overthinking the idiot box

November 14, 2005

A column tackling gay issues, gay themes, and just general gayness in television.

A Sexual Revolution

Fascism, anarchy, and the sexual politics of Aeon Flux
by Whitney Cox

When I heard there was to be a movie made of Aeon Flux, yea, verily, did I rejoice. And then I saw the trailer and visited the official website and got the comic books, and yea, verily, did I despair. For though I know better than to get my hopes up about movies made out of other media I have loved, I thought that, maybe, just maybe, Hollywood might manage to do an adaptation right, this time.

One perfectly bad-ass secret agent woman.
Sadly, the media I have so far lead me to believe that I may be mistaken. Instead, what I have been led to expect is that the movie will be the story of one perfectly bad-ass secret agent woman, working with a collection of women who live in or near a big forest, trying to destroy a evil utopian city headed up by a scientist-turned-politician who's four centuries old. And while this might make an interesting plot for a film on its own merits, it's not Aeon Flux.

What, then, is Aeon Flux? Asking that is sort of like asking, What is the Buddha? — the answer is liable to be: This rope weighs three pounds. Each short/episode is its own kind of koan — short, bizarre, and inherently with no definite moral, only an invitation to look at the world in a different way. Nothing in the series actually happens, and trying to establish any sort of continuity or backstory is largely an exercise in futility, especially since Aeon creatively wrecks the continuity every other episode by dying. Instead, the series as a whole is not powered by plot, but by a strangely egalitarian near-Manichean1 dualism keeping the binary of the fascist Trevor and the anarchist Aeon in constant well, flux.

It isn't the tale of Aeon's righteous struggle against an evil empire, but rather a zero-sum struggle of absolute order versus absolute chaos, wherein our focal duo might as well be the last two people on earth, playing at power structures to amuse themselves.
The entire series runs on binaries — particularly on the binary of the totalitarian state, embodied in the person of Chairman Trevor Goodchild, and the anarchist underground, embodied in the person of rogue agent Aeon Flux. Though Aeon gets the honour of having the series named after her, her arch-nemesis, Trevor (who is not four centuries old) provides all the voiceover narration and regularly spends as much time onscreen as she. It isn't the tale of Aeon's righteous struggle against an evil empire, but rather a zero-sum struggle of absolute order versus absolute chaos, wherein our focal duo might as well be the last two people on earth, playing at power structures to amuse themselves.

You may be wondering what this has to do with gay. I'm getting there.

I'm sure the reason behind the characters' sexual preferences has more to do with Peter Chung's rather obvious fondness for lesbianism than any overarching commentary on human sexuality; sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes having your sexy female protagonist duplicated in a horribly unethical medical procedure is just an excuse for clonecest. And yet, Trevor and Aeon's sexualities fall appropriately in line with the belief structures they represent, something which might not be quite so obvious were both characters not so intensely sexualised, both with one another and with others. Again, the pair holds true to their binary of opposites — while Trevor is frequently and enthusiastically heterosexual, Aeon is not only both overtly and covertly bisexual, canonically having lovers both male and female, but an enthusiastic wearer of bondage-inspired outfits, object of desire for foot fetishists, and owner of at least one electrical attachment designed to jump-start nipple clamps.

But wait: Isn't homosexuality the opposite of heterosexuality? Not necessarily, and especially not when we're speaking of sexuality as a metaphor for political systems. I'm not saying Trevor's particularly vanilla — especially not when it comes to that ear-licking thing, I don't know what that's about — but his sexuality is pretty well-defined. Even when he has sex with an alien, it's a lady alien. He is a man who has sex with women, and even acquires a wife and a baby in one of the short episodes; he is also a man who likes control and order, as evidenced by the fact he's really rather something of a fascist. If he were gay, I'd expect him to be entirely gay, attractive exclusively to the same sex with no hint of ambiguity or confusion about his sexual preferences. His gender preference is not as important as the absoluteness of it.

It's subtle. Subtle.
Aeon, however, is a kinky bisexual terrorist, which is about as anarchistic of a sexual identity as one can pull out2; the former means she considers as sexual things that are not 'normally' delegated to the realm of the erotic, and the latter means she never has to limit her choices of sexual partners by gender. She doesn't have to answer to anyone — not social conventions, not someone else's morality, not to some form of commanding officer, certainly not to Trevor, whose quasi-benevolent dictatorship she refuses in favour of retaining her own will, and not even to standard ideas of what is and is not sex.

Their affections toward one another are a supreme vindication of the principle where opposites not only attract, but egg their counterparts on — and what, more than anything else, leaves me cold about the movie is how very little Trevor I've seen. The trailers, and particularly the recent Dark Horse comic, leave me with the distinct impression that this will be the Aeon Show, all Aeon, all the time, without the show's bizarre, hyper-sexual, egalitarian binary ethic. In the TV show, Aeon was not perfect — she slipped, fell, screwed up, pissed off people, miscalculated, misfired, and got herself killed about as often as not, all of which served to make it clear that her worldview was just as flawed (and therefore just as valid) as anyone else's. Kinky bisexuality is an extreme of its own, and would work as a universal principle about as well as vanilla heterosexuality — or total anarchy, or absolute totalitarianism — which is to say on all counts, not particularly well.

Of course, I like lesbians, possibly as much as Peter Chung does, and the second strike the movie has against it is how straight Aeon appears to be. Una as her sister, movie? Come on. Now, I can get my gratuitous Charlize Theron girlsnugglies in other film venues, so I can't too be upset on that front — but when it comes to smashing the state and still having time left over to smooch on some girls? For that, there's only one Aeon Flux.

NEXT TIME, ON OUT-TAKES: The amazing true love story of two convicted felons; or Over The Rainbow.

1As we all know from reading our Grant Morrison, Manichean is just someone from Manchester.

2Without delving too heavily into the realm of genderfuck, that is, but androgyny is something Aeon Flux mostly leaves alone.

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