All posts by StoicRebuttal

[Historical Line]: Heteronormativity and Science Fiction

Historical Line

1. Sultana’s Dream (1908)
Reversing the gender norms perpetuates the same forms of oppression that we see in the 1900s.
Seems to critique or criticize these stereotypes, but at the same time view them with a form of permanency.

2. There Will Come Soft Rain (1950)
The entwinement of the home and female gender norms is perpetuated here, dictating an interrelatedness that even after an apocalypse persists.

3. Aye and Gomorrah (1967)
Gender norms change slightly with female characters being sexually aggressive and pursuing sexuality, differing from works like The Space Merchants, where sexuality by female characters was seen with a negative light and as a commodity to be used by men for gains.

4. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Attempts to transcend gender norms altogether, however still has occasional moments in the minds of the reader where this fails, hearkening back to heteronormativity

Thread: How perceptions of gender norms evolved and changed in the works we had read.

Interestingly, the works we have read have progressed largely throughout the years in terms of how gender norms and heteronormativity is viewed and accepted in a hypothetical society. Starting with “Sultana’s Dream,” the traditional gender norms are reversed, allowing a keen insight as to the perceptions of how one ought to view the status quo. Despite claims that a world where men are locked away in their homes is a utopia, there are still signs of oppression which both serves to criticize the oppressive state of the 1900s, but simultaneously contends that regardless of gender, social norms hold a pervasive level of permanency. This permanency is continued further through “There Will Come Soft Rain,” where even after a nuclear holocaust, the fact that the robotic house still is largely defining itself based on a desire to serve its former female owner plays to the idea that the home is a woman’s domain. The steadfastness of this is made symbolic by the fact that everything else in society was destroyed, however these gender norms were still around and held true. Next, in “Aye and Gomorrah,” we do start to see some divergence, pointing to the idea that women can be sexually promiscuous on their own right, confronting the social norms entrenched throughout works like The Space Merchants, and recognizing that women’s sexuality is not a commodity, but rather a desire, much like any other. Finally, in The Left Hand of Darkness, we see real attempts at breaking down social mores, rather than having any conception of gender at all, we are introduced to aliens who have no gender in their society at all. While a noble attempt by LeGuin, she too falls for the plight of one who lives in a society governed by gender norms, and subconsciously includes parts of her work which point to the characters having genders or gendered traits, despite actively attempting to avoid this. As we read through these works, we notice a marked progression, reflecting the idea that as society becomes more and more accepting of things like feminism and breaking down gender and sexual definitions so too does the literature.

[Star Trek]: Media and Fandom

The medium of television, and the general advent of technology has greatly shaped the manner by which storytellers, particularly of the science fiction genre are able to convey their messages to readers.  The most pronounced mechanism, at least for me having watched Star Trek and many other SyFy features, is the way that it allows the viewer to have a clear and focused image as opposed to having to rely upon their imagination.  An example of this is in LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, with regards to the Gethenian’s androgyny.  Although it is something that requires chapters upon chapters to explain, it would only take a few hours in the makeup room, and a quick scene for the viewer to better understand the complex idea.  I actually think this makes science fiction more accessible to the masses, as one of the biggest “turn offs” among science fiction haters who I have talked to, is the overly “highbrow” or “elitist”  attitudes with how writers describe intricate details to the point of superfluousness.  When anyone is able to understand the work regardless of their vocabulary, it makes the work more easily comprehensible, even though some die-hard fans argue that the expanding fan base comes at the cost of watering down the detailed universe crafted by the primary author.

[The Left Hand of Darkness]: Gender and Voices

“Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes.  I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a male, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own” (Le Guin 12).

I think that one of the most essential aspects to Ursula Le Guin’s writing in The Left Hand of Darkness, is how despite it following multiple narrations, a benefit towards impartiality, it simultaneously expresses implicit cultural biases which turn Ai among others from being objective into subjective perspectives.  In this instance, the use of gendered nouns, like “male” and “female” play to the latent human biases that we as a society have, placing great emphasis on gender as a tool determinant to how we see others.  Now, this ambiguity from the norm for the reader, places someone reading the text (as a human) in the same confusion Ai feels, and makes the reader feel as though they are unraveling the same questions and learning along with Ai.  Further, the fact that Genly admits to even having problems differentiating after “two years,” further ingrains the dichotomy of gender in our minds as the reader, and makes us wonder about what how Gethenians function without something that society has dictated to being so important and how the solution they have must be so complicated and different from the norms to which the reader and Ai are used.

Le Guin,  Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1976. Print.

