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Tank Girl














[section published‏ July 29, 2012.]


So, this combined with Batman Returns is a chapter from my thesis. The academically inclined might be interested.



Cyborg Tanks and Human Pets


            This section will combine an exploration and development of the cyborg myth with an analysis of the film Tank Girl. I will investigate the concept of boundaries in relation to the cyborg and notions of whole and partial identities.

            The film Tank Girl began as a successful and wildly popular comic book series of the same name, a creation of Worthing comic artists Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. The move from comic book to the cinema retains elements of the comic genre where live-action sequences in the film are interrupted by cartoon ‘commentaries’ on the scene which either mimic, distort and/or further the action. The frame which contracts or expands to include the various forms the film takes on in this respect destabilizes the notion of an illusionistic or coherent narrative, foregrounding excess and the hyperbolic within a camp context. For example, fight scenes begun in live action might continue in cartoons, which, while more graphic and excessive in terms of the violence committed, maintains a sense of fantasy and hyperbolic. In fact, there is a dialogue between the cartoon sequences and live-action. For example, in the scene where the Water and Power soldiers capture Tank Girl (also called Rebecca in the film), she is struck. The film immediately cuts to a cartoon bubble that says “This is me unconscious.” Tank Girl is consciously able to comment upon her unconsciousness.

            The film embraces drag’s commitment to layering and incongruity within the sartorial realm. Within the live-action sequences disjunctions occur in terms of sartorial consistency. Tank Girl’s “look” is very much a part of her appeal.[i] For instance, she combines army boots with fish net stockings and garters while carrying a machine gun. One shot displays Tank Girl/Rebecca’s hair up in braids and in the next she will have hair of various lengths or shaved off, encompassing a rainbow of different colors and she will be clothed differently. There is no narrative motivation for this discontinuity. Rather, discontinuity becomes a part of the world we are watching.

            Drag is inflected by technological interventions in this film which links the de-naturalization of the body in drag to the notion of the body becoming cyborg. For example, Tank Girl enters the dressing-room at Liquid Silver, a sex emporium. Water is fetishized as strippers/performers frolic and dance in pools of water. This is significant because Tank Girl is set in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 2033. A comet crashed into the planet eleven years earlier and it has not rained since: “Now twenty people gotta squeeze into the same bathtub . . . so it ain’t all bad,” says Tank Girl. The earth is a dry and barren wasteland and what ever little water is to be found rests in the hands of the evil Kesslee who runs the corporation Water and Power which, Tank Girl comments, “controls the water and has all the power.” Water is a point of contention and, in camp fashion, a playground in the film. Drag in the film reflects this dichotomy/dialogue.

            The uniform of the performers and clientele reflects water as a fetish. The costumes are white/plastic/translucent. The wigs are shimmering and white. The dressing room Rebecca enters has a “glamour port” replete with holographic hostess who describes the procedure to “create your look.” She declares that the dressing room is equipped with “the latest Liquid Silver fashions.” We see racks of plastic, silver and white uniforms. The scene continues with a series of quick, fast-forward sequences where Rebecca is trying on a variety of fetish-gear. She plays dress-up in a Nurse’s uniform ––with army boots intact;  she dresses up as a dominatrix, all in black with a whip; she tries on several ball gowns. Clothing is strewn about the immaculate room in the process, layer upon layer, which, like drag, mixes up the order of what belongs with what. The cyber-hostess finally says “You have now finished creating your look. If you have followed instructions properly, you should look as so.” The “so” referred to is a clone-like uniform of what we have seen thus far in the club, all plastic, white and neat. In contrast, the camera pans up from Rebecca’s black boots, revealing a mish-mash of boots, stockings, dress, safety pins, negligee, coloured tin foil in her hair. She is smoking a cigarette out of a very elegant cigarette-holder: “Lock up your sons!” she says. Drag in the film resonates with notions of technology and partial identities which are linked, as I will further illustrate, to the cyborg and cyborg world in Tank Girl. Inconsistencies are incorporated such that they make up the patchwork world to which the characters belong, reflecting their commitment to partiality.


            Haraway describes the breakdown of several critical boundaries by the late twentieth century in North American scientific culture, two of which set the foundation for my hybrid/cyborg analysis for drag. The first is the breached boundary between human and animal, “language, tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal. And many people no longer feel the need for such a separation . . .” (1991a, 151-2). Haraway uses the example of the animal rights movement which does not irrationally deny human uniqueness but recognizes a connection across the breach of nature and culture. The meanings of human animality are opened up beyond such separations and it is within this breached boundary that the cyborg appears in myth.

