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Orphan Black: Clone Dance Party
Zoë Shacklock

There’s so much to unpack in the dance scene, but I’ve never actually considered it through genre collision! It’s a wonderful idea. I’m particularly interested in how there might be a broader genre collision at work here - the genre of the ‘dance film’, or ‘dance scene’, itself. Dance is something that encompasses a huge range of genres, often within a single performance. It’s also something that can incorporate a variety of individual styles into a unified whole. Consequently, it’s perfect for Staci’s great point about the way the scene calls attention to all of the best attributes of the series. In this sense, I can’t help but think that the genre mash-up wouldn’t have worked so well if it didn’t occur across the medium of dance.

Lindsey Decker

First, I think this is a great post, and I love that you’re calling attention to the moments of purposeful masquerade within the diegesis, particularly because of the ways that (as you say) these diegetic moments resonate with the ways in which Maslany herself masquerades as several women with distinct expressions of femininity (or, thinking of it a different way, distinct relationships to dominant modes of femininity). And it’s also interesting how Sarah, a con artist, can masquerade as other clones (the cop, Alison, Cossima) and pass, while Alison’s masquerade is undone by the physical manifestations of her neuroses.

I wonder if it is similarly productive to think about Maslany’s star persona as related to masquerade? Particularly if we think about Dyer’s work on stars, specifically regarding audience desire for “authenticity,” and the recent NYT interview with Maslany (, which I think frames her in interesting ways in terms of personal and performance authenticity as well as femininity (perhaps even in terms of a sort of feminine authenticity? but maybe I’m reading too much into the article).

Cael Keegan

In other words, I think we can agree on “trans” as a critical reading practice for both gender AND the human!

Cael Keegan

Intriguing points!

This (above) is a distinction I try to point to when I distinguish trans as an identity politics from “trans” as an aesthetic. My use of “trans” above is similar to the use of “queer” in studies of textuality. Ultimately, I think we need to reject the concretization of trans as a form of normative identification: viewing OB in that manner leads to disappointment, since Tony is not a particularly politically correct example of trans “representation.” However, if we think about “trans”—and here I think this is the same “trans” in “transhuman” or “transgenic”—as a set of aesthetic practices that bring the medical and institutional construction of humanity and its gendering into view, then we can “see” far more in the text than a simple reading for identity categorization will give us. A broad reading of “trans” does justice to Tony precisely because it illustrates that there is no real difference between these gendered categories of trans and cis: they are equally constructed. No one is more “natural” than the other.

Also, I think “posthuman” readings may be too general to use when thinking through the program’s specific inventions into gender, which is my focus here.

And lastly, I read the show as a text in which nearly every character is “fighting” the biological determinism of genetics. Is this not the struggle that we see characters such as Rachel, Cosima, and Helena locked in?

This is interesting. It is also entertaining. Good job!

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This is an interesting post. Thank you for sharing this post to us.

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Staci Stutsman

I agree with this suggestion, Liza-Anne! I believe that thinking about posthumanism might be a better way to expand our thoughts on the series. Specifically, I’m thinking here of Olivier and his tail and the discourse around body modification. It might be potentially problematic to equate all forms of body modification with transgender but transhuman or posthuman might be more fitting.

Liza-Anne Cabral

This is an interesting argument but I’m torn about calling all of the clones “trans” bodies. Does labeling the other clones in this way not diminish Tony’s experience? Tony is a character who, upon introduction, is clearly fighting against his genetic construction, which is a battle that none of the other clones have to take on (nor seem to want to take on).

At the same time, I wonder if opening up the terminology to “transhuman” and/or “posthuman” might be more accurate. We are reminded quite a bit in the series about the clones being scientific creations. None of them were naturally conceived but were made in a lab. This is a point that you mention above and given this point, I am considering the transhumanist/posthuman thought about gender not having any meaning for creatures with no history and no way to pass it on. They are simply beyond it. The counter to this, of course, might lie with Sarah, who, while constructed is able to pass on her genetics. Still, I feel like this argument is far more inclusive not just for Tony but for all of the clones (current and future).

Cael Keegan

That’s an interesting point, and one I’ve been considering. It strikes me that Sarah’s reproductive capacity is “queered” in that it is unexpected—a mutation. I think the corporate, scientific, and religious obsession with her reproductivity could actually be read as a critique of the reproductive imperative as well as the medical control of women’s bodies. Because of her body’s unexpected capacity, Sarah finds herself embedded in a world that relentlessly pursues control of that capacity and its product—Kira. And, of course, the name “Kira” returns us to the word “kyriarchy” and the sovereign role that childbearing is forced to play in the lives of women. To retain her status as a woman, as mother, Sarah MUST try to retain Kira in what almost seems like an expression of ideology.

Zoë Shacklock

I’m going to be a dissenting voice here and question the importance of creating a ‘coherent’ screening experience. I certainly love the idea of using a single series as an extended case study, but I don’t necessarily think this requires showing a whole season, or finding what Liza-Anne calls the ‘unifying whole’. Television, and particularly serial television, has always been more about parts than wholes. Even now, when we’re shifting to distribution formats that favour and encourage consumption of whole seasons over short periods of time, a lot of television is still encountered in a piecemeal way.

I’m not criticising your approach, Alisa - I have no doubt that it created a very rewarding experience for the students. But I still have lingering doubts about the causal links between the quality television paradigm and our teaching styles. I can’t help but feel that there’s still value in teaching students how to approach a television text as a television text - something that’s always in the process of unfolding, is always unfinished, and can’t be consumed or conceptualised in the same ways as the cinema.

Do you think that students are so used to binge-watching that they expect to encounter the same format in classrooms? Where do we draw the line between sensitivity to the history of both the medium and the scholarship, and the need to maintain relevance to students’ contemporary experience? I don’t think there are any easy answers yet, and it’s something we’re all going to have to figure out as we go along.