Thinking like a Cyborg

 

Virtual reality is rooted both in the real and the imaginary; it is a set of movements that is not only steeped in social reality but also appear to us as fantastical spaces (Munster 2006, 90-91). Digital technology can multiply and extend our physicality to significant degrees; however there is no guarantee that seamless matches between the body and technology will be produced. Thus, these mismatches can show us the hybridity and transgressiveness of embodiment through technology. In this sense, digital technology is one that corresponds with rather than replicates the actual world (Munster 2006, 93). The cyborg, who occupies both reality and imagination, give us the chance to talk of different realities that would seem different to different eyes and that establish themselves at the very moment of engagement (Longo 2003, 26).

The cyborg body is oppositional, utopian, and “completely without innocence” (Haraway 1991, 292). Technology has come a long way to challenges cultural dualism in interesting ways; the distinction between mind and body becomes more and more ambiguous, and it is not as clear who makes and who is made (Haraway 1991, 313). There has been ongoing progress of the artificialisation of the human body and also an anthropomorphing of mechanical objects (Fortunati, Katz & Riccini 2003, 218). When machine could be brought to life and living beings mechanised, the distinction between machine and organism relationships becomes obsolete and unnecessary (Haraway 1991, 314). The body is a potential map of power and identity, and the cyborg body has the potential to subvert existing systems and provide us with new perspectives. A cyborg body does not seek a wholesome identity; it generates antagonism indefinitely and therefore can show us a way “out of the maze of dualism” (Haraway 1991, 315-316).

As such, cyborg imagery allows us to go beyond naturalistic and constructionist perspectives. Haraway argued for a cyborg politics that strive against the one unifying language which translates all meaning perfectly under one central canon; it insists on noise, pollution and fusion to subvert dominant structures and modes of reproduction of  the dualism between master and slaves, man and machine, reality and fiction (Haraway 1991, 312). The hybridity of the cyborg image can therefore encourage us to think about processes of transgression, about how certain boundaries between human and digital technology are being crossed and eroded. For Haraway, it is the cyborg subjectivity, the merging of identities and the constant breaking down boundaries that can disrupt the matrices of domination and present to us new potentials (Haraway 1991, 311). For us, it offers a refreshing way of thinking about how we interact with technology – and digital technology in particular – to give ourselves an opportunity to think outside the boxes of rigid clichés and oppositions.

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Beyond Boundaries

Haraway’s figure of the cyborg is an argument for “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and responsibility in their construction” (Haraway 1991, 292). In trying to understand the workings of digital (dis)embodiment we are also forced to cross certain boundaries, to think and to engage with both proximate and remote experiences (Munster 2006, 152).  Digital technology is increasingly becoming an integrated part of our everyday life. The cyborg image with its inherent irony and paradox can therefore provide us with refreshing ways to look at the interweaving of physical and digital experiences, and how technology shapes our lives at the same time as we shape technology.

Filmography

Cameron, J 1984, dir. The Terminator, Orion Pictures.

 

Cameron, J 1991, dir. Terminator 2: Judgement Day, TriStar Pictures.

 

Rivera, A 2008, dir. Sleep Dealer, Maya Entertainment.

 

Verhoeven, P 1987, dir. Robocop, Orion Pictures.

 

Works Cited

Calefato, P 2003. “Wearing Communication: Home, Travel, Space”, in Mediating the Human Body: Technology, Communication, and Fashion, L. Fortunati, J. E. Katz & R. Riccini (Eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 163-168.

 

Clynes, M. E & Kline, N. S 1960. Cyborgs and space, Astronautics, September 1960.

 

Croissant, J. L 1998. “Growing up Cyborgs: Developmental Stories for Postmodern Children”, in Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, J. Dumit & R. Davis-Floyd (Eds.), New York, Routledge, 285-300.

 

Dumit, J & Davis-Floyd, R. 1998. “Cyborg Babies: Children of the Third Millenium”, in Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, J. Dumit & R. Davis-Floyd (Eds.), New York, Routledge, 1-20.

 

Fortunati, L., Katz, J. E & Riccini, R 2003. “Introduction”, in Mediating the Human Body: Technology, Communication, and Fashion, L. Fortunati, J. E. Katz & R. Riccini (Eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1-14.

 

Fortunati, L., Katz, J. E & Riccini, R 2003. “Conclusion: Bodies Mediating the Future”, in Mediating the Human Body: Technology, Communication, and Fashion, L. Fortunati, J. E. Katz & R. Riccini (Eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 215-220.

