27 January 2014


Sliders: Stud Farm

Just when I thought the second season of Sliders couldn't get any worse . . . Compared to previous episodes, the one I'm looking at today isn't so bad. The plot has some good complications and the satire has some edge--but the acting is horrible and the accents are worse. The most annoying part, which has been the case all season, is the sheer sloppiness with which the director leaves clues. Take the above screenshot of a toy store window display. The main cast get a better view, but it is next to impossible for us "armchair Sliders" to read the same codes.

Or take the following screen shot, which was the best I could do before a character's head popped into view and totally blocked the board . . .

What a dad . . .

Sliders isn't the first storytelling vehicle to imagine a world in which men are a tiny minority. As my friend Bob recently revealed to me, single-sex societies are a minor trope in SF, and they are usually all-female ones. This alternate reality is no exception, thanks to an out-of-control biological weapon causing the deaths of billions of men around the world. In at least two developed nations, the few thousand who survived were locked up in breeding centres and told they had a civic responsibility to have sex with as many women as possible in order to repopulate the world. For some men, it's a hedonistic dream come true. For others, it's nothing but a nightmare.

For me, it's erratic world building. I just don't buy that a scientific community which could create a virus that targets only the Y chromosome (Seriously, would that even work?) never developed the technology for in vitro fertilisation. On the other hand, I do agree, in theory, that if you cannot come up with a way to divorce the unitive and procreative qualities of sex (Name that encyclical!), you can still do a lot of damage by degrading their union and making it the "love that dare not speak its name."

In this world, a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman is criminal offense. If a man wants to be faithful to one wife, he is unpatriotic--especially if he chooses someone whose age, health and even looks aren't ideal for producing children. And if a woman wants to keep the man she loves all to herself, she is selfish--especially if it means she could have several children while her friends have none. The social implications are so compelling that the producers' decision to set up a straw government for their villain is one of the Top 5 Cop Outs of 90s TV. The premise would have carried so much more weight if the pressure to be promiscuous had been purely personal.

But to be completely fair, we do see a bit of that in a subplot. One of our male Sliders is rescued by a beautiful widow whose deepest desire is to have a baby . . . and she really does seem like she'd be a nurturing mother. Her plea and his internal conflict are much more poignant than the story which gets most of the attention: the daring escape of two lovers to Mexico, where there is no forced breeding programme. And not just because we can all agree that the lovers are right to want freedom but will probably argue for the rest of our lives about single women having babies.

Your Turn to Slide: Have you ever felt any social pressure to have a different sort of family from the one you really want?


Belfry Bat said...

At the least, for very good reasons, the X and Y chromosome are separated rather than paired in the shuffling phase of meiosis, so the cells themselves can sort them out; and someone IS going to sort-out the underlying mechanics of this (I find it impossible to doubt) so that, yes, a virus that only kills cells with Y chromosomes is probably engineerable; I suspect it would, however, be easier to engineer a virus that only becomes active in the presence of enough testosterone... There's also a pseudofeminist myth that the Y chromosome is inherently unstable and that "men will be extinct" in some absurdly-small number of years. And then there's Dr. Strangelove.

There is an edge to this story that isn't so far-out, in that history has already invented plenty of ways to skew the ballance of men and women; the World Wars both left Europe and North America with a palpable shortage of eligible young men, and the sterilization the unitive has, together with prenatal diagnostics, tended in the opposite direction, most famously in China and India, but let's not presume anywhere else to be immune.


I don't know about social pressure, but there certainly is something between the shape of the economy just here and what I'm pretty sure my work is supposed to be, such that establishing a family looks irresponsible. Maybe that really means I picked the wrong work...

Enbrethiliel said...


I believe the ratio of women to men in England after World War I was 10:1. Many women dealt with it by becoming mistresses or by entering lesbian relationships.

Incidentally, Bob also blogged about this a few months ago, saying that hardly anyone makes the connection between the women with no chance at marriage after the war and the women who handed out white feathers to men who weren't in the military while the war was taking place.

I think that history has shown us that the opposite situation of males significantly outnumbering females leads to those societies turning to war. It starts as a form of population management--as if King Herod had conscripted the Holy Innocents as babies, trained them up like Spartans, and then killed them by sending them off to fight a foreign war. It also gives those men who can't get married and/or have no reason to work like family men something useful to do. And while it seems primitive, I think the threat is exacerbated in the present, thanks to all the economies which depend on people being willing to consume. Don't you think China would rather print and mint more money to pay millions of newly-hired soldiers, who could be counted on to buy those Made In China products now that international demand is shrinking, than have millions of unmotivated slackers on the dole?

