English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Schuler Kleinfelter

The Sense8 Plot Thickens (Spoilers Ahead)

Throughout the series so far Sense8 has been building up tension in various different plots. In episode seven, W. W. N. Double D? (What Would Nancy Drew Do?), many of these buildups reach an apparent climax by becoming entwined with one another, while also leaving room for further development. Here are two examples of this.

Joaquin, an enemy of Lito’s, has been stalking him for multiple episodes. Meanwhile Lito and his boyfriend Hernando are constantly worried that their romance will become public knowledge, potentially threatening Lito’s acting career as a straight sex-icon. In this episode Joaquin directly confronts Lito, steals his beard’s phone, and texts him a picture of him and Fernando engaging in intercourse. In this way two independent sources of tension collide and cause a climax.

Joaquin reveals a new extent of his evil while confronting Lito

This climax is not the end-all-be-all climax of these plotlines however, as Joaquin has not yet published the image. Lito voices one possible avenue for continued buildup of tension when he moans with dread: “He will blackmail me!”

Another pair of tension lines developed in this episode are Nomi’s quack almost-surgeon Dr. Metzger and the mysterious Dr. Matheson. In a prior episode Nomi is nearly lobotomized by Dr. Metzger, and in this episode she and her girlfriend Neets set out to figure out why. They break into his house and begin doing some snooping, and then end up confronting him directly when he returns home early.

Along the way, Nomi clones Metzger’s phone and makes a call to one “Dr. Matheson.” On the phone he knows who she is before she speaks and says they will meet soon. While Nomi is interrogating Dr. Metzger, it becomes clear that Metzger is terrified of Matheson, and then Jason (not one of the 8, instead an independent sensate) appears to Nomi to warn her to run before “Whispers” shows up.

His warning comes too late however, as one of Metzger’s past lobotomy patients, suddenly capable of motion again, shows up before Nomi can escape. He draws a gun and shoots first Metzger, and then himself. But not without the camera first panning to show his reflection is the man who drove the woman in the opening shot of episode one to kill herself.

The lobotomized-and-yet-walking sensate’s reflection is replaced by Matheson

The implications here (as far as I can tell) are:
A) Metzger was creating mindless sensates for this man to control

B) This man is Matheson (and Whispers)

C) Since he did not shoot Nomi (despite having the opportunity to at one point) he will be returning as an antagonist in a future episode

As such, the plotlines of Metzger and Matheson became entwined, leading to a climax in each. Additionally, despite the dramatic and violent climax, there is now a new avenue for the plot to continue to develop and tension to continue to grow as Nomi and Neets investigate Matheson’s identity.



8 People of One Mind

In Episode 5 of Sense8, what I believe will be the show’s main theme is made explicit by one of the 8. As Kala takes her wedding vows with a man she does not love, she says, “We shall share love, share the same tastes… share our strengths. We shall be of one mind.”

This quote ties up many of the experiences which the Sensates (which I have learned is the proper term for them) have been having as their mental bonds strengthen. Not only do they share tastes, such as when Kala takes a bite of shahi dukta, and Nomi’s coffee suddenly tastes “like a sugary dessert,” but they also share other sensations. When Sun gets kicked in the stomach, Lito feels the pain.

On multiple occasions in other episodes one of the Sensates has been in potentially lethal trouble and another has lent their strength to the one in need. When Capheus was being beaten up by some thugs Sun’s martial arts training allowed him to defend himself.

In this episode the Sensates draw closer together and begin to see each other more frequently in addition to sharing tastes and strengths.

Sun and Lito see one another for the first time

As this happens their lives also begin to parallel one another. Sun has to decide whether to sacrifice herself to save her father and brother as Capheus signs on with a crime lord to get medicine for his dying mother.

