Posted by: mvn3 in coursework, tags: Dollhouse
Oh wait, wait, it’s almost midnight and I’m blogging about a canceled show on Fox?
Watching “Epitaph One,” I couldn’t help but be irritated at the proposed degeneration of the Dollhouse into an apocalyptic future. It seemed like the same old zombie plot all over again, and instead of a virus there’s just the Dollhouse mind magic.
And that’s why I want to gripe about the whole “tech” concept of the show. To me, the most far of fantastic science could produce the possibility of “imprinting” someone. It would require the complete knowledge of a brain’s material structure, and the ability to alter it on the mechanical level. This would require some very complex machines, ones that if they could alter the material structure of the brain, could also theoretically be capable to blueprinting just about anything. So, someone builds one and uses it to make a fancy brothel, and the machine uses “waves”, maybe ionizing radiation, the imprint people. Maybe years into the future this could be feasible. But no, all of a sudden all this high tech machinery gets transmitted into “phones and boom boxes”, and the powers that be somehow let it all slip into an apocalyptic nightmare. This is the shift from science fiction to zombie plot devices, and I think it reflects confusion into show message, which seemed to shift from a question of morality and ethics to a paranoid mind control delusion. And that’s why I think the show didn’t succeed. I don’t think it was too cerebral or too high on questioning society, as the fox-style cameras (everythings so new and shiny), the ripped male actors and the satin and high heels girl kicking asses suggests otherwise. It seems to me to be a hybrid of T.V. cliches to produce a marginal show, one that I considered watching extra but then decided it was too damn boring. Somehow Hugh Laurie makes me happier when I watch House.
Dollhouse is all about “society as a spectacle”. Is it just me or did the Romans have men fighting tigers in a giant coliseum? Man those T.V. shows are so poisonous. Turning all those people into mindless zombies that somehow live in a world remarkably less violent then the middle ages. Yeah, its all about spectacle…. But the innocent Dollhouse is just another one, and apparently a rather marginal one. So yeah lets all go buy the DVD to watch the zombieocalypse double secret season un-finale. Or I could do something that might make me happy, like taking a nap or eating a sandwich.
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Various novels deliver different emotional reactions for their readers. Some foster a completely detached relationship, as in the time I plodded through Sense and Sensibility in tenth grade: not a single ounce of imagery or plot line persisted or flourished in my mind. There are book that leave a deep ideological mark, but make little personal connections: 1984 was a thrilling read for me, but the watchful eye of big brother is such an abstraction that I cannot say I have, or want to, be personally involved with the novel. Of course, then there’s a universal donor like the Harry Potter series, which has convinced millions of children that they will be receiving avian parcels in their upcoming adolescence. Yes, the projections of self into the wizarding world were grand; all those great times I spent killing dementors with Harry and the gang… But indeed, weren’t those so contrived? Almost like some type of direct to brain interface… And then there is this quaint little novel, penned by a cape wearing futurist in a high altitude balloon. I cannot describe this connection I’m feeling with it exactly, but it seems to be profound only few chapters in. It’s like Doctorow has this strong connection to my sensual and emotional imagery that I’ve seldom experienced in a novel. Perhaps its the prose. He doesn’t write like a 19th century authors, preening his feathers with flowery language and “innuendo”. He writes about characters in the digital, hell post-digital world, and it’s the same language we speak everyday. Part of it is the technology. I’ve pretended to identify with characters in other novels, but unlike Doctorow’s ,they’re not checking their cell phones/HUD’s every time they feel awkward or compulsively doling out Whuffie on Facebook. It’s the way that Wikipedia let’s you experienced so many archived events all at once and downloads conclusions and rationalizations in the click of a mouse, or the point of a finger. Maybe it’s the internet. The Bitchum Society is living in the internet. Everything’s about hits, traffic, Diggs and Facebook likes. Physical position is irrelevant, because there is infinite time to go anywhere you like in Jules’ world, and because our internet moves at the speed of light. If you die you get a new body; if you get banned you find a new IP address. Me and you deadhead whenever we take a break from the net, because Moore’s law doesn’t need centuries to leave you obsolete.
So where do you go and what do you do when you’re allowed everything, all of the time?
Well everyone has their favorite home page, right?
Do you wage developing wars over the next Mafia Wars or strive for the next RickRoll?
Is this what we do with such a powerful tool?
It’s like having immortality, and spending at Disney World. Everything is a Microcosm, but microcosms become so much more interesting when you figure out the cosmos.
But these are such larger themes, certainly ones required to look at a novel in an academic sense. I can’t resist, however, to say what really grabbed me from the first three chapters. My home in Florida may be two-hours North of Disney World, but I can’t help but feeling a little bit like an employee. When I was a young child, and Florida was still thousands of miles from my real home, I was one of those thousands who ran around Tom-Sawyer Island. But having lived in North-Central Florida for my (first) adolescence, I feel more like Jules. I know the territory, I study it, and I watch it change.
