Inside and Out: Gender, Information, Science and Technology in Metropolis And Contemporary Images
In the film Metropolis, made in 1927 by Fitz Lang, is possibly the most influential Science Fiction movie of all time. Technology and gender intersects often in this film, creating a forum to ask broader questions about gender, technology, science and information. Beyond just the academic studies of this film, however, there are ways this eighty year old film and themes from Gender, Information, Science and Technology all intersect within a contemporary popular music video, Jessie J’s “Do It Like a Dude.”
Gender, information, science, and technology are all key elements that intersect in the format of Metropolis, as well as the format of the Gender Information and Science course. Therefore, each should be clearly defined through the lens of the class. Gender is a controversial term, because some parties define gender by sex, and some parties separate the two concepts completely. For the purposes of this presentation, gender is distanced, but not separate, from sex to look at ways gender is portrayed in the film, not the way it inherently is. Sexuality is defined as who an individual wants to have sex with. Technology is generally agreed to be anything that humans use outside their own body to complete tasks, from fire to Firefox, from the wheel to the automobile. Information is generally the” communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.” For the purposes here, information is code that is meant for the communication and interpretation of meaning. These terms will be independently defined by Metropolis, as well, and part of
Metropolis contains many contradictory images of women, especially against the plethora of men in the film. The scarcity of women in the film strengthens the images of women that are given. “Metropolis is a city of men. “The film depicts not only an authoritarian society… but also a patriarchal on, a society where women are excluded from the public arena.” (Ruppert, 12) Additionally, the roles of women are constantly contrasting eachother. The question is, who defined what a “woman” is and why? Women in Metropolis are seen as virgins, mothers, lovers, whores, sex-symbols, nurses, and revolutionaries. All these women are opposed against each other in some way, by being either opposites, or improper intersections.
The roles of women in Metropolis vary greatly, and often defy one another. Motherly traits are given to lover figures. The first time women are seen in the film is in The Eternal Gardens, a paradise created by rich Capitalist Managers to entertain their sons. These women are shown in beautiful clothing with elaborate make up and expensive jewelry, and their job is to entertain men. This image is starkly contrasted with the entrance of the main woman in Metropolis, Maria. She enters to the heavenly sound of flutes and harps, surrounded by impoverished children. She is the picture of purity. The antagonist, Freder Frederson sees her, and instantly falls in love. Her virtue and kindness attract him to her, and he begins to fall in love with her. Moments before, he had been trying to kiss one of the prostitutes his father arranged for him. This sharp contradiction in the women Freder pursues reinforces the idea that righteous women are the right type of women to either be or be in love with.
Gender and technology, as well as science, meet intensely and sharply in Metropolis. The hero’s father, Joh Frederson, the most powerful Capitalist Manager, architect of Metropolis city, confronts a mad scientist, Rotwang. Rotwang reveals his latest creation: a humanoid robot who he claims can replace human workers. In this scene, science is shown giving birth to technology, acting as its father. The woman, while seemingly androgynous, resembles a female form. This speaks to the archaic idea that women are simply reproduction machines, and possibly sexual pleasure machines for men. The robot speaks even more to gender issues later in the movie.
Freder, on a mission on help relieve the Worker’s sorrows, he defies his father and trades places with a worker. Through his labor, he discovers the Maria is a religious leader who promises a Mediator who will solve conflict between the Workers who live in drudgery and the Capitalist Managers who live in prosperity. Capitalists and the Workers are destined to be connected eternally through the technology that created and sustains their lives, and cannot be separated. Maria makes the men who come and bow before her to promise to be patient and peaceful while they wait for this savior figure. Joh Frederson and Rotwang secretly see her preach, and Joh orders Rotwang to give the android Maria’s form. Rotwang manages this by kidnapping Maria and transforming her figure onto the robot’s form. He then presents the robot-woman, under the guise of a human woman, to an audience of all men. The women is displayed through a sensuous dance that displays her nude body, sexualizing the robot woman who bears the form and name as the honest Maria. Robot Maria performs at Yoshiwara, the low-class brothel, created for the idle sons of the wealthy Capitalists, and the movie depicts scenes of men filling up the building, and fighting over her.