All of this contributes to the idea that the Sensates are literally of one mind, and are experiencing their lives together as one. In a larger sense, the fact that these 8 diverse individuals who often can’t even speak the same language (except when sharing strengths) are able to form a group and each strengthen the other makes an argument in favor of diversity strengthening a society. Additionally, the fact that they are having the same experiences — both as a result of their bond (sharing tastes) and independently of this bond (making parallel life choices) — makes an argument that no matter what a person’s appearance or background everyone is equal and has equally valuable experiences.

Sense8 Represents Gender Equally

So obviously there are 8 main characters. Four of them are male and four of them are female (assuming you count the transgender woman as female) so that’s a pretty good start.

One of each has advanced combat training and has used it to help out someone of the opposite gender, so at least the ‘ability to stand up for oneself and others’ front is covered. Technically the male has used his combat training to help the trained female, but that was a specific circumstance in which his training was more applicable so it seems like it all checks out.

One of each gender feels trapped in a relationship with someone of the other gender and one of each gender is not cis-hetero — the gender representation seems pretty intentionally split evenly.

There isn’t any representation of individuals who identify as other than male or female, but there is a transgender woman, which is better than most TV shows can claim.

As of yet there hasn’t been any obvious discrepancy in the agency of the characters because they haven’t been directly interacting with each other so they have inherently been making their own decisions.

Half of the 8 are white, but the four that aren’t represent four different ethnicities and are split evenly between male and female, so on that intersectional front the show is also doing well.

The side characters that each of the 8 interact with are dictated realistically by where they are from and by their gender identity and sexual preferences, which results in a diverse cast of side characters to complement the diverse main characters.

The only area I can see in which the show could be considered to be failing to represent a class is that none of the main characters are noticeably disabled or suffering from mental illness, but since there is no representation clearly the representation can’t be tied to gender.

Overall, the casting crew and writers of Sense8 seem to me to be doing their due diligence to ensure that gender is represented equally.

The diverse main characters of Sense8

Picture from Sense8 Wikia

Sense8 Doesn’t have very much writing for me to analyze, but I’ll do my best

According to the Sense8 Wikia Episode 3 of Sense8, “Smart Money is On the Skinny Bitch”, like all the episodes in season 1, was written by The Wachowskis & J. Michael Straczynski. J. Michael Straczynski is known for movies Babylon 5 and World War Z. Lana and Lilly Wachowski also wrote The Matrix and its sequels, as well as Bound. They wrote these movies as The Wachowski Brothers, but they are both trans women and now write simply as The Wachowksis. Nomi, one of the 8, is a trans woman, and the Wachowskis likely use their personal experiences to make Nomi a realistic character.

Sense8 stands out to me as having very minimal verbal communication. There is no voice-over or narration, and many scenes feature either no spoken words or only a couple of single lines spoken without responses. For example, the opening scene of this episode features two scared and as-of-yet-unidentified children watching around a corner as a mysterious man cuts open a woman’s skull with a surgical saw. The only dialogue is the girl whispering “Don’t look at him…”

A young girl whispers in the opening scene

One of the 8, in contrast, has strikingly more dialogue than the others in this episode. Lito, a famous actor has three separate scenes, all of which are focused on his dialogue with three other side characters. In these scenes, however, more emphasis is placed on what is left unsaid. Lito trips over his own words when trying to express his emotions to a woman in the first scene, and eventually his boyfriend takes pity on one/both of them and explains what Lito was unable to say. In the next scene the woman explains that Joaquin, who she is hiding from, “had words” with someone, and that her father is in the “import/export” business, once again leaving the real message unsaid.

Despite the lack of dialogue, there is rarely silence in Sense8. Whether it’s the whirring of sawing through bone, the roar of a crowd at an underground fight club, or a piano solo one of the 8 is remembering her father perform — the lack of dialogue leaves the audio track open for other forms of communication about setting and mood.

