Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Learning To Love The Cyborg: paralleling the “Cyborg Manifesto” with “Fahrenheit 451,” “I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK,” and gender identity

"Gender is a copy with no original." - Judith Butler

"Psycho?" "Not a psycho...cyborg." - I'm A Cyborg But That's OK

          She is a cyborg who refuses to succumb to the human condition. He is a fireman who yearns for human interconnectedness instead of technology. Characters within Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" and Park Chan-wook's film, "I'm A Cyborg But That's OK" prove to have conflicting attitudes towards technological advancement and inherent cyborgism. Both works serve to tell a story revolving around human interaction within various social institutions. In Montag’s world, the cyborg Mechanical Hound is something to be feared; technological means of entertainment prove to be futile and empty at best, as is the case with Seashell thimble radios and parlor screen walls. Conversely, the main character of "I'm A Cyborg But That's OK," Cha Young-goon, is encouraged by a fellow patient, Park Il-sun, to continue down the path of the cyborg no matter what the "white ones" (doctors in white lab coats) say. In an attempt to deconstruct both cyborgs and technologies in said stories, one can parallel the cyborg experience (of hybridity, of encompassing multiples) to the realm of common-day gender identity, which consists of a strict binary guidelines (male vs. female). As the bodies of the Hound and of Cha the cyborg are deconstructed, so are the notions of gender by way of Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, and Judith Halberstam. In contrasting the ideologies of both novel and film—while deconstructing the technological/institutional means of perpetuating said ideologies—one will note the archaic fallacies of the “male vs. female” socially constructed binary of today and, metaphorically of course, come to fully accept the nature of the cyborg over the dichotomous human condition.
          Fundamental ideologies exist within both "Fahrenheit 451" and "I'm A Cyborg But That's OK." By reading into Louis Althusser's concept of Ideological State Apparatuses, one comes to find the fire station and mental hospital as “distinct and specialized institutions” (Althusser). Montag, the fireman, is part of an institution which normalizes the social reality of the people. The captain, Beatty, explains to Montag that the masses wanted the banning of books and the destruction of intellectual superiority. Beatty informs Montag that once upon a time, the purpose of the firemen were to put fires out. Now, their only purpose is to start fires by burning books: "[Firemen] were given the new job, as custodians of [the people's] peace of mind" (Bradbury, 88). The fire station (and firemen, by way of extension) then becomes an Ideological State Apparatus in which the role of the fireman is changed. Beatty goes on to say that this shift in ideology "didn't come from the government down...no censorship to start with" (Bradbury, 87). A completely literal take on the concept of banning books, Bradbury chose to mirror book burning as a result of the fear and destruction of knowledge, the downfall of intellectualism, the annihilation of human interconnectedness and the lack of significant relationships.
          The mental hospital in "I'm A Cyborg But That's OK" functions in the same way Montag and Beatty's fire station does. In looking to Michel Foucault's "Discipline and Punish," it is noted that everyone in society must serve a function—this includes the mentally insane, the deviant, and the criminals. Much like in the film, Foucault reminds us that these malfunctioning members of society were forcibly housed in an asylum in order to gain purpose. Cha, the star of the film, is a young woman who believes herself to be a cyborg. Her delusions run so deep that she stops eating food in fear that the gears inside of her may stick and get clogged. She takes to talking to machines, light fixtures, and other electrical appliances including a radio that preaches on how to become a better cyborg. Park, another patient, is a young male who enjoys creating and wearing colorful masks; he was put into the hospital due to his schizophrenic, anti-social behavior. Both Cha and Park actively hold a role as "insane," which enables the "white ones" (or doctors) to study them. Director Park Chan-wook chose to juxtapose the cold reality of a mental institution with the playful decor in set design. This postmodern defamiliarization of what we know to be a "mental institution" serves as an interesting cinematic choice which furthers the main characters' agenda: to rise from suffering and eventually find peace within the padded walls of a nursery-like prison.
