Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hubbard the Feminist

It's kinda odd, but despite Hubbard's use of flat, stock characters like the Mad Scientist, Bloodthirsty General, Corrupt Businessman, and so forth, he never seems to hit upon the great archetypes of storytelling.

I was wondering if I could classify the female characters in Mission Earth based on some neat old tropes.  First there's the Three Faces of Eve, a trio consisting of an innocent "child," level-headed "wife," and predatory "seductress."  We can fit Hightee Heller into the "child" role, and Teenie (despite being a child herself) can be reluctantly assigned the "seductress," but is any female character in the books steady or wise?  Hightee's probably the least psychopathic, but then who would we call the "child?"  Or is Krak the "seductress" because she's so predatory?  She may be faithful to Heller, but she certainly rapes a lot of minds over the course of the books.

An alternative trinity is the Hecate Sisters, which should be familiar to any Pratchett fans as "the maiden, the mother, and the... other one."  The young "maiden" is either naive or beginning to discover her sexuality, the curvy, middle-aged "mother" tends to be a bit odd, and the wizened old crone "other one" is often bitter and sharp-tongued.  But again, none of the characters fit these roles.  Krak is simultaneously naive and vicious, Teenie is young but warped and jaded beyond her years, the Widow Tayl is old but a nymphmaniac, and so forth.  So kudos, Hubbard, for breaking convention and inventing (bleeped)-up characters we don't have categories to describe.

Of course, the bigger problem is picking Mission Earth's three "main" female characters, because you'd have to be pretty generous with your definition of "main" to find more than one.

Krak may be the only lady in the story that has any sort of agency, and takes independent actions that affect the plot.  The first time I read The Invaders Plan I assumed that upon meeting Heller, the Countess Krak was instantly reduced from a dangerous but capable character to a clone of Jonnie's girlfriend... Christie, I think?  Whossername, the girl from Battlefield Earth who didn't do anything but get captured and love Jonnie unconditionally for some reason.  I was totally wrong, though: while Krak does get captured as part of a bad guy's attempt to stop Heller, she spends even more time (on Earth, anyway) doing stuff, namely using advanced alien technology and her utter lack of scruples to kick down arbitrary obstacles like Miss Simmons and thus advance the plot.  She does demur to Heller in most cases, and seems to look forward to the time she can cease her independent existence and become a good, servile 1950's housewife, but when Krak thinks her boyfriend's "honor" and "integrity" are wasting time, she gets stuff done.  Yes, she has severe jealousy issues, and yes, she's a soulless bitch willing to doom an entire planet so she can get married sooner than later.  But at least she does stuff.

Contrast her with the other important female introduced in The Invaders Plan, Heller's sister Hightee, whose characterization consists of the following: 1) she's a movie star, and 2) everybody loves her, I mean really loves her, she's practically worshiped.  That's about it.  She seems nice, I guess - anyone willing to go on a double date with Soltan Gris has to have a pretty big heart - but other than that you can just see the timer over her head counting down to her inevitable capture by the villains.  The most remarkable thing about her is that it took until Book Nine for that to happen.  Also, I don't remember any mention of her having a boyfriend, and even a hundred years later when Monte was doing his research she was still using the Heller surname.  Is there any evidence she has a life outside of Homeview and being Heller's sibling?

A third notable woman in Mission Earth is Babe Corleone, the mob boss who is always described as being amazon-like, so that you get the feeling Hubbard finds tall women exotic instead of just tall.  I guess she's the story's "mother" figure in that she's constantly having young "Jerome" fed various snacks or healthy meals, plus she is quick to pretty much adopt him.  But I don't think mothers are supposed to desecrate a corpse as part of a "Black Mass," or y'know, be mob bosses.  You might think the latter fact would make her a strong female character, but nope, Babe is a former high-kicking chorus girl who married into a mob family, took over after her husband's death, and was doing such a poor job at it that she was losing to Hubbard Villains, bad guys who are literally so stupid that they'll kill themselves if you wait long enough.  All of her successes in the mob wars come at the hands of Heller, who practically gives her control of New York City, which is somehow a good thing.

