills someone he cares about (90:50).
So then, in the sake of applied roles, both Deckard and Roy can be considered both protagonists and antagonists in their own rights, but Roy is a stronger case for protagonist, with his stronger qualities of such, while Deckard is better suited for antagonist, despite their individual screen times and point of views within the film.
After exploring some of these basic building blocks of how we create our heroes, and seeing that Roy, passively cast as the antagonist, but has proven that he displays qualities that make him identifiable as a hero more so then an antagonist, what does that ultimately mean then in regards to our responsibility as spectators in to Roy? Does it ultimately affect how we determine ourselves within our ideal heroic idols?
Our responsibility as spectators is such that we are perceivers; a form of judge, jury and executioner if you will, to any sort of our creation that we are exposed to. It is a power greater then creators themselves of a fashion, as many creations are often defined, evolved and preserved upon the whims of the opinions, educated or otherwise, by us. Fiction, especially popular fiction, are particularly vulnerable to the tenuous longevity of existence through our whims, but at the same time, are never the same from what they were originally as time passes and our discourses shapes it into something else, whether subtle in change or extreme.
If we choose to perceive that Deckard or Roy is the hero of this story, we argue that the foundations of what makes either of them the hero of the story are qualities that we perceive as worthy of importance, because the hero is our idols, often embodying our favored narratives with our own idealized reflection, or hold up as an example to shape ourselves and others in.
Since Roy is clearly exemplifying as the more desirable protagonist, a more clearer example of the more desirable human traits we wish to see ourselves reflected in our hero, and since we cannot find this perceptual relationship as strongly as Deckard, we are responsible to the more highly valued preservation of Roy, as it more closely emulates what we wish to see in ourselves.
So in conclusion, after deliberating through how we connect and recognize our hero through the four key attributes in recognizing heroes, comparing Roy to Deckard, showing how the both of them can have their roles reversed, that of Roy as the protagonist, and Deckard as his antagonist, plus Roy’s greater desirability an idol over Deckard as our own exemplar of what we wish to see in ourselves, we can conclude that: Roy can be defined as a hero, Roy is definite suited to both protagonist and antagonist roles, but has greater strength as the protagonist, thus a better idol for ourselves, and since the story is all about the protagonist which is always the hero of a story, Roy is the indeed a hero and this film is indeed his story.
In the book New Philosophies of Film (2011), Robert Sinnerbrink, the author, defends the premise that films can be philosophical or do philosophy in various ways. Much of Sinnerbrink’s analysis however, relies heavily on art house films (generally considered a typically serious film, somewhat anti-formulaic, independent, and aimed at a particular niche audience) perhaps because he believes that they project a greater ability of philosophizing.
Whatever his reasons, the dominance of the use of art house films within his book implies a bias favoring one type of film over another. Films such as Enemy Mine (1985) a somewhat formulaic revisionist science fiction film that can be categorized more as Hollywood standard fare entertainment then something artistic…or can it?
In fact, this movie has just as much philosophic ability as any arthouse film, it is rife with philosophical engagement, particularly if analyzed through the filter of Thomas Wartenberg’s Moderate Thesis of “How a film can be Philosophical” (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124).
Within this brief essay, Wartenberg’s premise on how films are philosophical will be explained, a brief summary of the film provided, then Enemy Mine shall be analyzed through Wartenberg’s filter, showing how it takes on the philosophical critique of the moral grounds of anthropocentricism in one quarter and the deconstruction of gender in another, thus proving its merit as a rich source for philosophic discourse.
Wartenburg argues in his theory that film has multiple ways in which that it can be philosophical. Highly favoring the opinion that philosophy and film are linked through a wide variety of cases, as opposed to one avenue of how it can be philosophical (Sinnerbrink, p.124). He believes that films can serve as illustrations of critical merit, particularly that of rather complex philosophical stances, that they can communicate more articulated thought experiments, they can argue against a philosophical thesis by being a film that can present a counter-example, and finally they can also reflect on the nature of their own medium; a film can have some or all of these qualities working together in a single film as well (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124).
