Tuesday, May 10, 2011

a masculinist take on steffen-fluhr

In her essay on The Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a “complex psychomachia” (152), Nancy Steffen-Fluhr notes the parallel between Miles Bennell's anxieties in surrendering to alien invasion and surrendering to his feelings for his high school crush, Becky Driscoll. The author writes:

She is the familiar stranger, alien flesh to which he is about to bond himself, and he is worried that this merger may entail some loss of freedom and identity. The pod part is, at least in part, simply a surrealistic projection of these unacknowledged anxieties, of a man's terror of falling helplessly in love. (140)

Under this logic, however, I am not convinced that the climax of the movie reflects betrayal on Becky's part, nor am I convinced that Miles' refusal to surrender control supports a return to patriarchal norms. First and foremost, I'd like to argue that another hallmark of so-called “macho role-playing” (153) is the desire to command and conquer. Though Steffen-Fluhr emphasizes the stereotypical male distaste for being controlled, she focuses little discussion on the need for men to actively control their environment. Furthermore, men are presumably obsessed with power, but it was a man who acknowledged that “with great power comes great responsibility.” As a result, I'd propose that Miles' manhood took a significant blow when he succumbed to the temptation of a distant lullaby and left the love of his life all but exposed to the invaders.

In addition, the inconclusiveness of the story's ending complicates the notion that only a return to the “bi-polar values of the American patriarchy” (153) can fight off an alien invasion. This is primarily because the film fails to set up an explicit alternative: embracing the pod people would result in passionless conformity, hardly the first thing that one expects from empowering and embracing women as equals. Unless present day norms have rendered my perceptions of gender equality too far removed from those in the 1950s (very possible), or Don Siegel was attempting to associate the invasive, soul-sucking feminine pods with marriage (fun to think about, but less possible), I simply do not see how Steffen-Fluhr's is the most relevant argument (though it is certainly compelling to a particular audience).

In fact, I found the whole of Steffen-Fluhr's analysis, while detailed and well thought out, to be extremely biased toward a feminist viewpoint. It demonstrated to me just how much one's outside beliefs can influence the interpretation of a text. For example, Steffen-Fluhr's focus on the “real meaning of fear” in a kiss (139) led to her assessment that Miles blamed Becky for succumbing to her feminine weakness and falling asleep. Meanwhile, I thought that a pervasive guilt of abandonment underlay Miles' reaction to discovering that his beloved's body had been snatched. Steffen-Fluhr's propensity to identify vaginas where I might simply identify bloody, sliced palms also epitomizes for me the effect that preconceived agendas can have on literary analysis. Again, I do not mean to disrespect the school of thought from which Ms. Steffen-Fluhr makes her arguments; I just find it remarkable that we saw such different things in the same exact movie.


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