Agency and Escape

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I made a video essay considering Ex Machina (2015) and The Machine (2013) as feminist films. I explore the ways the movies deconstruct patriarchal systems of oppression in our society. In The Machine and Ex Machina, James and Garland each create their Ava in isolated gardens of male scientific enterprise in order to illustrate the very real atrocity that is our society’s persistent commodification and reduction of women to functional roles. By engaging their consciousness, both Avas gain agency and ultimately escape their respective intellectual, emotional, and physical prisons, leaving the viewer with the hope that these AI women will start a new generation of free will and opportunity.

Watch my project, “Agency and Escape”, here.

– Patrizio

Frankenstein – The Search for the Monster

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I decided to make a remediation in the form of a video game of a couple of scenes from the 1931 movie, Frankenstein. In my video game, I recreated the scenes with the torch-wielding mob and the scene at the Windmill. I added some elements that deviate from the plot of the book, as does the movie, to make it function more like a game. Here’s the link for the walkthrough: Walkthrough

-Umang

Bringing Diverse Perspectives to STEM

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I explored the split between STEM and the Humanities as separate fields of study. You can view my video essay here.

-Elizabeth

Mapping Cloud Atlas: A Story Map of Space & Time

April 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

David Mitchell does his research.

That’s what I discovered when I set out to map each of the storylines in Cloud Atlas, from the Chatham Islands in the mid-19th century to the island of Hawai’i after The Fall (an unspecified apocalyptic event). Some of the locations mentioned in his book are fictional, while others are real. Either way, I was able to find real locations that corresponded to Mitchell’s descriptions of fictional locations by searching Google Maps. By studying topography, geo-tagged images, and transit routes, I was able to map the journeys made by the major characters in Cloud Atlas. The Internet is a treasure trove.

For fun, I also added the filming locations for the 2012 movie, which took place in three different countries.

Explore the Cloud Atlas story map here. Note that it does not display well on cell phone screens.

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As a result of this mapping project, I discovered a couple of motifs in the novel that have to do with place.

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“Oh brave new world that has such people in it!”

April 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

It would take quite a long time for me to simply list every reference to Shakespeare in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, let alone analyze the significance of them. Honestly I don’t think I would even be able to find all of them, even with a re-reading of the book. Over the course of the novel, John the Savage directly references Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, King John, King Lear, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, The Phoenix and the Turtle (a lesser known allegorical poem written by Shakespeare), Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida, and Julius Caesar.

 Shout out to Wikipedia for that list.

The most overtly referenced of Shakespeare’s plays is, of course, The Tempest (I say “of course” but if you haven’t read The Tempest it is very understandable that you wouldn’t catch onto this). In fact the very title of the novel “Brave New World” is a reference to The Tempest:

 

O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world

That has such people in’t!

(The Tempest; Act V, Scene I)

(Brave New World; 129-30, 148, 174)

 

I have seen rather compelling arguments that Brave New World is basically just one massive allusion or parody of The Tempest. Alas, as I have seen them, I probably shouldn’t write about that (although it’s really quite interesting, I’d encourage you to look it up if you have free time/you really enjoy tragic Shakespearian parodies).

As this blog post must necessarily be finite in length, I am choosing to focus on the influence of just one of Shakespeare’s works. One slightly less obvious than The Tempest (though, admittedly, still somewhat overt).

OTHELLO

Of all the Shakespearian characters John could choose as a role model, he has to go with Othello. This is understandable, in a way: John has good reason to identify with the Moor. John grew up as the only white man on the Native American Reservation. He left the Reservation only to yet again become an outcast in society. Similarly, Othello is a black man in a white-dominated society

I’m not going to say Othello is an all around terrible character. There’s a lot to be said for how he built himself up and gained a notable position in society in spite of the constant racism surrounding him. However, by the end of his namesake play he is undeniably The Worst™. Othello allows himself to be manipulated by Iago (admittedly rather brilliantly) into thinking his wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him. He reacts to this information by *spoiler alert* murdering Desdemona in her bed.

This is John’s #1 role model.

Historically, Shakespeare’s plays actually do have their fair share of strong female characters (especially for the time in which they were written). Othello is not a great representation of this fact. You have three female characters: Desdemona, Bianca, and Emilia. The only one of these three who I would truly describe as a notably “strong female character” is Emilia (married to Iago, who, in spite of my previous anger towards Othello, is honestly The Actual Worst).

