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Dollhouse April 28, 2009

Posted by saraholsen in cyborgs, gender, technology, television.
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After briefly bringing up Dollhouse, I thought it would be interesting to do this post about it. I have, as requested, watched all of the episodes of Dollhouse throughout the semester and I found the show to be both interesting and entertaining.

There is little need to say why it is interesting. The acting is fairly good, the plot is easy to follow and always intense, and the storyline is always different yet somehow relates to one another.

The interesting factor is, for me, a lot harder to scope out. I had never thought of the technological advances that are presented in the story. Though some times it seems highly realistic (and others not) it not really the reason why Im interested in the show. Immore interested in the show because it presents such strong sexual roles and how they affect our society. The male and female characters are all very controlled by their sexuality, whether they are one of the dolls or not. The woman who runs the Dollhouse even allows her sexuality to be played out through the dolls. But something I find more interesting the women characters. When they are dolls, they are submissive and quiet and obedient. However, especially in echoes character, she is rarely placed into a role that she is those things. In fact, in almost all her programing she takes on characteristics of strenghtligence, and power…all characteristics that we designate as male. And it is the male that seems to program her, and deprogram her for that matter. It is the switch that we have recently been discussing that controls the woman cyborg and her sexuality (characteristics).

Personal Manifesto March 25, 2009

Posted by jr4024 in culture, gender, race, structure.
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Josephina Ragon


FSCT 301



I was the first girl born into a white, middle class, Italian, Catholic family of five children in a suburban area. My parents grew up in Brooklyn but chose to move to Long Island to raise their children in a better environment then they had grown up with. I was born female and was assumed to become a well brought-up woman. I was born white and was assumed to marry within my race and produce more of this race. I was born into the middle class and was assumed to achieve a higher status and the ability to support myself. I was born Italian and was assumed to treat my father with the upmost respect, take full responsibility as the oldest, and always put my family first. I was born Catholic and was assumed to be a heterosexual, complete all my sacraments, get married, and bear children.

Since being a student at William Smith College, I have taken certain courses that have changed my life in ways that I have not even fully explained to my parents. I have developed endless amounts of reason, through education, for why I do not consider myself Catholic anymore. This distance created away from my religion also allowed me to become a passionate feminist which plays an important role in how I live my life. As a result of this awareness: one of my majors is Women Studies, I am a very active member of Women’s Collective, NARAL pro-choice, and PRIDE alliance here on campus. With Women Studies as my major, I dream to work at an organization whose goal is to empower women in one way or another. Through the Women’s Collective, I have gained the courage and motivation to march around campus during Take Back the Night and I am currently co-directing the Vagina Monologues. In the pro-choice club, the majority of what we do involves sex education as well as giving out contraception to help create a more safe experience for college students. Last but not least, in PRIDE alliance, these members are very close friends of mine and I hold the Publicity/PR chair for events such as films and days that celebrate homosexual liberation.

Sweeet Metaphor March 3, 2009

Posted by jr4024 in cyborgs, gender, technology.
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            Science fiction is not a genre that I have ever really shown any interest in, but the readings that we have in Gendered Cyborg gives science fiction an interesting twist on my part because of the connected relationship with gender. In this week’s reading especially, the concept of technoscience/gender interrelationships truly altered my views on science fiction as a genre in television or any other type of medium. I have always been turned off by the fallacy of series and films such as Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, and the Matrix. Although I am a lover of certain cartoons, there is just something about the whole monster/human that I never thought/cared much about.

            When I think about the cyborg as a metaphor to transcend boundaries, in the perspective of social justice issues, it forces me to have much more respect for the cyborg itself then I normally would. Donna Haraway mentions that “science fiction interpenetrates boundaries…with an exploration of possible worlds…” I found this to be stimulating in the sense that a cyborg isn’t simply this fictional creature that provides entertainment, but a creation that allows possibility for change in how we categorize and structure society. The genre of science fiction questions ideals in society and seems to almost be a representative of a kind of world with no differences in race, gender, and sexuality. This notion of binaries and pushing binaries challenges the way in which society is structured and breaks down what was thought to be permanently and scientifically established.

