Reinventing The Science Babe

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Feminism.

This controversial word, which essentially means that men and women should have equal rights, has so many connotations, and unfortunately most of them are negative. I’m a proud feminist, and even in 2015, it’s disconcerting for me to see so many stereotypical and often farcical portrayals of women.

I love J.J. Abrams and his rendition of Star Trek Into Darkness, but the only way he makes Alice Eve, who plays a brilliant science officer, memorable is through her unwarranted underwear scene, where she tantalizes the womanizing Kirk. In Jurassic World, a well-dressed Bryce Dallas Howard tackles dinosaurs without ditching her 3-inch stilettos. More power to her, right?

Throughout our class discussions, we’ve examined how science fiction mirrors societal realities, even if in a slightly exaggerated way. We’re all too familiar with the pusillanimous and over-sexualized female characters in By His Bootstraps, and Helen O’Loy. In her blogpost, Laura mentioned that such a negative portrayal of women pushes us to critically examine our society, and can be an impetus for future change. While some filmmakers clearly haven’t made any effort to empower women through their cinema, Alfonso Cuarón isn’t one of them.

Gravity, his path-breaking and mega successful space-survival movie, is one of the rare films that has a female-centric narrative. Much can be said about Gravity‘s achievements: its spectacular CGI, gripping narrative, and its depiction of a beautiful, yet terrifyingly empty space. But for me, its biggest achievement is giving us (forgive my language) a badass female scientist-heroine on whose shoulders the film rests.

Dr Ryan Stone is not your typical, one-dimensional science fiction heroine. An exceptional NASA bio-medical engineer, she breaks the glass (or should I say, space) ceiling, challenging gender conventions. But she’s not without flaws; she’s fiercely introverted, reserved, and a deep thinker. Well, that should should make her a boring heroine…where’s my playful and charming Kirk?!

Instead, these traits draw viewers to Dr Stone, whose ingenuity and perseverance make her an endearing protagonist. We see space (with all its scary debris) through her eyes. We feel her fears, her claustrophobia, her loneliness. She is vulnerable and above all, she is relatable. That’s what makes her one of the strongest female leads I have seen in recent times.

I also like how Cuarón subverts the idea of the quintessential arm candy in Gravity. For once, George Clooney seems superfluous. Yes, he’s charming and great to look at, but he felt unnecessary in Gravity, and I love how Cuarón reduces his primary male character to being a supporting and flirtatious character, only to kill him off in the end. Move aside George, this is Sandra’s film.

For once, the damsel in veritable distress doesn’t have to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. You can argue that George Clooney/ Matt Kowalski’s hallucination/ghost kind of helped, but it really was Dr Stone’s stoicism to overcome the numerous impediments in her return to Earth which saved her.

Cuarón’s representation of female scientists is also commendable. It’s 2015, but STEM fields still dissuade women because of the stereotypes associated with them. We need ambitious, successful, yet relatable women scientists such as Dr Stone, who can serve as role models to millions of young girls who enjoy science, but are hesitant to take it up professionally.

Having a female lead for a $100 million film gave Cuarón troubles with his producers who wanted a male protagonist (no, Clooney is not a protagonist), but the director’s determination and confidence in his self-beliefs made him stick to Sandra Bullock, and it paid off.

Sure, Sandra Bullock does meet society’s expectations of beauty. But that’s NOT the focus of Gravity. It’s her no-makeup, vulnerable, yet quietly determined countenance that captures the attention of the audience and the box office.

-dreamer2205/Aditi Thakur

(Extra blog post!)

Top (& Bottom) Five from Gravity

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

***Spoiler alert***

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity follows astronaut Ryan Stone’s tumble through the cosmos to land back on planet earth. Here’s the good (and not so good) from my perspective.

Top Five

1.The opening credits of the earth and the views of space throughout the movie were breathtaking!

2.“Wow this would be awesome in 3d!” Unlike many films which use 3D as a gimmick, Gravity would be really cool to see in 3D. Not only for the excellent effects but also to get a sense of how big space is!

3.    The cinematography was way impressive. From the display of space to the zero-gravity scenes within the space station Gravity nails it in terms of special effects.

4.Dr. Stone’s backstory of her tragically deceased daughter fit in surprising well with the story’s general plot. It made it easy to understand her emotional and mental struggles without needing to have her explain it point for point.