The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed.  Far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurable tight coupling. Bestiality has a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange. (1991a, 152)

            The cyborg, conventionally conceived of as the hybridization between human and machine, is also connected to a mythical notion of hybridization between human and animal in my analysis. I am not referring to actual animals (even though the meanings here do resonate with current interspecies scientific experiments[ii]), I am referring to myth in the semiological tradition of Roland Barthes, that “myth is a system of communication, that it is a message” (Barthes 1973, 109). The connection between animals and humans in my analysis plays out in a field of meanings, as a form of signification, that is myth. For example, animal and human have come to connote specific meanings, such as “primitive” and “civilized” in Western culture which have produced “imaginary” boundaries and significations. Imaginary boundaries, in turn, produce concrete effects through various cultural processes/practices. In terms of myth I am taking the meanings that animal and human have come to signify such as primitive and civilized not as concrete effects of some knowable and permanent essence; rather, I am discerning these significations as effects concretely produced through various cultural practices about imaginary significations. Concrete effects, produced through various diverse cultural practices, contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of these imaginary significations and perpetuate a myth of “immutable qualities.”[iii] The cyborg plays upon significations for myth in cross-species-dressing, where stories about gender and identity, meanings about people, animals and machines meld together and fragment apart. The cyborg is a hybrid who emphasizes the significance of storytelling as a strategy of resistance:

[T]hese stories do not rely on the origins myths . . . they explore the theme of identity on the margins of hegemonic groups and thereby attempt to deconstruct the authority and legitimacy of dominant humanist narratives by exposing their partiality. Nor do the storytellers appeal to a seamless identity. As partial and mixed, such identities remain open to establishing connections with others despite many differences. (Sawicki 1996, 169)

            In Tank Girl there are characters called Rippers who hybridize human and animal traits. Qualities usually associated with “one or the other” combine and play upon notions of myth in Tank Girl’s camp context. Our introduction to the Rippers begins with what other characters hypothesize because none of the characters has ever seen a Ripper. According to Tank Girl, they are “a demonic army of bloodthirsty, human-eating, purse-snatching mutant creatures” led by someone called Johnny Prophet and whose main purpose is to bring down the evil corporation Water and Power. She says “Witness exhibit ‘A’” and the film cuts to roughly drawn parts of what looks like an animal: a menacing eye, gnashing teeth. For the first part of the film, the live-action sequences also reveal “parts” of the Rippers as they flash by the screen during raids on Water and Power. A little girl, Sam, who shares an abandoned house with Rebecca, sculpts what she believes one looks like –– a hideous monster-type creature. (In camp tradition, Tank Girl says she didn’t trade her “specially autographed Doris Day picture” for a Ripper Bust.) A young boy confronts Sam: “How would you know what one looks like? No one’s ever seen a Ripper.” The Rippers are constructed as the enemy. It is from parts that they are assembled, like pieces of a puzzle, into a seeming “whole.”

            The results of their raids and attacks leave human remains strewn about like children’s broken toys; Rippers are vicious. There is a naturalizing/normalizing tendency to this conjecture; after all, beasts will be beasts. As hybrids, however, they are destabilized with respect to those significations. On the one hand, they resonate with seemingly irreconcilable differences in combinations that configure them as marginal/unknowable within the scope of conventional meanings for animal and human. On the other, such a combination creates a new interplay of meanings. The Rippers enter a signification zone of myth that embraces the fantastical. Meanings play out against one another and with one another; “original” significations give birth to other significations. Hybridization is not reconciliation in this analysis because bringing together seemingly discrepant “parts,” as we will see, does not make a finished whole. Paradoxically, hybridization is not reduced to fragmentation either. Partiality is privileged as referents make way for decay and rebirth. I use pregnant metaphors (pun intended) to hint that the cyborg world has specific resonances with breeding which will be discussed further on.


