06 April 2011

robot marx, part 1

Robotech®, Patriarchy, and Kids' Culture:
A Conflict Theory Perspective

Although it is true that ROBOTECH features many strong, "fully-realized" female characters, its stories and characters still function within a patriarchal world. Within that world, however, ROBOTECH repeatedly challenges and subverts patriarchy. In his book, The Gender Knot, Allen Johnson outlines four components of patriarchy and, in so doing, suggests ways that it can be challenged. Applying these components to ROBOTECH sheds light on its conflicted nature.

Component 1: "Patriarchy is male dominated in that positions of authority [...] are generally reserved for men" (5). This is true in regards to all three parts of the ROBOTECH saga. In "Macross Saga," the primary authority figure is Captain Henry Gloval, with his second-in-command being Lisa Hayes; the majority of the characters answer to Lisa, a woman, but she answers to Gloval, a man. In "The Masters," the primary authority figure is Supreme Commander Anatole Leonard, with the story-focus character being Lt. Dana Sterling; Dana, a woman, is in charge of her squadron, but she herself takes orders from Leonard, a man. In "New Generation," the primary authority figure and central character are the same, Scott Bernard, a man.

Component 2: "Patriarchal societies are male identified in that the core cultural ideas about what is considered [...] normal are associated with how we think about men and masculinity" (6). This component in regards to ROBOTECH is subtle. In all three parts of the saga, it is unsaid-but-obvious that the "core cultural ideas" of patriarchy are the societies' foundations. What is subversive about ROBOTECH, interestingly, is that all three societies violently come to an end due to the actions of "men in authority" -- with the women characters (Lisa Hayes; Dana Sterling, Nova Satori and Marie Crystal; Rook Bartley and Ariel/Marlene; among others) inheriting their respective worlds as those now in authority and/or responsible for rebuilding and reshaping their post-war worlds.

Component 3: "[Patriarchy] is male-centered, which means that the focus of attention is primarily on men and what they do. [...] Male experience is what patriarchal culture uses to represent human experience, even when it is women who most often live it" (10). True to this, the experiences of men are primary in ROBOTECH. "Macross Saga" and "New Generation" both feature male heroes (Rick Hunter and Scott Bernard, respectively) as their focus; "The Masters" temporarily subverts this, though, by featuring a female hero (Dana Sterling) as its focus. What is interesting about ROBOTECH is that, throughout all three sagas, the story and action frequently moves beyond the series' heroes to focus on supporting -- but still significant -- characters, many of them women, adding a breadth to the show's scope and emotional experience.

Component 4: "[Patriarchy] is an obsession with control as a core value around which social life is organized. [...] As a result, controllers come to see themselves as subjects who intend and decide what will happen, and to see others as objects to act upon" (14, 15). ROBOTECH is a multi-generational war story. Men are in charge of these armies and characters, controlling the actions of those they command. Thus, by its very nature, ROBOTECH is patriarchal when it comes to "control as a core value." On a character level, there is greater variety -- Rick and Lisa in "Macross Saga" are equals in their romance; Dana in "The Masters" regularly challenges male authority with winning results; Scott in "New Generation" is patronizing and chauvinistic, especially in regards to his romantic interest, Ariel/Marlene.

Considering Johnson's four components of patriarchy in the context of ROBOTECH clearly demonstrates that the program is, in general, patriarchal. That said, as evidenced by example, ROBOTECH often challenges and subverts the patriarchal system -- making it a unique relic worthy of scholarly consideration from a pop-cultural conflict theory perspective.

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Johnson, Allen G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Rev. ed. Temple UP, 2005. Print.

Robotech.com. Harmony Gold USA, Inc., 2007. Web. 2010. http://robotech.com/.

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ROBOTECH ® and all associated concepts, names, designs, and images are trademark and copyright Harmony Gold USA, Inc. 1985-2011. Application of such for the ROBOT MARX project by Evan Harrison Cass is based on the U.S. Copyright principle of Fair Use for not-for-profit "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." No infringement of Harmony Gold USA, Inc.'s or associated companies' and individuals' rights is intended.