Human Form and Power: Metropolis, Left Hand of Darkness, and “The Hood Maker”
In science fiction, composers challenge traditional perspectives on humanity in order to investigate the way in human form influences power dynamics within texts, which is conveyed through the use of a variety of forms and features in response to the authors’ contextual background. This is demonstrated in Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness (Darkness) which, informed by Le Guin’s feminist background, portrays a planet inhabited by ambisexual beings. Correspondingly, the expressionist film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, and Phillip K. Dick’s short story the Hood Maker both implicate creative perspectives on human form, responding to Lang’s German political situation of the early twentieth century, and Dick’s context increasing nuclear technology during a Cold War period. All texts investigate the effect of unconventional human forms on power distribution within a fictitious society.
Authors and directors create worlds in which alternative expressions of human forms are represented, in order to critique upon aspects of the respective author’s contexts. Such is evident in Darkness, wherein at the beginning of the novel, protagonist Ai illustrates his lack of understanding for the Gethenian social orientation, and through this Le Guin skilfully demonstrates his gender prejudice. Ai explains how on Earth men and women want their virility and femininity regarded, yet on Gethen this does not exist, ‘One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.’ Le Guin employs high modal language – ‘appalling’ – which creates a somewhat satirical tone as the audience realizes the absurdity of Ai’s idea that being regarded as equal beings an appalling experience, highlighting the justness of a society in which there is only one gender. Le Guin continues to draw on her feminist background, evident through a conversation in which Ai attempts to explain the difference between men and women on Earth. In response to women completing most of the child rearing tasks, Estraven asks, ‘Equality is not the general rule, then? Are they mentally inferior?’ The idiom, ‘general rule’ illustrates the lack of equality on Earth in comparison to the normality of equality on Gethen, which is enhanced through the repetition of questioning punctuation in conjunction, as Estraven finds it difficult to grasp the differences in the treatment of different genders. Through this, Le Guin’s underlying purpose of creating an ambisexual expression of humanity can be interpreted, clearly encouraging the audience to consider gender inequalities in their own societies.
In Metropolis, the increased worth of technology results in the decreased value of human life, leading to the oppression of the workers of Metropolis in order to maintain maximum efficiency of the machines. Equivalently to Darkness, this parallels to the composer’s context, as a divide beginning to form in Lang’s society during the Weimar Period of Germany, between the proletariat and the bourgeoise. Lang utilises experimental features to represent the workers as part of a machine, evident in the introductory scene of the film, where the scene focuses on a group of workers who are all wearing matching uniforms and identical despondent facial expressions, and marching in rigid unison. The dismal semiotics of proletariats through costuming and movement demonstrates the mechanisation of humans who are visually represented within a sympathetic, pitiful manner, this leads the audience to question the value of efficiency at the cost of human life. Thus Lang responds to the technocracy of his context by employing a variety of techniques and representing humans as machinations, as Le Guin correspondingly draws on her own feminist contextual background in order to craft messages relating to gender through the use of unique forms and features.
Through the exploration of human forms which challenge the norm, composers investigate the different possibilities relating to power and ruling dynamics. In Darkness, Le Guin leads us to consider the way in which power is distributed in our own society, through Ai’s continued journey in Gethen. As he comes to recognise the startlingly equal power distribution in the ambisexual world that is non-existent on Earth, Ai states, ‘Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive.’ The accumulation of juxtaposing terms representing male and female stereotypes, contrasted by a forward slash, skilfully illustrates the power dynamics of Earth which are determined through gender, however; by using the term, ‘consider:’ the audience is lead to think in the hypothetical, of a world without these imbalances. Le Guin further explores this, ‘No child over one a year-old lives with its parent or parents, all are brought up in the Commensal Hearths. There is no rank by descent. All start equal.’ In comparison to the quote above where the power distribution of Earth is dependent on gender, it is clear from this quote that due to the lack of gender constraints, everyone starts equal. This is emphasised through the repetition of ‘all’, which continues to suggest the immense egalitarianism of Gethen, and works in conjunction with the repetition of ‘no’, which stresses the absence of exclusion or discrimination. This is further supported by the short sentence structures which suggest there is no alternative, all only start equal, overall illustrating how power dynamics in Gethenian society is different to that of our own, thus leading the audience to recognise the power discrepancies in our own society.
The exploration of power is also evident in the 1955 short story The Hood Maker. The text reflects Dick’s Cold War context, whilst reflecting his personal interest of politics, through a world which explores the power struggle, after a nuclear outbreak years ago resulted in the appearance of telepaths, or ‘teeps,’ whom are a challenge to the traditional human form by the addition of their telepathic abilities. Cutter, an individual who believes the teeps are involved in an insurgency expresses, ‘Most teeps believe they are the natural leaders of mankind. Non-telepathic humans are inferior species. Teeps are the next step up, homo superior.’ Dick utilises an idiom, ‘the next step up,’ to emphasise the way in which Cutter perceives Telepaths, whilst the italicised scientific made-up term continues to express Cutters fear of the ‘teeps’ gaining power through appealing to the audience’s ethos by appearing to present Cutter with credibility. Dick further emphasises Cutters belief that humans should not be governed by Telepaths, ‘A telepathic faculty doesn’t imply general superiority. The teeps aren’t a superior race… They’re no different from the Jacobins, the Roundheads, Nazi’s, Bolsheviks,’ the slang term, ‘teep’ continues to evoke a sense of disrespect towards the telepaths, and seems to emphasise the fact that Cutter does not view them as human beings like himself, which in concurrence of the listing of different elite ruling classes throughout history which the audience would associate with negativity, continues to emphasise the Cutter’s profoundly disapproving attitude regarding the Telepaths. Through Cutter’s beliefs surrounding the rule of humanity, Phillip K. Dick continues to illustrate that there will always be groups of people who believe they have the right to rule, and those who oppose, regardless of whether their ability may indeed mean they are the most fit to be in power. Through the texts Darkness and Hood Maker, it is clear that composers challenge the traditional human form to experiment the ways in which power distribution can be affected, which is expressed through a variety of forms and features.
Composers of science fiction texts utilise forms and features in order to depict alternative expressions of human form which challenge the norm, in order to critique upon an aspect of their own context. Such is demonstrated in Metropolis, as Lang utilises filmic techniques to depict humans in a machine-like manner in order to respond to his context of growing technocracy. Equivalently, informed by her feminist values, Le Guin crafts a world of unconventional expressions of humanity through the creation of ambisexual beings, in order to critique upon the distribution of power dependent on gender in our own society. In his work, though, Phillip K. Dick employs a variety of techniques to explore the possibilities of domination in the future through telepathic beings.
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