The Cyborg Alternative

Donna Haraway explains in “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” the concept of a homework economy, which revolves around the premise that “new” technology holds the potential to (or already does) negatively affect us all—especially women, and even more so women of color—by creating an ever more advanced “capitalist organization structure” marked by militarization; the feminization of work and personal autonomy; privatization and the destruction of “public life”; illiteracy in various forms. She concludes that feminism must divorce itself of Marxian old form that relies on the distinctions of gender, race and class-consciousness, and equally if not more so from  an authoritarian doctrine of existence on which she feels radical feminism, as espoused by Mackinnon’s theory, is built—that is, identification through “the self-knowledge of the self who is not.” (18)

She knows that what she calls for is blasphemous, but her alternative, the Cyborg, “a kind of disassembled, reassembled, post-modern collective and personal self,” (23) is particularly provocative in its call for feminist to operate in the space created by technology (if they can control/embrace it, thereby escaping the homework economy)—to use that technology and their ability to control it—that gives them a new identity capable of simulating new politics, divorced of totalizing theories or origin stories—“a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.” (39)

Of the video game, Harraway writes “the culture of video games is heavily oriented to individual competition and extraterrestrial warfare. High-tech, gendered imaginations are produced here, imaginations that can contemplate destruction of the planet and a sci-fi escape from its consequences.” (28) She also refers to technology as shaping the way we view sexuality and instrumentality in a world where the line between body and instrument, mind and data are blurred.

Turning our attention to the world of Gamer, these lines are blurred all the more; the use of instrumentality (and the control of it) and the female body take center stage. Any dream of creating a feminist revolution of sorts is all but lost, as the population at large is far too preoccupied with the militarized, totalizing, world-view of Slayers and Society.

Before I go too far into film analysis, I want to point out that in theory this film does what Harraway urges us to do—it means to create a dialogue with our use of technology, with the Cyborg users of it (of video games, specifically), by using technology (in this case, “post-cinematic” film meant to closely resemble gaming) in an attempt to open eyes to the many problems of the hyper-sexualized, militarized, generally exploitative nature of our current cultural moment. With regards to the movies treatment of most everything aside from the exploitation of women, I agree with (at least to an extent, because let’s face it, this movie didn’t pull anything off as well as Steven Shapiro tries to convince us it did.)

According to Harraway, technology is feminizing force. We see that in this movie—the men are equally as controlled as the women—what a marvel concept! In Society as well as Slayer, the bodies of those being controlled are male and female and presumably they are controlled by both male and females—this does not comment on our age, although it could have given a new perspective on the effects of technology. Women are still today, as they always have been, more vulnerable to the sort of exploitation and objectification that this movie seeks to flatly show us. Not to mention the fact that we don’t see men being sexually exploited–only physically, as in Slayer. Steven Shaviro comments on the economic consequences of Society, claiming that the relationship it creates combines the “worst aspects of slavery and wage labor,” and that it represents a today’s reality where “profits are extracted from the while texture of our lives.” Furthermore, he mentions that “violence and sex are played at cheap gags” as Neveldine/Taylor “seem to be saying, we may as well revel in the sheer excess of the situation.” (117) I can’t entirely get on board with this mantra, but I would be more open to it if the movie didn’t try to move in a different direction with Angie/Nika.

In one scene, Nika sits at a dimly-lit bar in Society, her controller shoveling down syrup-saturated waffles (note: there are SO many gamer clichés in this movie!), as “Rick Rape” proposes, well…that he rape her. He pushes and pulls her towards a hotel room, howling and almost seething while slapping his stretchy latex-like pants against himself. The camera remains on him and his out of control “need”, the sounds we hear are of his grunting and the awful sound of stretching/rubbing latex. The sex would be consensual being that Nika, as an extension of her controller, is clearly into it (complete with lip-licking and immediate assuming of the all-fours pose when she gets to the hotel room a la Gorge’s instruction)—but Angie is clearly uncomfortable with the situation. The movie gives us the strong impression that Angie doesn’t enjoy her job. Think back to the scene with the government official —she laments something like “it’s just a job,” with a look of clear guilt and/or regret. The character’s name is literally “RICK RAPE.” It’s clear that the viewer is supposed to feel uncomfortable with this–a message that isn’t conveyed in other similar scenes. The only reason we feel upset for this particular act of violence against a woman (after all there are so many other examples), is that Nika isn’t just another Society avatar. She feels guilt/regret. We know all the while that she’s the protagonists wife, the mother of the daughter that we see in Kabel’s visions.  What would we think of her if she enjoyed the work? Probably nothing at all. I’m more okay with that than I am with what this movie wants us to feel. We put women in this sort of box all the time.  We only feel sympathy for/value women, their bodies and their right to choice when we frame them into the “mother/daughter/wife/sister” context. (And there are other example of female avatars that perhaps aren’t enjoying their situations in Society–the woman hit by the vehicle that Simon attempts to save in the first Slayer battle sequence; the women who was covered in blood and crying in Nika’s first walk-through of society.)

This movie is ultimately lost on me in the end. I don’t quite understand what the creators want to achieve, and I’ll give it credit for new camera techniques, its presumed ability to capture the gamer audience, and I don’t entirely disagree with the “the-only-way-out-is-through” mentality—but the work has to take us somewhere even if it’s purpose is to flatly show us perhaps the worst parts of our culture.

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5 Responses to The Cyborg Alternative

  1. Steph Roman says:

    You’ve got a grasp of what Haraway’s essay is about, but we need to see how it connects to “Gamer.” You could try analysing what you’ve already pulled out with a particular scene of the movie–try a scene involving Nika/ Angie or Kable/ Tillman and see where it takes you.

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  2. charlenejo says:

    I deleted half of this after class today! I wasn’t happy with it. I’m heading in that direction, though. I think I’m going to start with the scene with Angie and “Rick Rape,” as it’s the most targeted violence against a woman in the film, and might circle to the part where Kable and Angie are running through the rave.

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  3. elexiusmusick says:

    I’m really glad you mentioned potential negative effects on not just women, but women of color. An analysis similar to the feminist analysis could be conducted just on race in the film, and whether or not Gamer is hitting that particular mark. (I would say they are attempting to do so, but like the issue of hypersexualization of women, they are failing in one major area while assuming they’ve made progress in one much, smaller area. Calling a black guy “Brother” and having him reference a connection between enslavement and technology isn’t enough.)

    You’re completely right in that Gamer encourages us to talk about these things. It’s so easy to rip Gamer apart. It screws so many things up. But it’s also valuable because–whether intentional or not–it encourages its own destruction through analysis and critical thinking. I “got” something from the movie, and I doubt I’m the only one. You said Gamer lost you (and I agree–I’m NOT a fan of the movie at all), but do you feel you “got” anything out of the experience?

    What do you mean by “‘the-only-way-out-is-through’ mentality”?

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    • Elexiusmusick, charlenejo is referencing a section of Shaviro’s essay that we didn’t have time to get to last week (though we did in the 9am class), namely the paragraph spanning pp. 116-17. Here Shaviro argues that Gamer suggests that “the only way out is through. The only possible oppositional stance is one of embracing these new control technologies, generalizing them, and opening them up without reserve” (116). In this Shaviro shares the opinion of many: that one cannot resist control/network societies, global capitalism has thoroughly won, there is no outside, everything serves to bolster control (even resistance), etc. Rather, one must push the logic of control technologies past their breaking point. Alexander R. Galloway (and Eugene Thacker) call this activity an exploit. We will be talking about this again.

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