Friday, February 1, 2008

Queer and Dear

I'll declare right now I'm terrible at drawing, coloring, painting, and tracing. But there's one thing I love drawing, though, and that's robots; espcially sad ones. It's such a lovely contradiction to have robots full of emotion and experience. Sentient Developments pointed me this afternoon to a book review about a queer robot at playschool:

Heteronormativity in Preschool Robotics

One of my duties as uncle is the reading of bedtime stories. Sometimes I'm amazed by the content. Håkan Bråkan och roboten Rex by Sören Olsson, Anders Jacobsson and Eva Linden is an interesting take on queer robotics as male capitulation in the kindergarten matriarchy.

The basic story is about Håkan who has a cool killer robot toy he wants to bring to his preschool. But the rules are strict: no toy weapons, no toys relating to war or violence in any form. Håkan of course disobeys, trying to sneak his dear robot under the radar or claim it is not a warlike machine (despite the nuclear death rays and the "Freeze, or I will shoot!" voice). In a series of scenes depicting the unreliability of friends, the manipulative power of the teacher, girl peer pressure and Håkan's desperate attempts to avoid cooties Rex the killer robot ends up Brandon the love robot and finally just Rex the comic relief robot. It is a powerful portrait of how some men experience the total loss of their power to define the meaning of their gender to hegemonic political correctness.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book is the deeply entrenched gender stereotypes of the preschool. While the kids are individually quite themselves, as groups they organize into marriage and romance obsessed girls and the violence and adventure obsessed boys. I actually felt while reading it to my niece that it would have been more refreshing to break these stereotypes than to reinforce them. The transformations (or rather, emasculation) of Rex only underscores this: Rex may end up a rather queer robot, but that is only allowed by the preschool microsociety because it becomes funny and unthreatening - the nice gay guy. In the end the matriarchy stands unchallenged, tolerant heteronormativity still remains and Håkan has learned to trust and love Big Mother.
I so wish I could read this book and see more of the robot illustrations. It is troubling that the Sandberg criticizes the gender stereotypes in the book yet reinforces sexuality stereo types when lumping Rex into the stereotype that a) male power = war and agression ; b) love and humour = gay.

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