Power Dynamics

In F3: Ferryman the tour buys seashells from a ferryman to gain passage to the main island. Aside from alluding to the river Styx (the Greek river bordering the afterlife, for whose crossing the ferryman Charon would demand two coins), this is a chance for characters to show their position in the group’s power structure. On the ferry we see those power dynamics come to a head. Subtle power dynamics can make conversations as tense as action scenes. (Have you seen the new Spider-Man movie, Homecoming? You know what I’m talking about.)

Characters are driven by their desires. In this section the ferryman wants captive tourists to buy his shells. Henry doesn’t want to pay, while the others are willing to buy souvenirs to achieve their desire, boarding the ferry. Michael wants his tour to continue without incident, aligning himself with the ferryman with snide remarks toward Henry. Eventually Henry pretends his wife bought him two sand-dollars, and the ferryman lets him through. Jay already bought two high-priced shells (partly to show up Henry), so the ferryman decides he’d made enough money to cut some slack to the man-child. His final remark to Michael shows how Henry passes at the ferryman’s mercy. Michael concurs, “Oran dora.”

But Henry thinks he won. He thinks he outsmarted the ferryman. His sense of his position in the tour group’s power structure is inflated by the concessions afforded to him by his immaturity and bull-headed ego. His confidence is so puffed up, Henry goes to break bread with Jay, his perceived comrade-in-drug-smuggling. Henry steals Jay’s passport from his backpack to return it as he sleeps, a sociopathic tactic to make Jay begin the conversation indebted to him. Henry isn’t bright but what intelligence he has is sinister.

For Jay to be locked in conversation with a drug-smuggler fond of swastikas is not a position of power, even when it’s a bumbling one like Henry. Henry doesn’t even seem to realize the aura of danger he exudes, but a trans person of mixed race probably doesn’t feel too comfortable with someone like Henry being all buddy-buddy in the middle of the night.

Jay deflects Henry’s statements (and avoids provoking him) by merely asking for clarification and making non-committal grunts. Jay lets Henry dig his own hole hoping he’ll eventually leave. But no—Henry gives his real name ‘Leo’ to make Jay reciprocate. (Of course, Leo already knows Jay’s real name, he just won’t accept it.) Then Leo mentions Faith’s cricket, which he shouldn’t know about. Saying “you only got one cricket” is like saying “you smell different when you’re awake,” in the sense that Leo accidentally reveals more information than he had intended.

In response Jay threatens to shout, reminding Leo of his low position on the totem pole. With the rest of the tour in the room, including his wife and step-daughter, Leo can’t give Jay a reason to call in the cavalry; he knows he’d be shouted at, or beaten half to death. Leo calls Jay a gaylord and walks way.

I hope this commentary demonstrates how I’m trying to make interesting interactions. Each character has a different impression of the power dynamics of the group. In each scene, the balance of power shifts.

Notice most of the tourists gave false names. Leo said his name was Henry. The Chinese couple Zhang and Li Ying gave their names as Craig and Suzy. Jay said his name was Jadie, adopting the misnomer Michael greeted him with. These are subtle power-plays. Craig and Suzy deferred to ‘Henry’ by taking names he could pronounce, and did so ahead of time signifying they knew ‘Henry’ would make a fuss and they wanted to avoid a scene. Leo usurped the power of self-introduction from the women in his family because he’s an asshole, and also so he could frame his visit to the islands as he wanted. He pretended his wife dragged him on these drug-smuggling getaways.

Why did Jay name himself Jadie? It’s an act of surly disobedience; Jay’s fake name proves to himself that he’s not playing by Leo’s rules. This connects the idea of names and titles to the concept presented with the swastika in E4: what names do people choose for themselves, and why?

Dan had his name taken from him when he was made into Jillian. Jillian discarded her name to become Jay. Jay set aside his name to become Jadie. Each of those events represents Jay’s refinement as a person. He exceeded Dan. He attained knowledge from being Jillian. The fake name ‘Jadie’ prevents his real name from being tarnished by association with Leo.

So, Jay exerts power in social situations by making friends with anyone amicable, and through malicious compliance with everyone else. Whenever Leo takes center stage as a power-play, Jay makes his own power-play by relenting that stage: Jay lets Leo dig himself into situations and curry disfavor with the tour guide.

The different ways characters assert power will result in different types of conflict. Jay is happy to subtly deride Leo for his childishness, while Leo stumbles into trouble head-on, often intentionally, but always feigning innocence to see how far he can get before someone stops him. In this section Jay has to draw the line.

That’s it for today. Keep eating your worms!

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