            The Rippers’ setting resembles a clubhouse which is located underneath the desert, where the hypothesized monsters relish crumpets and tea, an epitome of “high society." The vicious is combined with the elegant. Likewise, cross-species-dressing and the creatures’ personalities hybridize a range of types. Booga wears a T-shirt and ironically carries a stuffed toy animal –– he is the “innocent” one. There is the playboy type, Donner, who wears a T-shirt with the Playboy bunny icon on the front and who consistently “comes on” to Rebecca and Jet Girl. There is the poet and philosopher, Deete, who wears glasses and a jacket, an educated leader type who leads the voting process they engage in frequently: democracy reigns for this group. And there is the rebel type, the one who is committed to radical action, and who is dressed like a “home-boy,” T-Saint (significantly played by rapper Ice-T). In a dialogue that is consistent with the camp tone of the film, the Rippers must decide what to do with Tank Girl and Jet Girl: T-Saint says, “I say we kill them.” Donner says, “I say we hump ‘em.” Booga, the innocent, says, “I say we get crumpets and tea.” “Tasty,” says Deete. “All in favour of crumpets and tea say ‘Aye’.” All but rebel T-Saint say “Aye.” The relationships between the characters and their personalities become established. Their small tight-knit community appears more “civilized” than the human civilization above ground. Ideas of the primitive, associated with animals and civilized, associated with humans are rendered hyperbolic within a camp context. The residue of their actions, the parts that construed them as monsters, refer to mythical significations for beasts or animals. The referents for animality are played upon. The whole, constructed from parts, consists of further fragmentations which create new parts. Trinh T. Minh-ha talks about a “myth of mythology” (1989, 60) where it is not oneself or the other who is encountered in anthropological discourses, which are regarded as conventionally colonizing, where “the skin of native life” (56) is recorded to trace the “anatomy of a culture” (57). Rather, what is experienced is the imposition of oneself on the other. (60) The Rippers are positioned as a form of native other in the film, who, resonating with an anti-colonialist discourse that runs throughout the film, resist a type of anthropological categorization. Their traces cannot be used to develop a coherent story as to their “nature.”

            For example, boundary categories for the cyborg are broken down from a binary or exclusive position of either human-animal or human-machine in a manner that combines those positions. That is, the notion of the hybrid expands to include further crossings and combinings. When she meets them, Rebecca calls the Rippers “manimals.” We find out from Booga that the government wanted to create the perfect soldier and so “messed with DNA” and created them. They are, in relation to this information, weapons, extending their hybridized status to include a new notion of ‘biological warfare’ creating them as cyborg. As extensions of the war machine, the enhanced soldier is made so by combining organic elements. The cyborg is not conventional in the sense that the machine intervenes on the organic body to make it cyborg, rather the cyborg is constructed out of organic parts. It is possible here to read the discursive, symbolic body and the material body as mutually determining but not bound to stable referents. The cyborg, in this context, is about reorganized biology and the connections that the new body has to significations of the machine in terms of ‘weapons.’

            The personality types the Rippers embody also play upon the significations for identities as “natural.” It is conventionally unlikely that cyborg warriors should have such distinct, if seemingly stereotyped, personalities. It is incongruous that they should enjoy tea-time. It is likewise comical to see a human type of character (innocent, playboy, philosopher, rebel) played by an inter-species creature. These seeming contradictions play upon spectatorial expectations and foreground the arbitrary nature of the types the creatures embody. References to the hybrid underneath the signifying garments become increasingly destabilized. The boundary between human and animal, made bold by the character types in relation to their hybridized status, is made further still complex by the foregrounded unlikely boundary between animal and animal, where the references are “stuffed animals” or “Playboy bunnies” which signify outside themselves in terms of connotations of innocence or experience. Apparent boundaries play out within so that “animal” itself is a contested term or boundary. It could be said then, that with reference to signification, “animal” crosses with itself and combines with itself, and is cyborg by itself. The layering of references for identity opens up into a proliferation of identities within identities, where no one signification or referent is stable enough to signify categorically.


            In addition to interspecies characters in the film, there are characters who function as symbolic extensions of their machines. For example, Tank Girl is an extension of her army tank and Jet Girl referred to simply as “Jet” in the film, is an extension of her military jet. Their very names hybridize human and machine. This leads to Haraway’s other boundary breakdown or “leaky distinction [which] is between animal-human (organism) and machine” (1991a, 152).

Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. (152)

            As I have shown with respect to the breaching of the animal/animal boundary, boundaries such as animal/person or organism/machine can be breached further. Drag is interesting in this film because it includes not only cross-species-dressing but cross-machine-dressing. The machines, which become a symbolic extension of their cohorts, get dressed up, painted and accessorized. Originally owned by Water and Power, they are stolen by Tank Girl and Jet and “personalized.” They are, in fact, also “animalized” which I will discuss further on. The tank and jet initially “wear” the uniform of Water and Power, complete with logo and official colours. To hide the fact that they have stolen the machines, Tank Girl and Jet transform them. Tank Girl’s tank, in camp fashion, comes replete with a martini bar, barbecue, reclining chair, parasol, etc. The jet is painted red and tattooed. The tank and jet not only take on new guises but they are enhanced with added remote control features.

            It is possible to regard the cyborg in the technological realm as crossing with itself: machines in drag. Drag, in the form of cross-tank/jet-dressing, includes the organic intervention on technology where the conventional analytical emphasis has been on “technology on the body” not the techno-body (Tank Girl and Jet Girl as cyborg) on technology. Where it is conventional to think of technology acting on the organic body creating it as cyborg (liposuction, contact lenses, hearing aids, pacemakers), it is also possible in this film to see how technology acts upon technology. That is, the machines become “cyborg” as they are added onto, enhanced. The machines as symbolic extensions of Tank Girl and Jet Girl extend and enhance their personalities and capabilities and the machines get further technological extensions to enhance their (machines’) performance and personality. One could say that the conventional process of the human body becoming enhanced through cyborg/technological intervention expands and goes both ways here. Tank Girl and Jet Girl are improved by virtue of their machines;  the machines are improved by cyborgs.

            Boundaries continue to break down and proliferate. Not only does the cyborg-organism act upon technology, but technology intersects with meanings about animality. For example, in one scene Tank Girl calls for her tank much the same way a pet caregiver would call for its animal. The tank appears to talk back to Tank Girl with beeps and comes to her when she whistles for it, responding likewise to her voice commands. The film creates  a reference for the pet-like quality of the relationship between Rebecca and the tank at the beginning of the film when we see Rebecca riding a horned beast, with goggles and snout mask. Rebecca herself is wearing goggles and a mask, connecting the beast and Rebecca through accessories or cyborg extensions. The idea that the tank resembles a pet is in keeping with my cyborg configuration which includes an entanglement of animal, person and machine. It also opens up the idea that the cyborg hybrid can be machine/machine. The machine crosses with itself in a complex intermingling of add-ons, crossing over from its seemingly “original” purpose to expand into other possibilities. Not only is the body a “boundary concept” in this configuration, but the machine is as well. Crossings that take place within seemingly whole, self-contained boundaries destabilize these boundaries.


Insides Twisted Outside Twisted Inside . . . or Just Twisted 

            In a more literal connection between human and machine, there is an evil character, Kesslee, who becomes part human and part hologram. There are also vampiristic devices that turn human blood into water to be drunk and incorporated back into the body once again, blurring the markers which distinguish inside and outside for the body.

            My configuration of the cyborg myth refashions the “natural” body into a boundary concept. That is, notions of boundaries themselves are conceived of as convention, where what is split is split again in possibilities for quantum proliferations which subvert “organic wholes . . . what counts as nature –– a source of insight and promise of innocence –– is undermined, probably fatally” (Haraway, 152-3). Notions of inside and outside as defining parameters of self become self-reflexive in Tank Girl in relation to the cyborg and the body. Ideas of personhood are contested; the identifiable cues for the outside to signal some identifiable inside (for example, outside/dress equals inside/woman) are unsettled with respect to identities and the organic body. In one scene there is the expectation that Tank Girl will strip for the Rippers. The camera moves from a cartoon picture on the wall of a naked woman to a blow-up sex doll, to Rebecca on the couch removing a corset . . . painted with a picture of a naked woman’s torso. She wears a T-shirt beneath the corset and is in fact not naked, nor is she stripping in the conventional sense. The painted corset disturbs our expectations, the body is removable and unnatural. Melding cyborg notions of “extensions” with drag, the body is made cyborg in this scene. Where what is expected is the naked body beneath the clothes, the naked body (painted on the corset) is removed to reveal clothing. Expectations get deferred where the reference is the representation of the woman’s body as opposed to the notion of the real body. The foregrounded reference (painting on the wall, blow-up doll, body corset) is the “idea” of the female body.