 

Freud, S. 1919. “The ‘Uncanny’”, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, 217-256.

 

Greenville, B 2002. “The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture”, in The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture, B. Greenville (Eds.), Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, 13-58.

 

Haraway, D. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in The Cultural Studies Reader, S. During (Eds.), New York, Routledge, 271-291.

 

Harris, M 2012. Border Control, The New Inquiry, available at http://thenewinquiry.com/features/border-control/.

 

Holt, K. T 2010. Interview with Writer/Director Alex Rivera, Crossed Genre, available at http://crossedgenres.com/archives/024-charactersofcolor/interview-alex-rivera/.

 

Longo, G. O. 2003. “Body and Technology: Continuity or Discontinuity?”, in Mediating the Human Body: Technology, Communication, and Fashion, L. Fortunati, J. E. Katz & R. Riccini (Eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 23-30.

 

Maldonado, T 2003. “The Body: Artificialization and Transparency”, in Mediating the Human Body: Technology, Communication, and Fashion, L. Fortunati, J. E. Katz & R. Riccini (Eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 15-22.

 

Munster, A 2006, materializing new media: embodiment in information aesthetics, London, University Press of New England.

 

At the Time of Transition

The introduction of new technologies would always spark debates about their nature and cause self-reflection in the culture absorbing it (Thorburn & Jenkins 2003, 4).  According to Sean Cubitt (2010), in the digital age “the meaning of … cinema has changed”, and yet we are still uncertain of what these changes are.  Through an analysis of Neil Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9, I hope to examine in this essay the crossroad that we are faced with – the merging and confusion of boundaries between the old and the new made possible by digitisation.

It’s a Race

At the point of transition, many scholars are caught asking: What exactly is “new” about the digital age?  While emerging media platforms tend to be experimental and self-reflexive, they are also necessarily rooted in past experience (Thorburn & Jenkins 2003, 7).  But these opposing aspects are still parts of the same ongoing process in which the medium attempts to find its own place relative to existing formats.  The cinema began by borrowing from theatre, photography and prose and was consequently imitated by others (Thorburn & Jenkins 2003, 10).  Perhaps now it is borrowing even from itself by imitating those who imitated it.  Yet, it is overly reductive to say that technology had no effect on the medium.  Even though movies are still being made with familiar techniques, digital imagery did significantly altered how films are produced.  Thus, the digital gives us a new horizon, a new perspective to think about cinema (Elsaesse 1998, 204).  It is useful for us to think of the digital age as “evolution, not revolution” (Thorburn & Jenkins 2003, 12).  And evolution brings with it uncertainties about the future, about the intermingling of the old and the new, and about how history will catch up to us.  Now we turn to look at District 9 and how it embodies this confusion of a cinema in transition.

My do those aliens look real

During the first half, District 9 were flooded with forged interview footages of “expert” discussion and videos taken from MNU’s database

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7gWnFUuHfs&feature=fvwrel

Fake news segments with headlines and commentaries was also a common trait

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HicHPRZs6GI

Equally common were direct and even physical interactions between Wickus and the camera

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkxWyY7f9Pk&feature=related

These scenes clearly owed much from the style of documentaries and news reports, which are generally perceived as objective records of reality (Hoffmann 1998, 159).  As such, they worked to enhance the sense of reality and immediacy present in the film, erasing any trace of it being scripted and well-rehearsed.

Only ten minutes into the film, viewers were already presented with insect-like, anthropomorphic aliens.  Furthermore, these aliens are shown mostly in explicit, frontal, full-bodied shots.  The aliens were portrayed in fine details, and their physical appearance and movements also bore indexical characteristic with their human counterparts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtJVd28JJxE

The revolution brought about by CGI technologies is its capability to allow filmmakers near-total control over the light, texture and movement of virtual images, granting them a convincingly authentic status (Prince 1996, 34).  As a result of technological innovation, the aliens were able to pass as a natural and uncontested part of the film despite being quite fantastical creatures.  They were not real but rather perceptually realistic, acquiring significant degrees of photographic realism while remaining imaginary correspondences (Prince 1996, 34).

The “realness” of these aliens brought a heightened sense of realism to the film.  Yet it was a strange kind of realism.  Viewers were aware that they were only watching a movie, not a documentary, that the characters are fictional, that events were not real and neither were the aliens.  They were aware of the fact that, just like the documentaries whose style the film was imitating, impressions of reality could actually be heavily mediated (Pierson 2002, 103), and in this case entirely fictitious.