Academic Writing

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Bionic Woman

Girls rule...but only if THE MAN lets them...

The Bionic Woman is one of NBC's newest, and probably most buzzworthy, Fall TV shows. The question is, as it is every September, will the show live up to the hype or will it fall by the wayside with Studio 60 and the countless others of fall hopefuls who just can't quite seem to capture the audience's attention for a whole hour once a week. I like to take a look at the cultural implications of a show and what the true meaning is behind the series. This year's Bionic Woman, starring Brit, Michelle Ryan, has a female lead and is being touted as a show that will teach women, and young girls, that a woman can be strong and powerful (and still have picture perfect cleavage, a cute boyfriend, and awesome hair). But with a closer look, does that ideal hold true?

Television and Film has long attempted the portrayal of a strong female lead, but this newest try falls a bit flat, and frankly a bit insulting. Jamie, is a strong, loyal and quite smart woman, who, after a near fatal car crash has most of her limbs, and a number or organs, replaced by bionic parts. When she waked up from her surgery her boyfriend, Will (Chris Bowers), tells her what has happened. Her reaction is that of someone who is both freaked out and unusually strong (her super-strength is revealed when she almost effortlessly throws will into a glass door). As the pilot develops more details about the people who did this to her begin to surface and the more Jamie resists being controlled.

This show strongly positions itself as a girl-power, boys drool type of show. After all, the protagonist is a young woman willing to do anything or "bury anyone" who dares to cross her.
As Jamie escapes her captors by running down a long country road, a young, wistful young girl sees her and tries to point Jamie out to her mother. Rather than supporting her daughter the woman reprimands her for making up stories. In response to her mother's admonishment she says, "I just thought it was cool for a girl to do that."

Despite all these good wishes for female empowerment, the feeling I was left with was the opposite. Jamie, first of all, doesn't necessarily want her new fate. It was forced upon her by her boyfriend and the other men who come into her life. Furthermore, her new found strength makes her invincible to everyone except one other person - the first bionic woman. So, even though men aren't competition for her, she still has to fight to the death against another woman. This is almost to say that society cannot function with a plethora of strong female leads, one is enough.

On that note, what does this show say about society's role in creating these female leads? Yeah, so society has created her to be strong, but when she resists their specific training she becomes the enemy. One of the scientists, Jonas (Miguel Ferrer) tells her that her options are, "Heads you loose, tails you die." In other words, this is a loose loose situation for our heroine. Either she accepts her new societal role or she is killed trying to avoid it. I guess a woman can only be so strong if she fits into the confines of a strict behavioral code. So much for girl power. Yes, these "improvements" may have saved her life in one regard, but have sincerely destroyed it in another. For a show that thinks quite highly of itself as a message of female empowerment, it does the exact opposite.

The Bionic Woman premieres on NBC, Wednesday September 26th

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