            The diegetic apparatus which turns blood into water disturbs the idea of containment with respect to the organic and the parameters of the body. The vampiristic device which turns human blood into water to be drunk and incorporated back into the body once again blurs the markers which distinguish inside and outside for the body. Kesslee uses this apparatus as a weapon in one of the early scenes in the film. Sticking the hand-held apparatus into his victim’s body, the apparatus sucks out his blood like a cyborg vampire, immediately turning the blood into water, which in turn is ingested by Kesslee. Inside the body to outside the body to inside the body once again; the parameters for what constitutes the organic self are made dubious and exchangeable. It is also significant that Kesslee does not act the part of the vampire in the traditional sense. That is, he does not “personally” take the blood of his victim into his own body but has a technological go-between which alters the organic fluid substance. The technological intervention becomes an extension of Kesslee’s evil power-enhancing him in such a way as to make him cyborg.

            Another interesting self-reflexive turn of the inside/outside paradigm continues with Kesslee. On his death bed after being torn apart by the Rippers, Kesslee undergoes surgery. He is missing an arm and his face is “gutted.” A specialist in “cybergenic reconstructive surgery” is brought in and we see him holding a mechanical arm with spikes. The specialist takes huge shears and applies them to Kesslee’s neck. We hear a crunch and the sound of Kesslee’s heart on the monitor goes flat. Apparently his head has been removed. What slowly comes to be revealed in the film is that his head has been replaced by a hologram which looks exactly like his organic “original.” If the personality is said to reside in the brain, or the brain functions as “self” where does Kesslee’s identity reside when his head is not organic, his own? The organic as self is put into question. Identity, as Kesslee’s case exemplifies, does not reside in the body. He is resurrected from flat-line/dead person to enhanced human-machine hybrid retaining all “identifiable” traits with a radically altered, technologically intervened body (camped up by his attempts to drink water, which make him spark and fizzle).  Interestingly, and in camp fashion, his final demise refers back to the legendary scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch of the West is killed by water. Likewise, water – the force of life and source of Kesslee’s power – is used to short circuit and melt Kesslee.[iv] The body, like identity, is rendered less than coherently knowable. Where does gender or identity reside when the body is comprised of technological extensions and interventions or, in Kesslee’s case, replacements?


The same myth varies widely from one teller to another and ‘yet the natives do not seem to worry about this state of affairs.’ Why would they indeed? Who sets off searching for ‘real origins’? Who suffers from the need for classification and identification? Who strives for identity, a certain identity. . . ? Since there is ‘no hidden unity to be grasped,’ no secret meaning to discover behind the package, to look for it is to throw the package  away.  (Trinh 1989, 62)


            Notions of partiality and continuity in relation to identity are hyperbolized even further as these characters describe themselves as “reincarnated.” Deete, the poet/philosopher is the reincarnation of Jack Kerouac and recites poetry. T-Saint, the rebel, who is consistently suspicious of Tank Girl and Jet, was a “cop” in his previous life. The playboy, Donner, says “I used to be Ted Smith –– an assistant buyer of auto-parts in Cincinnati, Ohio.” Booga says, “I used to be a dog, but because I was good they moved me up to human being status . . . sort of.” Hence, even their “origins” as DNA hybrid experiments are torn asunder by the implication that one exists not in relation to conception/creation but in relation to some unknowable, metaphysical connection across space and time (cyborg breeding will be further investigated in Batman Returns). While “connected” across time there is a resistance to permanence and identity. These characters embody a notion of myth which refuses a core identity, where myth plays upon myth or being upon being:

He who represents his own discourse on myths as myth is acutely aware of the illusion of all reference to a subject as absolute center. . . . Anonymous myths give birth to other anonymous myths, multiplying and ramifying themselves without fear of one being absorbed by the other, and beyond any myth teller’s control. Like leaves of grass, they grow and die following the rhythm of impermanent-permanent nature. (Trinh 1989, 61)

            Sexuality in Tank Girl is wrenched from procreation and queered from normative directions. That is, birth or breeding does not originate from sexual practices in the case of the Rippers, nor do sexual relations take place for procreative reasons. The couplings, which include human-machine in this film, serve as an appropriate introduction to what will become further entanglements in Batman Returns.

