EDITOR’S note (August 12, 2011): This post was written with the help of blogger and Tyndale employee, Jesse Doogan.
Some posts are more difficult to write than others. When you become so attached to a television show, of your favorite genre, it is not easy to say anything critical about it. It all started last year, when I watched a Warehouse 13 marathon on SyFy last year. Having just completed my second masters, and on the topic of Clement of Alexandria, I was rather intrigued by an episode where the Warehouse 13 agents had to travel to Alexandria to find and stop Warehouse 2 in order to save one of the team’s members.
I am very picky when it comes to watching Science Fiction film/television; several of the advantages that Warehouse 13 had over other fantasy shows such as True Blood or a Game of Thrones was there very little blood shed and its almost family-friendly appeal. Me and Warehouse 13, it
was is a match made in heaven. I have even tried and failed time and again to convince Optymystic Chad himself to watch just one episode, to no avail. As a cultural critic, I know I have taken a lot of slack for my post-colonial (and highly controversial) interpretation of Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, but I regret absolutely nothing. With more women becoming prominent in politics, its become apparent to me just how sexist media out lets can be, in support of the status quo.
Science fiction, as far as I am concerned at least, is supposed to be about promoting the possibility of a better world, asking the What If questions. When in science fiction literature or entertainment,
I read or see elements of fallen society that go unquestioned, say for instance, phallocentrism, I have to wonder if this form of science fiction exists to affirm the world as it is rather than challenge us all to a different world.
I am not the first person to wonder aloud whether Warehouse 13 implicitly sets us up within (Thanks to Jessica for this link as well!), a sexist worldview. While there usually is a dearth in female characters minus the token damsels in distress in Sci Fi, Warehouse 13 is thought to be above the fray because it includes 4-5 women who remain crucial to the Warehouse- Myka Bering, Leena, Claudia Donovan, Irene Frederic, and H.G. Wells (Helena). Warehouses are places where all of the world’s most mysterious artifacts go. Each episode is an investigation of sorts because sometimes these artifacts get placed in the wrong hands, and things go haywire. Mrs. Frederic is an elderly African American lady, is the caretaker of the Warehouse 13, located in South Dakota. Her caretakership is a bit of a mystery, but at the conclusion of Season 2, it was reveal she had a special relationship with the Warehouse; in fact, she may even have teleportation abilities. Her mind is literally a database of all of the artifacts that are in or supposed to be in the Warehouse.
Because the story arcs center around agent Pete Lattimer (who we’ll get to later), neither Mrs. Frederic or Myka, Pete’s partner have backstories that we can refer to or are aware of. Because of the flat story of Mrs. Frederic, Warehouse 13 joins NBC Community’s Jeff Winger, in the Pilot, declaring that every black woman over 50 is a cosmic mentor. Of course this stereotype relies not on one, but two historical stereotypes: that of the Magical Negro (ever watched Bagger Vance?) as well as the overbearing, asexual black mother figure, The Mammy. Mammy has become quite popular in the postmodern world for some reason. Whether it is William P Young’s The Shack with Aunt Jemmima as god, or and JK Gayle is HELPING us to see, a novel and movie called The Help, about black women domestic workers entertaining white women with their stories. See JK Gayle’s series: here and here.
In corporate-driven capitalist societies, to sum up my arguments against Magical Mammies in an overly simplistic, there needs to be subordinate persons who are depended upon to give the rugged individual a hug, even if this relationship is imagined. Just as the Mammy during the Antebellum South took care of the Master’s children, so too are black women who are domestic workers are expected to be the supportive, parental like figures, a cosmic mentors for whites. With this particular relationship, histories of oppression are magically erased. With Mrs. Frederic being frozen in the story with an occasional appearance as the caretaker, she fits the role perfectly of a Magical Mammy. However, Warehouse 13 has managed not just one Magical Mammy, but two. The marginal but regular character Leena is the other person of African descent, who is in charge of the bed-and-breakfast (more like a dormitory for the Warehouse agents) and she also has the power to read a persons aura, with a certain knowledge of how people will react to the artifacts. Leena, as a 1-dimensional character, performs the Magical Mammy role even when Mrs. Frederic appears. Both women are designated as “caretakers” of fictional homes, but because the story centers on the male-experience of Pete, this is all we know of them. And what we know of their roles, we can assume because we have been enculturated to see them as The Help.