          As was the institution of the fire station, the technological elements created for convenience in “Fahrenheit 451” were thrown into people's lives so that their minds would “drink less and less” (Bradbury, 87). Through Montag's eyes, we see the severe emptiness of everyday life when engaged in technology and not human interaction. Mildred, Montag's wife, had become “an expert at lip-reading from ten years of apprenticeship at Seashell ear-thimbles,” in which she would not, even for a moment, engage in conversation with her husband without the “electronic ocean of sound” in her ears (Bradbury, 48). The parlor walls—referred to as the “family”—“said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud”; a metaphorical parallel to their own husband and wife relationship (Bradbury, 74). Even the earpiece which Faber gives him as a means of advancement has its downfalls. Existential decay befalls Montag and soon enough, he cannot tell if he is himself, or if he is Faber: he “would not be Montag anymore” but “Montag-plus-Faber” (Bradbury, 131).
          Unlike the “Fahrenheit 451” universe, the world Cha lives in builds itself upon technological devices which help people—at least from Cha's perspective as a cyborg. She is given shock treatment in the mental institution due to her lack of desire for eating food. In her mind, shock treatment poses as a great thing because she, as more machine than human, can easily be recharged by the process. Park even goes as far as to convince Cha that he has constructed a “rice-megantron,” a tool which converts food into electrical energy to better suit her cyborgian needs.
          There is a cyborg present within “Fahrenheit 451,” as well. The Mechanical Hound is a tool of the firemen. It is able to detect those who are enemies of the state: book readers who are risks to the prevailing ideology of happy, non-thinkers. The Hound, essentially, is a cyborg: it is an organism which is part artificial intelligence and part natural systems. It “slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live” (Bradbury, 54). While it's exterior is entirely mechanic, Montag himself argues that the Hound does not like him, does not take to him kindly—as if it were an actual dog. He experiences a strange feeling as he passes by the Hound, a feeling which Haraway would classify as the “ghost in the machine.”
"Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man's dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert."
          As the line further blurs over which is distinctly human and which is artificial, the nature of the cyborg becomes a question. Taking a look at fiction and pop culture, there exists a diverse assortment of cyborg icons. From Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker is reborn as Darth Vader, a cyborg forced to operate under mechanical limbs and artificial means of survival, least he perish. He is seen by audiences as a force worthy of fearful admiration, due to his artificial voice and mechanical suit. From Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear becomes a cyborg due to his technologically advanced “suit”—there is no distinguishing between the man and the machine. In the classic Anne McCaffery novel, The Ship Who Sang, there exists human bodies which live inside strongholds. From there, these bodies—usually underdeveloped in some way—can mentally connect to the controls of a spacecraft, successfully navigating ships through space. They were known as a “brainship.” Although vastly different, all three of these cyborg examples hold a distinct similarity: cyborgs are made (not born) in the interest of human survival and yet somehow transcend what it means to be “human” for something much more advanced and developed. The machines attached to these beings not only become extensions of themselves, but tap into the infinite number of possibilities for technological advancement.
          In transhumanistic fashion, the present and the future consists of virtual and literal technological extensions of woman and man: while watches were a mechanical extension of ourselves in the past—ie, pointing at one’s wrist to indicate the time—cell phones have taken their place as adaptations of our bodies (specifically, by way of the hand). Haraway states this re-crafting of our bodies through technologies of communication and biology creates better social relations for all people. Bradbury argues this re-craftmenship of the human body in an effort to move towards cyborgism is not, at all, a good thing: the Seashell thimble radios serve to sever the connection between Montag and Mildred, the Hound is a force of destruction, and the parlor walls are inane forms of entertainment which encourage masses to stop thinking critically.
          However, in “I'm A Cyborg But That's OK,” Cha's technological tools serve not only as a better extension of herself, but as services which will, in the end, save the day. The “rice-megatron” Park crafted ended up saving her life, and when she achieved the state of being a cyborg, she was able to kill (through tiny machine guns crafted where her fingertips should be) the “white ones.” In fact, human qualities are looked down upon by Cha. She constructs her own cyborg manifesto in which the seven sins of cyborg-kind are listed: sympathy, thankfulness, hesitation, daydreaming, being sad, restlessness, and feeling guilty are all seven aspects of the human experience. It is not only her body, then, that fuses with machinery to become a cyborg. It is her state of mind as well which looks to go beyond the typical human experience.