Additionally, a falling low-note and fading of the audio is often used to indicate that a character (or in this show, a pair of characters sharing senses) is entering bullet-time, a cinematic element originally popularized by The Wachowskis in The Matrix in which heightened perception is represented by other characters and setting elements moving in slow-motion while the camera pans at normal speed. This visual effect is able to be smoothly incorporated into Sense8 due to a lack of dialogue, which would normally have to be paused for a bullet time shot.


How Children’s Television Represents Gender (Annotated Bib)

Mitchell, Danielle. “Producing Containment: The Rhetorical Construction of Difference in Will & Grace.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 38, no. 6, 2005, pp. 1050-1068. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/195371059?accountid=11107.

In this article, Mitchell rails against the prime time show Will & Grace for its acceptance of current norms of inequality and oppression. Her argument is similar to that of Myers regarding non-hegemonic male characters (see second source); that rather than acting as a role model for progress away from hegemonic and heterosexist ideals and norms, the depiction of homosexual characters in Will & Grace serves to reinforce these values by ridiculing characters who deviate from norms. In addition, Mitchell argues that Will & Grace has characters ridicule themselves in order to make the ridicule palatable to audiences who would normally find it offensive, and that it fails to truly represent racial minorities and lesbians by only having characters who represent those demographics make brief, token appearances.

This article definitely has a stance, and sticks to it. Mitchell intends the article to point out problems with Will & Grace’s representation of its characters, and focuses her analysis of the show in ways that support her argument. However, the article is still valuable due to its discussion of class and race divides within the LGBT community and its analysis of how those divides are being portrayed on prime time television.


Myers, Kristen. “”Cowboy Up!”: Non-Hegemonic Representations of Masculinity in Children’s Television Programming.” Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 2012, pp. 125-143. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1023443734?accountid=11107.

In this article, Myers argues that “non-hegemonic male characters” in children’s television programs serve to reinforce hegemonic masculinity. She defines these characters as being males who are “not domineering, competitive, or sexually predatory” and clarifies that they comprise the majority of male characters in the studied shows. These shows are Suite Life on Deck, Hannah Montanna, Wizards of Waverly Place, and iCarly; from the Disney and Nickelodeon networks. The core of Myers’s argument is that rather than serving as role models of nontraditional gender hierarchy, these characters are subject to constant ridicule due to their failure to domineer other characters or otherwise assert their masculinity. Thus they ultimately reinforce that a successful male must put others down to maintain a role of power.

This source provides not only examples of children’s television perpetuating unhealthy gender roles, but also provides insight into how hegemonic masculinity is maintained within peer groups. The “Masculinities: Theory and Practice” section of this article notes that by age 10-11 boys have already identified that there is a relevant hierarchy of status among males in which one must prove oneself suitably masculine to advance. This hierarchy — and enforcement of it — lead to homophobic behaviors and oppression of individuals who do not conform to the cultural ideal of masculinity.


Newsom, Victoria A. “YOUNG FEMALES AS SUPER HEROES: SUPER HEROINES IN THE ANIMATED SAILOR MOON.” Femspec, vol. 5, no. 1, 2004, pp. 57. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/200081515?accountid=11107.

In this article, Newsom dissects the concept of “girl power” and the gendered messages in Sailor Moon. She argues that Sailor Moon incorporates feminine characteristics into characters whose roles are historically associated with males, and therefore that it is part of third wave feminism. The main characters are girls who are strongly marked as feminine through emotional expression, behavior towards stereotypical subjects of teenage female attention such as make-up and crushes, and sexualized outfits. Meanwhile they fill the role of heroism historically reserved for male heroes: they defeat foes of monstrous proportions with supernatural abilities.

Newsome argues that the entire concept of “girl power” is based on a contradiction. It is intended as a “pleasure-centered form of empowerment,” and yet the manners in which it is depicted act counter to female empowerment, because characters who embody girl power are limited to young, slender, physically powerful, attractive girls. Newsome claims links between this unhealthily limiting image and the rise of eating disorders and other attempts at body alteration among female youth in the US.