So what if we figure it out immortality (even if it’s “virtual)? Where would I go after I’ve stormed through the known-universe like a cosmic tornado? I can’t help but think that I’d end up somewhere a little North of Disney land. I’d crave the overwhelming humidity as it felt like I was paddling, not pedaling my bicycle along the “service” roads of my county. Or blasting down those same roads in my blue roundabout with my redheaded girlfriend (no kidding), looking up at the moon and smelling those pine trees at a hundred miles an hour. I’d go back to that time when I damn well thought I was immortal. I’d go back to get what the internet never could give me. My place, my time. What else do you have to fight for if you’ve got everything in the universe at your disposal?
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“They were superbly trained, these students. Their minds were fine, keen, ready. When they weren’t working, they rested. They were not blunted and distracted by a dozen other obligations. They never fell asleep in class because they were tired from having worked on rotational duty the day before. Their society maintained them in complete freedom from want, distraction, and care” (128). Welcome to Duke University…. uh I mean the Ieu Eun institution on the planet Urras. I have to admit that I was a bit in awe with how Shevek deconstructed and criticized the extravagant society’s educational system, if not solely for how it parallels the place at which I now study. Perhaps it’s the way Shevek was alienated from his students on Urras. Being so success orientated and focused upon turning a profit from their education, they became incapable of absorbing any sort of greater life philosophy from such a great thinker like Shevek. They are so pampered in their “intellectual stimulation” that they cannot begin to reconcile the other forces abound in the universe. “The beds were made for them, the rooms were swept for them, the routine of the college was managed for them, they way was made plain for them” (129). Shevek essentially finds that by quantifying and fueling “study” minds become narrowed and trained, and the true capacity of the brain to understand is stifled. This, I believe, is Le Guin’s criticism of a capitalistic society’s effects upon the intellectual, and one I find to be valid. It seems that at least once a month I walk into the Bryan center and find myself surrounded by my peers in suit and tie, pitching their soul to a plethora of multinational firms that represent the finest minds in monetary exploitation. In this moment I experience a nauseating disillusionment. I wonder if my absurd tuition fees are no more then a capital investment. It seems imminent that Duke University will not aid me in finding the fulfillment and meaning in life I seek. It will render me to be a good profiteer, but little else. The inner Odonian cries out.
I digress. The truth is that while I have been focusing upon Urras, Le Guin spent much of chapters 4-6 exploring the pitfalls of Annares. What emerges from these pages is a rather conflicted vision of the “utopia”. Indeed, the colony was founded by revolutionaries who sought to apply a methodical logic to human life in order to perfect it. At the same time, there is a reason why Shevek found Odo to be hiding amongst the most lavish garden upon the planet. Between the tyranny of Sabul, the overbearing censorship of Annares’ shadow government, and the social conundrum that is Odonian society, a true hell on the moon for independent and revolutionary thinkers has been created. Whereas Urras exploits their minds for profit, Annares silences them Gulag style. Of course, you can’t afford to miss Bedap’s lecture on the pitfalls of communism (around pg. 165). I also couldn’t help but to have Ayn Rand’s Anthem in mind when I read about Shevek’s little love vacation in the mountains. Regardless of the political commentary, Le Guin’s depiction of Annares in these chapters has a strong pseudo-utopian context. Through Shevek and those he interacts with, it is shown that Odonian society, as it as evolved, is ineffective at accounting for individuality and change: “But nothing changes anymore! Our society is sick. You know it. You’re suffering its sickness. Its suicidal sickness!” (166)
Perhaps one of the more interesting dynamics of the society is the “revolutionary paradox”. To quote The Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Annares was once the place of revolutionaries. Now it has become backwards enough for the next crop of reformers to bud out, reformers who seem to reject both a profiteering society and a forced cooperative (one in the same?), “ The circle has come right back around to the most vile kind of profiteering utilitarianism” (176).
That’s pretty much it, though I’ve come up with a few things to ponder. Atro says to Shevek, “There’s a great deal that’s admirable, I’m sure, in your society, but it doesn’t teach you to discriminate- which is after all the best thing civilization teaches” (143). I think this quote is very important, and should be taken in to consideration when debating the two worlds. Also, Shevek has a profound connection to animals, something largely absent on Annares. What is the significance of this?
P.S. I hope you guys can problematize Daniel’s relational framework of the Annares/Urras dichotomy by highlighting some fundamental paradoxes in his paternal dynamic
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Posted by: mvn3 in coursework, tags: Star Trek
In both the episodes “The City on the Edge of Forever”, and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, the crew of the Enterprise is portrayed as inhabiting a futuristic, science and democracy based utopia. Whilst the accomplishments of the Utopia may be laudable: advanced technology to travel the stars and the ability to keep entire planets stable and fed, these two episodes suggest a certain bias in the creators of Star Trek in creating their utopia. The primary bias is that the utopia is very ethno-centric, in that its philosophies and origins are explicitly linked to the rise of the United States of America. At the same time, Star Trek seems to be aware of this bias, and probes the flaws of this vision in “City on the Edge”.
