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Biopolitics of Popular Culture – December 4, 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Biopolitics of Popular Culture – December 4, 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Biopolitics of Popular Culture – December 4, 2009

2 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?

3 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

4 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

5 Positive vs. Negative Images

6 Historical Trends 

7 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

8 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.

9 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.

10 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:

11 US Imperialism & Prime Directive  Annalee Newitz’ study

12 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

13 Technology & Identity  Should be steadily increasing  Evil robots  Confused Identity “Hidden among us” Engineered memory

14 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

15 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

16 Five Categories of Other  Aliens  Machine minds  Animals modified for intelligence  Post-humans  Other intelligent species from Earth

17 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

18 +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.

19 +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

20 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

21 -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

22 -2 Very Bad  The creatures have very evil intentions toward humanity and must be destroyed

23 Surveys of Students  Hundreds of students recruited to code images on scale

24 Trends by Decade  Not much trend on film  But more negative on TV and in novels

25 Trends by Type  Most depictions have actually become more negative

26 Recent Depictions

27 Aliens in the 1960s-1980s

28 Aliens in the 90s and 00s

29 Insurmountable Problems  Boundary definitions (supernatural creatures, talking cartoon animals)  Minor characters versus major characters (Gremlins)  Plot twists (silvers in Sarah Connor Chronicles)

30 More Problems  Cult favorites (Lord of the Rings, Evil Dead)  Elite vs. mass influence (Lovecraft)  Cumulative down list volume (monster movies)

31 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

32 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

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