          The “human” experience has roots in many systematic classes of identification and domination for Haraway. Among a multitude of others (such as race and sexuality), there is the notion of binary gender identity in which there is male and there is female, and occasionally an “otherness” which does not fit into either or. By looking at both works of fiction, we can see a deconstruction and, inversely, a reconstruction of the “body” belonging to the Mechanical Hound and Cha as a cyborg. Cha specifically, as the owner of a female body, exists in the social construction of “gender” and femaleness. Gender, as a dichotomy of man vs. woman, is an ideology. If we are to move forward, Haraway argues, we must look past constricting binaries and dualisms and take into account a multiplicity of experiences. Woman-ness is not, as common sense dictates, a natural grouping; man-ness is not, as common sense argues, a natural bond. “There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women,” Haraway states in her Cyborg Manifesto. “There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (Haraway). Haraway would praise Cha's cyborgian experience because she encompasses the mechanical with the natural. A hybrid. The cyborg sees beyond traditional binaries which continue to serve positions of power while, simultaneously, excluding those outside of the realm of privilege.
          Haraway uses this theory to critique feminism in America. Feminism in the USA has a history of casually forgetting about the other matrixes of domination (race, class, sexual orientation) in lieu of uniting all women. This, the postmodernist Haraway argues, is an example of essentialistic thought regarding the supposed all-encompassing nature of women (regardless of experience or identity). The cyborg, then, complicates the traditional binaries of psychoanalysis and Frued, of nature vs. nurture, of marriage, of motherhood, and of individuality. By complicating these dualisms, it destroys the “practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, [and] animals” (Haraway). To recapitulate:
"Certain dualisms have been persistent in Western traditions...The self is the One who is not dominated, who knows that by the semice of the other, the other is the one who holds the future, who knows that by the experience of domination, which gives the lie to the autonomy of the self. To be One is to be autonomous, to be powerful, to be God; but to be One is to be an illusion, and so to be involved in a dialectic of apocalypse with the other. Yet to be other is to be multiple, without clear boundary, frayed, insubstantial. One is too few, but two are too many. High-tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways."
          Interestingly enough, Judith Butler argues that modern feminist theory has a reputation of not adhering to the traditional notions of “womanhood” being natural and all-encompassing. She claims, in fact, the opposite of Haraway: that feminism has “often been critical of naturalistic explanations of sex and sexuality” (Butler, 901). From the context of Gender Studies, Butler agrees with Haraway in that there is a definite need for the deconstruction of the body. Bodies hold meanings central to society: “phenomenological theory of constitution requires an expansion of the conventional view of acts to mean both that which constitutes meaning and that through which meaning is performed or enacted” (Butler 901). Bodies are not known as “its” but as, above all else, genders; bodies are quickly made to be either “his body or her body,” in which “the body is only known through its gendered appearance” (Butler, 903)—an appearance which is held by the norms of a genderdized society.
          Judith Halberstam goes even further to complicate the norms of binary genders. In her book on female masculinity, she considers the possibilities of gender multiplicity, specifically masculinity, which is independent from both the male and female body: “Masculinity...has little if anything to do with biological maleness” (Halberstam, 937).
          While feminism, gender studies, and queer studies has done a great deal to defamiliarize gender, Halberstam states that it is not enough. Strict attitudes towards gender and what can (or cannot) be feminine or masculine still dominate society. The recent launch of the Dockers ad campaign, “Man-Ifesto,” sparks interesting debate on what is “masculinity” and how that ties (or, like Halberstam argues, does not tie) in with bodies and maleness. The ad reads:
“Once upon a time, men wore the pants and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never had to cross the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar, and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to wear the pants.”
- Dockers' Ad Campaign
          This ad reduces the concept of masculinity down to maleness and maleness alone. In typical binary function, A is only A because it is not B; to be a man is to be masculine because it is not feminine, nor is it a woman. Both Halberstam, Butler, and Haraway acknowledge the dangers present in restricting gender identity down to the body. Masculinity in today’s society means power, legitimacy, and privilege; and if masculinity is only limited to a certain type of body, a body of the right sex, race, class, and sexual orientation, what does that mean for the other “bodies” which are restricted from this power? By tying a specific type of masculinity with a specific male body—ie, one which wears the [khaki] pants, one which gets dirty—the Dockers ad embraces a “power” which excludes those outside of the traditional, pant-wearing standards of masculinity.