Having viewed “Battlefield” before “City on the Edge”,I did not initially perceive how much Star Trek draws from America to create its utopia. However, there is very much evidence for this in “Battlefield”. One of the things that has troubled me about this episode is how the creators seemed to want Cheron to be an allegory for racism in America, and yet their were so many holes and discrepancies between the two. The wars between Bele and Lokai can be compared to so many on earth, namely just about every civil war that most every country has experienced at one point or another. It also makes a lot of suggestions of genocide, and yet there is no explicit mention of the Holocaust, the Khmer rouge, or the countless atrocities that have been committed on the pretense of hate and race. Thus it seems inexplicable that, given a whole human history of violence, the crew of The Enterprise, and the writers of Star Trek, only find the experience of African Americans significant (The parallels and between the episode and civil rights were worked out in last week’s blog posts). This problem seemed to disappear when I realized how important America is to Star Trek’s utopia, with “City on the Edge” serving to provide my epiphany. If the federation is a uniquely American Utopian project, then it makes sense that American slavery would be so important to the crew. America must have gotten it right after slavery. Yes, they enslaved and discriminated at one point, but they were such progressive and upstanding people that they were able abolish it and, a few centuries later, spread their message of peace and acceptance throughout the galaxy in giant warships that tend to fire torpedoes at nonconformist aliens. OK, I implied a lot there, but the gist of it is this: The Star Trek universe is not necessary a “utopia” where suffering is abolished and the “human condition” is cured. It is instead an American utopia, one where every piece of American history until the shows creation has placed America in line to lead the world into a wonderful future, one where a handsome young man from Iowa is free to pursue his dream of captaining a spaceship and traveling back in time to fall in love with a 20th century pacifist.
Wait and second. Of all the beautiful women in history, Captain Kirk goes back in time to fall in love with an imaginary pacifist during the Great Depression? As for Edith Keeler, it has occurred to me that she is more symbolic then just being one of those random binaries in time that if switched from 0 to 1 causes the collapse of the known universe. Yes, it is true that “City on the Edge” helped me understand that Star Trek was an American utopia. However, Star Trek’s American project is reveled every time the ship is call “USS: Enterprise”, and thus without this episode it would still be an American utopia. Instead, it is much more contemplative, providing commentary on the utopia itself, and suggesting that it is not as perfect as the starched spandex uniforms might suggest. In his desire for Edith Keeler, Captain Kirk lusts for a peaceful utopia. Between this dynamic and the placement of Keeler before World War II, before the US solidified its power in the 20th century (and further on as implied by the episode), there is a strong suggestion that Kirk, the Federation, and the young United states of America all have a desire for peace. And while the episode suggests that the United States actions in WWII saved the American utopia, the symbolic death of Keeler suggests that something beautiful was lost in the processes. The way in which Kirk feels so strongly for Keeler, and is so devastated (perhaps more disturbed, as he does not allow his inner emotions to take over for very long), implies that such people and ideals no longer exist in his world. Keleer’s utopic view of a technologically advanced future does not captivate Kirk because it is the place he comes from, but what he wishes the Federation could truly be like. Thus a more tarnished view of the Star Trek American utopia is introduced, one that is less fanciful and egotistic towards the American way of life. Yes, the Federation holds great power, and the capacity to improve lives. At the same time, there are costs to this Utopia. In order to achieve it, America had to listen to its military strategists, not its idealists, and it can be inferred that the Federation has had to continue its fight into the future. In doing so, idealists like Keeler have been cast aside or left unheard, something that appears to have left a heartache in the souls of the futuristic American utopia.
My thoughts on the two Star Trek episodes have left me with a couple of questions. In respect to the Americanized utopia, are the creators of Star Trek trying to just provide entertainment that will jibe with a mostly American audience, or do they truly believe that the key to the future lies in America?
Also, in “City on the Edge” the idealism of Keeler was shown to be naive in the face of Nazi Germany. Are the writers of Star Trek suggesting that this is the fate of America, and any utopia to stem from it? Is America fundamentally a country torn between idealism and reality? Could an interstellar civilization really be considered a utopia if it is based upon this?
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Posted by: mvn3 in coursework
Hi! My name is Mike Niemi, and I’m apparently the laziest of all Writing the Future students. I live in the Brown dorm, and not only do I sit next to Daniel Vitek in class, but I’ve spent many of my hours at Duke within 8 feet of him (relax, he’s my roommate). I’m from Gainesville, Florida, and I’m currently pursuing an engineering degree even after getting scared out of EGR 53 in first semester.
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