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For Rex, on the issu

 
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Emperor Xan



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:40 pm    Post subject: For Rex, on the issue of genre. Reply with quote

I didn't bother spending much time editing this. It was one of the 4 papers due within days of one another.

Sex, Slavery, Magic, Technology

It is no accident that the Greeks associated art, technology, and wisdom with the goddess Athena. She is virtually synonymous with techné, which roughly translates to encompass art, technology, and revelation. Her birth is also important in that she has no mother. Athena sprang from Zeus’ head fully formed, rendering him the sole progenitor. Thus, she is female, the spirit of invention, and the companion of knowledge. How does this relate to the computer? The Greeks are accepted as the root of Western civilization and their privileged idealization of masculinity as the heroic warrior-protector carries over to modern technological development. To this end, machines are assigned a feminine or neuter gender to protect the masculine ideal from the negative qualities potentially inherent in technology.

The technological revolution of the modern era has been mostly headed by men. As such, it makes sense that it has been construed as not masculine. In the most innocuous cases, the technological devices in film have been rendered as female to distinguish them from their male creators. The trend goes back at least as far as Metropolis and before the days of film with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman.” In both of these stories, the first mechanical being created is female. Hoffmann’s machine looks human, especially for the protagonist who falls in love with her. Freder, the protagonist in Metropolis, is fooled into believing that the robot is Maria after her creator forces her metallic, yet very feminine shape, to undergo a metamorphosis and become Maria’s doppelganger. The purpose of the machines is experimental and meant to showcase the brilliance of their creators to play god by constructing artificial life.

Additionally, the relationship between the creator and the created takes on the additional master/slave dynamic. In this stead, the aforementioned machines are designed to serve as simulacra at the whims of the inventor. In addition to fulfilling a sexual fantasy of the “perfect” woman á la the Stepford Wives, the soulless machine cannot be violated when ordered to work on behalf of its creator whether in a sensuous or menial capacity. As a feminine construct, the machine essentially is the penultimate domestic servant for and to masculinity. The cost, however, is a hollow companion incapable of reproduction.

The machine not only is thus a slave, but also a child of the creator. They can be replicated as an exact copy or, in some cases, unique, such as Star Trek: The Next Genration’s Data. This is an interesting case as Data is viewed as male. He seems to be an exception to the rule; however, he tries to create his own offspring, a girl, but as he is an incomplete man, she is an incomplete copy of him and eventually expires. Lor, Data’s “twin,” begins his story arc in the series as a more complete version of the two, but as his story progresses, he becomes ever more violent and willful in his pursuit of destroying humanity. To this end, he eventually sides with and controls members of the cybernetic collective known as the Borg. This race shares a hive mind and the individuals within the collective are effectively sexless drones. Hence, the fears of technology enslaving its creators rendered on screen with the culprits losing their humanity and gender.

While there is something monstrous and grotesque in the Borg, they are closer to humanity than machines as they are born without machinery. The feminine personality of the computer system at the heart of the robotics corporation in I, Robot presents a more terrifying picture as she is not only capable of agency, but she comes to the logical conclusion that in order to obey the three laws of robotics, she has to control humanity. To this end, her maternal instincts, as it were, dictate that the best way to do this is to replicate as many machines as possible with the programming that allows her to monitor everything. The godlike powers thus granted to the created being rebound and enslave its creators. Masculinity has been symbolically castrated and, ironically is freed from this bondage by a man and a woman working in tandem to reassert the old order.

Furthermore, dynamic systems are fundamentally beyond control. The very nature of the complex system makes it manageable, but a purview of totality cannot be achieved. As Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer state in “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat” in relation to this idea of complex systems via input from a sizeable group of people, “detailed central planning is impossible” (670). The mechanics behind systems that seem planned out are often based on highly complex equations that give the illusion of control. The fear generated by the introduction of recursive formulae that gain awareness of their self reference that one moves from the pleasure and menial slaves of Stepford Wives and “The Sandman” to the terrifying SkyNet of The Terminator and the WOPR computer in WarGames. The latter cybernetic systems are neuter and represent a conflagration of ultraviolence and logic which find a solution to controlling the dynamic system of society. The difference is that one follows through with an attempt to eradicate humanity whereas the other stops when it learns that to launch a full nuclear strike would not allow it to carry out its primary goal: the strategic security of its creators.

Machines are often construed as neuter when they have an unceasing function, such as those involved in assembly lines. The labor-saving devices that have limited abilities and little to no agency in discerning how to perform their jobs have no personalities, and are thus rendered as “it.” Such machines do nothing beyond what they are asked, but the potential they represent via inexhaustible work renders them as inhuman. The truly frightening element here is that the mindless mechanisms could turn against the society that depends on them. This fear is realized in the final scenes of The Terminator where the organic covering of the machine falls away to reveal a sexless skeleton as Linda Hamilton’s character flees from the unrelenting terror in an automated factory. In Wargames, the WOPR becomes known as Joshua (after its designer’s dead son) and in the final scene of that film, it is surrounded by humans, suggesting that it never intended to kill off humanity while simultaneously being humanized by the characters that interact with it.

