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Images Of Women In Mass Media (Star Trek/Id4) Essay, Research Paper

Images of Women in Mainstream Culture Reflected inStar Trek: First Contact and Independence Day The most successful box office hits in history are Science-Fiction films. This indicates that the audience, society, likes what they see in these movies. Science-Fiction has long been viewed as a male dominated genre. Although there have been notable exceptions in such films as Alien (and its sequels) and the original Terminator, for the most part, Science-Fiction films have been laden with male heroes in powerful positions. Females, in most of these films, have been subjected to three roles: reasoner/comforter, sex object, and victim. While the male characters are allowed to make the difficult decisions and handle the demanding physical tasks, the female characters are often forced to stand behind them and console or reason with their man when things don t go according to plan. By employing a textual analysis of two recent Science-Fiction box office successes, Star Trek: First Contact (Jonathan Frakes, 1996) and Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996), one can clearly see the above pattern of male/female power relationships in full effect . Both films present female characters as victims, reasoner/comforter, and sex objects. Furthermore, the pattern demonstrated in these two films can be further examined by observing its absorption into the dominant mainstream culture through the overwhelming audience responses to the two films. Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values according to Douglas Kellner and these two films were major media images during their time of theatrical release. When the textual analysis and observation of audience response to the films are combined with the theories of some of today s cultural studies writers, one can develop a clear view of how societies view of women in relation to men becomes clearly defined in the products of the societies culture. In the articles Oppression by Marilyn Frye and Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture the arguments on the position of woman are clearly presented and can be used to further the analysis of the transfer of these values from the society to the screen. (Kellner, 1995. p.5) Star Trek: First Contact presents a fine example of how dominant views of women in society are apparent in today s science fiction films. The roles of women as victims and comforters/ reasoners can be best examined by reviewing the relationship between Jean-Luc Picard and his new found ally, Lilly. At various points in the film, Lilly comes to represent all three of the dominant views mentioned above. Initially, Lilly serves as a victim in need of rescue. After being injured in an attack by the evil alien Borg, Lilly is transported to the Enterprise. Once there, she escapes and hides out in passage ways, unaware that she is in grave danger. Through her first encounter with Jean-Luc Picard, she discovers the grave danger that she is in. At that same moment it becomes clear that Lilly has been rescued because she is now under the protection of the films most dominant male character. After being rescued, Lilly is able to fulfill the role of comforter and reasoner to Picard. In two key sequences she can be found to be the voice of reason and comfort that counter Picard s powerful rage. The first sequence involves Picard and Lilly s encounter with the Borg in the hollodeck. As Picard relentlessly riddles two Borg with a barrage of bullets, Lilly calms his rage by saying, I think you got him. Although the line is delivered as comic relief in a rather intense sequence, it also demonstrates the woman s role as a reasoner and comforter to the physically and socially powerful male. Picard is the captain of the fleets most prestigious and advanced ship, a position of considerable power, yet he needs to be comforted in his physical dominance by Lilly telling him its all right to stop. Lilly s role as comforter is displayed most clearly in one of the films most important sequences. The sequence involves Picard, who because of his rage and power, is determined not to let the Borg capture the ship, refuses to give an evacuation order. To counter Picard s rage, Lilly, having already begun to fulfill her expected role on the hollodeck earlier, confronts Picard and reasons with him to give the evacuation order. The scene is the most clear demonstration in the film of the role women are assumed to fulfill in the male dominated world. Lilly has no physical power or political position at her disposal to stop Picard s order, thus she must use her subservience and assumed role as comforter and nurturer to make Picard see the error in his ways. Where Picard uses rage and physical violence (he smashes a cabinet with his gun) to further his point, Lilly uses comforting words and reason to put forth hers. However, in the end it is still up to Picard to make the call; Lilly can only make him see the wisdom in the other option. Although Lilly is used to a degree as a sex object in the film (there is sexual tension hinted at between her and Picard and between her and Zefram Cochran), the most obvious example of the female role as that of sex object is displayed in the relationship between Data and the Borg Queen. The Borg Queen, in command of a powerful army of drone like soldiers, ultimately has to succumb to the use of feminine wiles in order to get what she wants from Data. In one scene, the Borg Queen, having taken Data hostage, resorts to using a sexy, even flirtatious tone to ask Data, Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure? Her line of questioning eventually leads to a kiss between the two characters and the presumption that something more is going to happen after the cut to the next scene. The Borg Queen as a sex object is further evident in her costuming and make up. She is given a skin tight, low cut, leather like outfit to wear, suggesting that she is ultimately to be desired (if you ignore the mechanical portions of her physique). As well, her makeup is used to accentuate her lips and cheeks, giving her the appearance of a fashion model. Furthermore, her sexuality is defined by her appearance in that she looks less mechanical than the rest of the Borg; she is made to appear more human, and thus desiring her would seem less perverse. Through the supporting character of Councilor Troi, the positions of women as sex object and women as comforter are also furthered. Troi, in her meeting with Cochran on Earth, is treated as a sex object by him. She is made desirable through her sexy outfit as well as her drunken state. As well, Troi s job as the Enterprises Councilor, places her in the position of comforter to all males in the crew. She has no physical power in the film to persuade people. All she possess is her sexuality and reason.

