My Crazy 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Feminist Essay

My Crazy 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Feminist Essay

PRELUDE [“Thus Spake Zarathustra”]

My last essay for this site was about Lolita and was critical of Kubrick’s take on it—an unequivocally feminist essay. And while there are clear reasons to fold issues of sexism into discussions of Kubrick and his movies, especially in this year loaded with revelations about the film industry, I don’t want that to be the constant theme of my podcasts or this site. That being said, I do want to toss into the ring the not-so-obvious connections between the concepts of feminism and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, let’s give that a whirl.

Let me also add as prelude that any talk about sexism and the patriarchy includes generalizations about the genders. I think we are in an age in which we are teetering into a trend toward demonizing all white males, and that is just plain wrong. Just as racism, sexism and xenophobia—any form of prejudice— is about demonizing or minimizing every person within a category of humanity, portraying every white male as “bad” is a form of spreading hatred—the last thing we need. White men supported women in our fight to gain the right to vote, white men died in the Civil War to abolish slavery, white men are directing movies with strong female and minority roles and are treating all categories of humans with respect. Many are trying hard to turn things around. That men have evolved in their philosophies about women and human equality is essential to progress, and we need to keep that trend growing. When we speak of sexism and white male privilege, we are talking about the overwhelming trend of inequality over the course of history, and about the still-existing destructive trends in today’s society. We are talking about overarching problems and, yes, about millions of men who are still participating in this toxic patriarchy. Most men reading this and listening to my podcast are not part of the problem. But we are talking about a sizeable and influential force, millions among the other millions. This force has caused enormous grief and destruction on this planet. Those are the men we are talking about.

And I promise, folks, my next essay will be about horror in cinema.

Okay, that said…

THE SPAWN OF MAN [sound of wind blowing and crickets]

There is a logical connection between a discussion of patriarchy and a discussion of the movie 2001 in that the 1968 masterpiece is clearly Kubrick’s reaction to his own previous movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And Strangelove is a movie about maleness, through and through. It’s about the male obsession with sex and power. (We see this in the characters’ names, we see it in the props, we see it in the vignettes and visuals.) It directly connects those obsessions with war and the destruction of the planet. There is only one female in the entire movie, and she’s a scantily clad minor character—an intentional sex object. The film is a skewering of maleness, easy to consume because of its humor and symbolism. The movie ends with the destruction of the planet via atomic bombs, a chain of events set off by a man worried about his “loss of essence” (semen) and moved forward by the inability of men to work cooperatively.

It’s a funny, depressing film. It is also a film meant to reflect reality.

MISSION TO EARTH [“The Blue Danube”]

Kubrick meant for 2001 to be an antidote to the dismal outcome of Strangelove. In fact, at some point the working title for 2001 was “Son of Strangelove.” According to Arthur C. Clarke, co-writer of the screenplay and writer of the 2001 novel, the sci-fi movie was meant “as an extension of Kubrick’s previous film and intended to emphasize terrestrial themes in which nuclear bombs orbited the Earth only to be detonated by the Star Child in an act of cosmic purification.”  Early in the planning of Strangelove, Kubrick wanted to have the voice of an alien narrating, as if it were observing and commenting on the actions in the film. If Kubrick had preserved that, as well as the original 2001 final sequence of the Earth’s nuclear war devices being detonated by the Star Child (which is in the book), these films would be clear mirrors of each other; an inseparable dyad. Part one: Aliens pity our self-destruction. Part two: Aliens save us from our self-destruction.

2001-feminist-artThe aliens in 2001, who have existed far longer than Earth humans, not only save us from extinction millions of years ago but save us from extinguishing ourselves in the present. In the Dawn of Man segment of 2001, a drought has brought the pre-hominids close to dying out. The monolith teaches the pre-hominids how to kill for food, saving their lives. In the sequences taking place in the year 2001 (only 35 years from the film’s release date, so basically in the present) the aliens allow for a further evolution of human beings. The movie and book portray this evolution abstractly, but the take-away is that it is what will save humanity from its own destructive technology and masochistic hubris.