          Halberstam reminds us that, much like the above Dockers ad, gender still exists as a dichotomy: male and female. To suggest otherwise, to embrace any other “ambiguous” gender eventually is boiled down to “deviance, thirdness, or a blurred version of either” (Halberstam, 948). In popular culture, one can look to icons like Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga—two performers who have been systematically “otherized” by the media, fans, and spectators. For Halberstam, the future holds the potential for the “coming out” of gender (Halberstam, 953). Although a strange concept to grasp due to prevalent perceptions of gender as a natural binary, this is only one of many possibilities which comes with alternative and multiple gender identities.
          This gender domination, consisting of non-intersecting identities—both male and female—is something which the Cyborg Manifesto attempt to complicate. Haraway strives for identities which are conscious of coalition and not nature. She parallels the term “cyborg” to “women of color” as an example. The term “women of color” arose out of a very real need to unite systematically oppressed women from the threat of patriarchal domination. Unlike “women,” “women of color” consciously focuses on the matrix of domination when it comes to feminism and social activism. Like “cyborg,” “women of color” does not affirm natural identification but exists because of a conscious, political kinship.
          Ideology can only go forward. The future according to the Cyborg Manifesto holds a reality in which the death of dichotomy within human experience gives rise to the birth of the cyborg. “Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness” for Haraway, in which a tentatively collective “we” must deconstruct preconceived notions of binaries. One needs, to borrow from Existentialist thought, to experience the consciousness of non-existence so that experiences within life hold more meaning.
          This metaphor of freeing oneself through construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction can be seen in both “I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK” and “Fahrenheit 451.” In the film, Cha faces near-extinction when she refuses to eat human food. Her body becomes literally torn, damaged, and on the eve of death when finally, the “rice-megatron” is implanted inside her. She is, in a sense, reborn as a better functioning cyborg with even more robotic extensions of herself. Cha sates, “I feel like I’ve been born again” during a session with one of the “white ones” in which, at the end of the scene, her toes proceed to light up in similarity to a charging cell phone or battery pack.
          This notion of rebirth through death can be found within the symbolic nature of the phoenix, present in “Fahrenheit 451.” Montag watches a woman burn to death in an act of martyrdom, an act which gives rise to a new paradigm inside of him which consists of learning, reading, knowing. Much like the phoenix which rests upon Beatty’s fireman hat, a new (and very illegal) ideology rises within Montag after the ashes of the past settles. When Montag meets Granger and the rest of the intellectual outcasts, the birth of new meaning for fire comes with the destruction of his old life: the fire the outcasts stood around was strange because “it was not burning, it was warming” (Bradbury, 171), a concept Montag is unfamiliar with.
          The stories of Montag and Cha both hold allegorical possibilities, possibilities which have been deconstructed and reconstructed in this attempt at understanding technology as yet another means of promoting ideology. While the somber tone in which Bradbury writes about mechanical instruments is very different from Haraway’s optimistic future of technology and humanity, both would agree that language—text, books, writing—is indubitably necessary. Bradbury’s dystopian future paints a picture in which non-learners, non-knowers, and non-thinkers engage in void, empty means with machinery to substitute human interaction. The lack of reading echoes the burning world of intellectual decay and deficient forms of empathy. For Haraway, cyborg politics consists of “the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication” in which one code dictates all. These works argue against dogmatic practices inherent in not only the masses, but the institutions which perpetuate said practices. Beatty’s reasoning of too many voices holding too many different opinions does not stand in this future of cyborgs. Too many experiences, for the cyborg, is a good thing. It is only with the acceptance of hybridity, after all, that Cha is able to survive in a world undergoing such constant, complicated flux. Social constructions such as gender and gender identity will bend to new paradigms, where power is not allotted upon one particular pretense (ie, masculinity, whiteness, straightness) but can reach to complex individuals with many identities and experiences. Vastly different from various science-fiction novels and films, this essay chooses to end on a note which does not fear the monstrosities of the half human, half robot: it is, then, truly time to love the cyborg.

