domingo, 1 de dezembro de 2013

Perfect and Symmetrical Utopias


Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars and Herland by Charlotte Gilman.

I was stunned a couple of months ago when actually reading A Princess of Mars. Dejah Thoris is a familiar image in contemporary comics, characterized by an highly eroticised visual style. Covers and stories usually depict  her with a luscious look, voluptuous shapes, skimpy clothing and go-go dancer poise. Since the original book comes from a more conservative era I've never thought to find descriptions such as these: "save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure". Clearly, this passage fed adolescent wet dreams in now long deceased generations. The book itself is essentially a variation of the white man's burden theme in an exotic and savage land.


Herland stands in direct contrast to this exotic view of highly eroticised savage lands where women are sensuous beauties ready to be enraptured by the heroic arms of the white man, even though, to be fair, Dejah Thoris is depicted as a quite resourceful young woman in Burroughs book. Herland is a curious utopia, a strange mix of the amazon myths and a feminist version of the Stepford wives. Deep in the amazon jungle, lost to the world, a perfect utopian and matriarchal society without any men is challenged by a chance encounter with three adventurers. The book itself is a huge infodump where the author expands her views of social perfection in a feminist utopia.

Perfect utopias contain within themselves the seed of dire totalitarism. There's something disturbing in an idea of perfect societies where everyone shares the same consensual set of ideas. What about those that dare to think different? In literary utopias they seldom exist, assimilated into the perfection of conformity. In real utopias they languish in gulags or concentration camps.

Both books are Utopian. Herland expounds ideas of a perfect society contrasted with our own, while A Princess of Mars is an exotic male dream-space of high adventure and sensuous natives. All Utopian reveries of pulp escapist delight.

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