By Teresa Jusino
I’m normally not one to freak out about “exploitative” images of women in print or on-screen. I am firmly in the camp that says that sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s a woman’s right to dress any way she sees fit without having to deal with people making assumptions about her, and that visual representations of men in things like comics or film are just as unrealistic and sexualized as those of women, albeit in different ways. However, when I saw the ad artwork promoting the premiere of Caprica, it bothered me in a way that kind of thing usually doesn’t.
The problem with the image isn’t the suggestion of nudity. It certainly isn’t the raciest photo ever taken. The problem isn’t the age of the subject. While the character on the show is a teenager, the actress playing her is 22. Yet I can’t help but think the image cheap. Having seen the Caprica pilot, this image is insulting because of who the character is, what she could represent in science-fiction storytelling, and how it undermines that.
**SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T YET WATCHED THE CAPRICA PILOT. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.**
Zoe Graystone is a genius. Her father is the owner of a large computer corporation that is spearheading the development of artificial intelligence. Her mother is a brilliant surgeon. They’ve given their daughter the gift of a keen intellect, but the one thing they have trouble giving her is their attention away from their scientific pursuits. So, Zoe applies her genius to a cause she discovers while her parents’ attention is elsewhere. In the polytheistic society in which Caprica is set, Zoe acquires a monotheist worldview. With her best friend, Lacy, and her boyfriend, Ben, Zoe puts together a plan wherein they can leave home for Gemenon in pursuit of what they believe would be a better world. Part of that plan involves a special project she’s been working on. Zoe has improved upon her father’s holoband technology a million times over by creating a perfect copy of herself in virtual reality. No mere avatar, this. Zoe creates another Zoe Graystone; one who has all of her memories, looks like her, sounds like her, and feels everything she feels. If her father’s work with artificial intelligence is responsible for what will become the cylon “centurions”, it is Zoe’s work that is the beginning of what will help them evolve into the “skin jobs.” When Ben shockingly blows up the train to Gemenon, killing Zoe (isn’t that a movie starring Eric Stoltz who also stars in Caprica??), Lacy survives and discovers that Virtual Zoe has also survived. Eventually, Zoe’s father discovers the existence of Virtual Zoe, which prompts a desire to bring his daughter “back to life” by attempting to marry his technology to Zoe’s.
In the Caprica pilot, Zoe is brilliant, strong, idealistic, and true to her convictions. She is someone who doesn’t back down. She is a scientifically minded person who also passionately believes in one God. Even though she’s a teenage girl, and they share the same interests, her life does not revolve around her boyfriend. And yes, she is gorgeous.
And yet, that last one is all you’d ever know about her from the marketing Syfy has done for this show.
Syfy has done so many things, including changing the spelling of their network’s name, to become more “woman-friendly.” And yet, here they have a show with an honest-to-goodness Strong Female Lead, and they’re hiding her light under a bushel. Any story synopsis of the show mentions her father, Daniel’s, grief, and that of Joseph Adama, father to future Admiral of the Colonial Fleet, William Adama. They mention that Daniel is a scientist and that he uses this technology to bring his daughter back…but no one mentions that the technology was hers to begin with. No one mentions that Zoe is the catalyst for everything that occurs in the Battlestar universe, and that she will remain there, in some form or other, to continue her work. Her father is the scientist, despite the fact that she’s more brilliant than he is, and comes up with a technology he couldn’t manage on his own.
He gets to be the scientist, and Zoe gets to look pretty.
The “Fall of Man” imagery in this ad artwork isn’t lost on me. Yes, I know that she’s supposed to be Eve With the Apple in that photo. But in the context of Caprica that metaphor is completely wrong. Zoe is neither the temptress coaxing a man into sin, nor is she the one tempted. She is the architect of the Tree of Knowledge. In this metaphor, she’d be God. But I suppose dressing her in a long robe and giving her a long, white beard wouldn’t have been as hot.
How difficult would it have been for their marketing team to come up with a visually interesting, more accurate image? Perhaps taking inspiration from Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel? Zoe on the right, with the angels, because she’s gone from this world. Dark hair flowing in the wind. She could even be wearing a cute, short, white dress. Her father, wearing pants and in an unbuttoned, slightly disheveled button-down shirt on the Earth below, reaching up toward her. And she’s passing him a holoband. Iconic religious image? Check. Accurate portrayal of the story of Caprica? Check. And it could have been done without throwing the best character on the show under the bus, and without pandering to male viewers while continuing to ignore female viewers.
Once again, SyFy sells women short. They say they want to draw in female viewers, and yet they hide the fact that their arsenal now contains an amazing female character while they resort to the same old hottie shots of their female lead, and have Alessandra Torresani do cutesy video blogs about putting on make-up and doing photo shoots. I’m already planning to watch Caprica, because I loved the pilot, and I was already a fan of Battlestar Galactica. I’m writing this article, because I’m hoping to reach women who aren’t. It seems female BSG fans will have to take it upon themselves to let other women know that this incarnation of the Battlestar universe is, in fact, “woman-friendly.” SyFy sure as hell doesn’t seem to want to do it.
TERESA JUSINO was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is the NY Geek Culture Examiner at Examiner.com, and a contributor to the sci-fi/fantasy site, Tor.com. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Summer 2010! As a geek, Teresa loves all Star Trek, Lost, Fringe, Doctor Who, comics, and anything Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, and Neil Gaiman ever touched. David Tennant will always be her Doctor. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit The Teresa Jusino Experience.
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