What commanded the attention of many viewers during Mr. Pence’s defense of law enforcement officers was not his praise for the police, but the fly that landed on his hair — and stayed for two minutes.—The New York Times
It has been nearly 48 hours since the Vice Presidential debate. To my surprise, I have not encountered a single tweet, joke, meme, mashup, or reference involving David Cronenberg’s 1986 body horror film The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum. Admittedly, I wasn’t online much yesterday. But I know there are Cronenberg and Goldblum fans among my inner social media circle who should have been on the job. Maybe The Fly is still too gross for easy humor 34 years after its release. Maybe Saturday Night Live is working on it for this weekend (update: as I publish this and search for Goldblum photos, it appears I’m not the only one thinking this).
In The Fly Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is a scientist working on teleportation technology. His science initially works with transporting inanimate objects from one pod to another, but not living creatures. Once he solves the problem and successfully transports a baboon, he transports himself. But a fly enters the transporter pod with him and the computer fuses the two life forms when re-assembling Brundle in the destination pod. Goldblum’s transformation is gradual, starting at the molecular DNA level. Primitive insect qualities manifest first in strength and sexual prowess, but soon increasingly disgusting physical transformations begin.
Abortion was one of the topics moderator Susan Page brought up at the debate. Mike Pence is an evangelical fundamentalist. He evaded a question about whether he would want his home state of Indiana to ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. A possibility made more likely by if President Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is confirmed.
Abortion comes into play in The Fly as well. Seth Brundle becomes romantically involved with a science journalist preparing an exclusive story on his invention. Her name is Veronica (played by Geena Davis) but everyone calls her “Ronnie.” Audiences in 1996 would instantly associate that name with their aging pro-life movie star President. Ronnie is horrified that she may be pregnant with a child that has the same genetic mutations as Brundle, so she seeks out an abortion (Cronenberg himself plays the gynecologist). Because her fetus has some of Brundle’s genetic material, he believes it may hold the key to reversing his transformation. Brundle — now visibly a hybrid monster calling himself Brundlefly — races to stop the abortion and take Ronnie and the fetus back to “safety.” He plans to merge with Ronnie and the fetal child using the transporter. “We’ll be the ultimate family. A family of three joined in one body. More human than I am alone,” Brundlefly says. It’s a twisted version of the traditional marriage that conservative anti-abortion activists would have women enter with the fathers of unwanted children, regardless of how monstrous the men are. Instead, Ronnie shoves Brundlefly away and in the struggle rips off his rotting human jaw, completing his transformation into a monster.
Is the fly that landed on Pence’s hair Jeff Goldblum’s character? Primordial instincts sympathizing with Pence’s conservative anti-abortion “ultimate family” policies? Whispering debate advice to Pence? Or is the fly sticking close to Pence awaiting a transporter pod DNA fusion? If Pence becomes president and is slowly transforming into a fly, would his cabinet invoke the 25th amendment and remove him from office? Would Pencefly’s antics be any less presidential than Trump’s, which have been especially unhinged as he tweets from medical isolation?
Pence has not gone on the record as supporting or opposing abortion in cases where a woman is carrying a human-insect hybrid. However, he is the administration figure most closely associated with a Handmaid’s Tale dystopia in which women have no bodily autonomy. Republicans of his ilk have offered plenty of lines worthy of a horror movie when talking about rape and unwanted pregnancy.
It has been years since I watched The Fly in its entirety, but in 2015 artist Allison Spence showed clips of the film in an artist talk at Hamiltonian Gallery and discussed the film’s influence on her work. Spence is particularly interested in the idea of in-between states, glitches and the way technology distorts representations of the body. From the exhibition’s press release:
In More Human than I am, alone, a line from David Cronenberg’s film, The Fly, Allison Spence translates her interest in corporeal confusion and the abject directly into the material. Spence’s paintings suggest violence, the macabre, and the bodily experience as viewed through the polished veneer of digital media, where bodies become data only; masses melting together or merging with the landscape, and incorporating pieces of others into themselves.—Hamiltonian Gallery
I am almost certain Allison thought of Jeff Goldblum when she saw Pencefly. Here’s hoping we avoid the possibility of his horror show of Pence remaining a heartbeat away from the presidency in 25 days.
Update 2 (10/16/2020): SNL did manage to work The Fly into its veep sketch, but it was lame and not worth linking to. Little White Lies has a far better Pence/The Fly mashup in comic form by David Squires.