American Cinema, Technology and Cyborg Embodiment

Chapter 2 The Military, Nuclear Weapons and Technology

Iron Man 2 is about Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a businessman who in the previous film made a device that kept him alive when he was kidnapped. Furthermore, he made a metal superhero suit to help him escape, whenever Tony wears the suit people call him Iron Man. In this film, he refuses to sell it to the military and tries to reassure them that there is no threat from other countries because of this technology. However, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) makes another version of the suit with the same kind of technology and battles with Tony. Ivan is defeated and sent to prison where he breaks free. The military finds him and pays him to make the suits. Nevertheless, at the presentation of the suits, Ivan makes one suit but double crosses the military and turns the other suites into drones to battle with Tony. Luckily, Iron Man and his friend Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (Don Cheadle) defeat him and the drones he created. Throughout the film, it is also emphasised that the device that is keeping Tony alive is not sustainable as a result of increased blood toxicity. He does not tell his love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) about his imminent death so she does not worry. However, a couple of Avengers find out and Tony creates a new more sustainable device to keep him alive.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is about The terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a cyborg that has been sent back in time to save Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John Connor (Edward Furlong), who will save the human race in the future. This is due to a new program sky net; an artificial intelligence which, when live, will start a nuclear holocaust known as Judgement day. Then it will continue to create machines to exterminate the remainder of humanity. Another cyborg T-1000 (Robert Patrick) who can heal itself from everything, has also been sent back in time to kill John. After the Terminator saves John from being killed by the T-1000, they go to break Sarah out of a mental institute. They then meet with the rest of the family and discover that they have to kill Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) because he will be the founder of Sky Net in the future. However, he helps them destroy all his work and then blows himself up with it. Eventually, after many battles and car chases, they kill the T-1000 as he falls into a furnace. The Terminator explains to John that he has to die as well to destroy the technology of the future so that the human race survives.

Firstly, medicine and science have made huge advances in technology as people are now living longer. As Steve Dixon states “the metal body simultaneously imitates and reaches beyond the natural world, signifying a new and dominant survival-of-the-fittest figure, using (or abusing) the laws of natural evolution to complete the Darwinian project.” (Dixon, 2007, p 295) Therefore, these new technological discoveries could arguably just be evolution continuing. The question is, should we let it? “according to the chief justice’s opinions: the artificial heart is fundamentally inhuman and inhumane, because informed consent can never be obtained and because allocations will lead to the many undesirable side effects in society…” (Gray, 1995, p 176) This explains that when someone is told they could die if they do not have an operation they do not think rationally and would do anything to stay alive. However, Tony Stark keeps himself alive by creating a new element researched and left by his father. This is conveyed when Ivan dies; all the drones are set to detonate but Iron Man does not flee to save himself but thinks only of his love interest Pepper Potts. This independence conveys his determination of staying alive not for the fear of his own death but for the fear of other people’s deaths.

Also, it could be argued that cyborgs are an asset to society as “anyone with an artificial organ, limb or supplement (like a pacemaker) anyone programmed to resist disease (immunised) or drugged to think/behave/feel better (psychopharmacology) is technically a cyborg.” (Gray, 1995, p2). Tony has a pacemaker-like device which keeps him alive and he even creates a better one in the film which conveys that technology is always updating. Most people in the western world are immunised against diseases such as Measles, Mumps and Rubella etc, thus anyone that has had a vaccine is essentially a cyborg. Anyone who has taken medicine has been a cyborg and anyone that even wears glasses is a cyborg. So why do so many films like Iron Man portray bad happenings when cyborgs or robots come on screen? “The cyborg, solicit the uncanniness associated with body mutation and fragmentation. As Freud has explained ‘the ‘uncanny’ is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something known to us once very familiar…’ (Zylinska, 2002, p 39) For example, a doll, clown or Iron Man’s face. It has close resemblance to a human face but not complete resemblance, just like current cyborgs that have been made recently. “There is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animation our basic understanding of the process of life is that the dead do not return to the living’ - (Zylinska, 2002, p 39) Thus, Freud explains that it is our basic instinct that we should not trust artificial intelligence but if it’s making our lives easier and longer, why should we not?

It is possibly due to the other forms of technology shortening life such as contraception which is becoming more accessible due to medical advancements. Technically women are cyborgs if they are using contraception, so where does one draw the line? Similar to the countless people and children that died in Iron Man 2 when all of the drones exploded at the end of the film. Many children are not given the chance to live because of the pill or die from abortion. As science and technology ‘attempts to control the reproductive process’ (Gray, 1995, p 141) we may be going too far with scientific discovery. Science is already deciding who lives and who dies with life support machines. However, an argument of morals and ethics has to take place here as well as the debate of when life starts. What is the better of the two evils? If a child is born into a poorer family, it could turn to crime and this could create a much bigger problem. In addition, the machines that make condoms are preventing many people from contracting aids. Therefore, it could be debated that it is good for people to have the choice.

Plus, technology in Iron Man 2 helps Tony Stark keep his privacy as he has installed a security system where only people that know the code can enter the room where his suites are. Norbert Sparrow explains how privacy is becoming, even more, private as his friend has ‘implants to unlock doors self-implanted a RFID chip into his hand… He then installed a reader in his car, allowing him to unlock the doors with a simple wave of his hand.’ Inventions like these do wonders for the economy as long as it is not under the National Health Service like some plastic surgery is. “Is plastic surgery a human need or a luxurious expenditure?” (Zylinska, 2002, p 164) As the implant and plastic surgery are useful; the implant opens doors and cosmetic surgery makes one feel more attractive and confident but this can also be achieved with a key or makeup. Therefore, it could be argued that the science behind making the physical technology is good but when technology goes too far digitally then it is perceived to be bad.