The model of the cyborg, in terms of questioning gender, brings up an interesting subject of the maternal-feminine that was talked about in the reading. Questions that came to mind were as follows. Is it acceptable to produce an offspring without the recognition of a pregnancy? On the other hand, could it be an idea that aids women break away from females as reproducing machines? Or even, is taking away maternal significance at all productive?

The Reprogrammable Girl: Dollhouse, Gunslinger Girl, and Battlestar Galactica February 16, 2009

Posted by slickpig in anime, gender, television.
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I know there are a few Whedonphiles out there in the class, so maybe some of you have heard about his new show Dollhouse. The first episode aired on Friday night, but if you want to see it and have no moral scruples about illegal viewing, you can find the first episode, entitled Ghost, here.

Echo getting her mindwiped

Echo getting her mind wiped

Without spoiling anything- Dollhouse is about a group of people known as Actives or Dolls, who have had their minds, memories, and personalities wiped and can be reprogrammed with new memories or skills for various assignments. These new personalities are not fabricated out of thin air, but are actually amalgamations of various people’s personalities. Each Doll is monitored by a Handler and in between their Tasks, lives in the “Dollhouse” in a brainwashed state. The show follows one particular Doll named Echo, and descriptions of the show have implicated that she will become more self aware as the season progresses.

Gunslinger Girl This show reminded me a lot of the anime/manga Gunslinger Girl, where young girls who have been critically injured are upgraded and brainwashed to work for the Italian Government as secret ass kicking agents. Each girl also has a Handler, always an older male agent, who oversees her training. He is allowed to use any methods that he sees fit, and all the girls are brainwashed to give them unquestioning loyalty. I have only read the first couple issues of the manga, so I’m not entirely sure how the series develops/deals with the issue of cyborg self awareness.

What really struck me in these two examples is the idea of the Reprogrammable Girl. Although there are male “Dolls”, the show’s main character, Echo, is female. In each example, new desires and possibilities are being mapped onto a female body. I would argue that this is not just a sexual  fantasy, but something more. Yes, Echo is hot, but that doesn’t account for the fantasy of endless capabilities, of being able to manipulate/upgrade the human body and mind to do anything you want it to- cyborg possibilities. What is it about the female body, or perhaps rather the idea of femininity, that animates this fantasy? (And with Gunslinger Girl, we could also ask this question, not only about the operatives gender, but with their youth as well.) Perhaps it has something to do with the instability of Gender as a social category and ideas about performativity and control. These agents are given powers and abilities which change and challenge the idea of what a woman is, become more then traditional gender roles would ascribe to them. But they also are forced to perform their gender more fully, through their sexiness, their clothes, and additionally through constant brainwashing and reprogramming. Yet this constant brainwashing and reprogramming does not always work, as I think we will see in Dollhouse with Echo becoming self aware.

Sharon "Boomer" Valerii and Caprica Six

Sharon "Boomer" Valerii and Caprica Six

This idea of female cyborgs stepping out and their ability to exceed their programming and dodge brainwashing can be seen in Battlestar Galactica with the Cylon characters Caprica Six, and Sharon “Boomer” Valerii. I am woefully behind in my BSG viewing, so if my comparison is already outdated I apologize. In Season 2, each of them is reborn with all of these attachments to humanity. Because they have become individuals in a collective society, they are going to be “boxed” or have their personities laid to rest so that they can never be reborn, but last I watched they were attempting to persuade the cylons to negotiate for peace with the last of the humans. Out of all of the cylon models that we are introduced to, it is only these two characters that rebel, these two female characters.

Thoughts anyone? I know that was a bit of a ramble…

Blake and the Active Cyborg February 3, 2009

Posted by animatingthecyborg in class, cyborgs, gender, monstrosity, poetry, race.
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Since the next two weeks of class are broken up with travel and printmaking workshops, I just wanted to take a moment to highlight the choreography of the course and how the lecture on Blake today figures into the foundation for the rest of the semester.

Two of the key questions guiding the course, which can be found on the syllabus, are:

  1. What counts as “authentic” human experience and what does it mean to be human?
  2. How is the cyborg narrative been shaped through visual culture?

Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience call into question dominant cultural values (the hegemony of society) by creating fissures in the strict binaries by which society is organized and structured. So, when we consider what counts as authentic human experience, notions of object, personhood and citizenship are destabilized in the matrix that makes up dominant culture in 18th century Britain.