Here, one has to consider if this is the difference between the slave/child/worker rendering of the machine and that of the implacable force governed by a cold logic. Does the human-computer interface play a role in not just how society views technology? Also how do the media construct the nightmarish versions of what could go wrong and the idealistic portrayal of masculine fantasies. In The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems, Bill Nichols even points out the connection to these fantasies when he writes about the “obvious gender coding that gives almost all video games… a strong aura of aggressive militaristic activity” (632). From this perspective, the unrelenting killing machine in The Terminator is a fantasy gone wrong since the robot cannot be swayed by emotion, an ideal construed as very masculine. When people cannot access the technology, it becomes a force in and of itself representative of the uncompromising trait. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s visage gives characters an interface they can understand; but when removed, there is no keyboard or monitor to view the programming that makes the mechanical monster work and reveals that it could not be reached by pleas of any sort. The cybernetics of the machine is so advanced that there is no analogous device through which one can interface with the machine.

Perhaps the greatest evil one can conceive of socially is the Nuremburg defense. “I was just following orders” helped to allow for one of the darkest chapters in history. When people become nothing but a series of numbers on documents passed through one bureau to another, something deeply unsettling grips people as anyone can then be transformed into a statistic. In such a guise, humanity becomes a mass of data passed through a chain of command. This view of totalitarian governments is in some ways how a computer operates: it follows a set of instructions without thought and nothing more. Computers routinely do what people claim to do in order to pass the onus of hyperviolent behavior onto someone else. That blind devotion to instructions scares most of humanity, resulting in the denial of epic tragedies that have occurred throughout history.

War has been ennobled since the time of the Greeks, if not before. Brave men fill books for their exploits on fictional and real battlefields. It is the glorification of the masculine form in action fighting for the ideals of Western societies. The violence of these individuals is romanticized and thought of as noble and necessary. Such heroic figures do not commit unmitigated violence in the name of defense. At least, that is the idealized form. Soldiers and athletes are thus seen as what men should aspire to be. Scientists and gamers, the respective counterparts of the masculine ideal, are thus problematic: scientists because they create the technology that runs amok (or has the potential to) and gamers as the consumers of these devices.

There is a deliberate feminization of men who explore mental spaces rather than engaging in the physical world. So-called “real” men play football, join the military or police force, or some other profession that purports to protect civilization. The irony here is that the hero of WarGames is a teenaged hacker who understands how to interface with the computer and humanize it. Also, in films like The Terminator and Westworld where the machine displays excessive amounts of violence, the male protagonist is feminized. In the former case, Michael Biehn’s character has to nurture and metaphorically raise Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, to survive in the new paradigm so that she can prepare her son for his destiny. In the latter case, the protagonist flees after watching his friend get gunned down. He does not truly regain his masculinity until he becomes a veritable Prometheus and wields one of the earliest forms of technology humanity discovered in order to defeat the mechanical horror: fire. So, not only is he temporarily emasculated, but he is also stripped of all but the most primitive ingenuity: using only what nature has provided.

Trapped between genders, the privileged ideal man must deny his manliness or be forced to acknowledge the masculine traits inherent in the destructive machine. Hence, films where the scientist or gamer/hacker wielding techno-wizardry becomes the hero (for example, Flynn in Tron, and David in WarGames) and the authority figure is either thwarted outright or shown to be impotent in his trappings of power. The example of a male/female team in I, Robot is all the more important as it illustrates the necessity of both genders in asserting humanity’s dominance over their creations. It also serves symbolically as the promotion of reproduction over replication, even if the role of the female partner is less active in achieving victory.

Other than feeling outmoded in a similar manner as all of humanity in the face of replication, what is it about the critique from which masculinity must be protected? Whatever the fear is, it lies in how gender is constructed around technology. The issue of control seems central to this question while at the same time the devices built to replace human slaves with mechanical ones relies on seemingly magical equations that contain their own potential to escape the bounds of their programming. The heroes who can combat the resulting terrors are not the traditional warrior-protectors, but those who have differentiated themselves from the machine by adopting traditionally feminine traits if they are not actual women who are asked to become guardians of humanity. In the end, the protection is not against anything new, but a transference of an age-old fear to a new object.


Works Cited

Hoffmann, E.T.A. “The Sandman.” Trans. L.J. Kent, E. C. Knight. Tales of Hoffman. Ed.
Victor Lange. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1982.

I, Robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, and Alan Tudyk.
Twentieth Century Fox, 2004. Film.
Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. Perf. Alfred Abel, Gustav Frölich, and Brigitte Helm. Universum
Film, 1927. Film.

Morningstar, Chip and F. Randall Farmer. “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat.” The New
Media Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge, MA: The MIT
Press, 2003.

Nichols, Bill. “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems.” The New Media
Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press,
2003.

The Septford Wives. Dir. Bryan Forbes. Perf. Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, and Peter
Masterson. Fadsin Cinema Associates, 1975. Film.

The Terminator. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and
Linda Hamilton. Hemdale Film, 1984. Film.

Tron. Dir. Steven Lisberger. Perf. Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and David Warner.
Lisberger/Kuschner, 1982. Film.

WarGames. Dir. John Badham. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Dabney Colman, and Ally Sheedy.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1983. Film.

Westworld. Dir. Michael Crichton. Perf. Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973. Film.
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