            The first time Tank Girl meets her tank, she is a prisoner of Water and Power. She escapes to where the tanks are kept and as she sneaks around a bend, her eyes light up and she goes weak at what we see her looking at. The film cuts to a shot of a long, phallic cannon attached to the front of the tank; the rest of the tank is obscured. A cartoon bubble comes up with the phrase “My God! The sheer size of it . . . .” She straddles the canon and we hear in voice over “I think I’m in love!” (Her position on the cannon also resonates with her appropriation of the phallus which could be regarded as a symbolic cyborg attachment; enhancing Tank Girl with qualities usually associated with the phallus such as strength and power.) Tank Girl and her tank play upon the notion of a couple. For example, about to embark on a dangerous mission with the Rippers to Water and Power, she claims she is not going anywhere without her tank . . . the old ball and chain, so to speak. Because, as I have discussed, the tank is animalized, there is also a sense of “bestiality” that resonates with Rebecca and the tank’s relationship, echoing Haraway’s notion that “cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurable tight coupling. Bestiality has a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange” (1991a, 152). The relationship that forms between Tank Girl and the Ripper Booga foregrounds “bestiality” in a more literal sense, although it too resonates with the technological impact of Booga and Tank Girl’s cyborg status. Their relationship develops with a sweet intimacy, combining the sexual with an emotional component –– cyborg relations do not exclude the emotional component regarded as absent with respect to machines. Their sartorial relationship in camp contexts refers to their technological aspects as well. In one scene they are lying on Booga’s bed and Tank Girl is wearing a bra with plastic attachments shaped like toy-missiles. Booga is wearing a T-shirt with a target on it. In another example which highlights the playful attitude around sexuality in the film, Donner, the playboy, makes a pass at Jet and says “It’s all right, I have condoms,” satirically emphasizing a normative issue about sexual relations (contraception and safe-sex) and the question of “appropriate” inter-species-relations. The boundaries that are breached in this film with respect to sexuality, within the context of entangled identities, include breaching boundaries with respect to cyborg sexuality. Animal-human or human-machine boundaries proliferate to include combinations and permutations of those.



            The notion of entangled identities and cyborg territories opens up the possibilities for drag in contexts which move beyond gender binaries and conventional boundaries. Crossings are made up of combinings which include expanding upon already broadened notions such as hybridization. For example, this chapter showed that the hybrid, a notion which expands upon traditional binaries in new combinations, can be animal/animal, human/human or machine/machine. And beyond that, there are further interventions through couplings and sexual practices which move off directions located in an “appropriate” body or sex. Notions of truth and disguise play off each other in a dialogue which emphasizes not performance over existence as much as the changeable and permutational qualities available for performance in drag.






[i] Fan testimonials in Diva magazine (June 1995) attest to the appeal of her look and the lesbian icon status she maintains. For example “Joelle” says: “The reason I like Tank Girl is that she looks just like me. . . . Our dyke look came before hers and that sort of fashion is an offshoot from the days of punk” (34). Her appeal  is also cited in an article by Louise Carolin in the same magazine as spanning a variety of interested and different fans. The film’s director, Rachel Talalay, says “She’s more the strong woman type . . . not a dyke, more a bisexual kangaroo shagger” (33).

[ii] See Rebecca Bragg’s article “Where to Get Organs for Transplant?  Animal donors, cash for kidneys, raise ethical dilemmas,” in The Toronto Star (12 July 1998: A 11). She relays that the problematic shortage of organ donors might be resolved by xenotransplantation in the next few years –– “Grafting the organs of specially bred animals, most likely pigs, into human bodies.” Over 3,500 transplant doctors and researchers met in Montreal for the 17th biannual World Congress for the Transplantation Society in July 1998. Dr. Calvin Stiller is quoted as saying that “The science of xenotransplantation is advancing so fast that within two to three years, the hearts, lungs and kidneys of pigs may routinely be grafted into human recipients.”

[iii] Lois McNay describes a myth of the feminine in her chapter on “Power, Body  and Experience” (1992, 22).

[iv] The references to fantasy genres appear throughout the film. For instance, when Tank Girl decides to rescue the 10 year old Sam from Liquid Silver she says, “To the Bat Cave!”

