Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On Defiance, inclusion rather than avoiding exclusion is the key to equality. Are you listening America?

I happen to think that the mechanism that fosters inequality in America right now is a lack of inclusion, rather than a conscious avoidance of exclusion. And I choose my words carefully here.

As you well know, exclusion (or discrimination) is illegal in the United States when it comes to employment. However, inclusion (or favoritism) is not. It's also a lot harder to spot, but is almost universal in today's job market. Think about what I'm saying for just a moment.

You choose to help people who RESEMBLE YOU. The people who live in your neighborhood or attend your church or school. Whites help other whites. Blacks help other blacks. Mormons help other Mormons. Baptists help other Baptists. Jews help other Jews. Gay people help other gay people. That's just the way things are generally done. I'm not saying that this is either bad or good. I'm not making a judgment here. I'm just pointing out the obvious so that my next point is crystal clear.
Monday night's episode of Defiance on SyFy called "A Well-Respected Man" is absolutely f'ing brilliant. To be clear, the plot was "meh." Here's the one sentence pitch for you writers out there: the mayor's sister gets kidnapped and she needed to find her. Exciting, right? But it's not the plot (or the one sentence pitch) that matters in this case. It's the character and "world" development, and how Defiance very skillfully plays its hand showing us that inclusion is the best way to surmount the ugly specter of inequality in all its forms.
Datak is a Casthithan. They all have a kind of albino appearance and milky hair.
They're familial structure is extremely important to them and a source of their
power. They also seem to suffer an external locus of identity, meaning that
their self-worth is completely dependent on how others perceive them.
In "A Well Respected Man," Amanda (the Mayor) gives her sister Kenya grief for being a prostitute. Of course to Kenya, she's like a duck with the "words words words" rolling off her back like so many droplets of water. Shortly after their verbal sparring, Kenya gets kidnapped by the Bioman; Nolan (in the role of Lawkeeper) along with Amanda must track her down. Since the Bioman is owned by Datak (a Casthithan), that's where they end up going to squeeze Datak for information.
Datak on the left. Lawkeeper Nolan on the right. They don't like each other much.
A little background on Datak: he's been trying to achieve a level of respect equal to his power and wealth. He knew nothing of the Bioman's nocturnal activities, i.e. kidnapping people to harvest their adrenal glands for a synthetic drug that's apparently worth a lot of money (it also kills them, but that's just "collateral damage" in the pursuit of profit, right?) Anyway, he would have helped the Mayor (Amanda) just to be a hero, however, Datak and Nolan don't get along at all, and Nolan burst down Datak's door and drags him out into the street, treating him like a common cur. It really pisses Datak off. So Datak hands Nolan and Amanda some great lines about how the town uses him all the time but never recognizes him. It's all true. And that, Datak says, is the reason he won't help Amanda find her sister. Pretty awful eh? Hold gets better.
This is Stahma. She's Datak's wife and is extremely intelligent. Nolan kind
of gets this in the episode "A Well Respected Man" and certainly is
aware that she is a master manipulator. I like Stahma though. All of her
manipulations seem to be aimed at getting her husband respect or wealth,
which I think is an admirable quality as long as no one gets hurt.
Stahma (Datak's wife) slips out and tracks down Amanda in the dark. Stahma tells Amanda that she loves Kenya because 1) she calls her employees "Night Porters" showing Stahma that Kenya has pride in her prostitutes, and 2) Kenya ran up to Stahma the first time they saw each other in the street and hugged her. How is this at all good? Well, Kenya said something important to Stahma...something that she desperately needed. Kenya told her, "Datak is an amazing man. Thank you for sharing him with us." In Casthithan society, sex is pretty loose. But no spouse would be cool about their partner seeking physical pleasure elsewhere. Period. Kenya recognized this and turns the act of Datak visiting her brothel from "exclusion" to "inclusion" by acknowledging it. Brilliant? I say so.
This is Mayor Amanda (on the left) and her sister Kenya (on the right). We come to find
out that Amanda actually raised Kenya when their mother got killed. She takes it very
personally when a woman on the street confronts her, saying "Kenya must have had a terrible
mother!" It's meant as an insult because Kenya was sleeping with the lady's husband
(who visited the brothel) and thus was ruining her marriage.
Stahma (using this theme of inclusion vs. exclusion) carefully points out to the Mayor that Datak's immense pride has been hurt and in order to save Kenya's life (and secure Datak's help), Amanda needs to show Datak respect. What form will this respect take? Stahma tells Amanda she wants her husband appointed to the Town Council, which not only ups the political intrigue of the show as a whole, but hammers home the idea that inclusion is probably the best way to address discrimination.