Personhood and citizenship are particularly important here as the Songs act as a prophecy or beacon where the Other has no proper place in society—and while most of you are familiar with the concept of the Other, for those of you who are not familiar with this idea: the Other is a person or group of people who are marginalized or ostracized by the dominant culture. The Other, or “boundary being” (as the Other typically survives on the fringes of society) is usually alienated along gender, race and/or class lines.

Blake shines a light on the “authenticity” or validity of the dominant culture’s binaries by introducing characters such as the Lamb, who, in the Songs of Innocence, appears to be “buying into” the organization of culture and the marginalizing of people as Other. The lamb is a familiar figure to readers (both today and in the 18th/19th century), because of both its Biblical and agricultural uses. However, by Songs of Experience, the Lamb is transformed into the Tyger (although familiar to us today, it was a creature most people in England had never seen), and the Tyger is coded as a strange and monstrous figure.

By taking something familiar and non-threatening as the Lamb and transforming it into the Tyger, Blake demonstrates that the Other is a part of us: every Lamb has the possibility of breaking from the herd, or flock, and expressing its independence as a person and thinker, thereby morphing into a Tyger—sameness (as can be seen in the images of the flock of sheep—sameness can also be read as “Innocence”), then, is abandoned for individuality (or awareness—or “Experience”), a truly scary concept in the wake of the French Revolution and the civil unrest in Britain at the time.

Exploring the binaries that govern the Songs, as well as the fissures that are created within its matrix, we can gain a better sense of how the subject position of the Other (or “boundary being”) is a monstrous concept—which aligns it not only with other monsters, but highlights the theoretical underpinnings that shape current cultural narratives of the cyborg today.

Although we cannot replicate the same relief etching process invented by Blake (which I explained earlier in class), our first project is in the spirit of William Blake’s work. You can even reduce the act of physically engraving the linoleum blocks down to the kinds of binaries that govern different embodiments of cyborgs today: encoded/decoded, full/empty, subject/object, strange/familiar.

In a similar way the cyborg is a hybrid creature (cybernetic, yet organic; constructed and programmed, yet aware and desiring an identity), this class, too, is a hybrid. We’re combining critical theory and creative expression, examining different incarnations of the cyborg in visual culture along the way. It’s a complicated dance (it’s a 300 level course, after all). Right now, we’re merely learning the steps so we can move on to more complicated movements.

So hopefully this helps highlight the diagram of the dance steps.

1984 January 28, 2009

Posted by slickpig in gender, television.
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This is a clip that has been circulating around the net recently. It’s Apple’s superbowl commercial for the first Macintosh, which depicts a dystopic future, like 1984. A large computer screen speaks to a crowd of men, who are all dressed in the same grey uniforms (It calls to mind the workers of Metropolis). The screen is then destroyed by a woman wearing bright clothing, wielding a sledgehammer. Can this commercial be any more perfect to analyze? Gender! Technology! But don’t take my word for it.  Have a look for yourself.  

I think the commercial is playing off the fear people have about technology, that it erases human diversity, that it is conformative and controlling. In a world ruled by technology everything will be grey, everything will be the same. This is also represented through gender. The male figure on the screen is pitted against the female figure with the sledgehammer. The male figure is an older gentleman, and appears not in the flesh but on a large screen. This aligns him with ideas about dominance and control. His age vis a vis the youth of the woman is meant to evoke the idea that this is an old kind of technology or an older idea about technology, outdated and about to be overthrown. The choice to have a woman be the destroyer of this dominating technology is extremely interesting. It is in line with many other representations of women and technology, I’m thinking specifically here about Metropolis and the Robot Maria, in that when technology is mixed with women and femininity, it is generally a more destructive force, much more wild and uncontrollable. The fact that the woman uses a sledgehammer, a fairly primitive tool in what seems to be a fairly hi-tech society, again has much to do with humanizing her. Her choice of tool is old, familiar, yet she utilizes it in a creative way to take down her foe. Apple is trying in this commercial to humanize technology, to explain that their computers don’t supersede the humanity in all of us, but rather aid us in furthering and extending ourselves. It is about individualization and creativity, which Apple represents through the image of the female in this commercial.