by Mirra Kardonne
Sometimes I think back to that stretch of time as a young’un, when I thought everyone was a robot. More specifically, a computer-persona named Hank.
Let me explain.
I was around 8 or 9, watching TV. Rapid-fire flipping through channels, only a nano-second’s worth of televised image flashing through my brain before I knew I didn’t want to watch it. I landed on a particular program, I can’t remember what it was called. Maybe you remember it… two dorky teenage boys have a genie. Not in a lamp, but in their computer. And not an amorphous Robin-Williams’ voiced blue mass with head on top—but a sexy, buxom female-humanoid, software programmed to perfection (by the two geek-pro boys). She would always get the boys out of a tough scrape with her magical/techno powers and kibosh their hair-brained schemes with a scolding. Oblivious to the admiration of the slack-jawed virgin males, she would aid in and clean up after the boys’ adventures every week before the boys finished for the day and ‘turn her off’ (or something like that). She would then retreat back into her technological den of chastity.
I thought the show was scary, but not in a Goosebumps way…in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. The genie character was treated like a human, which didn’t make any sense, because she wasn’t. That was the whole point: they made her because no real girls would deign to talk to two such geekazoids. She wears makeup, has perfect hair, wears sexy outfits, yet she herself is asexual, because she’s a freaking computer. The boys keep her a secret—no friends, parents or teachers know about her. She lives in their computer, and is summoned every week from behind the screen into their bedroom, ready to knock their socks off (with her… personality).
One evening, I’m flipping through channels, and come across this very show (a quick Google search tells me the show was called Weird Science). It had just started, a few minutes past the hour. So far in the plot, genie is suspicious of a new computer the boys have in their possession. The computer is comprised of machine stacked on top of machine, adorned with dials, levers and multicoloured lights. On top of the mechanical mass, a single monitor, displaying the head of a man. The man’s mischievously-handsome face smiles a charismatic smile, and in a voice easy to listen to, seduces the boys away from their beloved genie, who scowls from the corner and warns against this newfangled mechanical character. The Computer Man-Face calls itself Hank.
There’s something unsettling about that disembodied Man-Face. His body is made up of metal boxes… he shouldn’t be so smug. I wish he would stop joking around. What does he know about life–he was just turned on 5 minutes ago! I mean it was turned on 5 minutes ago. What business does a computer have being charismatic, or mischievously handsome? Why on earth are the genie and Hank at odds, like brother and sister fighting for parents’ attention? They’re both tools! Why is the genie looking at him with resentment? Why is Hank winking at her, even though she clearly detests him?
Clicking the channel button with my thumb at a steady pace, I put my eyeballs in far distance from the program (the distance of many channels). It’s the TV-watchers equivalent of light-jogging away from something ugly they saw on the sidewalk, like roadkill, while taking a morning run.
I keep flipping through the channels until they turn over, and I’m back to the beginning, Channel 2– TVO. Channel 3– Global. All the way back to where I had thumb-click fled. Hank was now talking to the genie, a head confined in a box, and she—a full bodied female computer projection. Obviously agitated, she begins to leave Hank’s presence, but he quickly manages to change her mind. She stops, half turns to look at Hank, and stays to listen a little while longer.
Commercial. My dad comes into the room because he wants to watch the McLaughlin Hour. Lollololololloolol Dad—No. I don’t think so. A struggle ensues, where he goes for the remote and I hide it, he turns the channel manually and I yell very loud. I think he manages to watch his show for about 15 minutes before I get to turn back. I don’t know why I want to go back and look again. I am very uncomfortable with where this is heading.
I flip back to the channel. Confusion, lights, and the music is blaring minor chords—it can only mean TROUBLE. Everyone’s yelling and running around. Where’s the genie?! What’s wrong with her, what’s happened? Cut to: her head, a 2-dimensional image on a screen of her furiously making out with Hank, two profiles eating face with a vengeance. Evidently, she has been lured into his head-only universe and is now trapped inside his computer fortress home, where no one can come in: Like a doorless room with a glass wall, we can all see the thing happening inside but no one can do anything but watch.
The boys are sprinting this way and that! It seems that the only way to free the genie in time before her identity is completely deleted by Hank is to turn two keys in the Hank computer-body at the exact same time which will shut the whole operating system down. I don’t know if they succeeded because I RAN AWAY WITH THE SPEED OF MY THUMB ON THE CHANNEL CHANGER into the upper channels.
I. Am. Scarred.
The whole episode had set up an entrapment, from which the genie needed to be rescued. She has been seduced by the computer Hank, who is on the evil sex warpath, who has hypnotized the pouty-lipped micro-miniskirted puppet of a character into submission. She is consumed by his will to seize, and she must eat his stupid face, and even worse, she must be tricked into thinking that she likes it.
