Sunday, June 29, 2014

“Love is the law, love under will.”: Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!

An artifice is a kind of symbol, in that it is meant to stand in for something else. An artifice is a symbol that is caricatured to emphasize certain truth-facets of the thing it represents. A spectacle is a kind of artifice, but a spectacle, following Debord, is an artifice that abandons truth in favour of the hollow simulacrum of truth, that is, falseness. Vacuousness. However, an artifice that knows itself, indeed, even a spectacle that knows itself, is an artifice that invokes truth and, in so doing, thus invokes its own true self.

Goddesses and ideas live on within words.

The pipe organ towers over Clicky Goldjeff's wedding. It is, in fact, a literal “tower”, one and the same with a skyscraper that serves as yet another defining feature of Elenore City's skyline. It appears to rise from the Earth itself, the blinding concrete and steel as much a part of the world as any natural object. Clicky, the son of a massively powerful cruise line mogul, is being married off to at least a dozen women, with the hope this will keep his “wandering eyes” at bay. The woman at the organ is Joanca, and it's in truth only her who Clicky has eyes for, and she feels the same way. Joanca proceeds to demonstrate this by firing blindly into the wedding reception as the male model waitstaff, dressed in skintight bunny uniforms, look on in stunned silence. Joanca shoots apart the chains with which Clicky was escorting his brides out by and the two elope together in a blimp.

Kei and Yuri are called in by the elder Goldjeff to retrieve his son, whom he claims has been kidnapped in exchange for a substantial chunk of his fortune. The girls feign interest in the mogul, as this is what male viewers of a female-led science fiction show expect to see and this is what Goldjeff's secretary, who is giving them a tour of the company headquarters, expects them to say. In truth, Kei and Yuri are making small talk and do not like homewreckers, as they confide to each other, and by extension us, when it's revealed the secretary is also Goldjeff's mistress. When Kei and Yuri speak to each other in private, we know they are expressing their true selves, as this has long since become a regular motif of Dirty Pair. The girls only act infatuated when they're with a potential client, and Kei only teases Yuri when someone else is watching. Or rather, when someone else is watching diegetically-Kei and Yuri never actually speak in complete privacy, because there is a camera on them at all times. This is, after all, a television show. But it's a television show written and produced by Kei and Yuri, so they write these scenes in as a form of textual metacommentary. Graffiti on the fourth wall. The Angels do this as an act of love, because they love each other. And they love you too.

Kei and Yuri regularly put on highly elabourate performances, but they hate dishonesty and insincerity. They are opposed to people and ideas who are not being true to themselves. And this episode is about contrasting their true selves, as caricatured and conveyed through artifice as they may be, with those who would deceive and manipulate for selfish reasons. Goldjeff took his secretary as a mistress because he is fixated on his masculine and patriarchal desire for power and control, which is the same vice that leads him to believe he has the right to dictate Clicky's fate, and he's willing to lie to get it. He even treats the girls the same way, declaring that because he's their client they should follow his orders without question, even though the Angels highly suspect Goldjeff is lying about Joanca from the start. In an adjacent scene, we learn the company's marketing director is willing to put thousands of passengers at risk in extremely dangerous “General Relativity Star Tours” because too much money has been spent on advertising and research and development to justify scrapping the project. He returns in the climax as the orchestrator of the trap that ensnares Clicky and Joanca, which he happily points out he did so his boss would give him a raise and a promotion.

Meanwhile, for her part, the secretary agreed to the affair with Goldjeff because she's willing to essentially prostitute herself to further her stature and position within the company. The sort of behaviour the secretary engages in here is the same thing that Avital Ronell, in her redemptive reading of The SCUM Manifesto, fingers as the one thing Valerie Solanis, troubled and otherwise indefensible as she might have been, hated above all else: A way in which she felt women abandon their rightful position of power and submit to (and thus further) patriarchy for short-term personal gain at the expense of material social progress. This is the difference between light magick and dark magick, and this is what Kei and Yuri object to as well. In fact, Kei and Yuri start out despising this entire case: Before they discover all the information that's being withheld from them, they want nothing more than to be done with the whole matter because they can't find anyone to sympathize with. They see Goldjeff and his secretary as utterly repugnant, Clicky as an absolute sycophant and Joanca as a contemptible manipulator and pathological liar.