Now that the explanation of the methodology has been clarified, the movie shall be briefly summarized for those who have not had the benefit of watching the piece under discussion.
Enemy Mine is a 1985 film directed by Wolfgang Peterson and stared Dennis Quaid as the human space fighter pilot Willis E. Davidge and Louis Gosset Jr. as the alien Drac fighter pilot Jereba Shigan that Willis later dubs the nickname Jerry. During a battle between their two races, they crash land on a desolate planet, and must forge cooperation between them to survive. Greater detailed aspects of the narrative shall be revealed further into the paper as the film is engaged.
In philosophy, one of the most popular flavors of study is Ethics and Morality. This is a field that has engendered an exhaustive amount of discourse on how humanity as a whole, or as an individual, should conduct themselves with each other or with the world around them through certain rules of moral conduct [“Books and Authors: President Hyde on Ethics”, p.1(1)]. One of the debates in Ethics and Morality is that of Anthropocentricism, or a more basic definition, the postulation that being human is all that matters morally (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In the case of the film, it offers a coherent is critique of the in favor position.
Within the beginning of the film, the opening narration, that of Willis, explains the war by calling the Drac “non-human aliens” speaking with a tone of disdain, calling them squatters on other worlds, even though it was later revealed that the Drac had been occupying the territory under attempted colonization, and dispute with the Drac, by the humans 1000 years before the humans arrival in the area. Along with the Drac mentioned is what Willis refers to as a sub group of humans, the Scavengers, and while disdained, are tolerated because they enslave the Drac (this is mentioned, mainly because it has significance in the discussion).
Until the events on the planet between Willis and Jereba, the humans have never seemed to think of their actions in the war against the Drac as being unethical or immoral in any fashion. Indeed, much of what makes the Scavengers detestable to viewers, using slave labour being the big one, doesn’t appear to be considered as immoral by the rest of humanity as long as it is Drac lives affected, and not human; in fact, the narrative implies that there has been no effort to try to engage in any sort of discourse with the Drac, exemplified when Willis is retrieved by his fellow pilots after he was knocked unconscious by the weapon of a Scavenger and are shocked that he can speak Drac.
Here is a human society that is anthropocentric. The Drac are considered “non-human” aliens, to fundamentally different to seemingly deserve the same ethical and moral considerations as humans, and because the humans can’t see a way to engage them to their own benefit, they are therefore dealt with in a manner that because they are not human, they do not matter morally.
The critique of this position comes in through the discourse between Willis and Jereba when they get marooned together on the planet. At first, Willis views Jereba with the same contempt that the rest of his people do. He looks at the Drac not as capable of similar traits as humans, but so utterly different that, despite being at war with them, he hasn’t actually seen what a Drac looks like, merely going along with the position that he and the rest of his fellow pilots go with, that because the Drac are non-human aliens and happen to be in the way, it is right to war with them, because he is human and there is nothing ethically or morally questionable about fighting the already occupied Drac Colonies (the “squatting”). Then, after a contentious clash with Jereba, he is saved from electrocution in his attempt to kill the Drac, and then captured by the alien. Eventually, the captivity is short lived, neither can kill or hold the other prisoner as the planet itself is so hazardous that they are too busy at first dodging meteors and electrical storms to battle each other. Over time, the two are forced to work together or not survive. They build a shelter, catch food together, save each other continuously throughout their time on the planet. Throughout it all, they also teach each other their languages, and once the lines of communication are opened, he sees that the Drac is not as “non-human” as he believed, and even becomes Jereba’s student in the cultural ways of the Drac.
Because of this intensely explored dialogue between the human and the alien, here is where the source of the critique against Anthropocentricism comes in. As has already been previously established, the humans in the narrative consider themselves the central figures in the universe (an anthropocentric definitive), and thus they are above the Drac in having higher moral status and values over the Drac (there side in the war is the only justified, right side), there assessment of the reality of the war is exclusively through a human perspective.
The critique of this position lies in that the film presents a counter argument within the film’s narrative to the position that the humans are right to think themselves morally superior because they are human, as opposed to the Drac who are non-human aliens, represented by the anthropocentric Willis, is challenged.