The introduction of the robot brings in many intersections of gender and technology, as well as science. Initially, the image of a sexual Maria degrades the proper Maria, as well as accentuates her decency. The virgin is put into sharp contrast with her antithesis, the vixenly whore. The relationship between the religious, moral Maria and the robot Maria can be interpreted to show the danger of idolizing technology, as well as humanizing it by giving it a gender, and sexualizing it. The risk of doing this is seen when Rotwang instructs the female robot to preach again to the poverty-stricken workers, this time inciting rebellion against the Management. She then convinces them to fight against the machines they work on, and leads the attack against the machines. She is pictured single-handedly breaking a machine, causes the Worker’s quarters to flood, nearly killing the worker’s children. When the workers realize her treachery, they burn her at a stake, just like a witch. (run into one another?)As she burns, her human flesh disappears and her robot core is shown. The robot’s destruction, as well as the way she causes harm to the Workers, demonstrates advocacy against combining humanity and technology. Her association with the occult through her witch-like death further vilifies her, and contrasts her with her sacred human form. The introduction of the robot character demonstrates how technology and gender intersect to portray women in different perspectives, as well provide warnings.
While the Robot Maria’s radical plan centered around offensive revolutionary action, the Human Maria leads the people through peacefulness and compromise. She is starkly compared to her mechanical counterpart in a scene directly following the depiction of the robot stirring the workers to action. Visually, the twin women appear incredibly different. The Robot Maria moves and twists inhumanly, and her lips and eyes are darkened. The Human Maria is barefaced, and is seen risking her life and using all her strength to save the Worker’s children from the impending flood. As she does this, she is found and rescued by her hero, Freder, who helps her save all the children.. This image distinctly contrasts the disparaging scene of Maria’s murder of the machines that causes the flood that wreaks havoc on the Worker’s home. Here, human will is shown as powerful and good, while machines are destructive. Again, a warning is issued against technology, involving dual representations of gender.
However, the movie does reconcile with technology, and recognizes its importance. At the end of the film, Maria encourages Freder to fulfill the role of Mediator between the Workers and the Capitalist Management. This union would not be possible if technology did not connect the two societies. The giant buildings where the Capitalists live were built by the workers, and the workers work the machines that power both the Capitalists and the Workers lives. Therefore, technology must be monitored by a Mediator who can help the two parties communicate. In the film, technology is necessary for life, but should be guarded and controlled by humans, or fear the dire consequences of the female cyborg. This is the message that Metropolis departs on how to negotiate with technology. This reading strongly disagrees with Donna Haraway’s argument that humans and technology should not be defined. This requires insistent integration with technology. “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frightengly alert” (Haraway, 152) Here, she speaks to the paranoia found in embracing technology, as represented in Metropolis. But she also expresses her dream of a world without boundaries between technology, humand, and gender. “We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a mounstrous world without gender.” (Haraway, 181) Here, she issues her ultimatum: that humans need to erase binaries to survive in a world with technology.
Certain values are portrayed as appropriate for females in Metropolis, as
women in Metropolis are given expectations to behave in certain ways. Stereotypical feminine values, such as purity, charity and nurture, are heaped upon one character, Maria. She is rewarded for her good behavior with the promise of her lover, the hero of the film. However, unexpected female characteristics are included in this image. The reunion of the lovers in the middle of the flood reinforces values of courage and altruism. In addition, expectations of sinful women are displayed, too. The failure of the woman as machine speaks to ridding the belief that women are merely machines for reproduction and male sexual satisfaction. Similarly, expectations for sinful women are displayed at all times throughout the film. Wicked women who are sexual beings are either belittled or vilified, as seen in the images of women in the Eternal Gardens and of the Robot Maria. These women are either cast off by their suitors, or meet a miserable end, as represented by the Robot’s fiery demise at the stake.