As for my own question, I feel similar pressure not to marry at all. It seems entitled, unrealistic and flat-out wrong, in these days, to want an arrangement in which I can stay at home, take care of the children, and manage the domestic affairs. That is, it seems like a bum deal for any man, and therefore something a decent woman shouldn't want to demand of her husband.

Brandon said...

I thought the overall set-up of the society was much more interesting than we usually get with single-sex societies, although you're right that the explanation of how one could get to that society suffered a few problems. And I agree that the widow subplot was a much stronger one than the other subplot -- it's been a while since I've seen it, and I had completely forgotten it until you mentioned it.

I think one aspect of such a world that's usually overlooked is that the unitive aspect is what keeps the procreative aspect from being merely a sexual aspect: it sets a standard in which children are not merely born but born into a heritage. The better set-ups, like the widow subplot here, do a good job of capturing the isolation such a scenario would cause within a generation, but they tend to overlook the extent to which such a scenario isolates generations from each other.

On the question, I don't think I have -- at least in the sense of active pressure. But I suppose there's a passive pressure in which the best options just end up being difficult to get to, all things considered. I suppose that's pretty similar to what Belfry Bat has in mind.

Sheila said...

E, if it sounds like a "bum deal," maybe you are reading the wrong things? Married men live longer and earn more than single men, and it's no surprise. If their wives stay home (and often even if they don't!), they've got someone cooking them good dinners, cleaning up after them, and ironing their dress shirts. And why imagine men wouldn't want kids? They benefit from them as much as we do, and put a lot less into their creation.

I keep hearing men complain that they can't find the sort of woman who wants to stay home and keep house for him anymore. I think they must be looking in the wrong places.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- Your comment about lost heritage and isolation really brings home the emotional costs of such a society. I tend to focus on the pain of a child who grows up without a heritage, and with some callousness, to dismiss the pain of an adult who realises that he may never get to pass on his heritage. But it does swing both ways. Though the adults should really know better . . .

Sheila -- It's just that the lifestyle I'd like for my future family kind of puts me in a niche market. If a man doesn't share the same values I do, then good meals, a clean house, and ironed clothes are not going to be a fair tradeoff for him.

Maybe I'm socialising in the wrong circles, but my impression is that the vast majority of men with whom I share a religious and social culture expect to have two-income families someday. Not because they want more disposable income, but because the cost of living has gone way up since we were children.

My colleagues include at least two fathers who always ask for overtime work although they're already highly stressed, because they need to support a whopping two children each. (With the way some people talk, two at a time is too many. And by "two at a time," they seem to mean two children born within seven years of each other.) Now, I know a bit about their lives and think it's fair to say that the insistence on "good schools" for the children is the biggest financial monkey on their backs. It's a burden shared by their wives, who also work outside the home. Of course, this necessitates hiring a maid/nanny, paying for a school bus service, buying petrol for two different commutes, etc. It seems to me that if one spouse stayed home to run the household and to homeschool the children, there would be less stress on both of them. But mine is such a counter-cultural opinion that even my closest friends already feel sorry for my unborn children. (Yes, they've told me that.)

Homeschooling may be becoming more mainstream in the US, but it's still a radical thing here. I feel that it would be asking too much of a man who doesn't already believe that homeschooling can be good in and of itself to want that for his children.

Sheila said...

Wow, that is a lot of obstacles. And I don't mean just in terms of finding another person who shares your values, but it sounds like even managing on one income is hard. (It's hard here, too, as I whine about so constantly these days. Few people at our income level do it, and people are astounded when they hear the amount we attempt to survive on.)

But once you are married, it's less about "who is contributing enough" and more about "what is it going to take for our family to break even and achieve our goals?" So I really don't feel that my husband "supports" me. I feel like we divide the labor practically. So I don't think you need to apologize for your priorities, because let me tell you -- if you ever are a stay-at-home mother, your job will be just as hard.

Are there good public schools where you are? Catholic schools that are less expensive? Or is it basically either/or -- either put your kids in school and have two fulltime incomes, or homeschool all the way in order to make it on one?

All I can say is, it's good that you tutor. On the one hand you can always tell naysayers that you do, in fact, know what you're doing. On the other, you can bring in extra income that way when the family is struggling.

It does seem to me that if you found someone who wanted to be open to a larger family, the rest would fall into place as a purely practical solution. Once you have three or four kids, doing anything *but* staying home with them starts to get impractical.

I wonder where the website is for meeting spouses who want to homeschool! Around here it's settling into the "Catholic mainstream" at least, but in my parents' day it was very radical and sometimes illegal. My mom had to do a lot of convincing to get my dad to agree to it, and she only succeeded because the local schools were so very bad.

Enbrethiliel said...


