30 March 2014
Orphan Black: The Nature vs. Nurture Debate
Orphan Black is a relatively new show that aired in March of 2013 on Canada’s BBC America. It centers on the street-smart protagonist Sarah Manning, who discovers her identity as a clone after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looked exactly like her. This woman, Beth Childs, was a clone that happened to be a detective and was looking into her own mysterious past. Being down on her luck and in a bit of trouble at the time, Sarah steals Beth’s identity and goes down the path of discovering her own identity, as well as the identities of countless other clones. A major theme of the show is self-perception and people’s sense of identity (Willmore). This blog focuses on how the show addresses the nature vs. nurture debate by suggesting that how one is raised is the strongest indicator of who that person will become.
Nature refers to all the natural talents and genetic traits that one is born with, nurture involves the societal influence inflicted upon people from their birth (Galton). Nature refers to how one truly is. The other depends on the environment; a place where natural tendencies may be changed or totally new ones may arise (Galton). The debate involves the question of whether one is more influential than the other in shaping people. Orphan Black clearly leans toward the latter.
The main clones of the show are Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Sarah Manning, and Helena. The clones are genetic identicals that display some pretty extreme variations in character. It’s hard to imagine how the “same person” can range from a soccer mom to a psychotic, murderous, Jesus freak.
Alison Hendrix was raised in what we assume to be an average, domestic setting. Her life seems to revolve around her family, and she displays the stereotype of a typical “soccer mom”. She drives a minivan, lives in the suburbs, and has a husband and two adopted children. She even hosts potlucks with other suburban families, families that seem to be more identical to each other than the actual clones are. Allison’s situation represents a more restrictive lifestyle that values conformity. She has done everything she is “supposed” to do in life. For the most part the world she grew up in turned her into an average copy of other suburban housewives.
Cosima Niehaus is a graduate student studying evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota. Her intelligence lands her the position of the scientist in this group of clones, sometimes referred to as the “clone club”. However, the fact that she has the same genetics as the rest of the clones should mean that they all have the potential for vast intelligence as well, but they don’t show it. This suggests that how Cosima was raised and what she was exposed to helped spark a passion that aided her in realizing her intelligence. Another big difference Cosima demonstrates is her sexual orientation. All of the other main clones either have heterosexual relationships or no relationships at all. Cosima on the other hand enters a relationship with a woman. Her dread locks, marijuana use, and west coast upbringing also suggest a more laid back lifestyle. A lifestyle that probably contained a less judgmental atmosphere and left her free to explore her passions and desires.
The strongest indicator of the belief that a person’s surroundings shape who they are lies in the dynamic between Sarah and Helena. Not only are they clones, but they are also twins. Separated at birth, Sarah was given to the state while Helena was sent to a convent. Sarah’s path turned her into a punk-rock drifter that lacks the ability to cope with responsibility and motherhood. She is fiercely independent, selfish, and tough. Helena is on the other side of the spectrum. She is raised by a psychotic, religious extremist, who convinces her of the abomination that is the clones. Helena’s life was filled with brainwashing, loneliness, imprisonment, and torture until she was finally unleashed to kill all of the clones, while being convinced that she was the one true “original”. This results in Helena being psychotic and antisocial, living a miserable life and not being able to cope with reality or form relationships. Sarah herself acknowledges how it could just have easily been her that was in Helena’s position; she could have been the monster. It was just down to luck that she grew up where and with who she did.
This show clearly demonstrates how strong of an impact one’s environment can have on them. It shows how much potential people have if they grow up in the right setting and are given the opportunity to succeed.
Galton, Francis, Sir. "English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture." Google Books. Web.
Orphan Black, Season 1. BBC America.
Willmore, Alison. "'Orphan Black' Co-Creator Graeme Manson Talks Nature Vs. Nurture and Cronenberg Influences In His Clone Drama." Indiewire. 27 Mar. 2014. Web.