Gender roles

I started watching the wonderfully silly new show “Warehouse 13” on the Syfy channel. For those of you who don’t know, the term “Syfy” is a clever marketing gimmick to appeal to people who like science fiction but haven’t learned how to spell yet.

Ostensibly about the care and feeding of that giant room at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where our government stashed the Ark of the Covenant for safekeeping, the nice thing about “Warehouse 13” is that its treatment of this alternate reality is deliberately silly. In each episode the writers make a point of creating a driving plot premise for that week’s adventure that is so outlandishly stupid and inconsistent, even according to the weird internal “rules” of the show’s fictional world, that the audience can just relax and feel in on the joke.

The fact that such an eye rolling plot howler appears in every single episode – and each time in a different way – makes it clear that we are seeing a deliberate choice on the part of the writers. In this sense, “Warehouse 13” bears roughly the same relationship to the fantasy genre as “Borat” does to the Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce.

Which is all fine with me. A meta-premise is still a premise, and “fantasy ideas written while falling-down drunk” is a great meta-premise for a show. Besides, the writers don’t seem particularly interested in the fantasy part anyway. They are only using that to get to the real meat of the show, which is the coming together of a surrogate family of loners and misfits. And here is where I think the show goes out of its way to do something genuinely innovative.

To summarize briefly, the main characters on “Warehouse 13” are:

(i) A government agent who is serious, decisive, hair-trigger to action in a crisis, expert with both gun and the marshal arts, and used to being in charge;

(ii) That agent’s partner, who is sweet, intuitive, sensitive, endearing in a childlike way, and loves milk and cookies;

(iii) A mysterious and somewhat aloof uber-boss who rules with complete authority and not a trace of sentimentality;

(iv) The indearingly sensitive and eccentric caretaker of the warehouse, who fusses after the two agents like a mother hen, always dresses in dowdy outfits, frets whenever the two agents are in trouble, and is always sure to give them milk and cookies when they return from an adventure;

(v) A skinny whiz-kid teen hacker in sneakers who is smarter than the geniuses at MIT, faster with a sarcastic quip than Ferris Bueller, plays world-class chess, and is capable of inventing three new technologies in the time it would take Scotty to say “Aye Cap’n”.

Doesn’t seem very innovative, right? But here’s the thing. The genders of these five characters are, respectively: (i) female, (ii) male, (iii) female, (iv) male, (v) female. In other words, the exact opposite of what one would expect for a TV show of this kind. There is simply no way such a deviation from genre conventions could have been an accident – these writers are clearly up to something.

I’m going to keep watching. Maybe I’ll find out just where this is all leading. Of course there’s no way to know for sure – this is a fantasy series after all. They might just end up introducing a third gender.

5 Responses to “Gender roles”

  1. troy says:

    aren’t we all ready for a third gender?

  2. admin says:

    There was a great 1972 science fiction novel on that subject by Isaac Asimov, called “The Gods Themselves”. In the second of the three sections of the book, which takes place in an alternate universe, Asimov explores, in a really interesting way, the emotional subtleties of a relationship comprising three distinct sexual genders.

  3. troy says:

    An interesting thought, considering the traditional 2-gender version of procreation, would be whether a 3-gendered system would require the union of all 3 to reproduce. Makes sense… Mommy, Daddy, and Nanny… :)

  4. admin says:

    Oh yes, indeed all three are required for procreation in Asimov’s novel. The description of how the three partners form a sexual union and procreate is out of this world. So to speak.

    I wouldn’t say that any one of them is a Nanny. It’s a lot more interesting than that – a plausible attempt to think through what an interaction among three distinct and emotionally interdependent genders would be like.

    Even more interesting is the way each of them contributes to the psychological dynamic of the relationship. The novel makes it clear that each individual is capable of transcending the “stereotypical” personality of their respective gender. All of which becomes quite intricate and fascinating when there are three genders involved.

    You should read it.

  5. troy says:

    I will. I haven’t read any Asimov in years… probably due… (The Nanny was a joke, of course).

    Another interesting part of this, is the thought of courtship… It’s hard enough finding one mate, but, then finding another that gets along with the first seems an unsurmountable task… :)

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