[v] There are a considerable number of  feminist interpretations of Foucault’s usefulness in critiques of power and domination. (See Feminist Interpretations of Michel Foucault, Ed. Susan J. Hekman, 1996.) My attempt is not to provide an anlysis of Foucault in relation to his writings on power and domination. Rather, my analysis resonates with the Foucauldian tradition of moving off the Enlightenment rational of certain divisions as coherent and stable. S/M destabilizes  the positions of female/submissive, male/dominant, for instance, and within a camp context renders them hyperbolic.

[vi] Star Trek:  The Next Generation’s cyborg hybrid species the “Borg” maintain this notion as their calling card: “Resistance is futile:  You will assimilate.”

[vii] Locating this fragmentation in “schizophrenia” is obviously not an ideal nor should fragmentation necessarily be reduced to that description.

[viii] Trinh, 62. Trinh discusses Strauss’ notion of bricolage with respect to anthropologists and notions of observation.

[ix] Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, trans. Franklin S. Klaf (New York: Stein and Day,  1965). Cited in McClintock, 210.

[x] See Penley and Ross, 1991, 9.

[xi] Even the actress who plays Catwoman is awarded hybridized cyborg status through connotations of breeding in her portrayal of the character:  “Michelle Pfeiffer leaps into the film as Catwoman, giving birth to a whole new breed of femme fatale” (Magnuson 1992, 94).

[xii] “On all counts Batman Returns is a monster,” says Variety (McCarthy 1992, 56). Indeed, Haraway describes her boundary creatures literally as “monsters, a word that shares more than its root with the verb to demonstrate.  . . . The power-differentiated and highly contested modes of being of monsters may be signs of possible worlds” (1991b, 21-22). In the film, the Penguin refers to Max Shreck and himself as “monsters” saying that the only difference between them is that Shreck is a “respectable” monster and Penguin is not.

[xiii] Likewise, it has been noted that “to be camp is to present oneself as being committed to the marginal with a commitment greater than the marginal merits” (Ross, 146).

[xiv] Notions of recognition and disguise are disturbed and disturbing in Gotham City, a cyborg world. Notions of identity are bound up with rituals of recognition in the film which occur on several levels and within the context of Gotham City: “The city is perceived as a kind of dream space, a delirious world of psychic projection rather than sociological delineation” (Lowentrout 1992, 25). I would add that a kind of dream space is what constitutes the cyborg world, most notably because Batman Returns’ dream space refuses to reconcile recognition. In dream space, through rituals of recognition, the S/M relationship between Catwoman and Batman “threatens to reconcile their fractured personalities, but remains hauntingly unfulfilled” (Newman 1992, 49). Within this dream space or cyborg world, the potential for reconciled personalities like couplings is distinct from the idea of parts combining to make a whole. Rituals of recognition take place in the city, a triumph “of delirious unconscious desires. . . . Urban fears and fantasies surface in the weird architectural visions that are constantly being straight-jacketed by order and good sense, yet constantly break through to leave a residue of madness that gives the city its potency and charm” (Wollen 1992, 25). The “residue of madness” or excess that the Bat or Cat suit leaves behind can be found on bodies after fight scenes on the city’s buildings. It is the residue from their various S/M scenes, bound up with the city in which these scenes are played out, which leaks and threatens recognition.

[xv] A review in Premiere comments, "Holy Helen Reddy! As Catwoman in this batty sequel, curvaceous Michelle Pfeiffer is a 90's . . . version of the '70's feminist chanteuse. . . . [She] claws and one-twos the guy so efficiently, she makes Arnold and Jean-Claude . . . look downright girlish" (Bibby 1992, 119).Catwoman exceeds the historical positioning of the feminist in the public eye, she is a 90's version, a criminal vigilante, which entails power and gender-bending. Catwoman opens up new possibilities for identification beyond traditional female/male gender binarisms in Hollywood film: She can hold her own with larger than life macho film heroes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme. In a Harper’s Bazaar fashion spread, Catwoman's costume is regarded as “high style,” and “decked out from head-to toe in a slinky black catsuit-complete with knee-high lace-up boots and shiny elbow-length gloves –– Catwoman is destined to become both a cinematic and style trendsetter” (Magnuson 1992, 94). Catwoman has been appropriated, from multiple perspectives as a possible “new” feminist subject from the margins: an evidently powerful site for exceeding traditional and binary coding. Power, however, is manifest “illegitimately” within the already illegitimate confines of the term criminal.

© 1999 by Romy  Shiller. All rights reserved.


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