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THOMAS B. BYERS Kissing Becky: Masculine Fears and Misogynist Moments in Science Fiction Films 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 towaid 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 pattiatchal Hollywood system, and paiticulatly 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 spectatots , in vatious histotical moments, as they watch classic Hollywood Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 3, Autumn 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 78Thomas B. Byers movies.1 My emphasis, however, is not on the female so much as on specific tetms 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 partriarchy 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 01 potential position as subjects.2 In otdet to map this fear, it is necessaty fitst 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 histoty 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 appeal when patriarchy presents itself as secure and omnipotent . Recognizing what is at stake for men in theit consttuctions of the feminine is part of "His" démystification. Metropolis, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and Blade Runner all date from periods of reaction to historical events (the two World Wars and the rise of contemporary feminism) that threatened male hegemony by loosening traditional restraints on women. All four films react to such threats in part by explicitly raising the "specter" of human identity as construction, and playing off the difficulty of distinguishing reproductions from original or "real" human beings. In each case such reproductions are seen as dangerous antagonists to humanity (although in Blade Runner they are not unanimously or unequivocally hostile). It may be that this motif itself helps trigger the reaction that the misogynist moment embodies.' The threat posed by the reproduction reflects the fear of the double—a figure who, though created as an assertion of the ego against its own destruction, becomes a "ghastly harbinger of death," a "vision of horror" (Freud, "The Uncanny" 141, 143). The male construction of woman may operate similarly, as woman, herself a reproduction, a double, continually threatens to escape man's control.4 All the films but Aiien feature female figures...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 77-95
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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