Inclusion rather than avoiding exclusion is the road to equality in Defiance. I just wish more people realized this outside of science fiction, and strove harder to include others who are very different from themselves. Yes, Defiance is brilliant. And if you're not watching it, shame on you. I put it right up there with Battlestar Galactica. If you haven't heard of Defiance until now, watch this trailer. SyFy spent $100 million on season one alone.


  1. Thanks for commenting on my page. Interesting observation on inclusion/integration. You have analysed the process exactly. As an outsider and regular visitor to the USA, I maybe see a different view of the USA in those terms. Both Brazil and the USA outlawed slavery in the same century but the inclusion bit was noticeably missing in the USA whereas Brazil seems to have largely achieved it, but inclusion is by no means universal.
    I see this concept is central to the plot you outlined, but it also seems me to owe a lot to the history of the Borgia’s.
    I don’t think Defiance is over here yet. If it is, it is on one of the subscriber channels and I am too mean to pay for my TV.

  2. You're right that the subplot was more interesting. (Stahma is a sneaky one though. Of course, she did play HG Wells in Warehouse 13, so she's good at that sort of thing.)
    I guess because I've lived in so many different places, including several foreign countries, I've seen a lot more inclusion in the world.

  3. I agree, Stahma is one of the most interesting characters in the show and controls here husband so very well, he is wrapped around her finger,

    I have really enjoyed the series so far!

  4. I've also lived in a ton of places, but where I was born and raised (Dublin, Ireland) was (looking back) one of the most racist places up and to the 1980s - and all because of our economy... no one else *wanted* to live there, so it was full of weird-sounding white, Oirish people.

    It's changed since then - thank God and today I do my best to integrate with all who I meet - cos my boys are watching...

  5. I think I saw the same preview on Comcast like 35 times during the week I was watching Game of Thrones On Demand. Maybe when it gets to Netflix I'll finally watch it.

  6. still haven't seen the latest episode. The first three episodes have been mildly disappointing. Eventhough the whole show with the game platform cost $100 million, it looks very cheap to me and it's turning into a crime show instead of a proper sf. But it is true that they do tackle certain important moral issues (like whether to allow other religious groups to have their rituals even when they're violent or immoral).

  7. I'm loving Defiance. Every episode i come out feeling excited to watch the next one. Even when the plots are kinda okayish, like this week's, there's always something, usually character development (and the awesome music) that lights me up.
    It makes me want to play the game

  8. I haven't watched yet. As you well know, I usually run a year behind on this stuff. I only just discovered the series Continuum, which I'm liking a lot.

    But message received, and cool observation about the show.

  9. I'm am really enjoying Defiance though I missed the first two shows and had to catch up ondemand.
    I think you really should be a teacher or a professor. Or maybe, sorry if this horrifies you, a politician.

  10. Like all bad behavior that needs to be corrected by parents, so too should discrimination, etc. But if it's taught at home, it takes quite a bit of self examination as an adult to realize what you always believed to be true is not.

  11. @Susan: Thank you for saying I'd make a great college professor!

  12. Very, very wise and thought-provoking. Enough to make me want to watch the episode. Great, great post.

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah With Joy)

  13. My husband thinks that inclusion is understood and never stated openly. Therefore exclusion is indirectly implied. I have not been the bread winner, rather someone who started working to get some experience in case I needed to work therefore I entered the work force with an open mind. Also I always initiate friendship and give people a break until I feel open exclusion.

