20070604

Body Horror and The Bionic Woman

I found a preview for the new Bionic Woman.

The first few minutes are a "New Drama About Personal Issues," but then there's a really bad car accident and our main character wakes with bionic parts.

And she screams.

Now, I will admit this is a remake. Almost everything is a remake anyway, if you think about it for more than two minutes. However, if the preview clips are even remotely approaching the mood of how the show will actually play I look forward to it.

First, we have a strong female character in a sci-fi style show. Two great tastes.

Science fiction has always been a sort of breeding ground for telling stories differently, probably because things are fantastical to start with, so people can be more accepting of wild ideas like women "kickin' ass and takin' names."

"Well, I'm already talking about giant insect aliens that bleed acid. . . might as well make the protagonist a female."

This is not to say women being strong isn't a reality, but it's one of those realities that has only been recently been re-accepted.

In fact, many sci-fi writers tend to use females to represent humanity as a whole on a galactic level. Men, you know, shoot things and die.

That being said: if women represent humanity on all levels, then true horror and anxiety can be invoked in biological and technological alteration of the female body, often times against the will of the women themselves by the government, an extra-terrestrial race, another caste in society and so on.

This forced alteration is the essential doctrine of the Body Horror genre of science fiction. While the personal journey of self-discovery and the strengthening that it entails is universal, the unwanted alterations that are now part of the protagonist must be dealt with and in some ways used to overcome obstacles.

One of my favorite films some what in this genre is Robocop. Murphy, an officer of the law is gunned down in the line of duty, declared dead and brought back through the mad science of cybernetics.

The whole film is this grand metaphor for how violence can drastically alter a person. Murphy can no longer be a husband to his wife or a father to his son, but he can bring criminals to justice. He operates 24 hours, says very little about how he feels, and deals violence to violent people. Can you be tough, unrelenting and cold and still be a good father and husband? The movie says, no, it's not even a possibility, when you give yourself over to violence as your sole purpose you will lose what you think you are fighting for.

Another layer to this is Murphy is altered against his will. This the equivalent to torture, even rape. A permanent alteration in the way Murphy must live occurs as a result of the actions of the people who turned him their idea of what violence should be against his will. This is also a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder made manifest in a hard shell of metal.

With the new Bionic Woman, those idea of post traumatic stress disorder as solid parts of a new body go even further.

As Summers screams in the preview the doctor who apparently did the alterations insists that everything will be okay and attempts to console her. Summers throws him across the room. In that moment, a new and greater capacity for physical violence is realized as a direct result of the alteration, even against those attempting (perhaps badly in the case of the doctor) to help.

The doctor who altered her is the stand-in for a man who understands violence and who insists, perhaps correctly, that he is acting with the best interests of the woman. She needed to be saved, could even be "She was asking for it," by being vulnerable and female and this man, being a man in modern society has probably seen terrible things done to women over and over, and is tired of it. This woman, whom he knows personally, will be different. He won't let this woman be destroyed by this damage inflicted on her. So he tried to save her; but the way his mind works is in a masculine way and masculinity is violence in this context. Sommers, like many victims of any sort of trauma, will be angry. The doctor attempts to give her the tools to make her anger into so damaging a force that no one will be capable of harming her again.

The new Jaime Sommers would easily survive being hit by a truck. The truck that hits Sommers initially represents a masculine violence and what it does when directed, seemingly randomly, without provocation at a woman. She is forever changed and now has become something else not just from the violent act, but also from the doctors' treatment. That treatment will make her capable of dealing with worse than a truck but as we see in the preview there is something that may be a match for Sommers: another bionic woman. Another victim who has been rebuilt with the tools of violence now grafted onto her soul and body.

Indeed women must be sexy, must be womanly but only just. Often in cases of rape there question is asked "Did she protect herself adequately?" Sometimes in years past, a case could be found in favor of the rapist if it could be proven that the victim had some how made themselves vulnerable.

In the context of the new Bionic Woman, the main character is near fatally injured in a car accident, once again the metaphor for life altering violence. I guarantee at some point some one will ask, in some way "Was there a stop sign?" or even "Why weren't you paying attention?" when the reality is that it was a random incident that Summers couldn't have prevented. Wrong place. Wrong time.

Exploring themes like that, even metaphorically, especially in an network television show, is fairly bold. The fact that it may not be as heavy handed as a closing speech on Jerry Springer is also going to be a breath of fresh air. That coupled with the involvement of David Eick, I can certainly imagine another show worth watching.

(NOTE: The new Bionic Woman did not live up to any of these expectations, which is a real shame)

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