Opposing positions of women in the film strengthen what the film says women are, whether they are saintly or sinful. By giving a clear example of the opposite of virtue, human-Maria seems more virtuous, as does the Robot Maria seem wicked. This strengthens the image of what a women is and what a woman should be. In Gender, Information, Science and Technology, we’ve separated the socially-defined qualities of femininity from the actual women. This raises questions about the women in Metropolis. Can women who are sexual be good people, or are they confined to be degraded for their behavior. Are women inherently sexual, and if so, do they also inherently possess the traits of the sexual women in Metropolis? Haraway would argue against this, as she states, “There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women. There is not even such as state as being female,” (Haraway, 155). Additionally, why are women who are sexually liberated considered evil. Sexual liberation frees women, and helps them find pleasure and identity.
While Metropolis functions as a perfect example of the intersections of the subjects of our course, it also speaks to social culture today. To show how much of the gender and sexuality issues in Metropolis are still present today, I want to compare the women in a contemporary video to the women in Metropolis. Jessie J’s music video of “Do It Like a Dude” bears resemblance to imagery of female figures in Metropolis, especially when comparing Jessie J and Maria.
Starring in her own music video, Jessie J portrays numerous typical contemporary female roles, as well as defying many of them. She is seen with expertly applied make up, with crystals implanted on her lips and thick black eyeliner and eyelashes. This portrays her as caring intensely about her appearance, a typical female trait. In short clips of the video, she is dressed in skimpy feminine clothing, and displays a play of the innocent but experienced girl. When the video cuts to this girl, this figure accentuates her femininity by pronouncing her chest and showing her cleavage. Towards the end of the video she twists and moans the lyrics as she sings, portraying the role of seductive siren. However, the video contains a twist on traditional gender roles. Jessie is shown as the dominant figure in a house full of women. She is seen walking through a grungy living room, every surface covered with women wearing clothing that looks like they’ve been to war in. They are sweaty, and dirty, but extremely sexual. They partake in “masculine” ways, such as smoking cigars, playing cards, drinking, and getting into fights. All of the women featured in the video have a masculine edge; they are muscular, dirty, violent, and hyper-sexual. These paradoxical portrayals of women in the film, especially of Jessie J, mirrors the contradictions between the Human and the Robot Maria.
When Jessie James portrays a sweet girl who is sexualized, she can be visually compared the Robot Mari when the robot preaches to the works, as seen in this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI1hRiFcbDQ
Bothare depicted in black and white, and are sexualized. However, both are connected to purity, Jessie in her portrayal of the sexually experienced innocent, and the robot’s connections to the virtuous Human Maria.
Jessie J portrays many sides of her femininity/masculinity in the music video, just as the Maria character does in Metropolis. In one shot of the Music Video, Jessie J is portrayed as innocent and young, while, in others, she is seen as a leader to the women around her. She gyrates is a womanly way while singing “ I can do it like a brother/ do it like a dude/ grab my crotch, wear my hat low like you.” (Cornish)This is analogous to the multifaceted role Maria plays, where she is a sex-symbol, leader, and Holy Virgin all at once. Connecting this contemporary music video to the film Metropolis by Fritz Lang expands the forum of discussion on gender, information, science and technology beyond just the academic setting of class discussion and papers on movies. The comparative roles in all three moves the debate on gender roles and the conflicting portrayal of women expands the entire discussion into the realm of reality.
Corrigan, Timothy. "Film Terms for and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing." A Short Guide To Writing About Film. Philadelphia: temple University, 2001. Print.
ornish, Jessica E. "YouTube - Jessie J - Do It Like A Dude (Explicit)." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. The Invisible Man, 18 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 May 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOf3kYtwASo>.
Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. Perf. Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich. KINO INTERNATIONAL, 2008. DVD.
The Mediation of Technology and Gender: Metropolis, Nazism, Modernism
R. L. Rutsky
New German Critique
No. 60, Special Issue on German Film History (Autumn, 1993), pp. 3-32
Ruppert, Petter. "Technology and the Construction of Gender in Fritz Lang's Metropolis." Genders OnLine Journal - Presenting Innovative Theories in Art, Literature, History, Music, TV and Film. Genders, 2000. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://www.genders.org/g32/g32_ruppert.html>.