Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Robot Women & Film: The Bad Girl 'Bots

I was now about to form another being of whose disposition I was alike ignorant; she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness…and she…might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation…She might also turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man…trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged… I left the room, and locking the door, made a solemn vow in my own heart to never resume my labours (Mary Shelly - Frankenstein, 1818)

From the earliest days of film, story tellers have been fascinated with the image of the mechanical woman. Maria, the dark and destructive fembot of Metropolis (1927) requires little introduction and has thoroughly captured the cultural imaginary.

We may say that Maria is the prototype of all "bad girl robots" who follow her. Bad girl 'bots seem to be pathologically preoccupied with the destruction of humanity and this remains a dominant character trait of robot women in film. Unlike her male counterpart (i.e. Bionic Man; Dekkard; Robo Cop; etc.), she is seldom charged with keeping/restoring order on behalf of the State. And if she is, she inevitably malfunctions or rebels (or both).

Andreas Huyssen argues that technology represented as female monstrosity or maschinenmensch emerged at the turn of the 18th century as the literary imagination appropriated the image of the human-like automaton, popularized during the 17th and early 18th century, and transformed it from the symbol of Enlightenment, “testimony to the genius of mechanical invention,” to an image of terror and “threat to human life” that is so familiar to us today.

Blade Runner's (1982) Pris and Zhora are bad girl 'bots in that one is a mercenary and the other a "basic pleasure bot" (prostitute: but without pay) who defy rules concerning replicant (cyborg) autonomy.

Eve of Destruction (1991), features a robot woman created in her makers image. She represents a pathological threat to a major American city because she carries inside her womb - a nuclear bomb. Malfunctioning, Eve moves furiously through the city avenging her maker's troubled past, whose memories she now shares.

Contemporary films like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), continue this trend with such memorable female machines as the TX;

and Battlestar Galactica's multiple models of Caprica/Six, who come from a robot race of cylons that have very nearly wiped out the entire human race. Destructive female robots figure prominently in this narrative.

Additionally, that is Cameron of the Sarah Connors Chronicles who may or may not be a bad girl 'bot.

With such monstrous and maniacal cultural history attached to the image of the female machine, it is unsurprising that female humanoid robots (from science labs) are often conceived and encountered with a measure of trepidation and a lingering sense of foreboding. We might may say, following Sara Ahmed, that we have been historically oriented toward distrust of the female machine.

Who is your favorite bad girl 'bot?


Chris Chesher said...

My favourite bad girl bot in Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the character of Catherine Weaver (taken over by the T1001 shape shifting terminator):
This scene of ritual emasculation and murder in the mensroom is a good example of this genre.

Glenda Shaw Garlock said...

Oh yes, Catherine...she is a very good "bad girl 'bot". Thank you Chris.