The challenge is found in the Drac, Jereba, the Anti-Anthropocentric face in the film, and through the two characters discourses while marooned on the planet. Willis is confronted with the growing proof that the Drac laugh, grieve, have spiritual and cultural backgrounds, capable of families and of communication and mercy, things that Willis would see as positive qualities within his own species. Eventually, when he leaves Jereba to find the ship he hears in his sleep at nights, he does the morally right thing and goes back to make sure that Jereba is safe from the Scavengers.
He becomes so intertwined with the Drac and his teachings that he eventually raises his ward, Jereba’s child Zammis, and feels and views the Scavenger’s, the previously mentioned enslavers of the Drac’s, with the purview of one who can no longer morally and/or ethically view the Drac as lesser in moral value then human’s, and thus kills the slavers because they were doing something wrong, while saving Zammis.
The entire movie is Willis’ anthroprocentircism being deconstructed and proven weak in the face of his experiences with those he previously considered non-persons.
This movie is an excellent example of the problem of Anthropocentrism in human rights, as the obvious danger to basing one’s moral and ethical based on one’s species leads comes into conflict with both humans and the world they live in, whether humanity has a right to do the things they do, to the environment and the use of animals for their own needs as well as breeding as well as how one group of human beings are viewed as lesser humans, cultures that are stripped of their personhood, breeds excuses for slavery and the moral/ethical right of domination (Adler, p.262-264) much as the humans in Enemy Mine stripped the personhood of the Drac.
What just transpired above is an example of a film communicating a more articulated thought experiment of how society would be if anthropocentricism was the dominant view, with a relatable character that was anthropocentric and deconstructing it to reveal the problems. It definitely proves Wartenberg’s stance that illustrations of critical merit by systematically presenting then deconstructing the Anthropocentric position and presenting an easily comprehendible conclusion through the thought experiment inherit in the film of the two faces of the position, Willis (the pro Anthropocentric position) and Jereba, (the challenge to that position) within a forced setting of dialogue.
Since Wartenberg believes, as stated earlier, that film can illustrate through multiple avenues of philosophizing, it seems only right to show that the film also has multiple types of philosophy, and thus segue way into the second philosophical quality of the film under discussion: Deconstructing Gender.
Gender Roles, or Gender, “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women,” (World Health Organization).
Within film these socially constructed roles have been either enforced and/or re-tooled to meet the specific needs and expectations of the spectators and film creators. These can often be recognized in certain generally known gendered character tropes such as how an “Action Hero” protagonist is often dominantly male in Hollywood cinema, or the “Damsel in Distress” is considered predominantly female.
These are all common recognizable gender roles that have been socially constructed to follow certain patterns of expectation when it comes to gendered society, such as the man as being gendered to be confrontational, stiff-upper lip “manly-man,” the solider, etc. as it were, while the woman is often socially constructed in a more supportive role, nurturing and ultimately in difference to her man counterpart in narratives as well, echoing their spectator society and reinforcing/reassuring them of the status quo.
Society has certainly gone a long way to dissolving many of the mythical notions that are ascribed when gendering, particularly during the resurgence of Hollywood cinema, starting in the 1970’s through revisionist genre that reflected the various civil rights movement of the period, including that of women (Kispel-Kovacs, p.275-278); though despite this, it can’t be argued that there is still a certain amount of preservation of gendering within Hollywood Cinema.
Despite this, some movies have sought to challenge these preconceptions, and can be said to act as a philosophical example of challenging gender roles, or gender, and the current film under discussion is one of these.
The deconstruction of gender within Enemy Mine is done by the very nature of the Drac itself. The Drac are sex fluid beings, described by Willis as a mix of both male and female, with only one parent, producing asexually. While it has been done before in film and other narratives, it is the particular way of using it in which the movie presents the issue of dismantling gender.
Firstly, the movie chooses to use a distinctively male actor for the character Jereba, the lead Drac character. The film makers could have cast a more androgynous actor, or manipulated the costume to be so. But the fact that the Drac has a clearly commonly identified masculine looking body, shows how, despite knowing that the species is not really a male, it is not really brought home until both Willis and the spectators are confronted by the fact that Jereba is pregnant; a distinctly male-type body from the human prospective of maleness, with attributes that were, until that moment, preserved as distinctly female, the pregnancy.