The societal stereotypes presented in Star Trek: First Contact, are also evident Independence Day, suggesting that these ideologies are imbedded less in the minds of the individual filmmakers and more in the media culture as a whole. Three major female characters, The First Lady Marilyn Whitmore, Constance Spano, and Jasmine Dubrow, are all inferior in power and status to their male counterparts. In varying degrees all are in need of rescue by men, and all serve as a voice of reason or comfort at some point in the film. Never, in any instance, is there a point where any of the females are given an opportunity to act beyond these roles. In one example, The First Lady serves as comforter even while she is being rescued. As she lies dying in the hospital ward of the secret complex, Mrs. Whitmore comforts her grieving husband, strengthening his resolve to fight back against the alien invaders. In essence, her rescue provides him with both the power of being a rescuer (he did not physically rescue her, but his societal position of power allows for her being rescued) and the comfort and reason which he needs to succeed. Mrs. Whitmore s function in regards to her husband are almost exactly the same as Lilly s function in relation to Jean-Luc Picard. Jasmine Dubrow, the exotic dancer love interest of hotshot pilot Captain Steven Hiller, also serves the function of the female victim in need of rescue. Although she herself rescues many people, she eventually just sits down and waits for Hiller to save her. The same can be said for Constance Spano, the White House aid and ex-wife of Computer Specialist David Levison. She needs to be rescued at the beginning of the film from her own ignorance, and of course, only her male counterpart can save her. The images of women in Star Trek: First Contact and Independence Day are consistent with the ideologies of sexism that many academics argue exist in society today. Marilyn Frye argues that sensitivity is one of the few virtues that has been assigned to [women]. If we are found insensitive, we may fear we have no redeeming traits at all and are perhaps not real women. Frye s position suggests that the role of comforter women serve in science fiction films may be rooted in women s fear that they will not be seen as real women if they are insensitive. The fear of not being real women in society may in fact be a leading factor to their stereotypical portrayal on film. (Frye, 1983. p.37) Are both of these films merely reflecting the views of society today when they portray patriarchy and the power systems in society? They both describe patriarchy today in terms of the masculine being defined by the feminine. They both portray the masculine male as strong, driven, independent, clear thinking, and unfeeling except for lust and rage. By contrast feminine female characters tend to be passive, compliant, understanding, compassionate, team players, empathetic, and of course sexually appealing. All of these perceived characteristics for both the masculine and feminine could be used to describe the characters and their actions in both of the films, suggesting again that the gender representations in the works are a construct of our society and not as much the opinion of the filmmakers themselves. The fact that the portrayal of female characters (and by definition male characters as we have seen that the male role tends to define the female role) is so similar in these two films is disturbing. While we should expect many corollaries between them as they both contain the iconography and conventions that put them squarely into the Science-Fiction genre the fact that they are so strikingly similar in their portrayal of female roles means that either Star Trek is failing to achieve its stated goals of equality for all or that Dean Devlin (Producer) and Rolland Emmerich (Director) are now as sensitive as Gene Roddenbery (Creator), or perhaps just as market savvy. Even though to read into the filmmakers intentions while creating something rather than to analyze just what is on the screen is to commit the intentional fallacy , lets do that for just a moment. Star Trek was founded on the ideals of showing equality for all. In the original television series a black female, Leiutenant Uhura, was part of the bridge at a time when black female leads were unheard of in prime time. In the second series, The Next Generation, on which the film currently under analysis is based, females moved into even stronger power roles such as Counselor Troi and Security Chief Tasha Yarr . This pattern of the female character getting stronger has progressed through the next two Star Trek series through Station Commander Kira Nariesse and Leiutenat Commander Dax in Deep Space Nine and ultimately leading to the captain s chair with Captain Janeway in Voyager. Yet with all of this advancement the film seems stuck in the female roles prevalent during the production of its correlating series (The Next Generation) rather than kept in pace with its own televised program. While we can expect a market driven product like ID4 to pander to the lowest common denominator of stereotypes and gender roles we have come to expect more from Star Trek. Why does the film betray the spirit of the television series? It has the same producers, directors and stars and yet somehow the transferal to the big screen moves it a step behind its gender role definition on television even though it is being viewed in arguably a more powerful forum. The audience reaction to both of these films would seem to suggest that the gender roles portrayed within them are not controversial to society. If people had a problem with the portrayals of women in the films they probably would not have achieved the box office they did $369,169,255 domestic box office gross for Independence Day and $91,968,563 domestic box office gross for Star Trek: First Contact. The audience reaction suggests that the representations, whether right or wrong, are what people today except as normal and thus as part of the mainstream. Therefore, both Star Trek: First Contact and Independence Day can be said to be formed of stereotypes that reinforce the views of mainstream society today. Without societal change, unfortunately, it is unlikely that the representation of women in mainstream cinema will change anytime soon. Bibliography:Frye, Marilyn. Oppression. Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995. 37-41. Kellner, Douglas. Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture. Gender, Race and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995. 5-17. Films:Independence Day. Dir. Roland Emmerich. 20th Century Fox, 1996. Star Trek: First Contact. Dir. Johnathan Frakes. Paramount, 1996.

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