5.The movie has a happy(ish) ending! Despite all the odds, Stone returns to planet earth safe, sound and arguably better than before she left it.

Bottom Five

1.Sandra’s panicked breathing distracted me for a large part of the film. As a viewer I understand the need to show her panicking in space, but after a bit I found it taking up more of my attention than the general plot.

2.Three words. George lets go.

3.There is a lot of time just watching Sandra “hang out” in space. Maybe it’s just my short attention span as an American viewer but I found my interest drifting (pun intended) after a few shots of the same general moment.

4.Back to Sandra, I didn’t like how she (the woman) had to be the one freaking out for the film’s duration and how George (the man) got to be perfectly cool floating away to his space-death. I wish we’d seen him express a bit more humanity because I bet he was scared too!

5. Jarring transitions between silence and sound were unsettling to me throughout. Understand it thematically, didn’t love it as a viewing experience.

-Laura Davia

The Stepford Invasion

September 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

For all Doctor Who, and The Stepford Wives fans out there.

Rosalie was dizzy when stepped out of the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), but felt much better when she felt the warm Connecticut sunshine on her face. Traveling at warp speed in this time machine, which was disguised as an antique London police box, debilitated her frail body, and unlike the Doctor, she did have a linear perception of time. But all this was a small price to pay for being the Doctor’s new companion, and finally leaving her home in Surrey to travel to new worlds. The Doctor and Rosalie had just travelled to the year 4349 AD, and visited Romulus, a deadly and mysterious planet cursed with perpetual snow and pugnacious cyborgs, but were now back to Earth, although in the year 1963.

“Are you ok, Rosalie?” asked the Doctor.

“I am, but after our Romulan adventure, what are we doing in Connecticut, filled with white picket fences­­­, Doctor?” replied Rosalie, whose spirits had dampened slightly.

“Do you know where in Connecticut we are?” asked the Doctor with a mysterious grin.

“No”, sighed Rosalie.

“We’re in Stepford. I know it seems like a boring, rich suburb, but don’t dismiss it just yet. Let me give you some background. Being a ‘Time Lord’ sounds grand. And it is. But as Uncle Ben said to Peter, with great power, comes great responsibility. Even Time Lords can be fictional superheroes’ fans, I guess.

“As a Time Lord, I have been trusted with maintaining a balance of power across the space-time continuum in the myriad of worlds I call my own. As I had told you before, my old friends, the Daleks, belong to a race of extraterrestrial and genetically modified cyborg mutants, but over time, they have grown ambitious enough to take over Earth, and the universe itself. I have been tracking them with the help of the TARDIS, and I think they’re up to something here. Like me, they too can travel across both spatial and temporal dimensions.”

Hmmm…Daleks, the Doctor’s arch nemesis she had heard so much about. I have always wanted to see them, thought Rose, as her stomach grumbled.

“Are you hungry?” asked the Doctor, while fetching his handy sonic screwdriver, and activating the TARDIS’s ‘chameleon’ circuit to blend it in with the surrounding trees.

A few minutes later, the Doctor and a famished Rosalie were enjoying pancakes at the Stepford Club. A keen observer, Rosalie looked around the busy restaurant, observing the people all around her. Being a Monday in the 1960s (not the proudest moment for feminists), the Stepford men were all away at work, while their wives met up for brunch, sipping iced lemonade while exchanging home décor ideas. But something struck Rosalie as she focused her attention on them, observing their demeanor and mannerisms. The Stepford women seemed far too perfect, beautiful and artificial. The way they talked, they way they moved…something wasn’t right.

On her way to powder her nose, Rosalie bumped into one of them. The very skin of the Stepford wife seemed rubbery­ and surprisingly, ice cold. “I’m sorry, honey!’ apologized the lady. Rosalie got goosebumps. She felt scared.

“Something’s wrong here, Doctor,” said Rosalie, as she returned to the table.

“Ah, my dear Rosalie, I’m afraid your suspicions were right. While you were away, I picked up some unusual signals on my screwdriver that the TARDIS relayed. Let’s a take a walk, shall we?” The Doctor could barely contain his energy. The Daleks were close. Very close.