    I hope that one day America will or rather the whole world will arrive at a point where inclusion will not be based on race, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender etc etc.
    In Big Bang Theory, Penny is not excluded in spite of having nothing in common with the other four friends.

  14. PS
    A member of the lowest caste ( there are four castes in Hinduism ) told me that God is the one who brought him in the world in that caste, it is not the fault of the higher caste people to exclude him when it came to Holidays. I told him that these walls are man made. I was then nine years old and he was fifty. He told me that I will not be able to see one hundred percent inclusion in my life time. My father kind of agreed with him. I am just glad that I see inclusion at least in fiction.

    Your post is excellent. The circles reminded me of times when I used to be confused. There seems to be hope.

  15. It's not a topic most people want to think about- inclusion. Most people are just too damn comfortable helping their own. At the library we see a lot of that- and it is just as prevalent among minorities which is something most people are afraid to admit. We had a clerk who was hired by my bosses boss only because he was hispanic and then when he was caught taking DVDs, it was swept under the rug, he was transferred to another branch and is there still, under her protection. It's systemic.

    SciFi often leads the way on these matters.

  16. Haven't gotten into this one---yet.

  17. I have a good friend who is always pointing out how tribal we all are, even while we pretend to be civilized and high-minded. I think it's good to have this constant reminder and glad to see a show pointing it out on a widespread basis.

  18. Datak is the guy who played Van Gogh on Doctor Who, right?

    As to your point, I'm agreed. It's sad to see how easily sci-fi as a genre addresses inclusion when in the real world it is all too rare.

  19. I've heard of Defiance, but I haven't seen it yet (no cable *sighs). I do love when shows have that deeper level to them. :)

  20. I've only seen the commercials. But I want to watch it.

  21. I almost missed recording Defiance since I watch everything on DVR. I really like it so far. That whole inclusion theme runs through Once Upon a Time too, but not as strongly as what people will do for love.

    I'm glad Mom didn't tell me I should only help others like me. I couldn't understand why she wouldn't marry the black guy dating her when I was a teen.

    But although I don't look at people's appearance or religious beliefs, I do look for their motives. If they're trying to do something I define as good, I'm there.

  22. I had to stop reading this and go watch the episode. Now that that's done...

    But I don't like Datak. He's not a nice guy. He's destructive. His Lady MacBeth wife is more interesting to me.

  23. Syfy has some good shows. I especially like Warehouse 13! And holy crap, $100 million bucks on just one season. Crazy!

  24. Shame on me because I'm not watching it, but I've heard good things so I should start.

    The need to be part of the whole, to be with other people and not alone or excluded is integral to human beings, so I like this show's message. And as you say, we often break down into groups of preferences, as in white/white, gay/gay, and so on. Obviously this can lead to a polarized society. But ironically, this tendency can backfire within the group and cause internal harm. In so many big fraud cases, for example Bernie Madoff, the perpetrators use what's called the "comfort factor," meaning "He's one of us so we can trust him and we can invest our money with him." Maybe Defiance will have an episode with this focus.

  25. Didn't you just love the way Stahma smiled while explaining her former fiance's "convenient accident" on the journey to earth?

    Brilliant analogy Mike.


  26. Big fan of Defiance, although the obvious St. Louis food references they rattle off is a little annoying for us local folk.

    Inclusion is difficult, as we are hardwired to be weary of those that are different from us. This instinct served us well when we lived in caves, sure, but inclusion is TOUGH.

    Science fiction has always been at the forefront of social commentary. I think Defiance shows us how inclusion is the goal, but it sure comes with a lot of problems along the way (i.e. Casthithans publicly torturing the guy that ran from the fight)

  27. This is definitely a problem in our country. If we can only identify with our own look, own religion, own culture, own gender, own sexuality, own experience, our society is in jeopardy. I like that popular media is tackling the problem.

  28. Been watching Defiance with my family and we absolutely love it. Good drama/action/humour balance.

  29. Not familiar with Defiance. The trailer looks awesome. Gonna have to add this to my list of series to stream. And I agree with your about inclusion vs avoiding exclusion, the difference is important.