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc. 1951

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. NY: Vintage Books, 1995. Pp. 195 – 228. Translated by Alan Sheridan, 1977.

Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991. pp.149-181.

Heberle, Renée. Feminist Interpretations of Theodor Adorno. "Unfreedom, Suffering, and the Culture Industry: What Adorno Can Contribute to a Feminist Ethics" by Jennifer L. Eagan. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2006.

I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay. Dir: Park Chan-wook. Moho Films. 2006.

Keen, Carolyn. Caroyln Keen On Haraway, "Cyborg Manifesto." English 571: Keen On Haraway. <*http://www.english.upenn.edu/~jenglish/Courses/keen2.html*>

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. "Rabelais and His World" by Mikhail Bakhtin. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution" by Judith Butler. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. "Female Masculinity" by Judith Halberstam. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Conceptualization of Fahrenheit 451's Hound

"Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man's dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert."
- Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto

*image by Jim The Viking


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

WebCT Posts

Week 1
In my opinion, Jameson's utopian ideal of "full employment" does mean that you have to give up capitalism. Capitalism is funded on competition; it runs not on a laissez-faire system but continues to exist thanks to forces which, quite literally, force it into existence. There is no half-way point between Marxism and Capitalism, in my opinion, so in order for this "full employment" idea to come into existence, Capitalism will have to go. To be employed in a capitalistic world literally means that you, as an individual, beat out someone for said employment. In other words, to be employed (in the context of Capitalism) means that someone else is not employed. Jameson is arguing for this essentially Marxist notion of "full employment" where there is no need to beat out or compete against another for a job. It is an interesting notion.

Week 3
This article was a good read for myself, as well. It was an interesting point Howe made when he drew the parallel between Orwell's death after writing 1984 and Orwell's passion which went into the novel.
I wonder if Orwell's goal, to make the rest of us more aware (as Howe states) of ultra-modern slavery, was realized but went (for the most part) unheeded. "Orwellian" language is completely commonplace in our society. The last time I heard someone say "Orwellian" outside of talks about 1984 was when I was listening to a report on NPR on how Florida is refusing to install red-light cameras on street lights. 1984 has made a definite impact on our culture; we can look to the first Apple commercial which parodies the reality Orwell painted. People who have never read 1984 still know and understand the totalitarian universe Winston is forced to live in.
It is clear, then, that we have definitely listened to (and have been impacted by) Orwell's fear and message...yet arguably, we are still headed in that scary direction.

Week 4
Thanks for sharing that story, Greg. Appreciate the parallel.
I agree with you when you state the obvious flaws with "new genetics" and past eugenics. There is a disturbing lack of concern for The Other's freedom. While the scientists quoted in the article seemed to be very much aware of their own freedom (freedom to study, to probe, etc.), when it came down to abortion and behavioral genetics, there was no individuality given to their subjects. It's a blurry area which is, for me at least, extremely hard to navigate.

