Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feminist Analysis of i love bees (Part 2)

(Written for the video version here)

Durga is a high-class spy created to gather intelligence on the Covenant, so in the hands of a civilian boy and turned on normal civilians, she’s an incredibly powerful civil rights violation.

Jersey: “I have God’s own spyware.”

In 2552, smartphones are called chatters and everyone has one, and Durga uses the recording capability of the chatters of various people in the vicinity of her targets as well as building surveillance equipment to construct high-quality digital renderings. Of course, we only get sound, but it’s implied Jersey gets to witness more than that.

When Jersey requests her to gather intelligence of the hottest girl at school, Jan James, she grabs a live feed of two security guards tracking Jan as she illegally moves about the local military base. Jan moves with preternatural speed, is able to hide on the ceiling River-style, and jumps from the (three story high) roof to get past the electric fence and lands on the other side without injury. She’s about to get away, but military police catch her.

Guard: “Halt!”
Jan: “Hey, soldier, is that an assault rifle in your hands or are you just happy to see me?”

Jan is supposed to be sexy, and she sometimes behaves in a sexually teasing manner. This isn’t tailored for the ‘male directed listening’, though male characters in the narrative like Jersey get turned on. The listener generally only gets enough to understand what’s going on without the audio content becoming erotic for the listener. The majority of Jan’s story is from her perspective and there’s enough revealed about her when she’s not teasing guys that we can accept her as simply an interesting protagonist who sometimes uses her good looks to tease boys, making her a character like Buffy rather than the girl from the Transformers movies.
Jan is brought to the civilian police station P23, where she is interrogated by a police officer fans have dubbed “Stupid Cop” based on a line of his dialog.

Stupid Cop: “Are you too smart to get caught by a stupid cop?”

I’ll stress that this is an ironic moniker. While Jan is using a lie detector called a PQI, she claims that her friends dared her to break into the facility, which the PQI registers as true. She also behaves very disrespectfully and evades his questions, making it questionable if the PQI response is accurate. He plays ‘good cop’ and sympathetically asks her if she was drinking with her friends. She says yes, which the PQI indicates is true.

Stupid Cop: “So I can check that statement against the blood alcohol test, right? You know, I’m not too smart . . . but you know what I am?”
Jan: “I don’t know…”
Stupid Cop: “Yes or no!”
Jan: “No!”
Stupid Cop: (smugly) “Good at my job.”

Jan’s mysterious father James James (or James2) then comes in and bails her out. He seems angry at the police for taking hair and urine samples. On the drive home, she apologizes and says that her friend Dwayne took a gate pass from his father and used it to go joyriding in a Warthog, so she was just trying to return the pass to keep his dad from getting in trouble. He berates her for this because “there are certain kinds of trouble we can’t get in” and then apologizes for saddling her with this responsibility, saying he’ll take care of it. He ends up burning the station to the ground to prevent her biological samples from being tested.

Later, Stupid Cop contacts Jan for a favor. He figured out James2 torched the station to destroy the test samples and uses it to blackmail her into helping him out. He gives her the equivalent of a memory card and tells her to watch the video on it and get back to him. It turns out to be a clip of a man abusing a woman, with her cries for mercy heard over his beating her. It’s a little ambiguous exactly what’s going on, but it’s definitely some sort of abuse. Jan calls Stupid Cop, who tells her to meet him at a certain place the next day.
Once Jan’s there, Stupid Cop stops a driver leaving from work and… murders him. 

Stupid Cop: “Drop the weapon!” (fires)

So, this guy was the abuser from the video. The woman he abused was the daughter of Stupid Cop’s friend. Stupid Cop couldn’t convict him for some reason, so he took the law into his own hands and killed him. He knew Jan could beat the PQI, so he uses her to testify that the creep drew a weapon.

On the way to the station, he and Jan argue about whether or not that was moral. They don’t reach a satisfying conclusion, but Stupid Cop presses the point that if you have power to help, you should use it. He then accurately states that when Jan was a baby, she received augmentations to make her superhuman.

Okay, so the whole story behind this is that Jan’s parents were Spartans. Not Spartan-IIs like Master Chief and Yasmine, but from the first Spartan program under the ORION project. As child to two Spartan-Is, Jan was made a Spartan-1.1., not as powerful as a Spartan-II and without the military training, but she’s still superhuman. I consider Jan the superhero of the Halo universe. This is her origin story where she comes to realize that with great power comes great responsibility. Stupid Cop is her wakeup call. Before him, I guess she just thought she was born with great physical and mental ability, but now she realizes that there is some larger plot.

Later, she talks to her Aunt Gladys about it. Gladys isn’t really her aunt, but she was in James2’s Spartan unit and stuck close to his family. Jan asks if she’s been augmented, and Gladys doesn’t deny it. Jan goes on to say that she wants to do something with it, to prove to herself that she can use her powers for good. Gladys recommends she visit a seedy moons parlor—moons being futuristic pool.

Gladys: “A girl like you could use a taste of… reality.”

There, Jan meets her first major villain: a gang leader named Thin Kinkle. It’s implied to be very dangerous for attractive women in that parlor, where aggressive men may sexually assault them. A waitress urges Jan to leave or at least zip her shirt up all the way and try not to be noticed. Jan doesn’t do any of those things.
When Thin’s gang tries to murder some guy named Paolo, who apparently cheated Thin somehow, Jan intervenes. Thin taunts her, calling her ‘babysitter’, and then notices the M6C magnum Jan’s got in her hand. Jan draws it and tells him to let Paolo go.