And this is why the lynchpin scene is when it's revealed Joanca is a transwoman. At that moment, everything comes into focus and Kei and Yuri decisively make their move. And they immediately and overwhelmingly side with Joanca. There is of course that beautiful scene where Kei confidently brushes aside Goldjeff's ineffectual protestations as being “old fashioned” while Yuri backs her up, aghast at the executives' horrid bigotry and laying into them with the facts that one in ten people undergo transition. The scene is triumphant just on a surface level, as it not only makes clear being transgender is a commonly accepted facet of life by the average, non-reactionary person in the Dirty Pair universe, but the technology also exists to make transition as clean and effortless as possible: Joanca doesn't just “pass”, she's statuesque, lovely and stunningly beautiful. But this also ties very strongly into the episode's key theme: Joanca's transition is depicted as a metaphor for her fully blossoming into the person she is meant to be, nobody except Goldjeff and his secretary ever question that she's truly a woman, and even Goldjeff's objection is that she “used to be a man” because he's fixated on the past. Even a character this diegetically reactionary doesn't dispute her gender identity-That's how much social progress has been made.

There are a few other offhand references to Joanca having once been a man, but these are almost always depicted as being diegetic slips of the tongue. When they're not, it's shown as a metaphor for a person growing over time in accordance with their discovery of their true self: Certainly this is the way transition is conceptualized by at least some (though not all) trans people in the real world: As a move away from one gender identity to another that accompanies a deeper understanding of what gender is and of who the person themselves are. In a very material sense, we are not the same people we were in the past as every cell in our body is replaced every seven years, and combine this with a world where transhumanism exists and standard notions of personal identity and the self no longer apply. All that matters is that we continue to become better and more true people. And this is why Kei and Yuri suddenly decide to act, because now they fully understand what the stakes are. Joanca's reveal proves to the Angels that she is a person who is genuinely and sincerely acting in accordance with her true self, and this convinces them that she and Clicky truly are in love. A victory for them is a victory for lightness over darkness.

This is reinforced by the scene immediately preceding where Joanca seems to betray Clicky before Kei reveals she's being mind controlled by the secretary: During that brief scene, Joanca was quite literally “not herself”, which was the major clue that something wasn't right. Furthermore, it is mirrored in the climax when Clicky confronts his father and goes after Joanca, refusing to let him control his life and impose his reactionary and hurtful beliefs on him any more. Kei tells Clicky that he is finally “acting like a real man” because he is taking his life into his own hands and refusing to let allow himself to be controlled by the unfeeling whims of patriarchy. This also explains why Clicky looks and acts like a teenager throughout the majority of the episode in spite of him supposedly being 22: This is his story of finding his true self, and just as Joanca grew into a woman this is his opportunity to grow into a man and reclaim that title from authoritarian hegemony. He and Joanca are the heroes of their story because their actions are governed by love and compassion, not power and self-interest.

The can be no growth without change, and this is something the Angels understand on a very deep level. Joanca's transsexualism and Clicky's story of personal redemption are metaphors for positive change, and the forces against which they are pitted are equal parts retrograde and stagnant.The General Relativity Tour, which is explicitly stated to be a terrible idea originally abandoned and then dug up again for selfish reasons, sends cruise guests on an anti-voyage where they are prevented from growing or changing as massive amounts of time passes in the outside world and the entire universe shifts around them: A fitting invention for a person such as him. And, of course, it becomes the ultimate threat to Clicky and Joanca in the climax. Indeed, Goldjeff's control over this hegemonic doomsday device and his strong connection with it, along with the fact he has an actual undersea supervillain dome city peg him rather obviously as a Bond villain. Dirty Pair is saying someone who has that much hate in his heart and is dedicated to it so fervently isn't just evil, he's cartoonishly evil.

But then the Lovely Angels show up at the last second, and while they don't manage to avert the launch, the cleansing light of their narrative magick changes its meaning. Clicky follows Joanca into the rocket, so they'll be together in the end after all. But then, Goldjeff suddenly has a change of heart and finally comes to understand how much pain he's caused, confessing to Kei and Yuri that all he ever wanted was to make his son happy. So he follows the couple too, partly as an act of penance, but also because, through apologising and being honest with the girls and himself, he's earned the right to follow his son and daughter-in-law. Forgiveness is another reoccurring motif in this episode (note how Clicky jokes with Joanca that he'll “forgive [her] just this once” in the car and how Joanca tells Kei and Yuri she'll “never forgive [them]” before they realise they're on the same side), and now that these truths have been revealed and spoken, forgiveness and healing can begin. This is a kind of love that transcends age and era, and is available to anyone who discovers their true path.