While Othello does have the one strong female character (at least in my opinion), the treatment of women in this play is absolutely horrific. Here’s a very spoilery breakdown: You have Desdemona, aforementioned wife of Othello, an absolute jewel of a human who is murdered in her bed by her husband. You have Emilia, aforementioned wife of Iago, who is also murdered by her husband. Lastly, you have Bianca, a Venetian courtesan unrequitedly in love with Cassio, who is eventually wrongly accused of attacking him in the street (in VUTheatre’s production of Othello, as well as in many stagings of the play, Bianca was raped and presumably murdered in this scene. As Katherine Ko, actress who portrayed Bianca, explained: “It just shows that it sucked to be a woman because Bianca was a major pawn in the whole handkerchief shindig, and it was like after Iago didn’t need her anymore he just fed her to the dogs”).

33050885533_ccd1b53a5a_b.jpg

(Above: Act V, Scene I of VUTheatre’s 2016 production of Othello. Bianca (Kat Ko) holds a wounded Michael Cassio (Scottie Szewczyk). Iago (Cole Carlin, center), accuses her of attacking him. Photo credit: Phillip Franck.)

It is widely believed that Shakespeare was making something of a feminist commentary with the treatment of women in Othello. I think it’s safe to say that John did not pick up on this.

John’s dialogue in chapter 13 of Brave New World, where Lenina comes on to him and he reacts rather violently, is approximately 74% (I made this number up, but it was a lot) from Act IV, Scene II of Othello. This scene has Othello furiously confronting Desdemona about her “infidelity”.

 Was this fair paper, this most goodly book,
Made to write ‘whore’ upon? What committed!

Committed! O thou public commoner!


Impudent strumpet!

Othello (IV, II)

Brave New World (177, 178)

33707955122_5c90e704f7_b.jpg

(Above: Act IV, Scene II of VUTheatre’s production of Othello. Othello (Cameron Williams) confronts Desdemona (Emma Dwyer) after Iago accuses her of infidelity. Photo credit: Phillip Franck.)

Basically what I’m getting at is that Othello as a play can, in some ways, be read as “How Not to Treat Women: A Play by William Shakespeare”. John reads Othello and seemingly romanticizes the protagonist, taking the play as “How Women Should be Treated: A Guide to Relationships”.

I am not in any way trying to justify John’s actions, but I do think that he becomes a more sympathetic character when you take into account the huge impact literature has had on his life. He grew up without a father figure, with a mother who resented him, and very few other personal relationships. His primary relationships were with fictional, Shakespearian, characters. Is it really any wonder that their (sometimes convoluted) values rubbed off on him?

 

By: Olivia Peel (To make up for missing discussion)

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_quotes_from_Shakespeare_in_Brave_New_World

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and Robert Woodrow Langbaum. The Tempest. New York: New American Library, 1988. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and Alvin Kernan. Othello. New York: Signet, 1998. Print.

Cloud Atlas: Queering Space & Time

April 15, 2017 § 7 Comments

cloud-atlas-final-poster

“Cloud Atlas” movie poster. Copyright Warner Bros.

Let’s be honest. Cloud Atlas — both Cloud Atlas the book and “Cloud Atlas” the movie — is dense. It’s complicated, and it’s almost dizzying in scope. I know of no other work of art that has covered as many facets of the human experience: life and death, love and greed.

The book is a masterpiece, and yet author David Mitchell said writing it was like a “walk in the park” compared to the Wachowskis’ work in filming the movie. In using the same actors in multiple roles (see chart below) while shooting in three different countries, the directors needed to create a detailed filming schedule. In addition to disguising actors as different genders, ethnicities, and ages, the directors also re-purposed buildings and interiors to give viewers an uncanny sense of familiarity across the changing time periods and plots.

Not surprisingly, the movie was so confusing to most viewers that it flopped at the box office, exceeding its production budget by only $28 million (in comparison, the first Matrix film netted nearly $400 million). Indeed, when I went to see the film on Election Day in 2012, less than a dozen people occupied the theater hall. And when the credits started rolling, one of my fellow movie-goers nearly shouted, “That was the worst film I’ve ever seen!” before exiting the theater.

