Presentation on theme: "Biopolitics of Popular Culture – December 4, 2009."— Presentation transcript:
Biopolitics of Popular Culture – December 4, 2009
First Thoughts Anne Rice’s vampires seemed much more attractive than previous versions Was there a trend of increasingly positive images of “intelligent Other” in popular culture? Did SF fandom have different biopolitical attitudes than the general public?
The Biopolitics of Pop Culture Myths and stories reflect our hopes and anxieties The tropes of fantastic fiction shape our consideration of emerging technologies Frankenstein, Brave New World, Gattaca, Terminator Fantastic fiction depicts social and philosophical issues in abstracted form
Tropes The racial Other: Alien races as implacable threat vs. opportunity for trans-racial solidarity Our relationship to technology: Robots as Terminators vs. helpers and friends Anxieties about identity: Cloning, transporters, memory modification
If Trends, Wither? The audience The evolving demographics of fantasy, SF, horror fans The expanding demographics of fantastic fiction in television, film and games Socio-political trends Anxieties about immigrants, minorities, foreign threats Anxieties about technology and personal identity The expansion of liberal democratic citizenship
Fantastic Fan Demographics Traditionally distinct demographics for fantasy (young white women) and SF (young white men) …not the case any more Fantastic film and television has a much broader audience than fantastic literature Fantastic film and television would better reflect mass taste and fantastic literature more reflects subcultural taste.
SF Consumers are Different SF consumers were more opposed to animal experimentation especially for “higher” mammals Hughes, James. Aliens, Technology and Freedom: Science Fiction Consumption and Socio-Ethical Attitudes Futures Research Quarterly, Winter, 1995, 11(4): 39-58.
Political-Economy Cycle Kiser and Drass (1983): # of utopian novels goes up with depressions and “hegemonic decline” in UK & US, 1883- 1975. Io9 analysis of Dr. Who’s revolutionary aspirations:
US Imperialism & Prime Directive Annalee Newitz’ study
Immigrants, Racism, Foreigners If negative Other images reflect xenophobia we would expect them in more xenophobic groups and times Since SF fans are more liberal, more positive depictions in lit than film and TV
Technology & Identity Should be steadily increasing Evil robots Confused Identity “Hidden among us” Engineered memory
Expansion of Citizenship Liberal democracies define citizenship based on psychological capacities, not physical characteristics This expands citizenship to non-human persons Withdraws citizenship from embryos and the brain- dead The Measure of Man
Data Points Top ten best-selling novels per year,1895-2008 Top thirty grossing films per year,1947-2008 Top ten Nielsen-rated television shows per year, 1950-2008
Five Categories of Other Aliens Machine minds Animals modified for intelligence Post-humans Other intelligent species from Earth
Coding +2 – The Creature(s) are Very Good +1 – The Creature(s) are Generally Good, But Sometimes Not 0 – The Creature(s) are Neither Good nor Bad, or as Good as they are Bad -1 – The Creature(s) are Generally Bad, and Humans and the Creature(s) are in Conflict -2 – The Creature(s) are Very Bad, and Intrinsically Hostile to Humans
+2 Very Good The creature(s) are friendly, cute, lovable, humane, embraced as family members, and/or persecuted unjustly by humans, and/or heroic servants or saviors of humanity, and/or they are wiser, happier, more compassionate, more ethically advanced than humanity.
+1 Good The creature(s) are sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile to humanity, but it is possible for humans and the creatures to peacably coexist
0 - Null There are as many hostile creature(s) as there are friendly ones (often the case in fantasy) The creature(s) are generally a threat, but that is balanced by some extraordinarily good, sympathetic members The intent of the creature(s) is mysterious, and not obviously good or bad
-1 Bad The creature(s) are a competitor to humans, but not evil, just trying to survive The creature(s) have been created by humanity, so they are dangerous, but its really humans’ fault
-2 Very Bad The creatures have very evil intentions toward humanity and must be destroyed
Surveys of Students Hundreds of students recruited to code images on scale
Trends by Decade Not much trend on film But more negative on TV and in novels
Trends by Type Most depictions have actually become more negative
Insurmountable Problems Boundary definitions (supernatural creatures, talking cartoon animals) Minor characters versus major characters (Gremlins) Plot twists (silvers in Sarah Connor Chronicles)
More Problems Cult favorites (Lord of the Rings, Evil Dead) Elite vs. mass influence (Lovecraft) Cumulative down list volume (monster movies)
IEET Bioculture Program But still, let’s talk about the issues ieet-images mailing list Popular culture criticism Ben Scarlato’s series on True Blood and Battlestar Galactica Kristi Scott’s essays on Jon & Kate plus 8 Kyle Munkittrick on Glee, Venture Brothers, District 9 Images Database – interactive tagging and discussion of biopolitics of images
What Kind of Images Do We Want? Orginal vision of cyberpunk: to break with utopian and dystopian visions, and depict a gritty future Beyond the demonized or valorized Other to the complex and gritty Other For culture creators and audiences to be as sensitive to biopolitical tropes as they are now to racist images