The Seduction of Joe Hawkins

If you have been reading this blog recently, you know that I have been thinking about some of the “interpersonal” issues dealt with by the TV series Humans. [1] Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill), frustrated and angry at what he has to put up with in running the home in the absence of his wife, Laura, throws up his hands and goes to the store and buys his family a Synth. The Synth comes in the body of what looks like a very attractive young woman (Gemma Chan) and the family names her Anita.

The presence of Anita in the Hawkins home is like a bomb going off. Laura is angry; the nerdy older daughter, Mattie, can hardly wait to reprogram her, the son, Toby, wants a free grope as soon as the occasion is presented, and Sophie, the younger daughter, is delighted to have a friend who really truly understands her. But it is Joe who is destroyed.

I know the use of the word “seduction” in the title is misleading, but it is important to the argument I want to make so I am going to go ahead and use it and be careful to explain what I mean by it. I do not mean by using it that Joe is “seduced” by Anita. He is not. The heart of the verb is based on the Latin verb duco, meaning to lead. [2] The prefix, se- contributes “aside” or “apart.” In this context we may say “astray.” What seduces Joe Hawkins?

Three things, none of which require robotic assistance. First, he and his wife are on the outs, and part of that is that they have no sex life at all. Whatever the sex with Anita felt like, the expression of his resentment toward Laura certainly felt good. It seduced him.

Second, he presumably knows how to seduce a human female. The story doesn’t cover that, but Joe is a physically attractive man with a lot of social skills, so probably he has had the experience of persuading a young female to have sex with him. Probably it didn’t take much persuading. It was not, in any case, a situation where he does something (in Anita’s case, it is reading the code words in order) and has to ask, “Is it kicking in?” Or, afterward, “How do I turn it off?” In short, the guidance system he grew up with is not there to support him.

But, third, he feels an obligation. This is the odd one. It is this idea—and the subsequent conversation with my son, Doug—that pushed me in the direction of writing this post. Once he starts down the path of seduction—of “being led astray—you have to wonder who is leading him.[3] It isn’t Anita.

Joe says “What do I do now?” and Anita says, “Anything you want.” That’s no help. She is giving him permission; he needs instruction. But nevertheless, a line has been crossed. There is now a functioning “we”—Joe and Anita—and Joe feels an obligation to play his part. He does things that, in the moment, he does not want to do, because “he ought to.” He owes it to her; he owes it to “the two of them functioning as a team.”

It is in that sense that Joe is obligated. He has created a functioning unit and he has duties, in the moment, to his “partner.”

I know it sounds odd, and I may be wrong, but I urge you to think it through before you reject it. “Feeling an obligation” is something that happens to Joe. It is a genuine experience of his regardless of the object. It can be argued that since the focus of the obligation is fraudulent, that it cannot produce a sense of obligation, but if the feeling is Joe’s property, he will attach it where he has learned to attach it.

I wrote earlier of Laura’s concern that her daughters speak politely to the family robot. The older daughter, the techie, says that the robot ought not receive the dignity that belongs to a human, but her mother says that the daughters are affected by the responses they choose regardless of the object. I think she’s right.

And that is the third of Joe Hawkins’ problems. He has formed a social bond with a robot and it will take him a while to separate out the “feelings of obligation” that are inappropriate, if, indeed, he is ever able to do so. [4]

This “sex scene”—it is in quotes because all the huffing and puffing is skipped—has one more element that marks it as well conceived. When, afterwards, Joe asks, “How do I turn it off?” Anita answers “Command it!”

It is unlike anything else she says while she is with the Hawkins family. It is completely outside her vocabulary as Anita the household help. It suggests how the designers think of her vocabulary in “passionate adult woman” mode. Even the answer to how to bring the session to an end is, properly, addressed while she is still in the mode; while she is still a sex slave.

Whoever thought of that knows a lot about language.

[1] I’m going to save you the problem of deciphering the meaning of the quotation marks that would plague this essay. Many of the “persons” I will be dealing with are robots—“Synths,” in the language of the show—but they function like human persons in all the ways the plot requires, so I will just skip the quotation marks. So, Anita Hawkins, a Synth, is a person.
[2] The title Duke, meaning leader, comes from this same source.
[3] There is, by the way a whole brothel full of robots downtown (London) who know how to take any kind of initiative and one of them is Niska, a robot who was raised with Anita. Anita calls Niska her sister.
[4] This is not fundamentally different than Tom Hanks decision, just in time, not to dive into the ocean in Castaway, to “rescue” his only recent companion, a volleyball named Wilson. He clearly felt the obligation to Wilson and only the prospect of certain death helped him clarify his situation.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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