Week 2 Summary

October 7th, 2009 - 

I’m behind already! Having lost four days this last two weeks to the flu (I got sick twice) this blog is coming a bit late. Apologies.

The week 2 film festival was highly thought-provoking, with a further exploration of some of themes I’d noticed occuring during week 1. Notably, the blue pill/red pill scene from The Matrix really struck home. Issues of choice, freedom, slavery and emancipation seemed to come to the fore for me.

I’d blogged last week about the notional towns of ‘Cyberia’ and ‘Cyburbia’: the former a world of infinite possibility and adventure – a space in which to re-create ‘reality’ – and the latter an altogether more sinister place, of virtual voyeurism and ‘control’ by the machine.

Elephant’s Dream, Tears in the Rain and others also seemed to touch on these themes, but perhaps from other angles: machines with thoughts, machines with feelings, abandoned and discarded as soon as they have fulfilled their alloted tasks. The scene from AI also seemed to nudge into this fearful concern we have:  a sense of guilt that we have about the machines we build to service us, and the all too tantalising possibility that these machines will become as ‘real’ as those that they serve.

What is this need we have that is reflected in our science fiction novels and movies? Why do we almost crave stories about sentient machines? Machines that feel, cry, fear and despair as badly as we do.  Are our own fears simply being projected on to these blank silicon slates? Or are these stories speaking to a bigger fear again – that the systems we create to serve us may actually enslave us?

I don’t have any immediate answers, but I can’t help but be struck by the similarities in theme across such a wide spectrum of sci-fi works. From HAL 9000, to Philip K. Dicks Replicants, Star Trek’s Data and on to Kubricks’ discarded childbot, we seem to revel in the predicaments of such creatures – lost in the woods, looking for their makers, struggling by in a universe where there seems to be no answers, but more and more questions.

I’ve heard it suggested that a lot can be learnt from science-fiction – in that these stories are (consciously or unconsciously) projections of our own current fears, dreams and aspirations. Perhaps in the same way that H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’ now seems like a frighteningly prescient vision of the horrors of the first and second world wars (see video below), our modern sci-fi luminaries (Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, William Gibson) may be doing more than predicting a fanciful future – they may be depicting it and creating it as they write – allowing new realities to be ’storied into existence’.

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