Falling Skies, The Skitter Rebellion, and White Feminism
Because I limit my TV more or less to science fiction, Shameless, and anything with Lance Reddick in it, I’ve been following Falling Skies. Basically, it’s a post-apocalyptic alien-invasion/human genocide series. It can be overly maudlin at times, with its attempts at ET-style warm-fuzzy-innocent-kids-as-moral-compass crap (srsly, Torchwood did the aliens-&-kids thing much better…speaking of another scifi show w/ER alumnus), but this second season has definitely improved on the first, and even been genuinely interesting at times.
I want to focus on one specific element of the show—the “Skitter rebellion”—because I think it may be a useful example to use in teaching feminist theory. (As in, I’m probably going to use this blog post in class next Spring.)
So, the Skitters are the main aliens humans interact with—they’re like the redshirts a different species of aliens use to do their dirty work. Skitters are multi-legged insect-like creatures. They are tasked with managing, containing, and killing adult humans, and capturing and enslaving human children. Basically, they are the brawn behind the human genocide and the continued oppression of survivors. Skitters kill humans and kidnap their children. So, humans rightly perceive them as a threat. Throughout the first season, Skitters are the main threat humans face.
But then in the second season we learn both (1) the Skitters are not the ones giving orders, and (2) the Skitters did not consent to this project, they themselves are enslaved to the “alien overlords.” In the “Love and Other Acts of Kindness” episode (which io9 nicely recaps here), Red Eye, the William Wallace of Skitters, tells the protagonist, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle’s character) that ze is part of a Skitter resistance movement, and asks Tom and his human resistance group to partner with the rebel Skitters.
And this is where it gets interesting. Tom, the audience surrogate, obviously has a lot of difficulty trusting this Skitter: this Skitter hirself, and this Skitter’s comrades, have killed tons of humans—people both Tom and the audience are emotionally invested in. Why would we trust someone who oppresses us? (Red Eye even does a quasi-Eichmann, saying he had to kill a bunch of humans b/c he could not disobey orders.) This Skitter in particular, and Skitters in general, hurt us. Both intellectually and emotionally we know that Skitters are our oppressors. Why should we trust our oppressors? Sure, they’re oppressed too, by the same people who are oppressing us, but that doesn’t cancel out the very real harm they continue to do to us.
As I was watching this episode, I immediately thought of the relationships among white feminists and women of color. Why should we trust our oppressors? Why should women of color trust white feminists, who, in their (sometimes unintentional) complicity with white hegemony, oppress people of color? White women, and white feminists, have done and continue to do a lot of harm to women of color. Who are we to think they’ll just trust us, be anything other than suspicious of us? White feminists are Red Eye, and women of color are Tom Mason. White feminists, like the Skitters, may be forced to comply with white patriarchy, but this doesn’t mean they are not responsible for their complicity in it. Just because you are oppressed doesn’t make you innocent or infallible.
Because Tom is a white guy, and the audience surrogate, I think this episode might be a really good “lightbulb” for white students in women’s studies classes. It might be a way to make them “get” the black/WOC/transnational feminist critiques of white feminism in a concrete, non-abstract way.
And, as a tangent: I wish this show would stop trying to re-nuclear-familize a human group that’s cohered through different sorts of affinities than kinship, marriage, blood, etc. Almost everyone on the show is the sole survivor of their traditional family—except the Masons, a father and his three sons. I wish the show would explore the non-nuclear-family relationships people forge, and not keep re-centering father-son dynamics (in a sometimes really Oedipal way).