Overall, there is a commonly held preservation of dividing the two sexes, a dichotomy long accepted in society, but this has been challenged philosophically, particularly with the rise in transgender and gender neutrality, the stance that society should avoid the distinctions of gender and sex usages (Leff, L. Cnsnews.com).
Drac are an example of that challenge to gendering. A society that presents one way in which there is no gender in existence. They represent an allegory and/or thought exercise of the merging, or negation of the male and female distinctions of a reasoning society. This is made particularly poignant in a scene with Jereba and Willis, as they are taking shelter from a blizzard in a cave and Jereba is close to birth and is dyeing, Willis proclaims desperately that if Jereba dies he will be all alone and Jereba says:
“…you are alone. Within yourself you are alone. That is why you humans have separated your sexes, into 2 separate halves…for the joy of it, brief union” (43:00).
It presents the position that humans make themselves less by separating the sexes through the societally constructed belief that there must be gender, in no way shall the two merge. The Drac represent a challenge to this preconception, both in the plot as part of the fictional narrative, and in the physical representation of the Drac with a distinctively considered male actor, in a serious dramatic role, unhinging the spectator’s pre-established notions of gender in the moment when they find out, along with Willis how very narrow view the long held tradition of gender is.
So in conclusion By taking Wartenberg’s moderate thesis approach to how film can philosophize (Sinnerbrink, p.123-124) and applying it to Enemy Mine after watching it critically, it has been proven that a distinctly non-art house Hollywood film created under the same banner as any Hollywood blockbuster film (despite its flop in the box office), can indeed be rich in philosophical discourse.It is a film that is a thought experiment, a critique of a philosophical position, and to a lesser extent, self-reflexive on cinema’s often preserved notions of gender, and thus Enemy Mine is worthy of the same consideration of value philosophically.
Watching the same film on the big screen, versus the small screen. Both can make one appreciative for their individual strengths and weaknesses by viewing the same movie on both mediums.
To best illustrate this statement, I will write about watching Avatar
(Cameron, J. 2009. 20th Century Fox. 162 min.), chosen because much of its appeal lies in its visuals, which I viewed both in the Cinema in glorious (at the time) 3D and on Mr. Weeny (yes that is how I spell it) my extremely small-screened portable DVD Player and compare the strengths and weakness of each experience and how they benefit each other in regards to the viewing of this movie as a cinematic experience overall.
Mr. Weeny is a nickname for the device that has a screen a little under half
the size of a piece of note book paper, roughly 7”, whose sound is exercised through cheap ear buds, I bought for a few bucks at a thrift store some years back. It is old, from a technological standard, and not of a high profile brand name called Mintek. Still, it was functional, and at time time i bought it, was my only means of entertainment back in the pre-laptop days.
With a small screen (whether Mr. Weeny or a television) there is a convenience of being able to adjust the sound easily, particularly if you have hearing sensitivities, a real plus side to home viewing. Still, nothing beats the bone vibrating thrum/likely booms of a movie theater surround sound, despite the convenience and possible medical issues, it adds this layer of sensory spectacle you can’t get at home unless you have a nastily good, police knocking at your door entertainment center.
The drawback of a theater experience is that it works well with something like Avatar, Godzilla, or Fast and the Furious (insert number here), but for quieter films like Forrest Gump, The Butler, and other dramas, focusing more on dramatic expression and in turn, the quieter moments in the more excitable films as well, could be detracted from the auditory spectacle, and quiet moments become less in film also as filmmakers wish to take advantage of the technical end of the presentation.
The visual experience on the other hand, To be honest when I saw Avatar on the big screen for the first time, and with the latest in 3d tech during that period splashed in the gleam of my eyeballs I was quite wowed by the experience. The 3D in the movie was tastefully done, and looked more at setting the viewer into the world of the film, 3D-ing more the setting then the actual characters. It was how 3D was supposed to be done, and still should be done it was certainly a different experience then anything so wholly aggressive as seen in the usual fare like I experienced in other 3D movies.
