Growing up, I remember Futurama as a smarter cartoon—the kind of thing that knew when to be dumb, but could also pull punches with references to Moby Dick, Shrödinger's Cat, and higher mathematics, like if Arthur C. Clarke was Matt Groening's executive producer. In the wake of the show's final episode in 2013, #content like "10 Futurama Jokes That Will Make You Smarter" and "Futurama: 15 Obscure Easter Eggs & References You Probably Missed," celebrated the way its ever-unpredicable world taught lessons about science, history, and math in between equally-unpredictable fart jokes. Unfortunately, as Vimeo user Phil Whitehead has pointed out, there's one major flaw in Futurama's DNA that prevents it from really being a show about the future: it's completely reliant on the male gaze.
In his new film essay, The Male Gaze Theory in Futurama, Whitehead pulls off the graduation goggles, using the ideas outlined in Laura Mulvey's 1975 essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," as his starting point in the first 30 seconds of the video. Three factors convey this all-seeing bro eye: "1. The viewer is placed in the role of a heterosexual man looking at a woman. 2. Men on screen act as voyeurs. 3. Women are exhibited as objects of desire to be looked at."
The following three minutes hammer Whitehead's observations into your skull with example after example of Futurama's female characters acting strictly as sexual objects—used as rarely for important plot points as they are to make jokes. This, however, is in contrast to male nudity, which Whitehead explains "is used for humor in the show (whether it is Zoidberg's grotesque under-shell, Farnsworth's prune-like body or the overweight physique of Hermes and Fry)."
Though filmmakers like Rose McGowan are working to change these norms, these are the same issues suffered by countless blockbuster action, sci-fi, and horror movies today. Madeleine Holden, an attorney and the creator of Critique My Dick Pic, has outlined the counterbalancing history of the female gaze in the art world—and Futurama is decidedly on the other end of the spectrum. Bender, you may have been able to bring Bull Moose Party jokes to space, but you sure could have used a history lesson.
Watch The Male Gaze Theory in Futurama below:
See more of Phil Whitehead's videos on Vimeo.