Thursday, July 26, 2007

Behold Eck!

One of my first SFnal memories is of watching a TV show about a frightening creature who scares people at first, but who's then discovered to be friendly and misunderstood. I'd remembered that the creature's name was "Eeeek" and that it was an electricity monster, but when I mentioned it to my mother, she said, "Oh, that was Eck. You loved Eck." So Gary Googled it and learned that the creaure appeared in a 1964 Outer Limits episode called "Behold Eck!"

We rented it from Netflix and watched it the other night. It's unbelievably cheesy early SF, of course, with laughable special effects, but none of us had trouble understanding why Eck would have appealed to me so.

Eck's actually a two-dimensional creature trying to get back home to his own dimension, but he can't see right in our world and needs special glasses to find the doorway back. The hero's a kindly optometrist who defends Eck against the people who want to destroy him, and makes the glasses for him.

I was a strange, lonely kid, and I wore glasses; my vision problems had been diagnosed when I couldn't see the blackboard at school. This is part of why I only learned to read at the end of first grade, rather than earlier.

A TV show about a strange creature who needed glasses must have been thrilling to me, although I also must have seen that episode in reruns in 1966 or 1967, since I didn't have glasses yet in 1964.

See the reflection of Eck in the good doctor's glasses? He even has four eyes!

Watching the episode as an adult, I was irritated no end that everyone automatically assumed that Eck was male, and that his voice was male. (The Star Trek episode Devil in the Dark told a very similar story with a gender twist.) And the plotting was ridiculous. But Gary and I were both charmed by the idea of a hero optometrist. Somebody could easily update the SFX and turn the story into a feature film, given how much plot business we didn't get to see.

When I was a little girl, I undoubtedly accepted the default male gender as automatically as everyone around me did. Samuel R. Delany tells the story of reading children's picture books to his daughter Iva -- who's quite a bit younger than I am! -- when she was three or so. He became annoyed that the animal heroes were always boys, but he couldn't find a book with a girl protagonist, so he set about making his own. He bought one of the Corduroy books for Iva and painstakingly set about whiting out all the male pronouns and replacing them with female ones.

But the minute he started reading the book to Iva, she protested. "That bear's not a girl, Daddy. It's a boy."

"No, Iva, Corduroy's a girl. Look: it says 'she.' And she's wearing the same Osh-Kosh overalls you're wearing."

"No, Daddy, it's a boy! It has to be a boy, 'cause this is a picturebook, and the animals in picturebooks are always boys."

These days, of course, the rules aren't quite as stringent, which is a Good Thing. But if somebody decides to redo Eck, give us a girl this time, okay? Or -- wait. Would it seem sexist for a female alien to need help from a male human scientist? Maybe Eck's male and the optometrist's a girl? But then they'd have to fall in love, so that's no good.

Hey, I've got it! Eck and the optometrist are both female! And they can fall in love if they want to, but they don't have to.

Obscure Nerd Note: This time around, I caught a pun in the episode's title. In Latin, "Ecce Homo" is "Behold the Man," and "Behold Eck" seems to be playing with that. Also, the title can be read either as a command to the viewer to behold Eck, or as a command to Eck to see more clearly. As my sister commented, "Somebody had fun with that one!" And yes, Eck can probably be read as a Christ figure, since his going back home will save the world.

The story as it currently exists won't bear quite that much weight, though.


  1. When my daughter was little, all her stuffed animals were girls. She used to correct us unashamedly if we asked what "his" name was.

  2. "When I was a little girl, I undoubtedly accepted the default male gender as automatically as everyone around me did."

    My parents dosed me heavily with Andre Norton juveniles, which ran about 50-50.

    It's easier these days to find good fiction with female protagonists. Mash'allah.

  3. You know what you have to do now, don't you? Adopt a fuzzy white girl cat and name her Eck.
    (rubbing balloons on her fur for full electrostatic hairdo effect is optional)

  4. I always refer to my daughter's stuffed animals as "she" unless they correct me. (They have decided that a few are boys.) I think it surprised my husband at first, but he caught on quickly.


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