Thin points out that there are more gang members than Jan’s gun has rounds, and he makes a deal with her. They’ll play moons. If she wins, he’ll let Paolo go free. If he wins, she’ll have to have sex with him.
Jan accepts, and they play moons. Thin explains the nature of the game as he plays, taunting her as he does so. Jan does the same kind of taunting, but she goes out of her way to make her commentary sound sexy as she wins.

Jan’s sexy voice and implied seductive motions are not presented here simply as fanservice for the male listener. It makes perfect sense for the character, and her use of it isn’t anti-feminist. Thin and people like him threaten women’s sexual freedom. The threat of evil men raping them keeps women from being able to express themselves sexually, so this is the flag Jan waves when she opposes them. Thin wants to rape Jan—her losing a bet when trying to save someone’s life in no way counts as meaningful consent—but Jan has the ability to pwn him at moons, so she taunts him by making him want her more. She can do this and has a right to be able to express her sexuality without fear of sexual violence. Of course, the problem is greater than a moons game. Thin still runs the parlor, and Jan would have to get rid of his gang entirely in addition to the underlying corrupt power structure that allowed it to form in order to fight the real problem.
Anyway, Thin honors the bet and lets both Jan and Paolo go. As she starts to leave, he offers her a job. She turns him down.

A week later, Paolo tracks her down and asks her to help his friend Gene like she helped him. Gene is a guy who wants to join Thin Kinkle’s gang, and he’s about to take the final initiation test: raping a woman off the street. The idea is that once Gene does this, Thin can control him forever, so Paolo needs Jan to save Gene from Thin. Now, the whole concept of Jan helping Gene is weird because Gene is constantly treated like a minor antagonist and not someone in need of Jan’s help. So, yeah, Jan “helps” Gene by going out and fighting the evil rapist.

Visual media often use rape or attempted scenes as exploitative fanservice for guys, where the victims’ struggles are sexualized. Sure, there’s a message about how rape is bad, but the fact that it’s about sex is used to turn the depiction of violence against women into a chance to perve over women’s bodies, placing the viewer into the position of the rapist. I’m sure there’s a way to do essentially the same exploitative depiction in the audio drama medium too, but i love bees averts it entirely.

The Gene scene is all about Jan rescuing the victim and beating Gene to a bloody pulp. She’s the superhero, and this is her first big rescue. She quickly takes out two gang members covering him, one of which is female, showing Thin’s gang’s inclusive like that, and then she takes her time with Gene. First, she convinces him to rape her instead so that he’ll let the other victim go without a fight. 

Gene: “Okay, angel, time for you to meet the big dog.”
Jan: “See, the problem with being a big dog is there’s always a bigger dog.”

She then behaves similarly as she did in her game with Thin, where she taunts him by sounding sexy. Except this time, instead of just winning at moons, she uses physical violence.

Jan: “I’m just going to put the gun in your hand this time. That’s it, yeah. Get your finger nice and comfy right on the trigger. Come on, big dog! Bring it baby!”
Gene: “Die, bitch!”
(they scuffle; gun goes off; Gene screams)
Jan: (sighs) “The trouble with where you're headed, Gene. Eh, mind if I call you Gene?”
Gene: (gasps) “You shot my toe off!”
Jan: “This little piggy went ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home.”
(Jan stomps on injured foot; Gene screams)
Jan: “Oh, oh, am I hurting your feelings? You see, the trouble with being bad, Gene, is you only last as long as you're the scariest pup on the block.”
Gene: (cries) “Thin is gonna do you, freak!”
Jan: “And no matter how bad you are, how tough, how fast, you know what's waiting for you, big dog?” (crunches Gene’s bones) “A bigger bitch.”

The way the fight is framed puts the audience completely on Jan’s side. Her hurting Gene is milked for cathartic enjoyment. If she wanted to, she could disable him inside of seven seconds. Instead, she takes her time and sadistically enjoys pummeling him, and we’re with her as she does so. He’s a wannabe rapist who shows no sign of hesitation or guilt, and we accept that as a pummeling offense.

The whole “Big Dog” thing functions as an expression of sexual dominance. When Gene first uses it, it sounds like it could be his name for his penis. Jan proceeds to physically dominate him and then declares herself a “bigger bitch”, using his language against him with a feminine twist. The word “bitch” is often used in a misogynistic way. In some contexts, feminists have reclaimed the word by presenting it as a complimentary description for a woman who won’t back down easily. Gene invokes the misogynistic usage when he calls her a “bitch”, but Jan’s later self-description fits with the feminist definition.

After Reach falls, James2’s old Spartan friend Gilly freaks out, so he takes Jan to go visit her. She didn’t cope well with the Spartan training at all and became an overly aggressive threat to society. Her augmentations make it impossible for drugs to help her because her immune system just breaks it down. She left the mental institution and holed up in an apartment with a stockpile of weapons to wait for the Covenant invasion. It’s soon revealed, to Jan’s shock, that she’s actually Jan’s mother.

Gilly’s an interesting blend of traditional feminine and masculine traits. She is extremely aggressive and scary, but her interactions with James2 about Jan are like a normal mother’s who maybe lost custody rights but still cares. She wants to be a motherly figure for Jan, but it’s not in her nature. She’s an interesting character, and I’ll talk about her later. After this, though, Jan’s storyline starts to intersect with Jersey’s more than him spying on her, so I’ll pause here and get back to her.

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