The Regime of the Visual

This morning I was listening to an episode about Scientology from the Mile Higher podcast.  This podcast opened up with a question from a listener about aliens and the idea of a different form of life.  The people in the podcast were discussing the way they think humanity on Earth would react if another species came to Earth.  The woman in the podcast discussed the way that she believed people’s reactions would be solely based off of what the aliens looked like. She brought the conspiracy of there being aliens that look like large praying mantis’.  She believed if aliens took this form the human race would fall into complete chaos if the aliens looked this way, yet, she said if they looked like teddy bears humans would be much more comfortable attempting to approach them or welcome them to our planet.  Although we read this at the beginning of the semester, this immediately made me think of Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild.

I found this idea very interesting, as I am always compelled by conspiracy theories, so I did some research and came across a blog about the idea of these praying mantis-like aliens ( https://www.gaia.com/article/mantis-aliens ). This idea allowed me to think more about the regime of the visual and what we deem to be “otherness.” Having taken Beth’s class on Octavia Butler in the Fall of 2017, I learned that there are many traps when reading Octavia Butler’s fiction, one of them being the regime of the visual.  In much of Butler’s work, she shows readers the way that visual aspects can both bring individuals in, but also exclude them, which may lead to a hierarchy.  Interestingly enough, the blog discusses that, “Insect beings appear within mythologies throughout the world, including Native American and African folklore. The Khoisan tribe of Africa specifically regard the mantis as the first living creature upon the Earth, who granted life to animals and humans, inventing language and bringing fire to the people.”  As humans, we might label large praying mantis as being an “other.”  However, I could not help but realize that much of this folklore comes from groups that have been considered “others” for so long.  This realization allowed me to think deeper about Butler’s work, as she openly creates an interdependent relationship between humans, and what humans may consider being “aliens” or “others.”

I feel as though this is relevant to our work in African-American Literature as the concept of slavery and racism has stemmed from the idea of individuals being categorized as “others.”  Categorizing individuals as others has great danger.  Readers can also see this throughout Big Machine specifically, for me, the way that it is read.  I continuously find myself thinking things are strange or jumping to probable assumptions about characters before knowing the whole story.  I feel as though I have been quick to deem things as “weird” throughout my reading of this novel without ever questioning myself on why I think it is weird or why I find the scholars in the book to be considered as “other.”  Much like Octavia Butler’s literature, I find myself falling into the traps of Big Machine and making judgments.

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