Film/Video/New Media · Human-ities · Performativity · Technology · Theory

Robot Women & Film: The Bad Girl ‘Bots

I was now about to form another being of whose disposition I was alike ignorant; she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness…and she…might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation…She might also turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man…trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged… I left the room, and locking the door, made a solemn vow in my own heart to never resume my labours (Mary Shelly – Frankenstein, 1818)

From the earliest days of film, story tellers have been fascinated with the image of the mechanical woman. Maria, the dark and destructive fembot of Metropolis (1927) requires little introduction and has thoroughly captured the cultural imaginary.

We may say that Maria is the prototype of all “bad girl robots” who follow her. Bad girl ‘bots seem to be pathologically preoccupied with the destruction of humanity and this remains a dominant character trait of robot women in film. Unlike her male counterpart (i.e. Bionic Man; Dekkard; Robo Cop; etc.), she is seldom charged with keeping/restoring order on behalf of the State. And if she is, she inevitably malfunctions or rebels (or both).

Andreas Huyssen argues that technology represented as female monstrosity or maschinenmensch emerged at the turn of the 18th century as the literary imagination appropriated the image of the human-like automaton, popularized during the 17th and early 18th century, and transformed it from the symbol of Enlightenment, “testimony to the genius of mechanical invention,” to an image of terror and “threat to human life” that is so familiar to us today.

Blade Runner’s (1982) Pris and Zhora are bad girl ‘bots in that one is a mercenary and the other a “basic pleasure bot” (prostitute: but without pay) who defy rules concerning replicant (cyborg) autonomy.

Contemporary films like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), continue this trend with such memorable female machines as the TX.

All text by Glenda Shaw Garlock from Intimate Machines

Relevant Info:

Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women by Maud Lavin (interview).

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