Kissing Becky: Masculine Fears and Misogynist Moments in Science Fiction Films

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Author: Thomas B. Byers
Editors: Tom Burns and Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,043 words

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[(essay date autumn 1989) In the following essay, Byers comments that Alien,Blade Runner, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers include several moments of "startling misogyny," arguing that such instances of cinematic textual excess express "both the instability of male identity and the vulnerability of male hegemony."]

The four classic science-fiction films to be discussed here--Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982)--are all marked by a common element: the presence of at least one moment of startling misogyny. These moments are startling in part because they involve either a narrative digression or superfluity, a stylistic deviation, or a violation of their films' prior encodings of the female. More importantly, each of them expresses an unanticipated level of male fear of or violence toward women, in response to a threat to men's powers of representation and control. What follows attempts to read in these moments of textual excess both the instability of male identity and the vulnerability of male hegemony.

This reading is part of the stream of response to Laura Mulvey's watershed essay on "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," with its crucial analysis of "Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look." Since Mulvey, a good deal of writing on film and gender has focused on trying to undermine the seemingly monolithic structure of the classic patriarchal Hollywood system, and particularly on theorizing women's relation--and opposition--to a cinema that seems systematically to exclude them as subjects. Hence critics have taken up such matters as the "return of the gaze" on the part of the female image/object, the problem of "women's cinema," and the positions of actual female spectators, in various historical moments, as they watch classic Hollywood movies.1 My emphasis, however, is not on the female so much as on specific terms of address to the male spectator. My hope is that the gaps uncovered within this address may open into a space that feminist film theorists can use in their project of locating female subjectivity. Even the fear of women, uncomfortably lodged not only within patriarchy in general but within individual men as they are constructed by that structure and its specific texts, may be one trace of women's actual or potential position as subjects.2

In order to map this fear, it is necessary first to recognize the difference between a monolithic myth of Man and a historical conception of men. In erasing women as "real historical beings" in favor of "woman" as a male construct, the "other from man" (De Lauretis 5), men have attempted to erase their own history as well--including their own individual histories--in favor of becoming "Man," the one who has the phallus, the father who is the subject-speaker of the law rather than the castrated sons who are subjected to it. It is in the guise of this figure that men appear when patriarchy presents itself as secure and omnipotent. Recognizing what is at stake for...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100071819