“That’s Not Me”: More on Bionic Women

“That’s Not Me”: More on Bionic Women September 27, 2007

There is much more to be said about the new series Bionic Woman (which should, perhaps, be called “Bionic Women” in the plural, since it features two main characters who are bionically enhanced females). In the scene where Jamie and Will have sex, at one point she says “That’s not me”. We needn’t speculate as to what he was touching at that point. The deeper issue is whether replacing limbs, eyes, and other organs makes us “less us”. The classic, very accessible treatment of this in philosophy is the famous piece entitled “Where Am I?” by Daniel Dennett. It explores the usual “brain in a vat” scenario, but takes it much further. Returning to Bionic Woman, the issue of female enhancement and self esteem is a prominent aspect of the series so far – from Sarah Corvin, who clearly has issues with her self esteem (“Tell me that you love me”) and has continued to make “improvements” to herself, to the girl in the car who thought it is cool that a girl can do something like run incredibly fast. Issues of feminism and self-esteem are important ones in our era, when there seems to be a vibrant industry offering women the opportunity to have surgery that will enable them to live up to ridiculous ideals regarding body shape, breast size, and so on. Probably many who watched the original series grew up assuming that by 2007, women would no longer feel the need to do such things nor be pressured by society in that direction. So one thing the series does is to ask how far we have come, and how far we’ve failed to come, since the original was made.

On his personal blog, Mark Goodacre laments the fact that Bionic Woman (unlike its 1970s predecessor) is not a family show. The same can be said of the re-created Battlestar Galactica. I am somewhat torn myself – on the one hand, a series that is not even trying to be kid-friendly can explore subjects and go places that would otherwise be off limits. On the other hand, I fear for the next generation if there are no serious science fiction shows that kids can watch too. On a related note, in my class on the Bible yesterday we discussed whether familiar Bible stories such as David and Goliath or Samson, and indeed the Bible in general, are child-friendly or appropriate for young audiences. Certainly editing is required to make them G-rated – and you’ll want to keep them away from Judges 19 altogether until they are adults.

Let me conclude by just saying I like one of David Eick’s hallmarks, the subtle tribute to the original series that he is remaking. I wonder how many people noticed that a helicopter was used during the first high-speed chase scene precisely because it allowed one to hear a sound as Jamie was running that paralleled the sound effect whenever bionics were used in the original series. Eick has shown through Battlestar Galactica that he makes serious television shows that address serious issues about our values in general, and not just about technology and ethics. After the first miniseries of BSG, some were still unconvinced. But hopefully the character of that other series as it progressed will be enough to draw viewers back to Bionic Woman and give it time to develop and show us what it can do. I for one am hopefully that we can look forward to bionically-enhanced television at its best!

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