Week 5
I agree with your film/novel analysis completely. Boulle created a universe in which we are given various ways to analyze the situation at hand. You can take the animal rights stance, the critique on humanity stance, and effectively come up with your own interpretation of "Planet of the Apes." The film, homever, was simply an adventure ride with the twist at the end: "It was earth all along!"
The scientific element of "Planet of the Apes" was one of the things I really enjoyed...the opening, with Jinn & his wife exploring space drew me in immediately. It's a beautiful concept, in my opinion.

Week 6
I thought that Martin's article, "A Clockwork Orange," and Althusser's essay all hit a coherent point. When Martin brought up the point about the war on drugs/low test scores/terrorism/etc., it reminded me of Althusser's argument of how when the State (whether it be government, the legal system, etc.) decides to "war" on something, it is because it serves those who belong to the dominant class...or at least, those with access to the means of production (seeing as he does use Marx & his "German Ideology" as examples). Ideology for Althusser is not historical, nor philosophical. One of the ideolog*ies* present in "A Clockwork Orange" was the concept of changing a convict's conviction for violence. Above the surface, the treatment presented in "A Clockwork Orange" would serve society at large: a world where criminals are brainwashed and forced to act "good," least they shrivel in pain for hours. I think Martin and Althusser would question who, or what class/group, this treatment would really benefit.

Week 7
"Film making is probably the most unique of all artistic mediums out there because it is open only to a select group of people that deemed artistically competent enough by the people with the money to back film productions."
Interestingly enough, I know a few people who use that exact reasoning to argue why filmmaking, in a general sense, isn't a "true" art--it's not art for art's sake in Hollywood, it's entertainment.
"If there is an audience for it, companies, magazines and TV shows will keep serving the gossip dish."
I think you hit on what a lot of other posts didn't. It's pretty easy to blame media/pop culture/etc. for the lack of sincerity when it comes to art...but what about us, the consumers ? We choose what we consume. And it's not like the quote masses have no say in pop culture. If the masses don't like it, it's not popular. "Deliberately produced rubbish" is deliberately consumed by us, despite the fact we all know it's rubbish.

Week 9
The poem speaks to me in a very different way, but I too agree that the use of Dover Beach during that particular scene in Fahrenheit 451 was poignant and not without a sense of irony.
To sum it up, the speaker of the poem reflects on the calm, everlasting waves of the ocean. These waves are not chaotic, not unpredictable...merely flowing, calm; "tremulous cadence slow." S/he is reflecting upon the inherent sadness of the world. The speaker even namedrops Sophocles who is infamous for sad epics. & as seen in the second stanza: sadness does not end. The loss of any kind of spirituality, any kind of faith in the world itself, reflects this in the third stanza.
What makes the entire situation ironic--the fact that Montag is reading THIS poem to these women, these women who can't remember their attempts at suicide, their desire for nothing more than parlor walls--is the reflection the speaker has on sadness.
Amazing, still, is that only one of the women seem to even grasp the emotion trying to be communicated through this poem. The notion that the world is sad merely passes over everyone else. "Everyone else" being those who have learned to read lips because they are too busy listening to the buzz of something else, who have to take sleep lozenges least they be insomniacs...
Anyway. The poem is a tragic reflection upon one of the various conditions laid out by the universe for us humans, and Ray Bradburry made it even MORE tragic by using it in this scene.

