Computing Technologies and Science Fiction Cinema

Computing Technologies and Science Fiction Cinema

Rocío Carrasco-Carrasco (University of Huelva, Spain)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch292

Abstract

The present paper privileges the body as being key to understanding our intricate relationship with the latest advances in computing and robotics in contemporary societies. In doing so, it critically entrenches with a specific movement called “new materialism”, whereby matter is not perceived as fixed or passive but rather as a dynamic and shifting process. Specifically, the author stresses the importance of approaching popular representations of the so-called “body in transit”, as this shifting idea of corporeality reflects contemporary anxieties and interests fueled by the relationship between physical bodies, computing technologies and gender representation. For this purpose, this work will focus on the notion of the fluid body or “body in transit” as represented in US popular Sci-Fi cinema to contend that this posthuman figuration is still informed by gendered practices and dominant structures of power, despite its hybrid nature.
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Introduction

The intersections of the human body with the latest computing technologies have opened up numerous debates on what it means to be human in our technologically mediated societies. Classical dichotomies body/mind, human/machine, natural/artificial seem to be dissolving in contemporary Western societies, and the limits of the “organic” body become difficult to establish. The result is a new ontology of the body. Practices such as cloning, reproductive technologies, robotics and implants, among others, have become familiar facets of our global societies that place the human body in an assemblage with technology. Moreover, the world is dominated by technological images that have become part of our daily life and that have created new spaces for representation (and eventually for living), such as the virtual world or cyberspace.

The present paper privileges the body as being key to understanding our intricate relationship with the latest advances in computing and robotics in contemporary societies. In doing so, it critically entrenches with a specific movement called “new materialism”, whereby matter is not perceived as fixed or passive but rather as a dynamic and shifting process. Specifically, I will stress the importance of approaching popular representations of the so-called “body in transit”, as this shifting idea of corporeality reflects contemporary anxieties and interests fueled by the relationship between physical bodies, computing technologies and gender representation. For this purpose, this work will focus on the notion of the fluid body or “body in transit” as represented in US popular Sci-Fi cinema to contend that this posthuman figuration is still informed by gendered practices and dominant structures of power, despite its hybrid nature.

Computing and media technologies are everywhere and extend to the human body, affecting the way gender has been traditionally understood. As some feminist research has highlighted, technology is affected by gender relations. Technology in general has been traditionally considered as a sign of men’s power and masculinity defined in terms of technological capabilities. Nevertheless, current discourses have provided new definitions of technology, of gender identity and of what being human means. This inevitably challenges traditional power associations between men and technology. As Barbara Becker argues, the “difference between natural and artificial, real and virtual, material and immaterial phenomena is not an ontological one, but changes according to technological improvements and methods of communication” (Becker, 2000, p. 361). In the same way, definitions of gender also change with time, affected by technological developments.

Cybernetics, as a set of media technologies, offers grounds from where to analyze gender in contemporary contexts. Cyberspace has offered numerous possibilities for the redefinition of the human body outside traditional boundaries, suggesting a liberation of socio-cultural constraints. This is precisely the concern of many feminist theories that aim at deconstructing the human subject from binary polarization, implying the dissolution of sexualized identities in cyberspace. Specifically, the discipline called “cyberfeminism” sees cyberspace as a gender-neutral site that enables women to communicate and act outside the constraints of male-dominated physical realms. Sadie Plant and many other cyberfeminists offer optimistic—sometimes utopian—views of the relationship between women and technology in the virtual age. In her essay “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations,” Plant argues that virtual worlds “undermine both the world-view and the material reality of two thousands years of patriarchal control” (Plant, 2000, p. 265).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Reality Film: A visual text that shows, and normally relies on, cyberspace in the form of computer games, the Internet, digital databases and the like. It allows for a visualization of the complex relationship between humanity and information technologies. Examples may include The Matrix, eXistenZ, Avatar , or Tron: Legacy.

Virtual Body: An inorganic entity with human shape made of information and placed in cyberspace.

Gender Identity: A person’s sense of oneself as male, female, both or neither, resulting from culture and other external and/or internal factors.

Posthuman Body: A contested notion that stands as an icon of the fluidity, hybridity and complexity of corporealities in contemporary technologically-driven societies.

Cinematic Cyborg: An image provided by films (mainly science fiction) in which flesh and machine combine, representing the relationship between material bodies and media technologies.

Material Feminism: A discipline that considers the physical body as fundamental for the articulation of gender and for the analysis of contemporary human-media interactions. Key authors are Katherine Hayles or Rossi Braidotti.

Cyberfeminism: Discipline within feminism that sees cyberspace and virtual reality as neutral realms in terms of gender. This school of thought visions a society beyond gendered bodies where women can communicate and act outside the restrictions imposed by patriarchal societies.

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