Just look at how pretty she is, smiling in a red dress. Did your heart flutter as you scrolled down here? Don’t worry, that’s only natural! Many magazines consistently rate the popular actress Scarlett Johansson as one of the hottest women of all time. What is it about her that makes her so attractive? A lot could be said on the subject, certainly, but there are also those who would provide a more unique opinion.
Occidental College professor Allison de Fren wrote an essay on “Technofetishism and the Uncanny Desires of A.S.F.R.” describing people who are sexually attracted to machinery. These technosexuals fantasize about robots, and call this fetish “ASFR” which stands for alt.sex.fetish.robot. For people thus inclined, it is not so much a humanoid android which is in itself appealing but “the contrast between the cold hard steel and the circuits and the wiring and the smooth skin and the soft flesh” (412). The author describes their favorite cum shot as being the revelation of mechanics beneath the surface mask, such as when they break down to reveal the inner workings and electronics.
Feminist thinker Donna Haraway expounds upon this intersection of the natural and artificial in “A Cyborg Manifesto” by relating the idea of a machine-person hybrid to everyone in our post-gender world. According to Haraway, we are all cyborgs, which she claims is merely a social construction. Robots are able to modify themselves, rebuilding their bodies and reprogramming their code. Similarly, advances in medical science have enabled us to alter nearly every physical attribute, including biological sex. Haraway adds that our irreversible cultural dependency on technology classifies us as cyborgs, and concludes that we can thereby rise above inheritance, conquer epigenetics, free ourselves from our histories, and maintain complete control over our identities, just like robots.
How does all of this relate to the beautiful woman in red? Detailing the arguments in both papers would prove too exhaustive for this article, so let’s dispense with the foreplay. Many of her roles in cinema present Scarlett Johansson through technological mediation, simultaneously embodying Haraway’s cyborgian identity and inadvertently becoming an object of technosexual fetishism.
In the 2013 film Under the Skin, Johansson plays an otherworldly woman who invites Scottish men to her home only to prey on and entomb them. They are lured in by her overt sexuality, and her fatal trap closes just prior to consummation. Sorry to spoil the ending but it turns out she’s actually an alien hiding under the skin. And yet, even when her humanity is removed the sex appeal remains, oddly enough. Perhaps it is that uncanny valley which is so weirdly breathtaking, the initial appearance of being a real person until the dramatic climax reveals her strange falsehood.
Johansson’s character in Her, also made during 2013, is an artificially intelligent operating system confined to digital technology. She was created to be software, but soon develops romantic interpersonal relationships, challenging traditional notions of emotional capacity. She perfectly plays her part as a cyborg, and the role excellently demonstrates an effective unity of personality within machine.
Black Widow appears in five movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and in each of them Johansson’s body is made to seem more than human. As a superhero, she escapes capture and easily defeats trained warriors twice her size. While her capabilities are not attributed to cybernetics, her persona is conspicuously hyper-sexualized and the manner in which she dominates her opponents is enticingly inhuman.
The upcoming live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell stars Johansson as a straight-up cyborg. Here, technology is unashamedly used to approach the supernatural; it is a vehicle towards transcendence. AI is being developed as the next step in evolution, and robots are an attempt to attain perfection. Cybernetics proudly set out to improve upon biology, and Johansson is the quintessential expression of the complex contradiction between feminine sexuality and mechanical inhumanity, contrasting the potential for organic reproduction with electronic sterility.
We create androids in our image but invariably acknowledge the desire for sexual gratification, and so femininity is exaggerated with an emphasis on eroticism. By equating her sexy body with a technological machine on film, Scarlett Johansson thereby epitomizes the fetish of cyborgian identity.