Kubrick’s 2001 was meant to be a message of hope, a jolt to the audience’s brain brought on by the concept that we are simply a small part of a larger universe. We are likely not alone, and if we could just look up from our Earth-bound navel-gazing we would see that the need to dominate politically (and sexually and person-to-person) is as barbaric as an ape figuring out how to slay a tapir, then turning in excitement and whacking to death everything that moves. When the alien revolution comes, we will look back at our current behavior and think it sad and quaint.

But this message of hope relies on a hard-to-conceive notion: Higher forms of life from other worlds are needed to save humanity from itself. The implication is that we do not possess the tools to move forward and prevent our own eradication.

Observing the world’s progress from 1968 to 2018, it’s hard to argue against this.

The war machine chugs on, the worldwide murder rate remains astronomic, rape is rampant, child sexual abuse is ubiquitous, and some stats suggests there is more slavery right now than in the history of the world. Our world leaders include Putin, who has poisoned journalists, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte who executes without trial, sometimes by his own hand, North Korea’s nation-starving Kim Jong Un, Iran’s radical dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, whose crimes are coming to the fore. And oh, yes, we have a pussy-grabbing president here in the States. Vast swaths of humanity are gravely oppressed in India, the Middle East, China, Africa, and the bad guys in drug cartels are winning in much of South America.

So, the only logical way out of this misery-spiral is outside intervention, right? Because we simply don’t have the tools to make any of this better, yes? If we did, we’d use them, wouldn’t we?

If there was an alien species out there capable of running a better world—one of peace, prosperity, environmental turn-around, and technological progress—and we knew that for a fact, would we collectively choose to replace each of our world leaders with one of their kind in order to save ourselves? In a world-wide democratic vote, all 7.6 billion Earthilings voting, yes, of course we would.

So, Kubrick’s concept is based in some realism. In fact, he was so invested in the idea, he was intending to have an opening segment in 2001 featuring real scientists explaining the scientific thinking around alien intelligent life and its possible contact with Earth. His message was: If this is a real possibility, this would be a good thing. We should welcome this scenario in a realistic way.

MISSION TO HERTH or MISSION TO JUPIT-HER (your pick) [“Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio)”]

This leads us to another concept that is almost as hard to swallow as aliens intervening in our world: The idea of a matriarchy, or the concept of women making up the majority of leadership roles. This is not an idea that would have probably occurred to someone like Kubrick and so many other big thinkers from the last century. But it is interesting to think about why this would not have occurred to them as a possible solution. In Kubrick’s case, he practically set himself up for this idea as a response to the maleness of Strangelove.

Obviously, a matriarchy is not going to happen any time soon. If the idea of a worldwide matriarchy were proposed, whoever proposed it would be laughed out of the room and probably trolled into a life of hiding.

And yet, if you really think about it, a matriarchy is just as reasonable a solution to our planet’s problems as alien intervention, and way more practical. We have everything we need right here, all around us.

For balance, let’s be sure to note that there are terrible women. There are females who murder, abuse, corrupt, swindle, and oppress. But there are way, way, way, way less of them. (Check out murder stats, gang stats, rape states, robbery stats.) And when given power, generally, they don’t develop the tendency to do those things. (Check out genocide stats, dictator stats, corporate corruption stats.)

We’ve recently seen what happens when women are no longer oppressed and are able to pursue the same ambitions that men have for centuries. Women have become great artists, writers, and musicians. Women are doing better in college than men, and they are flourishing in fields of science and medicine. They become excellent plumbers, comedians, athletes, and university professors. Given another century of not being oppressed, there will likely emerge female Beethovens, Hemingways, Einsteins, and Edisons. Oh, and Kubricks.

And most importantly to this thesis, women have been found to be incredibly good politicians. Study after study shows that when women are given power, the community does better. The education level rises, the nutrition of constituents is improved, and the economy improves. And as far as everything going kablooey: Women in power are far more likely to maintain peace.