I actually did look into public school options, pretending I already had school-aged children and needed to find a viable solution. Public school fees are ridiculously affordable: about what I currently spend on lunch in a week. =P But classes sometimes have as many as seventy students at a time. With respect to everyone who insists that school is the best way to be socialised, I can't see how such a set up fosters meaningful connections among children.

Yet the reason I'm willing to consider it is that what I'd really love is an arrangement which has the best of both worlds: the individual attention, tailored lessons and freedom to flourish that are found in a homeschool, and the social interaction and sense of community that is available in "regular" schools. As I've told my friends, if I could find a school that was willing to let parents enroll their children only for selected classes and take the rest at home, I'd be happy to partner with it. I don't think private schools allow such an arrangement, but public schools might be more flexible.

What I should also underline is that homeschooling is something I truly want to do. It's not just a political or cultural decision, but a very personal dream. I've wanted to homeschool ever since I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Men as a girl and fell in love with Plumfield. Maybe I'll realise a bit of that someday, since even my disapproving friends say that if I push through with homeschooling, they'll send their children to me for Literature class. =P

I can see myself making compromises on this dream, if necessary, but until then, I feel horribly high-maintenance!

Sheila said...

You should find out if the local schools will let you do that! Here it varies based on state .... in mine, homeschooled kids can do sports with the public system, but nothing else. In one (New Jersey) homeschooled kids by law must have access to anything the public schooled kids do -- computers, classes, whatever. I think that's great (but I hate New Jersey otherwise, so oh well).

Or maybe look up what it would take to found your OWN private school! When I was little I often did things with a local "private school" that was about eight little girls in a friend's basement schoolroom. They had all kinds of fun, and I suppose it allowed the teacher to defray the cost of staying home to teach her kids. Since you have teaching experience, I can see people wanting to get in on such a personalized experience for their kids. Not sure if this is something you would even WANT to do, but it would shut up the doubters!

Certainly when my kids are old enough to homeschool, I'll probably do some classes at our house for other kids too. Because I'm an expert at some things (like Latin) and it would be a good social opportunity.

Seventy kids a class really is a lot. I can't imagine attempting to teach anything in that sort of environment.

Keep dreaming your dream, though. It seems you love it enough to convince someone who also loved you! Certainly that has been the case with me and homesteading. John often shakes his head and says that he left home to get OFF the farm and here I am hauling him back to it ..... but he can't deny that it would give us a lot of independence and security, and so he is 100% on board even though it was my idea.

Belfry Bat said...

10:1 sounds an exaggeration; The wikip├Ždian reports that UK military casualties in WWI ammounted to 2% of the total UK population — and these would be almost all men (so, 4% of all men), almost all between the ages of 18 and 30, in a time when the natural life expectancy (ugh,... which statistic is that, exactly?) someone tells me was 52yrs, so ages constrained to a quarter of the expected lifetime... about 16%, or 1/6 of all men in the supposed age group, roughly. So, a final ratio of about 6:5 (women:men) between 18 and 30. This isn't really the way to do these statistics, but hunting for obsolete actuarial tables isn't fun. For comparison, I've found a claim that the ratio in 1944 Russia in the age group 20-29 was about 5:3 (women:men)...

Yes, it must have been a strain. Suddenly, I wonder about the sense of performance anxiety in such straits... ugh. (And does that amplify the Anthony Blanche potential?)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- That little school sounds wonderful! And you're right that people who are allergic to the idea of homeschooling will be more amenable to the idea of starting your own school. Of course, these are practically the same thing, but I guess semantics count for something! =P

Bat -- I'll see your Wikipedia and raise you the prestigious Daily Mail. LOL!

I have no idea who Anthony Blanche is (He'd better not be one of those Downton Abbey people . . .), so I can't answer your question.

Sheila said...

I think that's a Brideshead Revisited reference. Blanche is the flamboyantly gay guy -- that is, the MOST flamboyantly gay guy in the book.

Belfry Bat said...

Well, En, I read that article (and, whatdyakno, I'd read it before and I recognized that first paragraph! such slippery memories we have... ) but it is of course perfectly consistent that the 6th form in one girls' school in Bournemouth might have lost 9/10ths of their expected marriage prospects between 1914 and 1918 (or maybe only half of them expected to marry in the first place... ) while even so by 1921 there were %only% "1209 single women for every 1000 men" between the ages of 20 and 29 (or, about 6:5 ... heh! sloppy guestimating beats actuarials). Afterall, the headmistress in Bournemouth knows more than we about how many Bournemouth boys went off to war, and how many survived it, and how many married young London or Dover or Penzance or Salisbury girls in a panic before getting their marching orders.

Remembering how Aliens Cause Global warming, we don't need to believe that a nuclear war could cause a "nuclear winter" before we know that nuclear war is a vicious and villainously-stupid thing to play at.