Sigh. I’m up to day 7 of Planet Jemma, which is supposed to be an interactive, serial web drama that’ll encourage teenaged girls to study physics. Instead it seems to be a relentless attempt to convince its audience that boys studying physics are dorks and that teaching assistants are male chauvinist pigs with pinups on their office walls, and that you’ll get your bum pinched and be laughed at. Here’s the (fictional!) teaching assistant’s website with his webcam shot of himself – you’ll see the first day’s version, but on day seven, the webcam image is of the teaching assistant grabbing Jemma’s bum. The only experiments you see done in this fictional physics department involve dipping bananas into liquid nitrogen and seeing how they come out frozen. I mean, come on, we did more challenging stuff than that in high school.
Jemma supposedly loves physics but we never see her writing lab reports, studying or working with any other physics students. She does show us very simplistic explanations of black holes and antimatter, explained in romance magazine terms. Apart from the silly comments about wishing boys in black holes, they seem so much simpler than the Carl Sagan explanations of astronomy that my little sister and I were thrilled with when we were nine or ten, that I can’t see how they can really be meant for fourteen year olds.
I totally loved Online Caroline, which was made by the same people who’ve created Planet Jemma. I’m less than enraptured by Planet Jemma, though. I cannot see how portraying male physics students as horrible, sexist pigs is going to encourage women to study physics. And it’s just a little too annoying that the two vaguely attractive men in the series are studying media and design. I imagine that’s what the creators of the show studied.
Mark Bernstein made a similar point last week, before I’d really gotten into reading Jemma’s story. Mark and I have the same basic idea, I think, though I think Jemma’s a first year undergrad, not a grad student, and I haven’t noticed her talking about clothes – actually her clothes are pretty good, not fussy but you know, regular. I think the problem with Planet Jemma isn’t so much the portrayal of Jemma herself (though she could do more work) but the stereotypical portrayal of the males at university. Maybe I’m naive and Norway’s simply better than many other countries in this respect, but honestly, pinups in university teacher’s offices? Is that realistic?