“‘The Revolt of the Mother’: Romanticizing Nature and Rejecting Science in Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground and Other Feminist Utopias,” in Dystopias and Utopias on Earth and Beyond: Feminist Ecocriticism of Science Fiction, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch, Routledge, 2021.

Vakoch book coverSally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground (1979) is a feminist separatist utopia in which women reject science as masculine and dangerous and return to a more “natural” way of life, living outside of cities in loose communities and psychically communicating with each other and the natural world. As Eric Otto (2012) has argued, Gearhart’s ecofeminism is ultimately essentialist; in addition, the gender essentialism of The Wanderground relies upon and endorses a rejection of science. Gearhart is not alone in this rejection of science, and I consider other feminist utopias for historical context as well, including Dorothy Bryant’s The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (1976; first published in 1971 as The Comforter), Donna J. Young’s Retreat: As It Was! (1979), and Judy Grahn’s Mundane’s World (1988). At a time when the environmental damage caused by technological advancement was painfully obvious and women were largely not welcome in science, rejecting science may have seemed appealing. Given that we still see such environmental damage and that women are still underrepresented in STEM fields, it may still appeal; however, rejecting science is harmful and counterproductive to feminist aims, and anti-science utopias like The Wanderground often ultimately reveal the dangers of this separation even as they argue strenuously for it.

“The Ecohorror of Omission: Haunted Suburbs and the Forgotten Trees of A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Gothic Nature 2, March 2021, pp. 84-109.

nightmare-on-elm-street-posterWes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is not typically considered an ecohorror film, despite the title’s focus on elm trees. To be fair, trees do not feature prominently in the film, much of which takes place indoors and underground. However, the title resonates with two environmental issues: Dutch elm disease (DED) and deforestation. By the 1980s, more than 77 million elms had died from DED, and Elm Street, “one of America’s most storied and archetypal places” (Campanella, 2003: p. 1), no longer featured elm trees. America’s archetypal Elm Street was also built on the mass destruction of the continent’s forests. This context provides a way to read the film as ecohorror. This is ecohorror grounded in human-created suburban nature and the loss of wild nature. It illustrates Bernice M. Murphy’s Suburban Gothic (2009), addressing the social constructs of suburbia and the family, but it shows how these social constructs are entwined with a desire for control of nature. Nightmare is haunted not just by Freddy Krueger but by trees, raising the spectre of the American elm (itself a ghost of virgin forests) while suppressing the knowledge of this loss. Ultimately, the gap between the title of the film and the ecological reality of the time points to an expansion of ecohorror. Stephen A. Rust and Carter Soles (2014) argue that ecohorror “assumes that environmental disruption is haunting humanity’s relationship to the non-human world” (p. 510); this film goes even further, showing–in its failure to acknowledge the absence of the elms and the forests–how silence about environmental disruption haunts humanity’s relationship to the nonhuman world and produces an ecohorror of omission.

“Traveling While Black: Revising Urbanoia in Lovecraft Country,” Horror Homeroom, no. 3, special issue on Lovecraft Country, Winter 2021.

This article reads Lovecraft Country as a revenge narrative and considers it in the context of Carol J. Clover’s discussion of urbanoia, which focuses on “the revenge of the city on the country” (115). Lovecraft Country, despite not being a Deliverance-like story of citydwellers being attacked by vengeful rednecks, functions as an urbanoia narrative by envisioning the revenge of the oppressed and using movement from the city into the country as a way to organize “the confrontation between haves and have-nots, or even more directly, between exploiters and their victims” (126). Lovecraft Country hijacks the urbanoia narrative and uses it to reveal a blind spot in horror – and in horror criticism. Black people in the U.S. have had a different relationship to rurality and to nature, one that urbanoia narratives and discussions too often obscure or ignore. Lovecraft Country shows just how fully Black experiences and fears have been left out of discussions of revenge-based horror and writes these fears back into the genre.

“‘Life Finds a Way’: Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, and De-Extinction Anxiety,” in Fiction and the Sixth Mass Extinction: Narrative in an Era of Loss, edited by Jonathan Elmore, Lexington Books, 2020, pp. 31-48.

Fiction and the Sixth Mass Extinction cover

In Jurassic Park (1993), Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm famously says that “life finds a way,” and the return of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and its sequels presages a recurring plot device in recent creature feature films in which extinct creatures are returned to life. This recurring narrative shows that de-extinction is something that both fascinates and frightens viewers. “Life finds a way,” but this prospect is double-edged. It promises that extinction need not be final and offers absolution for our role in ongoing extinctions. On the other hand, the threat represented by this narrative is not species loss but the disruption of the supposedly unidirectional and predictable process of extinction, which places us, rather than other species, at risk of extinction and death. These films highlight a significant ambivalence in the culture, showing that even as we worry about species extinction, we simultaneously fear acting on those concerns, whether via large-scale projects of de-extinction or small-scale changes in daily behavior. Watching these films allows viewers a small way to assuage their guilt and also justify their lack of action.

