Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Have You Tried Not Making Sexy Robots?: Male Gaze in Time of Eve

Time of Eve is a science fiction anime about a near-future in which androids are in common usage, and secretly becoming self-aware. If you haven't seen it and you have an hour and forty minutes to kill right now, you can watch it here. (I'll wait.)

Rather than go the robot uprising route, the series depicts androids as something somewhere between second-class citizens and slaves - all the androids have been purchased by a human master for some purpose as a housekeeper or babysitter or some kind of assistant. Androids follow and wear a holographic ring hovering over their head to distinguish them from people, from whom they are physically indistinguishable. What the series does with this is explore the implications of artificial intelligence in human society and their three laws-inspired motivations (mainly how do you factor "do not harm a human" when dealing with different types of emotional harm?), but it's that last point - how they're physically indistinguishable - that I want to talk about.

A major theme of the movie is that human society has a stigma against humans who treat androids like humans, viewing it as an emotional - and/or, as we soon find out, sexual - deviancy. There's a derogatory term ("dori-kei") and a social campaign (in an ad seen a few times throughout the film, a female android leans on a male human's shoulder, watching the sunset, when they suddenly fall down out of the frame - broken android parts fly back into the shot along with the superimposed message, "Love isn't present there"). In addition to a fear of people treating androids like humans, there's a fear that this will result in people developing emotional and sexual feelings towards androids.

So if that's the case, why are they building these sexy-ass robots?


If society doesn't want people to view androids sexually, then why the fuck are they building such sexualized robots anyway? From the female robot with an absurdly massive rack encountered in the titular Time of Eve cafe (pun not intended, but a happy accident nonetheless) to the first scene (with the main character) where the female android is lifting up her shirt so her owner can access information by plugging his phone into a port conveniently located underneath her breasts, why make it all so sexual in design in the first place?

The answer, of course, is male gaze.

is one of those things English majors just kind of know about and have a hard time actually explaining (so bear with me here), but if "male gaze" is in the middle intersection of a venn diagram, the two circles are patriarchy and film theory. Laura Mulvey's 1975 essay defines the idea.

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.

In other words, "" And because of the patriarchy (because the answer is always the fucking patriarchy), this means you're usually looking at things designed by men for men. This is why the video game industry is dominated by depictions of large-breasted, scantily-clad women, and why - in the future as seen in Time of Eve - our future robot servants are too.

I mean seriously.

But then we go back to that first scene, with the adolescent boy giving an order to an android who looks indistinguishable from a female woman to partially remove her clothing so he can access her data logs via the ports placed on her torso, and we have to ask: holy shit, if this is a normal way to grow up now, these kids are gonna grow up with some really fucked up views on sexuality and women.
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