The drawback of 3D is again the favor of the spectacle, though the visual this time. Cinema is rife with 3D now-a-days, and their will likely be a generation where they will go in future slang style “film was two dimensional? that is so weird!” but it likely isn’t a surprise to many that sometimes again filmmakers become a little to in love with the tech in sacrifice of the story.
When I watched Avatar again sometime later on DVD in the comfort of my own home with the lights turned off, the popcorn buttery and plentiful, with Mr. Weeny balanced on my lap, I found that without the visual distraction of the 3D, as good as it was, I was able to focus more on the story.I actually found that the story was not quite as good as the experience a the theater had lead me to believe.
With the small screen, the high likelihood that viewers wont have a sick entertainment system is rather high, and those who cater to the small screen, like television and online content makers, are aware of this, so those who know what hey are doing concentrate more on the narrative with special effect eye-candy (when correctly done) only there for the purpose of the narrative, not the other way around like with a lot of cinema. So when i transferred my viewing experience between the two mediums, i found that while the special effects were still awesome, it didn’t detract from the weaker story that was somewhat more obscured by the cinematic experience.
The social application of watching a movie with friends and with larger groups in general as experienced in a theater, can lend to a greater expression or drawing in of collective emotional reaction. When i saw Avatar with a large group of people, we all wowed together, laughed together, clapped at the end of the film together. A social experience between more then a hundred strangers that you will likely never see again, strangers whose faces you will likely not remember because you never see most of them. This is a type of experience that is rarely duplicated outside of a theater.
With the small screen, its a smaller group at most that watches films, so their is more awareness of individual tastes and responses to a film, there is less of a shared group experience. With the small screen, there is a lack of the ambiguity that hundreds of faceless darkness can’t provide on a collective emotional experience of a film. The downside is that there is distraction in watching film with friends vrs. watching films with strangers. With friends, or smaller groups, your perception of the film is likely to be more influenced from your original perceptions then when you watched it in theaters. More exposed and vulnerable to your friend’s judgments and vice-versa, an individuals judgment of a film will likely change with the dominant/strongest opinion to maintain a groups collective flow outside of the couch.
Interestingly, outside of both Cinema and Television Screens which do have their own unique social based influences, a smaller viewing screen like on a tablet, phone, or a small portable DVD player like Mr. Weeny, its more of an individual experience. it is through the even smaller screens that one really has a chance to be able to get a truly unbiased judgment of a film, which is what lead me to determine that Avatar didn’t have quite as good a story filled with some unfortunate tropes, and thus not as good a movie from a narrative perspective as my post-cinema goggles lead me to believe.
In the end, the big screen, the small screen, and the really small screen have their own strengths and weaknesses. A theater’s strength lies in the immersive collective spectacle of experience. There is nothing wrong with that of course, in part the spectacle nature of film and trying to continually improve on that spectacle is part of what made cinema what it is today, sparking many of the technical innovations that we take for granted now, including the small screen. The small screen benefits from being able to more independently judge a film based on more then its visual merits in an environment that is easier to control on a more limited technological capacity.
The weaknesses of Cinema lies in that there is often a preoccupation more with the spectacle then with the story which can lead to a weaker film over all, particularly when the trappings are scaled back or taken away all together when its translated for the small screen and much more obvious (the most recent Godzilla from 2015 for example). The weakness in small screen is the lack of the spectacle, a unique experience that is regardless a part of the cinematic experience that is lost in the translation. There is also a more social pressure with those you know to fit in with the collective whole, unless you are watching it on something really small, which again has its own technical drawbacks.
Neither is better then the other. In fact, the translation between big screen and small screen of a movie benefits each other by providing both the experience of the spectacle of what is capable for cinema, an experience that is uniquely necessary, but at the same time with the small screen reminds both spectators and through them filmmakers, that a good film looks in a theater, it can only go so far if it doesn’t have good narrative to carry it through into posterity, a discernment which the small screen provides by stripping away the theater spectacle. So at the end of the day, they need each other to realize the full movie experience.
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