A Door into Ocean as a Model for Feminist Science.” Posthuman Biopolitics: The Science Fiction of Joan Slonczewski, edited by Bruce Clarke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, pp. 47-64.

Posthuman Biopolitics cover 2

Feminist science fiction presents a range of responses to gender inequities in science, including the rejection of traditional science, a reversal of gendered power structures within science, and an embrace of science and representation of women doing science (but with no real challenge to the structures of masculinist science). Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean provides, instead, a vision of a feminist science. It neither rejects science as a way of knowing nor ignore feminist critiques of science. Slonczewski’s model of feminist science recognizes women’s scientific contributions (both within and without traditional science), challenges familiar dichotomies and hierarchies within traditional science, and attends explicitly and thoroughly to the political and ethical ramifications of its choices, narratives, and definitions.

“‘Either you’re mine or you’re not mine’: Controlling Gender, Nature, and Technology in Her and Ex Machina.” Gender and Environment in Science Fiction, edited by Christy Tidwell and Bridgitte Barclay. Lexington Books, 2018, pp. 21-44.

Book cover for Gender and Environment in Science Fiction

Her (2013) and Ex Machina (2015) explore the complicated relationship between gender and environment through the science fictional trope of AI creation. In these films, women – or the technologies we see personified and gendered as female – are represented as being beyond human male control; however, the environment within these films is subject to human control. These films reject familiar narratives about gendered control while failing to reject narratives about environmental control, but they take for granted human control of nonhuman nature, and their critiques of gendered control are built upon a foundation of environmental manipulation. This dynamic complicates the traditional conflation of woman and nature but also highlights the need for stronger connections between feminist and environmental concerns – even if not between women and nature.

“Ecohorror.” Posthuman Glossary, edited by Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018, pp. 115-17.

This brief entry provides an overview of ecohorror. It defines the subgenre and locates it within the context of posthumanism.

“Biology.” Gender: Matter, edited by Stacy Alaimo, Macmillan Reference USA, 2017, pp. 139-52.

This essay provides a critical overview of the intersections between biology, gender, and matter, covering the origins of modern biology, feminist critiques of science, gendered language and metaphor within the discipline, sociobiology and neurosexism, intersubjectivity and transcorporeality, the place of the body within disability studies, as well as both intersex and transgender bodies and lives as challenges to binary biological models of sex. This overview illustrates many of the ways in which biology has been used as a tool to restrict or oppress but also the ways in which biology offers opportunities for empowerment, from including more women and other minorities in the discipline to changing the ways that discourses of biology influence people’s lives and even to modifying one’s own body through the use of biological sciences.

“‘A Little Wildness’: Negotiating Relationships between Human and Nonhuman in Historical Romance.” Creatural Fictions: Human-Animal Relationships in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Literature, edited by David Herman, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 151-72.

Cover for Creatural Fictions, edited by David Herman

This article examines uses of animals in Bertrice Small’s Skye O’Malley (1980) and Patricia Gaffney’s Wild at Heart (1997) as well as in the broader genre of historical romance in which these two texts are situated. Skye O’Malley and Wild at Heart illustrate patterns in the romance genre’s uses of nonhuman animals even as they reveal divergent responses to the relationship between human and nonhuman within the romance genre. Skye O’Malley evokes similarities between humans and nonhumans that challenge the familiar divide between them while simultaneously relying on stereotypes and anthropomorphisms that undermine those moves toward connection. Wild at Heart, by contrast, provides a more productive approach to animality by resisting such stereotypes and presenting a vision of both human and nonhuman wildness as interrelated. Ultimately, I argue, Skye O’Malley and Wild at Heart provide yet another way to understand common tropes and expectations of romance novels and show the potential of the romance genre to challenge humanist and speciesist conceptions of nonhuman nature.

“Why Is the Future So Young?: Gender and Age in Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population.Femspec, vol. 15, 2015, pp. 100-11.

Although science fiction is often a space where differences are explored—including race, gender, species, and physical ability—age differences are not often part of this exploration. Science fictional protagonists tend to be relatively young, and older characters are often subordinate characters or simple stereotypes; conversely, when characters are actually old they do not appear as such. One exception to this pattern is Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population (1996), which shows what a future that includes aging might look like. Ofelia, the novel’s protagonist, is 70 years old at the start of the novel, ages significantly over the course of the book, and does not easily fit familiar, gendered models of aging. Remnant Population repeatedly challenges assumptions about what it means to age as a woman and provides a useful countermodel to all-too-common representations of gendered aging.

