Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Acting Like Cavemen (Stargate)

So, I’ve been rewatching Stargate SG-1. I went to the Firefly convention in L.A. last year and had a blast, so I’m hoping to go to the next one, which is the same weekend as a Stargate convention. I saw the movie Stargate and watched the first three seasons of the show, but I don’t remember very much and I thought I’d take a pass through the series. In doing so, I’ve found opportunity to analyze the gender roles and the show’s attempts to challenge sexism. Season one’s fourth and fifth episodes, “Emancipation” and “The Broca Divide” respectfully, both deal with the subject of rape but “The Broca Divide” has the common sexist double standard of disrespecting the act of a woman sexually assaulting a man.
Starting with a gender-based confrontation in the pilot, “Children of the Gods”, Stargate SG-1 makes it clear that they intend to challenge sexism – an admirable concept to be sure. In “Emancipation” this is made the focus of the episode, as the plot has Carter taken as a sex slave by Mongol-like people and she has to prove that she is not inferior to men. Though not without its flaws, the episode is a fairly good anti-misogynist story. Carter defeats the man who bought her in a knife fight, bringing peace to the country and showing that women should be respected. They leave through the Stargate, leaving it implied that trade will be established between the two peoples, and hopefully the gender equality will remain in place.
Following this rather overtly preachy episode is “The Broca Divide”, which involves an alien disease that essentially causes humans to go 1,000,000 years B.C., turning them into cavemen-like hominids. These diseased humans, called the Touched, regress to primal instincts of aggression and lust, losing civility and eventually all language. When SG-1 first observes a group of them, several Touched males are situated around a campfire with an Untouched (person free of disease) girl. The Touched clearly intend to rape her in a show of dominance. Carter wants to rescue her, but Daniel advises against it.
Carter: “We have to stop them.”
Daniel: “No, that’s how prehistoric males probably always had sex. Forcibly. The strongest male gets to mate, that’s survival of the fittest.”
Carter: “Well, I call it rape and I think we should stop it.”
They’re interrupted as native Untouched arrive to the rescue, providing an easy way out of this confrontation. Frankly, I think Daniel’s completely wrong here. As a person who studies foreign cultures and lives among them, he has to be careful not to be culturally imperialist in most respects. This is an exception. Carter is right; rape is rape. They’re there, with their guns and their uniforms, already imposing themselves in the environment so they should do something about it.
Later in the episode, SG-1 has returned to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, unaware that they’ve brought the disease with them. The first stages of the disease start to hit them, messing with their aggression while leaving their physical forms intact for now. Carter becomes extremely sexually aggressive, and she goes after O’Neill while he gets dressed in a locker room. She immediately starts kissing him, saying she wants him. He pushes her away, saying that’s way out of line. He implies that he might want to at some point, but definitely not here and now. She doesn’t listen and continues to pursue him aggressively, until he pins her and forces her to come with him to the infirmary. The next shot shows Carter strapped to a bed, actively struggling against the restraints.
Okay, this is an attempted rape. Carter, Touched, was clearly not going to take no for an answer. Were it the other way around, with a Touched O’Neill coming after Carter, it would be taken with deadly seriousness. However, because O’Neill is a man and Carter is a woman, the attempted rape is treated simply as a sort of attack that shows Carter isn’t in her right mind. O’Neill discusses the incident with Daniel:
Daniel: “What happened to you?”
O’Neill: “Oh, I got into a little wrestling match with Carter.”
Daniel: “Why?”
O’Neill: “I guess she’s got whatever Johnson got. I had to drag her off to the infirmary.”
Daniel: “What, she start a fight with you like Johnson did with Teal’c?”
O’Neill: “No, she uh, she tried to seduce me.”
Daniel: (sarcastic) “Oh, you poor man.”
O’Neill: “No, it wasn’t like that. She was like a wild animal, she was nuts.”
Yes, Carter was nuts. The thing with phrasing like “seduce”, though, is that it fails to convey the seriousness of this matter, that this really was a sexual assault. Even his addition where he calls her a wild animal is inaccurate, as it makes her just sound hypersexual without the menace her attack really held. Immediately after this bit of dialog, O’Neill succumbs to the effects of the disease and becomes super territorial in his attraction to Carter, attacking Daniel for expressing an interest in her well-being. This, coupled with a later exchange between Untouched Carter and O’Neill, makes the whole thing come off as just a crazy expression of the attraction they have for each other, without the seriousness that should come along with the subject of rape.
So, to conclude, I’m a little disappointed with Stargate for perpetuating the sexist meme that men can’t get raped. It is an unfortunate message to follow the clear anti-misogyny and anti-rape message of “Emancipation”. I will note that the episodes were written by different people, though. “Emancipation” was written by Katharyn Powers, whereas “The Broca Divide” was written by Jonathan Glassner, so that could account for the shift in values. A quick Google search shows that people are offended by later episodes that involve sexual assault, so I move forward with trepidation.

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