This article provides information relevant to any research question about anime and shows aimed at young girls. It also highlights key differences between Japanese and American versions of the show and ways in which the American version was censored. It discusses sexualization of female characters in television and the male gaze. Additionally, it explores how an attempt at empowerment can exclude many people who do not fit a specific image.


Romo, Vanessa. “’Supergirl’ Casts First Transgender Superhero On Television.” NPR, NPR, 24 July 2018, www.npr.org/2018/07/23/631693257/supergirl-casts-first-transgender-superhero-on-television.

In this radio episode on NPR, Romo discusses the casting of Nicole Maines as the first transgender superhero on television in the show ‘Supergirl.’ Maines successfully sued her school district in Maine for the right to use the girls’ restroom after the school system had a “bodyguard” follow her around to ensure she used the staff restroom. The article also mentions Scarlett Johansson dropping a starring role as a trans character after public backlash and a general trend towards casting transgender actors for trans roles. In the words of Nicole Maines, this helps “show that we [transgender people] are valid in our identities and we exist.”
This article covers a new development in gender representation on television which is too recent to be covered in peer-reviewed articles. This article also provides a complement for the article by Newsom which discusses girl superheroes in an animated show, while this article centers around a live-action show.


Ulaby, Neda. “Working Women On Television: A Mixed Bag At Best.” NPR, NPR, 18 May 2013, www.npr.org/2013/05/18/184832930/working-women-on-television-a-mixed-bag-at-best.

In this radio episode from Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, Ulaby discusses the various degrees to which women in the workforce are depicted on television. She reveals that children’s television portrays women as employed at a far lower rate than prime time television. In children’s programming “81 percent of jobs are held by men,” whereas almost half of female characters in prime time television are employed, which matches up with real-world percentages. However, very few of these characters have children, which contrasts with the 60% of real-life working women who have children.

This episode provides many useful metrics about portrayal of women in careers by television, which will be helpful in finding what questions have already been answered in order to ask a new question for our research. Additionally, it features interview snippets with an actress, a showrunner and a network president which provide insight into how the gender of a show’s main character affects its success.


Weida, Courtney L. “Gender, Aesthetics, and Sexuality in Play: Uneasy Lessons from Girls’ Dolls, Action Figures, and Television Programs.” The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online), vol. 31, 2011, pp. 1-25. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1323178403?accountid=11107.

In this article, Weida analyzes many different ways in which Girls’ Dolls are played with and the learning implications of each of these methods of play. Additionally, she analyzes gendered messages in television shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer, South Park, and She-Ra. Rather than taking a direct stance on debates surrounding the media she is analyzing, Weida explores the various ways in which children subvert the expectations of advertisers and parents in playing with or viewing dolls and television, and the potential effects of these alternatives on the development and learning of the child.

Much of this article focuses on dolls, which are not inherently within the scope of our research. However, there is a recent television show about the barbie dolls. If this show is within the scope we choose for our question then the discussion of barbie dolls in this article will provide useful background information. The discussion of the aforementioned television shows and how they portray characters such as Willow from BTVS and Jimmy from South Park who are inherently unique and different from what is culturally considered normal has potential to be useful even if the Barbie shows are not within our chosen scope.

I’m as Confused as the Main Characters — Which is to Say, Very

I had to switch from reviewing Killjoys to reviewing Sense8 due to difficulties streaming Killjoys.

Sense8 starts off at the end of a dramatic and violent story which, if it had been told, would explain the situation the main characters find themselves abruptly dropped into. As it is, the audience has only slightly more information than the 8 strangers who suddenly begin having vivid and fragmented perceptions of a violent suicide and each others’ lives.

This sense of simultaneous information overload and of lacking key information is reflected in the cinematography and direction of the show.

The main characters are often placed in the middle-ground of a set with obstacles in the foreground partially obstructing view of them. This reflects the limited perspectives the audience and the other seven glimpse of the lives of each of the 8.