“Monstrous Natures Within: Posthuman & New Materialist Ecohorror in Mira Grant’s Parasite. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature & Environment, vol. 21, no. 3, Summer 2014, pp. 538-49.

Ecohorror presents challenges to human supremacy in the world and critiques human intervention in and disruption of the ecosystem; this is typically accomplished via monstrous nature of an external sort – giant ants, rampaging rabbits – but there are internal threats to consider as well. Mira Grant’s Parasite  (2013) reflects a turn to internal sources of ecohorror, which highlights both the human connection to the rest of the natural world as well as human anxieties about this connection. This shift to the internal represents a productive move away from seeing nature simply as something out there, but this shift is also dangerous and it is unclear at this point what its costs might be. Parasite reveals this difficulty by developing the kinds of connections between human and nonhuman that are indicated by posthumanist and new materialist theories and by asking what happens when those connections come at the cost of humanity, individuality, and/or consciousness.

“‘Everything is always changing’: Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s ‘Movement.'” Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology As Cure, edited by Kathryn Allan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2013, pp. 153-168.

Cover for Disability in Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Allan

Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark provides a technological vision of progress that emphasizes the necessity of a cure for autism, privileges normalcy, and develops a fairly conservative definition of human limits and possibilities. Nancy Fulda’s “Movement” develops a competing model of progress that is not built upon technological advancement but on increased understanding of autism that emphasizes the unique abilities and talents accompanying the protagonist’s autism, challenges normative definitions of human ability, and emphasizes acceptance and even celebration of difference. The contrast between these texts indicates that if we must think in terms of progress, perhaps that progress is not technological but social.

“Young Adult Zombies: Daniel Waters’ Generation Dead as Sociopolitical Intervention.” Critical Insights: Contemporary Speculative Fiction, edited by M. Keith Booker, Salem Press, 2013, pp. 217-30.

Cover for Critical Insights: Contemporary Speculative Fiction, edited by M. Keith Booker

In his Generation Dead series, Daniel Waters uses teenage zombies to represent ongoing cultural anxieties about differences like race, disability, and homosexuality. Waters’ approach to difference and ongoing political issues through the fantastic is particularly useful for a YA audience; approaching these issues through a zombie story could allow the concepts and language of disability and gay and lesbian rights to influence young adult readers by analogy, gaining an audience that might otherwise be hostile to such arguments about these minority groups or that might be indifferent to real life arguments about difference.  A reader who would pass up more serious fare might be drawn in by the promise of zombies, especially in the wake of the popularity of less politically engaged novels featuring the paranormal.

“The Problem of Materiality in Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The People of Sand and Slag.’” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring 2011, pp. 94-109.

Sherryl Vint argues for an embodied posthumanism, one that provides a grounding on which to base ethical actions and judgments; in this story, Paolo Bacigalupi takes this even further, arguing for the necessity of an ethical ground that takes more than human embodiment into consideration but that also takes into consideration nonhuman embodiment and materiality. “The People of Sand and Slag,” therefore, engages in a complex consideration of ideas of posthumanity, embodiment, and animality and presents a powerful argument for a posthumanism that neither defines humanity in opposition to nonhuman nature and the environment nor defines nonhuman nature and the environment in terms of the human.

“‘Fish Are Just Like People, Only Flakier’: Environmental Practice and Theory in Finding Nemo.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 to Present, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring 2009.

Finding Nemo is an unexpected location of environmental theory that both supports popular forms of environmentalism—by encouraging identification with the animal protagonists and pointing out abuses of nature committed by humans—and simultaneously reinforces problematic interactions with nature and ideologies—by prompting the commodification of specific kinds of animals and reinforcing the separation between human and nonhuman nature.

“Japanese Street and Youth Fashion.” The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, edited by Joanne B. Eicher, Berg, 2010. 

This essay grew out of a web project from a graduate course on Global Media taught by Dr. Martin Danahay. On the strength of that web project, I was invited to contribute an edited version for the East Asia volume of The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. In this essay, I examine the cultural significance of several youth fashion trends popular in the Harajuku district of Tokyo in the early 1990s and early 2000s, including kawaii, Gothic Lolita, multi-ethnic influences, and ganguro. I argue that although these fashion subcultures often heavily rely on Western influences, the combination of a do-it-yourself ethic and an aesthetic of chaos instead makes these subcultures a prime location for challenging and resisting commodification.