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Better, Stronger, Faster? Bionic Woman and Posthuman Queerness

by Ethan Tussey

by Edmond Chang for IN MEDIA RES

In 2007, NBC rebooted Bionic Woman with the promise that the show would be “Better.  Stronger.  Faster.”  Starring Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers and Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Corvus, the prototype, Bionic Woman dramatizes the intersections of gender, technology, bodies, and heteronormativity.  In the second episode, Jaime’s trainer Jae Kim says during their first session, “You think that just because you have machines inside you, that’s enough, that you’re invincible.  The machine is nothing without the woman.  We’re going beyond the demo…way beyond.”  Though Jaime’s bionics allow her to run, jump, and fight, what the show imagines as possible through these technologies reveals the ways it presents and recuperates the posthuman body and hero(ine) back into normative femininity and ability.

For example, in the third episode, Sarah appears in Jaime’s dreams saying, “We know what each other’s thinking…if we want.”  Via their bionics, Sarah knows Jaime with an intimacy that shatters the usual boundaries of public/private, self/other, friend/lover/stranger.  Sarah appears in Jaime’s dream and then in the flesh hovering over her while she sleeps.  Sarah’s low, husky “Wake up, Jaime” and her desire for Jaime “to see everything” is a queer call to awareness of the circuits both of them are caught in and the circuits they could forge if they “want.”  In the same episode, Sarah reveals to Jaime that she is “lo-jacked,” that her bionics include surveillance technology that allow the Berkut group, her “employers,” to monitor and track her.  To remedy the intrusion, Sarah says, “It’s like hacking into your own computer.  You need to concentrate really hard and visualize.”

Framed in a hard-to-miss femme-butch dynamic, the bionic women ostensibly suggest an embodiment of “girl power,” a challenge to sexist stereotypes, and the queer(ing) potential of controlling their own bodies and lives.  Sarah even says, tongue-in-cheek, “Don’t get me started on how objectifying this bionic woman thing is.”  Unfortunately, the show undercuts these radical potentials given Jaime’s lack of choice in becoming bionic, her anxieties over her normative body, womanhood, and motherhood, and the casting of Sarah as the mad, broken butch-fatale.  The bionics that make Jaime and Sarah able to be better, stronger, faster women and active subjects are the very thing that also technofetishizes and renders them objects and pawns.  In other words, though Jaime eventually embraces being “super,” she and the show ultimately just want “a normal life.”  

 

Posthuman Dream Girls and Queerness

The trailer for the Bionic Woman

from Bionic Woman (2007)
Creator: NBC
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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