Omi, one of the 8, is shown in the middle-ground of the shot. The camera pans left such that the man to whom she is speaking passes in front of her in the foreground.

The 8 are experiencing sensual overload. To reflect that, many of the settings in the show are visually crowded; featuring many vibrant colors.

Will, another of the 8, is in a drugstore. The background is completely full of vibrantly colored products.

Until the beginning of the show, each of the 8 had been living separate lives, each full of unique family and friends. To portray this, many scenes feature a large number of side characters or extras, including at one point an entire pride parade.

This entire pre-wedding celebration, which features at least 6 unique side characters and a backup dancer crew, is all backstory for a single main character.

True to its focus on vivid sensations, the show features multiple explicit sex scenes (which I will not include an example screenshot of). These contribute to the sense that each of the 8 had separate lives before they became inexplicably connected (and also necessarily involve additional side characters).

Despite having many vibrant colors, the show has a very dark lighting and color scheme. All three scenes above are shot at night, the rave lights at the celebration shown are kept to a minimum to maintain low lighting, and scenes are often so dark at first that it is difficult to make out details until more light is (for various reasons) shed on the subject of the scene. This contributes to the theme of incomplete information, as well as giving a somber mood to the show.

The show is comprised of a series of short cuts strung together, rather than longer continuous scenes. This is partly necessitated by the fact that there are 8 main characters who are experiencing things simultaneously in completely different countries. However, even when a scene lasts for a significant length of time and takes place in a single location, that scene is broken up into multiple short cuts from different angles. This gives the story a fragmented and disjointed feeling, as if it is being pieced together rather than unfolding linearly.


Not Ruining a Space Opera with Boorish Behavior +1.3

Hi everyone! My name is Schuler Kleinfelter, and I’m a Music Technology major. I expect to graduate in 2022, but a victory lap isn’t entirely out of the question. Previously I’ve taken pretty standard English courses. I really enjoyed the analytical nature of AP Lang, and I despised the often-subjective and muddled nature of AP Lit. My favorite part of communication is phrasing and presenting my verbal or written communications in funny ways. I tend to struggle with nonverbal communication, mostly because I overthink it. I’ll spend so much time thinking about how to communicate what I want to nonverbally that I’ll miss my opportunity to actually do so. Hopefully I’ll be able to improve that this semester, although it will probably just take practice over time.

I never had cable TV as a kid, so I pretty much only watched PBS Kids and Sunday cartoons on The CW. I got Netflix a few years ago, and I’ve definitely spent more time watching it than I should have, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone to ridiculous levels with bingewatching. Almost all the shows that I’ve watched have been funny shows, but they haven’t been comedies first-and-foremost. I’ve watched procedural crime shows like Psych and Bones; space operas like Firefly and Dark Matter; fantasy adventure shows such as Doctor Who and The Magicians; fun science shows such as Mythbusters and The White Rabbit Project; and DC shows like Young Justice and Supergirl. I have very little experience with shows in which the main focus of the show is the relationships between characters or with shows in which the comedy is the main focus, because I tend to prefer shows where the comedy and drama are grounded by a central plot (as opposed to shows where the plot is secondary to the drama or comedy). So shows such as Jane The Virgin — where it’s easier to count the characters that haven’t diddled each other than the ones who have — will be new to me.

I have chosen to review Killjoys because it’s a space opera, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the other space operas that I’ve watched.

Killjoys Poster Art (click here for original image URL)

For anyone wondering, a space opera is a scifi show set largely in space (who would have guessed?) including elements such as daring adventure, interplanetary battles, advanced weaponry, chivalry, and characters with special abilities. The most famous of which is Star Wars.

Killjoys is about three bounty hunters called Killjoys who chase down warrants throughout an area of space called the Quad which is on the brink of a class war.

Fun Fact: before I decided on Killjoys I was considering sense8, and my title for this blog post would have been “A Sense8tional Introduction.”

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