Academic journal article Extrapolation

What the Frak, Frankenstein!: Teenagers, Gods, and Postcolonial Monsters on Caprica

Academic journal article Extrapolation

What the Frak, Frankenstein!: Teenagers, Gods, and Postcolonial Monsters on Caprica

Article excerpt

In a key scene in the pilot episode of the SyFy television series Caprica (US, 2009-2010), a massive robot lurches to life in a laboratory and gropes toward a white-coated scientist, its creator.

"Daddy! Daddy!" it says.

This makes sense: the robot is animated by a computer-generated avatar of the scientist's fifteen-year-old daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani). Yet resonances with popular portrayals of the first moments of life for Victor Frankenstein's monster are also apparent. Although Caprica's ambitions extend far beyond simply retelling Frankenstein, the series incorporates suggestive echoes of Mary Shelley's novel and its filmed adaptations. Even audiences not intimately familiar with the book or movies are likely to recognize Caprica's allusions to the story.1 At the most general level, the idea that creating human life is as dangerous as it is intriguing, so central to Frankenstein mythology, becomes a defining theme for Caprica's own exploration of scientific ambition. But, more specifically, just how does Caprica mine the cultural resources of the Frankenstein legacy? And how does Caprica's homage help address the broad contemporary and futuristic issues the series raises?

First, and perhaps most obviously, the conversation between Caprica and various versions of Frankenstein complicates and enriches the series' consideration of what constitutes life, death, and humanness. Second, the history of ambivalent portrayals of Frankenstein's creature helps position the Zoe-robot creation (and the Cylons, the race of hybrid beings that will follow) as simultaneously threatening and yet, paradoxically, sympathetic. Third, despite the complicated religious landscape of Caprican society, Caprica rationalizes religious experience in a manner resonant with Shelley's initial vision, presented in her 1818 edition, of a modern world without God. And finally, in a function closely related to the first three and the focus of my discussion, associations with the Frankenstein story situate the series' central plot engine-the construction of artificial human life through scientific means-in what may be considered a postcolonial frame.

Given the scientist Daniel Graystone's (Eric Stoltz) ultimate purpose, the creation of a race of mechanical slaves that are almost but conveniently not quite human, postcolonial conceptions of dominant and subordinate cultures offer a useful way to think about Caprica's representations of power, gender, age, ethnicity, and class.2 Uppinder Mehan, co-editor of the So Long Been Dreaming collection of postcolonial science fiction, favors a broad scope for the evolving term "postcoloniality" that extends beyond traditional definitions of "a postcolonial person" as only "one who is a member of a nation that has recently achieved independence from its colonizers" (269). Instead, Mehan argues, the noun "postcoloniality" can encompass many states of marginality, and so include "members of minority cultures which are essentially colonized nations within a larger nation." Gauri Viswanathan, for example, maintains that the relationship of religious minorities to the dominant culture in nineteenth-century England meant that those minorities "often shared the position of colonial subjects," despite being of the same nationality (Viswanathan 39). My consideration of Caprica and Frankenstein falls within a similarly expansive understanding of postcoloniality.

As John Rieder points out in Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, Shelley's novel makes explicit reference to the imperial enterprise, including bookending its narrative within an exploratory voyage (100). More significant to Rieder, however, is Shelley's positioning of Frankenstein's creature as a form of colonial subject, or as an "uncorrupted, benevolently inclined natural man" educated through the "civilizing" effects of European culture, a positioning Gayatri Spivak also asserts (Rieder, Colonialism 100; Spivak 268). …

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