Some quick summaries to back this up:

  • A study by Stanford and the University of Chicago shows that congressional districts served by female legislators do better, get more spending, sponsor more bills.
  • In 2014 the average female senator ran 96 bills, the average male only 70, and with women there were more co-sponsorships.
  • Research confirms that both Republican and Democratic women are more likely than their male counterparts to initiate and fight for bills that champion social justice, protect the environment, advocate for families, and promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • A cross-national quantitative analysis found that higher levels of female participation in parliament (or congress) reduce the risks of civil war.
  • A study using data on international crises over four decades found that as the percentage of women in parliament (or congress) increases by five percent, a state is five times less likely to use violence when faced with an international crisis.
  • Statistical analysis of data from most countries in the world during the period 1977–1996 showed that the higher the proportion of women in parliament (or congress), the lower the likelihood that the state carried out human rights abuses such as political imprisonments, torture, killings, and disappearances.
  • A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the last three decades showed that when women’s groups were able to effectively influence a peace process, an agreement was almost always reached—only one case presented an exception. When women did not participate, the rate of reaching an agreement was much lower. Once an agreement was reached, the influence of women’s groups was also associated with much higher rates of implementation.
  • A study of 58 conflict-affected states between 1980 and 2003 found that when no women are represented in the legislature, the risk of relapse increases over time, but when 35 per cent of the legislature is female, this relationship virtually disappears, and the risk of relapse is near zero.

Nobel prize economics laureate Amartya Sen (who is male) has said that “nothing, arguably, is as important in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic and social participation and leadership of women.”

There are, more and more, real-world examples of societal transformations resulting Rwanda-parliament-770x433from female leadership. Outstanding is Rwanda. After a tribal-feud genocidal massacre in 1994 that left 800,000 dead, the country was mostly populated by females. (Only 2.3 percent of the 100,000 jailed for the genocide were women.) Because of the population shift, laws that oppressed women, such as property ownership and polygamy laws, were overturned. Women were allowed to serve on the supreme court, presidential cabinet, senior police, and on major commissions. As an act of recovery, the constitution was amended to guarantee that 30 percent of seats in parliament would go to females. The Rwandan parliament is now more than 60 percent female, and by all accounts it is safe to say that genocide is no longer a danger. Women in Rwanda still have to fight for their rights against the growingly oppressive male president—he had a female presidential candidate opponent disqualified and circulated fake nude photos of her—but females are given the credit for having rebuilt Rwanda. The country now has one of the fastest growing economies in all of Africa, is considered one of the “greenest” countries, and has averaged a GDP growth of eight percent over the last decade. These benefits were not even dreamed of before 1994.

REBIRTH [“Thus Spake Zarathustra”]

What’s interesting about the concept of a matriarchy saving the planet instead of alien monoliths is that it is simply not thought to be a viable option.

Scientists from Neil de Grasse Tyson to (the late) Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking to Brian Greene, do believe there is intelligent life out there. They say that considering the billions of sun-like stars, the billions of planets orbiting those suns, and the fact that life was sparked here with the same ingredients that are floating around everywhere in the universe, it is pretty much inevitable. And these guys generally talk about it as a positive. The day contact is made will be a good day for Earth.

But no one would dare, in the year 2018, propose the concept of a matriarchy, despite all evidence of its benefits.

There is a reason for this: Our ultimate goal as Good Guys on Planet Earth is for total equality for all humans, no matter gender, race or characteristic. A matriarchy implies that females would have power over males. This is not something that anybody who is fair and reasonable would want, because fair and reasonable people don’t want to simply flip the power structure. They want to neutralize it.

This writer agrees with that. But still, I have to ask: What would happen if right now, this very minute, we magically replaced every male world leader with a female? Randomly. Pluck average women all around the globe out of their lives and put them into the chairs of Trump, Putin, Duterte, and all around Asia, South America, Africa, and across Europe. Would the world be a better place? Would we be a few steps closer to world peace and prosperity?

Is this idea too nuts to even talk about?

Is it so outlandish that we’d best hope for the little green men with monoliths?


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