I’m not sure if the TV exec Powers That Be were trying to scare the living daylights out of me and other young girl Weird Science viewers, or what. That whole ‘boys only want one thing’ hooey… turns out to be true!! Boys, men and male-performing robots want to trap you in a small space and/or trick you into fucking them. Girls are either meant to be a piece of furniture in boys’ lives (as the genie was to the boys; a smattering of girl-prudence and boobs in the boobless wasteland that is male dweebhood), or prey, as she was to Hank. Females are NOT allowed to want, let alone long for, seek or enjoy anything sexual. The music cues! Minor chords!! Girls must identify lust as E-V-I-L, and dangerous. If I, as a girl, ‘submit’, I am rendered a shadow of my former self, a slave to some man’s will. I must rely on my male friends who want to fuck me (but don’t have a shot) to save me from the man who will manipulate me into doing ‘the sex’, which categorically disgusts me, chaste virgin princess that I am (in my natural, unmarred state).
And the problem that caused the child-me so many sleepless nights, was that I did, in fact, feel an inkling of the drive. That primal will that Hank embodied, that same thing the genie demonstrated after her ensnarement. To feel and do things… I didn’t have anything in mind at the time… but dammit, one day I’ll learn! I sort of got it, even though I also knew that for me to feel the drive was wrong, yes it definitely was. It’s wrong for me to feel it because Hank is a predator who preys on girls like me. I can’t feel it, or else I must be a predator like Hank. No, I need to be a hyper-feminine, overtly sexual exterior, with an asexual interior– always on display but never available. Like the genie.
My 8 year old self ponders…
What if I do want it? Will anyone believe me? What would that mean about me? What if I don’t? Will it happen anyway, like it did on the show? Will I be hypnotized? Will I be rescued? Will I be able to stop it, even if no one is around?
And what happened in the middle of the show? Was she really hypnotized? Or did she… change her mind? Did she… ask for it? That’s what Hank The Robo-Predator said. And there are only two options: predator and prey. Male, and Female.
Down, down the rabbit hole. I dreamt of Hank, of eating breakfast with my family and they’re all Hank, and I’m trapped inside the house. I dreamt that my sister is the genie and she’s trapped inside Hank’s domain and can’t escape, and doesn’t want to. Even saying the name, H-A-N-K, left a bad taste in my mouth. I was on constant alert for months, I tell you.
The name Hank is a running joke in my family. They mention the ‘Hank’ incident as a twisting tornado of shrill hysteria, confusing to all who encountered me on my ceaseless, vigilant shakedown of ill-intentioned wrongdoers.
At the time, as a child, I had this awful fear that everyone was Hank. It brought me to my wit’s end, not being able to account for anyone’s thoughts, intentions, or even authentic humanness. I couldn’t get behind their eyeballs and know for sure that they were who they claimed to be. At 8, what I knew for sure was that Hank was a threat to my physical and mental safety, and that I was at risk of losing my mind and becoming a slave at the merest wink, or mischievous smile.
CUT TO: present day.
Now, in writing this article, I am finding it is difficult to start, or rather stop, raising the questions of what the real problems were. At the time, I didn’t know how to (although I doubt I would have wanted to) penetrate the surface of my initial fears and keep asking why I was rocked so hard by what I had seen. At the end of the episode, had the genie been ‘trapped’ and ‘tricked’ into eating a delicious souffle, or riding a particularly hideous tricycle to the badminton field, I doubt I would have had such an epic freak-out. Hank wanted to have sex with the genie and removed her free will to say yes or no in order to do so. The programme’s real betrayal of their young audience was in teaching their viewers that saying ‘Yes’ indicates that the woman has been tricked, while saying ‘No’ indicates authentic femaleness. The false dichotomy that males are predators and females are prey- one is intelligent enough to scheme and plot, the other must only be intelligent enough to avoid or escape those who would ensnare them.
For me, that primal drive is what it’s all about. Doing the thing that drives you in all honesty, moving forward, bearing witness to yourself. When every layer of pretense is circumvented and every inhibition forgotten in the throws of instinct and reflex. When solipsism consumes, and there is no before or after, only right now. You know when it’s primal, there’s no mistaking it. You also know when it’s missing, even if everything is great… but it’s not… something.
Can there be too much drive, too much primal intention? Too much from me or from another? How does one know for sure? What does Yes mean, and for how long? Can I take back my No? And woven through even the mere act of showing up are threads of yes and no, the primal wills and the drives of other people prompting our Yes and No, while many are unable to listen to their own drives and instincts. No longer young television viewers learning from TV characters on when to survey and when to act, now we are actors ourselves, moving forward in the world with no clear idea of what we want, how to get it, how to ask, how to accept, how to refuse, and how to be refused. It’s those occasions when I become nostalgic for the times that safety meant only sitting in one place, changing the channel.