Week 11
I also really related to this quote. I can remember back in the 2008 election, various candidates spoke on behalf of the middle class. Society's perception of middle class is very different from the "hard numbers" about middle class which Congress provides. According to a BusinessWeek article which was published last year, the Congressional Research Service put out a report on the 2005 census...they claimed that middle class consists of "households with incomes between $19,178 and $91,705" (link). Interestingly enough, the public sees middle class as a range from $20,000 to $1666,000.
That sociological concept you introduced makes a lot of sense, considering the fact that the "middle class" has no definition in itself...anyone can assume they are middle class and technically be right, dependent upon who they're talking to.
I think 1984 portrays the concept of a two-class system (based on individuals assuming there is a middle class) interestingly. Winston, who is a member of the party, is still living in these horrible conditions. All of the Outer Party members seem to assume they live in the middle class, although their conditions are not dissimilar to the proles.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Propaganda: Then And Now

I have to watch this for a multimedia class, so I figure I'd share it. I'll come back and edit in my comments after I've watched the video in it's entirety.


Friday, November 27, 2009

"Taking a Risk on Those-At-Risk: Problematic Teenagers as a Means Of Production"

Taking a Risk on Those-At-Risk:
Problematic Teenagers as a Means of Production

an analysis of A Clockwork Orange (film), "Where Did The Future Go?" (essay by Randy Martin), and "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (essay by Althusser)
          Our faithful narrator, Alex of "A Clockwork Orange," is unequivocally a criminal at heart and mind. Engaging in senseless acts of violence, rape, and pillaging, he and his loyal droogs wander the night as serious threats to society. As an "at-risk" teenager capable of not only destruction but non-production, Alex is forced to go through the State Apparatus as well as Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses. Alex becomes an investment for various ideologies which all target him as a possible means of production; the possible erasure of his criminal mind (by means of scientific measures) means that Alex, as an "at-risk teenager," is a huge investment. He becomes financialized by numerous domestic wars as well as people with a varied set of ideologies behind them.
          To understand the monetary gain on Alex's troubled head as presented in "A Clockwork Orange," one must first consider Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses. Marxist thought argues that there is a State Apparatus which functions to repress proletarians and support the bourgeoisie. There is only one State Apparatus, and that consists of several repressive (ie, physical/violent) systems: the military, the government, the police, etc. Althusser states that this State Apparatus "enables the ruling classes...to ensure their domination over the working class." He also separates this Repressive State Apparatus with his concept, the Ideological State Apparatuses by claiming these, instead, are "distinct and specialized institutions" such as the Church and Education. Interestingly enough, he does not label any sciences as an Ideological State Apparatus. There are those who would argue that science, although compromised of facts, is still its' own ideology. For the purposes of this essay, we will not dwell on this argument but instead present privatized science--those requiring funding from the State, especially--as a Ideological State Apparatus. In "A Clockwork Orange," Alex is taken to a privatized science center in which he undergoes various chemical, psychological, and neurological experiments in order to correct his criminal mind. Althusser himself states that "all ideology hails or interpolates concrete individuals as concrete subjects"--therefore, the sciences Alex undergoes is, essentially, an ideology.
          With this understanding of ideology, we can look into Martin's argument of different ideologies playing a role in the financialization of the future--particularly, in this essay, the future of the youth. He argues that our society now functions capitalistically by playing into risk: "the prospect of a return in excess of expectation." Investors, able to take monetary risks, are now capable of running their own lives as well as the lives of others. Everyone who could not take these risks would be considered "at risk"; Martin argues it is these "at risk" people who are the "targets of all manners of domestic wars (on drugs, crime, kids and culture)." We now focus our future as monetary gains, through means of "pensions, kids educations, dept disbursement, home mortgages," etc. This ideology maintains that taking a chance on current risks will mean financial security (and, ultimately, financial gain) in the future.
          Knowing all of this, we can parallel Alex's predicament with a myriad of Ideological State Apparatuses, the State Apparatus itself, and how he ties in with these "investor's" future financial gains. The social worker's system is the first institution which Alex goes through. His social worker constantly checks up on him in the beginning, making sure he is staying out of trouble, going to school, etc. Eventually, this system fails him and he ends up in prison. Under the repression of the prison system--members are labeled with numbers instead of names--Alex is stripped of his individuality, choice, and freedom as a form of punishment. The problem of criminal violence is, in theory, supposed to be solved by isolation from society and rehabilitation. Interestingly enough, the prison system fails Alex in this regard and has no "cure" for any type of criminal. The State Apparatus, then, is proven to be not a solution for workers, but as a means of supporting the dominant sector of society..
          Alex then takes into the arms of the religious institution in the form of the prison's priest. The priest argues for salvation of Alex's soul through the eternal glory of god. This ideology, under the form of Althusser's Ideological State Apparatus, is vastly different from past religious ideology. Alex is not pre-determined to be a sinner, as it was considered in the past. Rather, he has the opportunity, the free will, to choose his destiny. Ideological State Apparatuses, then, are in flux dependent upon time and convenience. The priest is, of course, vehemently against the scientific treatment which aims to "cure" Alex. Salvation, he argues, goes hand in hand with choice. Does Alex, being robbed of his "choice" to be good or bad, still have a shot at redemption if he cannot choose?
          Now outside of the State Apparatus of the prison system, and away from the bounds of religious ideology, Alex enters into the radical scientific treatment program. These scientists, as backed by the government, argue that the prison system simply spurs hypocrisy. It teaches all criminals to "fake smile" and "rub elbows" until their release. There is no true change under this State Apparatus hellbent on force and violence.
          After just two years, Alex is released back into the world and is proclaimed by the science's ideological backers and investors to be "cured." As fate often has it, Alex ends up back in the writer's home; the writer who he brutally beat and who's wife he viciously raped. The writer's home is in agreement with his sentiment: he is surrounded by books, representing literacy, education, and intellect. Incidentally, education is one of the various Ideological State Apparatuses presented to us by Althusser. As such, even the writer's honorable intentions in the beginning are still backed by an ideology; the writer had taken pity on Alex, believing the treatment to be a despicable device used to hurt the common man. Interestingly, the writer takes Alex under his wing and attempts to take Alex in as an investment of sorts. The writer, and several of his intellectual friends, want to make Alex into a product by showing his scars to the world, convincing the rest of society that their ideology is right.