Kei and Yuri have changed the mark. The General Relativity Tour no longer symbolizes stagnation, but a holding pattern for people who are ahead of their time. Once again, the universe isn't quite ready for the truths Kei and Yuri have revealed, and won't be so long as people like the secretary, the marketing director and the man Goldjeff used to be continue to exist. But, when their tour is up in fifty years, perhaps things will be different. And if they aren't, as Kei says, the Lovely Angels will be waiting. Yuri rolls her eyes and says “we'll be grandmas by then”, but this reveals more than her author insert character was letting on.

Throughout the episode there's a reoccurring joke about textual Yuri's apparent fear of aging: Kei teases her relentlessly for her cucumber face pack when they're talking with the secretary's Joanca hologram in their hotel room and snaps at her for snarking during the climactic sequence. But what text!Yuri fears is not growing up, but growing old: Becoming part of the heteronormative and reproductive futurist hegemony she fights against. And this is why text!Kei sets her at ease in the denouement when she says “the Lovely Angel grandmas” will be waiting when Joanca, Clicky and Goldjeff return in fifty years. If Kei and Yuri do “become grandmas”, it won't matter because their true selves are agents of positive material change. They can never grow old and become retrograde because it is not their will to do that. They have a higher purpose, and following that will keep them young forever.

This is also true on a different level: Adam Warren's comic adaptation of Dirty Pair establishes that the Angels actually exist in physical bodies genetically engineered to be perfect, rendering them unable to age and impervious to conventional damage. Although this is a character detail unique to his version, it's a theme worth examining and one I think holds some interesting ramifications in the subtext of the other versions, especially as this is a universe where we already know transhumanism exists. Regardless of whether or not Kei and Yuri are diegetically immortal, they are still effectively transhuman: They exist on a separate narrative plane, observing and shaping the plot instead of being part of it. Why do they do this? Because Kei and Yuri are utopian ideals. They are not characters in the standard sense-They truly are divine agents of positive change. As “Lovely Angels”, Kei and Yuri are our higher selves and thus part of us, and it's our job to discover and internalize the individual manifestations of the truths we see in them. And in this story, they are Clicky and Joanca's Holy Guardian Angels who come down to help them accomplish their own Great Work, which is love.

For me, this is the moment Dirty Pair finally arrives in full. This is where my take on the show shifted from “unexpectedly pleasing diversion” to “genuinely one of the best things ever”. What was the point of all that meta-cosmic fun the show has been dancing around with for the past few weeks? This. It allows the show to do this. This is what utopian fiction is for. This is what speculative science fiction can do. This is what Dirty Pair can do. This is what only Dirty Pair can do. Because here's the big secret: We're not looking at Dirty Pair in the context of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We're looking at Star Trek: The Next Generation in the context of Dirty Pair. Because this is the point where Dirty Pair doesn't just beat Star Trek at its own game, it demolishes it: A decisive championship title victory by submission hold. This is the new bar. We've found our true higher selves. Nothing will ever be the same again. Dirty Pair is the greatest action science fiction series of all time. And love is everything.


  1. "They are opposed to people and ideas who are not being true to themselves."

    Wonderful article thanks Josh! I don't have too much to add other than what you have written above. What an important episode. When watching 'Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys' and seeing the character of Kaia who had trans overtones, I was hoping that a tale like this would appear where transgender issues would really be covered.

    It will now be fascinating to watch the failure episodes in TNG, where they try to cover alternative sexualities and gender and don't quite make the bar - and to have the framed through this work which was well ahead of its time. Great stuff!

    1. Thank you. This was definitely an important episode for the show to do, and for me personally in my own coverage of it.

      TNG certainly no longer has much of an excuse. There are extenuating circumstances that I'll talk more about in time, but the fact remains this frankly never gets topped. Or matched.

      I'm actually starting to get more apprehensive about eventually starting TNG now: I'm sure my attitude will change, but I'm honestly anticipating great disappointment. I hope I'm wrong. And, at least I have three Dirty Pair movies and another TV series to look forward to.

  2. Yes I have to say that before watching this I feel I would have been willing to give TNG a bit more of leniency. I had not idea that this show existed the last time I watched TNG, but now it will be interesting to watch it again with a new perspective. Thanks for expanding my viewpoints again!