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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Man in the High Castle: Extraordinary, feminist peace series

I had been despairing about popular media's complicity in the rise of an ultra-violent society now headed by misogynist authoritarian who believes in muscular solutions to most problems, when I saw the extraordinary final episode of the series The Man in the High Castle. I don't want to provide spoilers, as I hope people will watch this program, but I am buoyed with hope. Creating peace narratives has been very much on my mind lately, as that is a necessary precondition to creating the more peaceful society we desperately need: "Without imagination, the people perish." But where, I have wondered, are these narratives?

In Man in the High Castle, the Axis has conquered America.

 The Man in the High Castle, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, imagines a world in which the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II and the United States has been divided between them. The Japanese run the Pacific Coast, the Nazis the eastern seaboard into the midwest, and a no-man's land exists in between. The story, which is complex, follows interactions between Americans who are members of a resistance movement fighting both the Nazi and Japanese occupations and their interactions with high ranking individuals in both regimes.

The action pivots on the decisions of Julianna, a compassionate character who exhibits strength and agency.

Without giving anything away, the series both shows the horrors (rather than the so-called glamor) of violence and refuses to draw sharp demarcations between good guys and bad guys, instead presenting complex characters. It teaches us not to judge by outward appearance, even if that outward appearance includes swastikas, iron crosses or emblems of a repressive Japanese regime: people are what they do, not the uniform they wear. No one--or any one nationality-- is purely good or purely evil--and a woman is the pivot of the action.

John Smith is a high ranking Nazi, but also a complex human being.

After sitting through so many highly popular and in most cases very good (high production values, superb acting, strong scripts) series that are predicated on the story arc of the "man with the biggest weapons willing to behave in the most ruthless way wins," it was a relief to watch an intelligent, well produced series that called into question that narrative, and in fact, portrayed that particular story line as Nazism, problematizing it (as it should be) from the start.

In Man, it is relationship, the humanizing of the Other, that averts lethal catastrophe. It illustrates Audre Lorde's theme in "The Uses of the Erotic" (and also the take-aways of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Kelly after their encounters with Nazi Germany) that political change comes from entering into genuine empathic relationship. Rather than the typical story line that depicts compassion as "weak," empathy in Man ends up to be the greatest strength.

I have to say I was dismayed when in West World, a prime example of a series valorizing "the most violent one wins," Delores, a gentle prairie woman in long dresses, has a pivotal moment in which she says (how cliched can we get?) having donned pants, "I'm not a damsel anymore" before blowing someone away to show her "empowerment." Aren't we tired of that yet? Really? Why do we continue to co-opt women as "tough grrls" into a male narrative of violence that never works, excepts to create ever more violence and dehumanization? It was heartening, almost exhilarating, to see here a story arc based on a different narrative (though with much violence along the way).

Audiences are expected to applaud when West World's Delores embraces violence and murder as if this represents "strength" and an "advance." We really need to progress beyond this kind of thinking. That this is the "masculine" solution is made clear by Delores's adoption of male clothes. 

Because Man in the High Castle has such a complicated story line and is predicated on moral complexity rather than black and white, good and evil characters, I fear that people won't "get" what the series is trying to convey. But hope springs eternal in the human breast.

I am writing this hoping that the series follows the novel, as that would make it a fine novel indeed, at least thematically, but I don't know. I also haven't yet read anything about the series, as I haven't wanted to inadvertently stumble across spoilers. I will try to find out more.




3 comments:

  1. Just a thought: if you worry about spoilers you won't be able to write anything. Several good critics have gone on-line inveighing against the spread of "never telling:" it's anti-intellectual; it's deep purpose is to shut people up. (Thus the man who asked the question if there's a text in the house, and there is one and there is such a thing as misreading and all opinions are not equal.) I've met people who say if I mention a movie or book and say it's good, don't tell me anything. They don't even want to know the subject. I recommend at top if this social conformity bothers you, say you are writing about the book or movie as a whole and if this bothers people don't read on. Many will read on. What critic can say anything about a book or movie without taking into account the ending.

    You hardly said what you wanted, and what I saw best was that the women here exemplifying violence as a way to solve problems.

    I apologize if I seem harsh but I mean well. Just put a warning on top so you can allow yourself to write!

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  2. Thanks for commenting Ellen. I will leave this as it: it is as I want it. I will write a spoiler blog.

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  3. Hi Di! This is great. But I would appreciate a little more aboout what you mean when you talk about the "humanizing of the other," Audre Lorde, Kelly, Bonhoeffer, etc. There seems to be a common thread here that could be treated in a separate blog!

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