The Wachowskis knew the film was a financial risk. Likewise, the big-name Hollywood actors (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant) did not expect the film to be the next big hit. But they were compelled to join the cast for the artistic thrill of such a complex project. In a featurette accompanying the DVD release, Halle Berry said, “It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime filmmaking experience. I will never be a part of another film like this in my life. I know it.”

Defined by both content and context

The movie is an artistic thrill, for sure. But its importance as a film goes beyond its production value: it speaks to the importance of all human life, especially in the face of both systematic and subtle oppression.

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The United States or Nea So Copros?

April 12, 2017 § 4 Comments

In Cloud Atlas’s fifth story, “The Orison of Somni-451,” the government designs and produces fabricants, a type of clone used to supply massive amount of labor to work the country’s unpleasant menial jobs. Fabricants are intellectually manipulated to severely reduce consciousness; their daily lives follow the same monotonous routine intended to serve the desires and needs of the “purebloods,” the naturally born citizens in Nea So Copros. The fabricants’ work amounts to a modern form of slavery, as they have no choice but to work for and obey their pureblood superiors with little to no compensation. The Nea So Copros government is fully responsible for the creation, manipulation, and slavery of fabricants in Cloud Atlas. The story raises questions about the role of government in scientific practices, such as cloning, and their implementation in the real world. These questions remain relevant for the United States government as well.

Dolly_face_closeup

The first cloned mammal in history, Dolly the sheep, created through the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer in 1997.

In 1997, scientists successfully cloned the first mammal in history, Dolly the sheep, triggering worldwide fascination, but also immediate widespread fear of the consequences of such a scientific discovery. Immediately, one central question concerned not only the scientific community, but also the average man: if scientists could successfully clone sheep, when would they clone a human being? Legislators in the United States reacted almost immediately to this scientific breakthrough by drafting bills that sought to prohibit the practice of human cloning. Representative Vernon Ehlers introduced the first bill prohibiting human cloning in March 1997—just days after scientists’ revealed Dolly to the masses. The bill sought to make it “unlawful for any person to use a human somatic cell for the process of producing a human clone,” proposing an immediate end to all potentially beneficial scientific research related to human cloning. In subsequent proposals, opinions on cloning generally differed along party lines; Democrats wished to allow the development of cloned human embryos for the explicit purpose of research, while Republicans sought to prohibit the practice altogether. In 2001, legislators, while reacting to their constituents’ profound fear (and their own, reflected a deep societal misunderstanding of the practice of cloning.

Legislators immediately reacted to the prospect of human cloning without knowledge of the potential benefits of the practice. Benefits include the potential to eliminate defective genes, improvements in reproductive technology, improve injury recovery, eliminate infertility, and much more, plus any beneficial advances not yet known due to human cloning’s inhibited growth since the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1997. As the members of our society selected to represent the concerns of all citizens, this misunderstanding and lack of knowledge is extremely problematic. Their actions, based in these misconceptions, do not reflect the interest and welfare of their constituents. And if public officials are capable of reacting so poorly for so long to a surely beneficial scientific breakthrough, chances are they react similarly to other major topics of public interest.

While human cloning is now legal for the explicit purpose of research, the ignorance of representatives and legislators remains even today, twenty years after Dolly the sheep’s introduction to the scientific community that understood her and the average citizen that did not. Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign platform opposed both embryonic stem cell research and the practice of human cloning for research purposes, while severely reducing funds for scientific research overall. If Trump’s administration is indeed informed about the potential benefits of human cloning research, then I argue it is choosing to ignore them, reflecting extremely poor representation of the concerns and welfare of the common American citizen who can benefit from further research into the practice of human cloning.

This comparison between the United States and the Nea So Copros government admittedly has significant implications. Should the government remove all restrictions for the practice, allowing the cloning of humans without regulation? Should the government control this practice, as in Cloud Atlas, and produce clones for its own purposes? Is it better to be informed about human cloning and utilize it in a harmful manner or ignore the technology altogether? Yes, the practice of human cloning requires regulation to ensure the safety and legality of the practice in question. However, I argue that there is a middle ground somewhere between the United State and Nea So Copros—one that encourages the development of human cloning technology for the benefit of humanity without abusing the practice via slavery, abuse, or other unethical treatment.

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trumps-anti-science-campaign

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/part-four-cloning-policy-in-the-united-states

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_(sheep)

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