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The Cloning of Joanna May

February 3, 2009

Videovista has my review of this mini-series based upon a novel by Fay Weldon.

I’ve read better examples of Feminist SF.  Hell, I’ve seen better examples of Feminist SF but I think The Cloning of Joanna May demonstrates one of the more interesting historical quirks in the way that Feminist ideas permeated into mainstream culture.

One of my problems with with a lot of Feminist SF – certainly at the level of the classics of the sub-genre such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and Joanna Russ’ The Female Man (1970) – is that many of its central concepts have never seemed that revolutionary or alien to me.  I was born in 1976 and growing up, I was well aware of parents who would keep their little boys away from war toys whilst encouraging their little girls to play football.  So when it came time for me to read about some of these ideas, I always felt that the battle had been won and that the ideas of a lot of Feminist SF were old hat, mainstream or blindingly obvious.

However, while I took one lesson away from these ideas, others took a quite different one.

The Cloning of Joanna May is the product of a profoundly cynical culture trying to have a debate with itself.  Britain has never been overly fond of ‘public intellectuals’ and its public debate is arguably shaped more by comedy than it is by reasoned discourse.  For example, consider the ipact of the idea that John Major tucked his shirt into his underpants or Vince Cable’s parliamentary zinger that Gordon Brown had turned from Stalin to Mr. Bean.  Indeed, the most significant works of political drama in the last 30 years have been comedy in the shape of Yes Minister and The Thick of It.  Both series were far more potent in shaping how we see government than any Guardian editorial or Think Tank press release.

The camp and exploitative production values of The Cloning of Joanna May push it dangerously close to being a black comedy but it is also quite sincere in its desire to deconstruct traditional gender roles.  The same is true of The Two Ronnies’ series The Worm that Turned.

As with The Cloning of Joanna May, The Worm That Turned combines Feminist SF with women in skimpy outfits.  Intellectually, the writers accept the ideas, but their cynicism and resistance to these same ideas comes out through lapses into end-of-the-pier comedic imagery.  As parodies of Feminist thought, both series are utterly toothless so the comedy elements of both series should perhaps not be seen as resistance at all, but rather an adoption of the traditional forms of British public debate.

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