Before I get to Myka and Pete, I would like to do a brief interlude into the rather detailed back story of Helena G. Wells. This past Monday’s episode, 3…2….1, H.G.’s flashback revealed her reputation for “charming”man in London except for Oscar Wilde, but you know, it wasn’t for lack of trying. On the one hand, Wells’ reputation within the Warehouse 12 is a genius, with a high I.Q., with a penchant for inventing thing well before their time. On the other, she is defined by her sensuality and romantic liasons in late 19th century England. The story makes it obvious that it is her gender that limits society’s ability to appreciate her as an intellectual, and so in order to gain love from others, she must do what is expected of her: use her body to get what she wants. H.G. Wells does get to experience our future, you know where her gender is not supposed to be a barrier. Yet, somehow it does. Peter, at one point in the aforementioned episode, literally walks all over her (a hologram of her), ignoring anything she has to say. Yeah Yeah, he makes it up to her in the end, but still, I think it is rather indicative Pete’s masculinist biases as a character. For fans, if you recall, in H.G. Wells first appearance, she uses her “charms” to distract Pete as she escapes with an artifact, leaving Pete and Myka “hanging” from a ceiling.
Now, back to Pete and Myka, two former Secret Service agents, rewarded for their rescue of the life of a politician by being sent to Warehouse 13. One easily forgets that Myka is supposed to have a photographic memory except for the fact that it is not interwoven in episodes that often. As Jessica pointed out, what can be expected is that Myka wears skin-tight white t-shirts. As a straight male, of course, I would coincidently ignore that little fact, but it is worth considering. I mean, its not Game of Thrones or True Blood by any stretch, but the gender exploitation is still out in the open. By season 3, you would think that Myka’s relationship troubles or a relationship would become part of the story, but nothing really musters. In the episode Age Before Beauty, or Merge with Caution from Season 2, or any episode that may incidently come from her experience, it is all about her appearance or her lack of being in a relationship. Mean while, Pete gets to live the dream, getting to meet his favorite superhero in the episode Mild Mannered or never getting confronted for his sexist comments.
Claudia has a story that we are familiar with; she is a hacker, she has father issues, especially with Artie, our kind, caring, but not too over burdensome patriarch. It seems as if every time Claudia meets a guy close to her age, she has a compulsive need to make making out with him her first priority. Again, we aren’t talking about HBO stuff here, but the message is the same: the use of the female body is centered around the male experience, despite there being a 4-2 majority, women-men, okay, now 4-3. But even with the third male, Steve Jinks, we learn more about him in his first 2 episodes than what we know about Leena, Myka, and Mrs. Frederic combined. From the start, we know he is male, a practicing Buddhist, a human lie detector, and identified himself as part of the GLBTQAI community. Even with Jinks coming out, it was sort of awkward with Pete, who showing Jinks his chest. Pete can bend the rules because quite simply he is privileged as white male, and no one dares to call him out on his behavior.
This season, a few other things that come to mind when it comes to gender. In the episode Queen for A Day, Pete’s ex-wife (of course, Pete has an ex-wife) who is a Marine, makes it known that her dream wedding is to actually live out a fairy tale, as a princess marrying a soldier (even though she herself is one). What? Not enough Disney movies to go around? And the artifact turns her into a Queen Bee, an all powerful Bridezilla! Yeah, women performing roles for the wedding industry, and its just that, the wedding industry. As one my friends pointed out, her fiancee says to her, “In a few hours, I will own you woman.” Yeah, it’s still the 1950s for some people. But isn’t that what a fairytale prince will give you? An overly possessive and jealous dimwit who turned out to be a myth, an opiate of the female masses. I am thinking here of Twilight’s Edward Cullen and Jacob Black cough cough cough cough.
In the episode before that, Love Sick, there is a Best Buy employee who basically programs laptops so that he can spy on beautiful women. No no no, he is not a bad dude for being a pervert; he just happened to have an artifact that he knew nothing about to spread a virus through computers. Somehow the solution to the problem had something to do with Myka and Pete waking up next to each other but not consummating their relationship, because as part of Myka’s brilliant idea, it would help them remember how they lost their memories in the first place.
Look, I know no television show is perfect, and I will probably continue to watch Warehouse 13. But I could not continue to enjoy it without engaging it critically as I have done here. What I wanted to point out here is that there are sites in our society where decisions to be inclusive can indeed become potentially oppressive. For example in her second “shocking” debate performance, Michele Bachmann was asked by a debate moderator if she would be submissive to her husband while being President. I didn’t see this moderator ask Rick Santorum if he would be submissive to his wife if he were to become President. While the Iowa audience was experiencing a more “inclusive” GOP field of candidates, that inclusion has limits. In fact, suffice to say, in a corporatist society, all inclusions have limits, limitations set by pre-determined race and gender roles. We will hear universities talk about Diversity Days and multiculturalism, but of course these concepts are late capitalist concepts.
- Syfy Renews Warehouse 13 for Season 4 (omg.yahoo.com)