The Real Thing

The possibility of making something 'new' from genetic materials and implanting it in an anonymous entity nullifies and erases men and women in every conceivable sense.

There is something that cannot be ignored in this photograph of Zippi Brand Frank holding the Emmy just presented to her for her documentary film "Google Baby," at the awards ceremony on September 26. It is meant to be one photo of many that reported on the ceremony in New York, which was not broadcast. The image conveys no salient presence of the photographer's gaze in its design or technique, yet you can't take your eyes off it. A volcano seethes within it, a very powerful one, related to an inverse and complementary visual connection between Brand Frank's arched torso, a result of her highly visible, advanced and glorious pregnancy, and the exaggeratedly arched back of the statuette awarded by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

This is not a rare photograph of its type. Prominent in the arsenal of photos of award winners is that of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was nine months pregnant when she won the Oscar for "Chicago." But here, Brand Frank's gown looks like a second skin, to the point where viewing renders it transparent, and one can actually see the trunk of the boy or girl she is carrying, already turned over, and feel the duality of the body, the stretching of the skin, this condition at its peak, in its full ripeness. It is, then, a very personal gown: sweet, revealing, natural and touchingly honest.

google baby - Marc Bryan-Brown - October 15 2011
Marc Bryan-Brown

In a culture in which everything is coded and measurable, packaged, brokered and marketable, the politics of statuettes also gets a wink. The winged muse holding a model of the atom was designed by Louis McManus in 1948, with his wife as the inspiration, and the young television industry was thereby marked as "female," while the strong and more successful cinema was labeled "male" with the help of the Oscar.

But there is more here than a relationship between arches, between the natural beauty of the pregnancy and the neoclassical aesthetics of the statuette. There is another clear theme, a far larger one: the pregnant Brand Frank is receiving an award for a film about pregnancies produced by remote control, in order to supply human beings to buyers. This is a small irony stemming from coincidence, whose interpretation is not a chance matter but is connected to information about the film.

"Google Baby" is not a film about families, love of children, hope or parenthood; it is about economics and exploitation. It shows how the concept of origin is deconstructed and how it is removed, in practice, from the question of human identity. People have always taken children from others, sometimes to save them, raise and love them, and they have given children to others, too, for a variety of reasons. But the possibility of making something "new" from genetic materials and implanting it in an anonymous entity nullifies and erases men and women in every conceivable sense. It obfuscates the concept of truth. Zippi Brand Frank forces viewers to look at Indian surrogates sleeping row upon row in a chicken coop-like facility. For that frame alone she deserves the Emmy she is holding. And she also deserves a hearty "Mazal tov."