Terminator 2 emphasises this as there is one good cyborg and one bad, the terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who saves Sarah Connor and John Connor and from the T-1000 who was sent to kill them. Not only can there be some good technology and some bad technology but some technology can have good and bad points. For example CCTV is great because it helps police catch criminals more quickly or prevents crimes, therefore, keeping people safe. However, there has been a contemporary discussion of whether or not the government should be allowed to look on people’s internet history for the same reason but people also want their privacy. The discussion continues as Amazon was banned from using drones to deliver parcels to their customers. As people are worried that the drones will spy on them in their back gardens or through their bed room windows. The use of “widespread use of sophisticated surveillance” (Gray, 1995, p 264 ) is not fair on the majority who are innocent, just so the police can catch a few criminals. This is similar to The Terminator, because there are many points of view shots of the terminator that signify it is all being recorded. This is due to the neon red tint and words on the screen whenever the audience views the film through his perspective.

Additionally, many films depict robots and cyborgs as killing machines like guns.“…Big budget Hollywood science fiction films such as Terminator and Robocop series or the British cult classic Hardware have presented different military models of the cyborg as a lethal, enhanced imagining system” (Gray, 1995, p 264) This is probably due to the idea that such artificial intelligence would be acceptable as long as it is in the correct hands. Imagine if a psychopath obtained this kind of technology or worse the government. A technology whereby “military cyborgs” (Gray, 1995, p116) are set a target on an individual and they have to kill anyone that tries to stop them killing said, individual. Some people argue that nuclear weapons or cyborgs would bring security to a country whereas others believe there is no need for them. As shown in the film, John has to repeatedly demand the Terminator not to kill anyone but he takes this literally and only injures people instead.

Moreover, the success of time travel in Terminator 2 is a metaphor for the advantages of technology. As Christopher Ray explains “The conceptual apparatus of the General Theory of Relativity (GTR) allows us to articulate two main senses in which ‘time travel’ might be said to take place” (1991, p153) one of them is “by moving backwards in time between two points, allowing the points to be connected by ‘causal’ signals travelling at speeds less than or equal to that of light;” (1991, p153) Therefore, it could actually be possible which means it could do a large amount of good in the world. For example, saving billions of lives like in the film but it does convey a few contradictions. E.g. if the terminator goes back in time to stop machines being made by Sky Net how would he have been made? Furthermore, if the terminator was to go back in time but accidentally did something that made the future worse, would it be worth the risk? Maybe.

After all, going online has its own risks of computer hacking and fraud. This is conveyed in both The Matrix and Terminator 2. For example, when John hacks into the cash machine to steal money. As Andrew Harnik stated “In February… cyber-crooks stole $81 million directly from the central bank of Bangladesh” (2017, online) undercover. Some cyber criminals are not so discrete as they call and E-mail vulnerable people to ask them for money. Some people are even based on dating websites and get to know the person they steal from by telling them that they are in some debt and abuse their kindness. Furthermore, companies can keep people’s details and documents. What is stopping them charging people for their information in the future? This could create a massive cyber war which is an issue when everything including banking is transferring from paper to online.

On another topic, this film presents is the idea that the natural is better than the mechanical “It is this culture’s simulated and increasingly digitalized photographic and cinematic space(s) which also sets the stage for the death and transformation of the human body.” (Gray, 1995, p 264) Scientists are making this evolution happen, just like when people domesticated wolves into dogs and lions into cats we are turning humans into cyborgs and when we are cyborgs we will probably turn into robots. It will happen slowly and painfully as soon all jobs will be taken over by machines for example online shopping will become the norm which will be delivered by ’slow moving pavement droits’ (McGoogan, 2016, online) This will have a devastating effect on the economy as there will not be enough jobs for the people. As Chris Davies states “It’s robot wars, but not quite like The Terminator movies warned it would be. iRobot has launched a salvo of litigation against a whole host of rivals, alleging that collectively they infringe on a total of six patents the company holds around robotic vacuum cleaner technology.” (2017 online) Even though products like these will improve productivity and the economy, children will not have the motivation to learn due to the lack of occupation which will have a detrimental effect on the human intelligence. Nevertheless, films are not taking these issues seriously (Dixon, 2007, p 14) “although a central argument runs through both that performative depiction of the robot and cyborg are commonly characterised by a camp aesthetic sensibility.” As both cyborgs are extremely camp especially the terminator who uses catch phrases such as “I’ll be back” and “ Hasta la vista, baby” while wearing tight black leather.

The main question acquired from this chapter is; should we ignore our gut feeling when it comes to cyborgs? “The robot and cyborg representations belie deep-seated fears and fascinations associated with mechanical embodiments, and that these are explored by artists in relation to two distinct themes: the humanization of machines and the dehumanisation (or “mechanisation”) of humans.” (Dixon, 2007, p. 14) This could be as a result of many cyborg heroes who end up destroying the city while trying to save it, damaging the economy and killing innocent civilians. However, if the technology were to improve would it then be fair to let evolution take its course. “The terminator is a child-weapon he does not succeed in the first one but the more technology develops the more likely it will work.” (Gray, 1995, p xv) Therefore, maybe because technology can be unreliable for example when plastic surgery goes wrong or simply when wifi goes down, people feel like they cannot trust it. Lastly, technology can simultaneously kill with guns and contraception and save with shields, medicine and weapons as well as make people feel secure but invaded with cameras. Therefore, it is probably best to moderate the usage, that way the choice to be natural or mechanical is there. Unlike Wall-E where using technology has become the norm and the only way they can survive which will be explained in Chapter Three.

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