The club was now nearly empty as they walked down the stairs towards the source of the signals. Rosalie heard a faint buzzing sound in the basement as she hurried to keep up with the intrepid Doctor. The buzzing sound was deafening as they reached a locked door. The Doctor pulled out his handy screwdriver, and broke open the locks. As they walked inside the mysterious room, Rosalie gasped. Oh my god.

The room was illuminated with lights from hundreds of complex circuits and computers. In the center of the room was an operating table with a naked woman sprawled across. Several Daleks were surrounding her, and soldering wires inside her body. But, the woman wasn’t a woman; she was a cyborg. One of the Daleks approached them swiftly.

“Look who’s here, the famous Doctor Who. We’ve been expecting you, but we didn’t know you’d come so quickly”, hissed the Dalek leader, Alpha99, as his subordinates formed a formidable circle around the Doctor and Rosalie.

“Ah, so you’ve been using Stepford to inch one step closer to world domination. Why are you doing experimenting on humans?” asked the Doctor, while observing every nook and cranny of the makeshift Dalek headquarters. Rosalie was petrified with shock.

Alpha99 obliged, “Earth is a planet wasted on humans. There is so much potential in its resources, but human beings are too shortsighted, too incompetent to fully use them. We’ve had our eyes set on Earth for a long time, and after perfecting our bio-cyborg technology, we thought of converting humans to cyborgs, rather than simply killing them. It’s always nice to have a few extra slaves. In fact, the women can be called Daleks now.”

“But why Stepford, of all places?” Rosalie mustered up her courage to ask.

Alpha99 obliged, “We had to start somewhere. 1960s Stepford, with its picture-perfect inhabitants living the American dream, seemed like the ideal place to manufacture cyborgs. Stepford is so far removed that nobody cared that there were Daleks experimenting with Stepford women in the basement of the town club. Nobody suspected a thing in this idyllic little suburb. What could go wrong in pretty little Stepford?” Apart from a Dalek invasion, of course.

“Why did you only experiment on the women?” Rosalie was adamant to find out the truth.

“Foolish girl. We have everyone in Stepford under our control. While the women were easy to transform into cyborgs (we even added physical enhancements for the fun of it), the male testosterone interfered with our technological modifications. So we’ve implanted a computer chip inside the men’s brains to control their minds. Of course, we would have liked complete cyborgs like the women, who are now as close to Dalek structures as humans possibly can be, but we had to make do. But it won’t be long till we convert the men to Daleks too.”

“So that’s the plan? Convert all humans to Daleks and mindless cyborgs, and then take over the Earth, one cyborg at a time?” The disgust in the Doctor’s voice was palpable.

“Oh, don’t you worry Doctor. You may have thwarted the plans of our allies, the Romulans, but we’ve learnt from their mistakes,” Alpha99 said, as the woman on the table rose, her hand morphing into a Dalek-enhanced compact laser deluxe gun.

Before the Doctor could respond, he fainted as the laser struck him, but not before he heard Rosalie scream in the distance. NOOOOOOOOO!

Several hours later…

The Doctor slowly regained consciousness, his head throbbing with acute pain. He was still in the club, but had been relocated to a room upstairs. He noticed he was suspended in a Dalek-induced force field, unable to move or escape. Where’s Rosalie?

He heard the door unlock, and saw Rosalie enter. You’re ok…

“Hello, Doctor.” Rosalie’s voice sounded different. Robotic even.

And then the truth struck the Doctor. Rosalie seemed more beautiful. Too perfect almost. 

“Rosalie, are you a Dalek now?” the Doctor could hardly believe his words.

“I’m Ros-alloy, Dalek no. 980675 now,” replied the erstwhile Rosalie coldly, as she struck the Doctor with her laser gun, making him lose consciousness again.

-dreamer2205/Aditi Thakur

Five Top Things This Course Is Not About

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Countdown to Day 1

5.  Reading Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, and The Metamorphosis and calling them SF.

4.  Explaining physics to non-scientists.

3.  Finding all the bogus science in SF.

2.  Proving SF is literature.

1.  Proving science is SF

Jay Clayton

Five Top Things This Course Is About

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Countdown to Day 1

5.  Creativity in science and SF.

4.  Constraints in science and SF.

3.  Prediction in science and SF.

2.  Genre distinctions, literary value, and canon-making.

1.  Writing well, whether about science or literature, or in your own fiction,

Jay Clayton

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