It's hard to think of a justification for Babe's existence, beyond Hubbard having a thing for mobster stories.  Heller's connection with her gives him a place to stay for a few books, and leads to him recruiting Bang-Bang as a henchman, and I guess her mob's support was vital so Heller could capture that building in Disaster and hold the police chief hostage so he could get the guy to recall the five officers guarding Heller's office.  But it was Heller's link to Izzy and his ability to cheat the stock market and make buttloads of money that ultimately won the day, and gave him the legal and business acumen to take over the Rockecenter cabal.  So Babe's mostly there for flavor.

And then... there's Teenie.  The big question here is "why?!"  Why would an insightful "satire," romantic thriller, or humorous spy novel need an underage nymphomaniac?  We've already seen characters like "Torpedo" the Necrophiliac Hitman as evidence of how psychology perverts innocent criminals, so Teenie would be redundant if psychology actually played a part in her nymphomania - except her oft-revised backstory suggests her abusive parents were to blame for that.  You might even be able to justify her existence with how she exports Earth's decadence to the wholesome, idyllic society on Voltar, except Crobe turns out to be more effective in using psychology to make Voltarians obsessed with sex.  The only other argument for Teenie's inclusion is the role she plays in helping Madison take over Voltar, a flimsy argument considering that Madison really shouldn't have needed her help, and all she did was use her control over some pages to help Madison film a minutes-long TV piece.

So why is Teenie in the story?  Probably the same reason Gris has so much dub- and non-con sex, and impregnates so many women - the author wrote his kinks into his epic sci-fi romance action espionage satire.  Throw in the stuff about Hubbard being served by underage "messenger" girls and it's a real shame he died before he could meet Chris Hansen.

Other female characters of note... well, like I said, there's the sex-crazed Widow Tayl, who is necessary to the plot because she has a hospital in her backyard for Gris to use because the Apparatus doesn't have one good enough for surgical implantation of neural monitoring equipment, and she helps Madison get Gris convicted like Teenie wanted in exchange for helping Madison get the pages to let him make a movie for Lombar.  There's Meeley, an old hag who hates Gris, so she's in other words another way to make Gris miserable.  There's Utanc, who - ahah, oops!

Uh... there's Nurse Bildirjin, underage and sexually-active, a pre-Teenie Teenie if you will.  Candy and Pinchy, masochists cured of their lesbianism through the power of rape.  Miss Simmons, a sexually-repressed professor who after getting her brains scrambled by Krak learns to embrace her gang-rape fantasies.  The girls at the Gracious Palms, all prostitutes.  Mary Schmeck, a sympathetic, sexually-exploited drug addict who dies a handful of chapters after being introduced and gets maybe one or two mentions afterward.  That... what was her name, something Boomp?  The woman Krak befriended on her plane ride from Turkey?  And she ended up in control of Atlantic City, I think?  She sure was memorable, eh?  The psychologist lady with a beef with Rockecenter because he didn't marry her.  And the unsubtly-named Cun and Twa, who wanted to get in Madison's pants.

Or as Frank Miller would say, whorewhoreswhoreswhores.

So, to wrap things up - L. Ron Hubbard's portrayal of women in Mission Earth is a wee bit troubling.  The overwhelming majority of his female characters exist to have sex with his male characters, willing or not, and occasionally when they're younger than they should be for such behavior.  The only ones to be in something resembling a healthy relationship are Babe Corleone, who is a mob boss and a widow, and the Countess Krak, who is a sociopath.  The obvious outlier is Hightee Heller, who is so damn immaculate that I had to check Wikipedia to see if Hubbard had a sister.

One last note on Krak - her main function in the story, when she isn't being kidnapped, is to handle things Heller has too many scruples to deal with, behind his back and through whatever means necessary.  I can't help but wonder whether this reflects Hubbard's attitudes towards his third wife Mary Sue, who went to prison for conspiracy charges, while he was only labeled an "unindicted co-conspirator."  Maybe this is his way of insisting that "no, see, I'm an honorable Navy officer with no aptitude for deception, all this conspiracy stuff is her doing."

Or in other words, Mission Earth isn't so much a work of satire as it is Hubbard's attempt to rewrite reality.

Back to Éminence Gris 

No comments:

Post a Comment