[The Space Merchants]: Chlorella’s Predatory Lending

“The pattern of the B labor contract was quite clear.  You never got out of debt.  Easy credit was part of the system, and so were irritants that forced you to exercise it.  If I fell behind ten dollars a week I would owe one thousand one hundred dollars to Chlorella at the end of my contract and would have to work until the debt was wiped out.  And while I worked, a new debt would accumulate” (Pohl and Kornbluth 1).

When we discussed in class how Pohl and Kornbluth each engaged in critique within The Space Merchants, this quote was one of many that sprang right to mind.  While certainly critical of any form of contract that seeks to exploit the poorest members of society during the 1950s, it was especially thought provoking within today’s context with regards to the idea of predatory lending.  Predatory lending, was essentially the practice of praying upon unassuming individuals, by offering them “too good to be true” loan rates on things like cars and homes, and waiting for the person to default on their payments by virtue of the misrepresentation, and reacquiring the property.  While functionally a cheap way for these lenders to make money, the people who were taken advantage of were effectively coerced into taking a deal that would otherwise have been bad for them, much in the same way that Mitch was coerced into working for Chlorella.  Another similarity is the idea of the cycle of debt that accrues, where in both cases, Mitch and the individual, each struggle against massive rates for either interest payments or products, each perpetuating a system, where no matter how much one pays in, there is no way out.  Finally, is the idea that no matter what happens, the victim will be straddled with a new debt.  Even if somehow Mitch or the victim of a subprime mortgage/rate, manages to pay off their original loan, it will often have to be done on the backs of taking out other loans, borrowing money through practices like payday loans, the opening of new credit lines, and even just borrowing from those around them.  In any instance, it creates drastic harms and establishes a system which both Pohl and Kornbluth would stand ardently against.

Pohl, Frederik, and C. M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants,. New York: Walker, 1969. Print.

[Cthulhu Mythos]: Tek’nolo’ge Fhtagn!

While much of the Cthulhu mythos is based upon irrationality, the obtuse, and the strange, H.P. Lovecraft’s tales contain various messages, some of which are especially applicable to modern society.

One especially predominant example of this is featured when Lovecraft explains, “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (Lovecraft 139).

The fascinating paradigm that Lovecraft explores in this section is a focal point predominant even in our culture today – that is to what extent ought science (no matter what kind) proceed before it goes “too far?”  From genetically modified foods to cloning, this contentious topic arises in nearly every issue about bioethics.  Some of the less progressively minded arguers of similar topics have similar perspectives to Lovecraft, that there is in fact a limit to where scientific progression ought go, and that surpassing it would lead to major social harms.  While, granted, we as a society are not necessarily proselytizing for cultists in eldritch rituals, certainly in the minds of these more conservative members, the recent advent of technological booms have similar effects.  To many, especially the elderly, the idea of a large winged tentacle creature is comparable to the “magic black box that accesses the Internet,” something modern generations see as both innocuous and essential parts of our lives.  The only way to diffuse this culture of fear however is to force society forward, by driving our boat through the Cthulhus of modernity, grasping us in their flabby claws.

Lovecraft, H. P., and S. T. Joshi. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.

[The Star]: Grappling with Infinity

Among the vast array of quotable passages in H.G. Wells’ “The Star,” none stand more pronounced in my mind, than the determined statement made by the physicist in the face of what seems to be near certain death.

His defiant words of, “‘You may kill me… but I can hold you – and all the universe for that matter – in the grip of this little brain.  I would not change.  Even now'” (Wells 3).

Part of the unique nature of the story itself is the way by which Wells conceptualizes the idea of both size, magnitude of destruction, and suffering, by making them all relative to the average person – namely very easily relate-able figures for the average reader.  Where I see the innate beauty of this passage, is with the idea that although the scientist comes to the conclusion that his life has been worth living because he has been able to learn everything, that it also represents a cruel irony – especially among those who act as though they know everything related to their fields, without ever considering the vastness of the universe.  While the scientist may understand some of the universe, the mere notion that he could possibly know everything is both juxtaposed by his inability to predict the “Star’s” failure to hit Earth in as meaningful of a capacity as he had initially thought, but made even more absurd by the very presence of aliens and their role in the creation of the “star.”  In claiming to know everything, while it may have provided him some solace, the physicist fails to grapple with his own limitations – primarily his own inability to accept that he simply does not know everything – a flaw that is both mortal and omnipresent in all of us.

Wells, H.G. “The Star by H.G. Wells.” The Star by H.G. Wells @ Classic Reader. Classic Reader, n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.