          Martin goes into some depth over this financialization of the future in terms of "domestic wars." As mentioned in the beginning, domestic wars include the war on drugs, on low SAT scores, on gangs, on culture (ie, obscene art), and on crime. All of these domestic wars, Martin argues, paved the way for "surveillance, property seizure, and prosecution" in order to fight the most recent war: the war on terror. Using Martin's words, "anew regime of discipline and punish" is evident in all of the Ideological State Apparatuses Alex undergoes. For instance, the film itself starts off with an interesting juxtaposition of classical music and violence. During Alex's treatment, we witness the same thing: classical music is juxtaposed to the violence presented on screen. This means that Alex with forevermore associate violence with physical sickness...as well as classical music, his one and only love, with physical sickness. One scientist even leans over to another and mutters something about this being Alex's proper punishment.
          The one thing which tied all of these ideologies together was the promise to Alex that everything he went through was "for his own good." The State Apparatus claimed that prison was needed in order to better Alex; it was "for his own good." So was the religious ideology presented by the priest, as was the scientific ideology presented by the scientists, and also the educational ideology as argued by the intellect. At the end of the film, the government steps in and insists that they are doing this all for Alex's "protection." Even the future becomes a much needed gamble in order to financialize and invest and take risks on those things which need to be invested in; all done, it can be argued, for your own benefit.

* this is a rewrite of an older piece, entitled "The State Cures."

Works Cited

“A Clockwork Orange.” Dir: Stanley Kubrick. Warner Brothers Pictures. 1971.

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." La Pensée, 1970. Translated from the French by Ben Brewster. Transcribed by Andy Blunden. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm

Martin, Randy. "Where Did The Future Go?" LogosOnline. 2006. http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_5.1/martin.htm