Slavery and Those Meddlesome Kids

Psycho Goreman (Steven Kostanski 2020)

Psycho Goreman (Steven Kostanski 2020)

It will seem petty to disparage Psycho Goreman, a lovable and wacky teen movie with an overwhelming central performance from Nita-Josee Hanna. However, the genre merging horror, sci-fi, screwball comedy is deplorable. The film rejoices in the motif of enslavement. It normalizes it, and even offers a path of pseudo-redemption, assuaging the slave owner’s guilt, turning the act of granting freedom into something existentially transactional, a pact of self-preservation with no care for others. The whole surreal, gory, and gooey scenario resonates with slavery’s unthinkably gruesome heyday, down to a pointless game, with arcane rules made up by the oppressor. Everyone must play, but only the controller can win. As for historical slavery, there are two registers to this abusive culture; the calculated processes of domination by a self-serving and technologically enabled elite and the agency of those who, with the genial benevolence of entitlement, hold direct power over others; the system of slavery and slave owners. The movie seeks to mollify the individual’s responsibility while suggesting the system is abstruse. It is as inaccessible as the far side of the galaxy, presided over, not by evil people, but by discrete, self-serving cowards.

The story is simple, involving the relationship of two central characters, one inherently, fatefully, enslaved and one who can withhold or grant freedom. They are unequal; the slave owner is the creative and bratty Mimi (Hanna), pale and birdlike but super spunky, the slave, lumbering, threatening, and perhaps inevitably dark-skinned, Goreman (Matthew Ninaber). He is vengeful, intent on destroying the order of the universe. Goreman tells of exile from a home planet where all live a life of bonded servitude. An invasive civilization dominated his world; a quasi-religious group, technologically more sophisticated than the indigenous population, sounds familiar. Goreman stumbles on a magical gem, lake a pulsating pink bauble it concentrates dark power from the farthest corners of the universe. He uses its pent up force to vanquish his planet’s oppressors and liberate his people, establishing a new order. However, he has developed a need for destruction and moves outward to wreak havoc across the galaxy. Agitated blood lust legitimizes his subsequent capture, disempowerment, and incarceration by an alliance led by the rarefied civilization that enslaved his planet.

Scroll forward a few millennia and Mimi inadvertently stumbles upon the source of Gorman’s power, takes control of it, and release him. Although tall, gruff, immensely strong, with added telekinetic voodoo, Psycho Goreman is no father figure. Mimi’s real dad, ineffective, withdrawn, finding it difficult to cope with disruptions in his day-to-day life is a counterpoint to Goreman’s dynamic aggression. Despite the name, assigned by Mimi, PG for short, the space monster has no specific gender identity, just an unswerving conviction for his destructive cause with a note of Terminator or early Buzz Light Year. The essence of his power is shown as typically incorporated, folded under labia. It is not a weapon like the phallic sword, spear, or gun, but clitoral, like a pearl. Its power integrated not focused at tip or point. Mimi, who considers herself to be omnipotent, holds it, teasing PG for her pleasure. She refuses to take him seriously, bouncing chirpy retorts to his threats to annihilate and wreak eternal pain. She behaves as if Gorman were a mischievous pet at school show-and-tell. Simultaneously, the effect is to simultaneously infantize the person and aggrandize the potential threat, lending sanction to oppressive control.

A series of absurd tableau play out until, desperate, PG forms an emancipatory plan, summoning aid from formally loyal home planet supporters. In PG’s absence, they have learned that in servitude, loyalty can be traded against abuse. They come for combat, not on a mission of salvation. Mimi is impassive as she watches the ensuing gladiatorial stand-off. In control, she does not allow Goreman to defend himself until he is seriously wounded, whipped, lacerated, and impaled. Then before allowing him to fight back, she forces a grovelling apology for his attempt to step out of line.

In the final climactic battle, a set-piece, Mimi accepts some responsibility for Goreman’s well-being. His survival is traded against her self-preservation. He struggles to interpret Mimi’s apparent compassion reading it as an expression of human love, the love of the slave owner for the slave, of an owner preserving her asset. Such love is consummated in removing the resource from the system of exchange. The gesture of relinquishing contractual ownership affirms ownership as a natural right, the power of outrageous entitlement to take and restore another’s humanity. Is this what Frantz Fanon describes in Black Skin, White Masks, writing, ‘The disaster and the inhumanity of the white man lie in the fact that somewhere he has killed man.’? In the movie, PG is essentially human, almost human, but inhumane, a humanized chattel. Mimi’s version of love is a condemnation. This love does not restore humanity’s equilibrium. Its expression, the act of freeing, creating obligation, reinforces the barriers that define enslaved subjects and erode the privileges of self-determination, validating Mimi’s pre-eminent control.

Through hilarious chains of events, Psycho Goreman’s desensitizes its young audience to the callous cruelties of the past. ‘Systemic’ oppression muddled with idiocy; intimate oppression exonerated.

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Andrewstooke

Andrew Stooke is a nonaffiliated artist, writer, and researcher based in Shanghai and London.