History and the Limitation of Fiction

Justin Brewer

 

12/05/13

 

Telling Tales of the Past.

 

What is History, and What is the Limitation of Fiction.

 

On the topic of how to present a work as something of of History, one has to ask the question, how do they wish to reach their audience. History is a living entity of different mediums that each have their own intrinsic value depending on the information that needs to be processed. This was the goal of my historical fiction on the justice system of early Colonial America. In doing this I wanted to reach out and tell a narrative from a character of my own design. During the research process, I realized that actual cases of colonial law had to be taken with a grain of salt for the reasoning of a witness testimony. The reasoning behind this is that the witness testimony was the only reliable source of evidence that you were going to come across. This inherently has its flaws as a historical source, because the primary source may already be tainted from the inception date by the original eyewitness testimony.

I felt that to best represent the historical reference of Colonial American justice, the perspective of a real life historical figure had to be sacrificed. Much like in a scientific writing the goal is to eliminate the bias present. This comes down to a process of thinking whether it is better to take the character into your own hands, or to rely on the second hand account of a possibly biased and twisted account of an event that was so common considering the politics of Colonial America. So to answer this conundrum I decided to take the risk of creating a scenario of fiction so that I could better utilize the factual information about the colonial justice system, than I could have while attempting to work in the confines of an already rare and potentially flawed scenario.

The next issue that presented itself to me was what time period during the colonial period would I utilize as the source of my setting. I went through several possible answers, and my first choice was the 1800′s. However, as I researched this more I realized that there was a staggering difference between the justice system of Early Colonial America, which was based off the concept of English Common Law. This early system was the focus that I wanted to explore in the unfair treatment of supposed criminals that often came to the colonies to start over with a fair chance. Not to be thrown away without the proper chance to defend yourself against any accusations. Furthermore the setting of early Boston interested me because it allowed for a character that could still be considered into the mix of a bustling life, but with the ability to be located along the outskirts of a growing colony, that keeps a nice mix of a rural hardship, that compliments the early laws of the time.

The choice of using murder over a more, common offense was a simple course of action. In this narrative I wanted the risk of my characters guilt to go much farther than a simple whipping or time on the stocks. While these punishments were certainly more common at the time, In the research I learned that these lighter offenses would often carry little to no jail or trial time, and just result in a quick punishment. These non capital punishments were meant as an act of reformation to the colonists in a religious sense, than to inflict a lasting or crippling wound. The reasoning was to avoid injury at all cost in the event that someone would then be removed from the working population, and in a society with few human resources the results would be a much higher risk than if the person was just in a way humiliated for their crime instead.

In my story the character of Jacob is heavily religious when it comes to his impending death. This is meant to bring in the religious focus of the laws during this era. As previously stated the main goal of punishment was to reform not to kill. So even in the case of a murder there is still a very large cultural stigma to try and reform the criminal even if he or she is receiving capital punishment as a result. However it can easily be noted that Jacob does not find the public redemption in the church because of his belief in his own innocence. In colonial America this was a very real problem, on the same level as the false witness statements. The concept of honor when a person believed themselves to be innocent would often lead to and increase on the punishments that were given out. Although Jacob could not receive any larger punishment than the capitol offense, the idea of preserving honor even in the state of an impending death becomes an important theme for the role religion played as the crux of society.

As far as describing this into the broad terms of a Historical paper, I would say that my story fits well to the overarching theme and issues that were faced with in the colonial justice system. The overall story attempts to remain as period accurate as possible within the story, and all practices and punishments are portrayed realistically from that sense of the word. To me historical learning does not have to include exact replicas of people, the setting and conflicts of the time period are the messages that need to be taken away. That being said I am by no means saying that the factual details that are present in scholarly articles are not important. On the contrary these two themes of history are uniquely separate from each other and should be for good reason . Take for example the argumentative value of facts found in this statement “As early as 1760 a hanging machine had been tried out in England…thus avoiding slow deaths, and altercations between the victim and executioner” (Foucault 12). This fact of a machine is backed up with the specifics of its design to illustrate a point of function. The old adage that form is equal to function could not be truer in this sense. Factual information in this regard can be very effective to backing up a claim when the information is reliable and to the point, this keeps the historical accuracy of the research and manages to eliminate some of the human bias that can accrue in historical depictions by already biased observers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum works, like my own final paper take the differing approach of creating a system around a rigid historical system that we want the audience to interact with. A great example of this can be found in Author of myself, in which although the narrative takes liberties with the character involved “Reader these are not my words. This is not my tongue. “Tis my master’s, for he has stolen mine own, driven it from me with his lash. But ’tis the language you understand, reader, and I want you to understand me, and how – one way or t’other – I shall be free.” (Kuchta 1). A character is being explored that was rare and an uncommon site in the historical setting that the author wishes to explore. However, by creating a character to act as a proxy for the research that has been gathered, an approximate facsimile of how a person that was actually present and possible to use from a reliable first person source can be. Trying to find a balance between these two points of Realism and the limitations of source material for historical interpretation means that it is necessary for one to be sacrificed for another. Both have their inherent values and risks associated with them but from a historical perspective give a more broad representation of what the actual history may have been like to experience. My work falls under this secondary notion of historical fiction and focuses the ways in which to deal with the concept of colonial trials and law, over the notion of telling a fixed story from the perspective of a static character who has little room to explore the topic.

As a message of the class, this ideal that history is not a static media that should only be interpreted one way is an archaic model. While the idea of attempting to mix historical genres promotes a wider array of critical thinking in an audience. The reasoning behind all these different historical genres makes more logical sense when described in this way. They continue to exist because they are effective for a certain goal in the process of learning History. So anyone that wanted to monopolize the way humanity experiences history is only limiting the ways that humanity can branch out. If the goal of learning history is to not make the same mistakes as the past this then having this wide variety of experience would better suit an individual to make those choices.

 

Works Cited

 

Foucault, Michel (1975). Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, pp 1-31.

Kuchta, David (2013). Author of Myself, pp 1-30

 

Persecution Without Words.

Justin Brewer

 

12/05/13

 

Telling Tales of the Past

 

 

 

 

Persecution Without Words.

 

 

This story tells a historical fiction of the tale of the legal system in Colonial America. The setting for this is on the outskirts of the Boston Colony in 1640, just one short decade after the naming of what will become a booming metropolis.1 Our character is Jacob Bulfinch, who is a carpenter that works with his his good friend Thomas Stone, in the contracting and construction of housing for the colony. As a carpenter Jacob naturally has apprentices to his trade, and in this case has three including his son.2 Despite being apprenticed to Jacob, these men harbor anything but gratitude towards either Jacob or Thomas. Out of a plot to be rid of them both the men have put an accident that lead to Thomas’s death into a framing to be rid of Jacob in a fortunate circumstance. Brought before the justice system of the era, Jacob is found guilty and sentenced to hang. Now he sits in his cell, the night before he hangs, with little more to do but to question the futility and silence that cost him his life.3

“I know not how this came about, but I find myself at the edge. I am sentenced to die, I am sentenced to hang” The realization sunk deep into the bones of this man who sat in darkness. The cell that he was in, if one would call it that was little more than a logged structure, no windows and one iron door blocking the man’s freedom. The seat that the man sat in dug into flesh, it was nothing more than a pine plank fastened to one side of the wall with irons. The gaols were meant to hold prisoners awaiting trial, and in his case execution.2 Once again the realization of his fate struck down upon the man, alone in his cell he whimpered “I am Jacob Bulfinch, I have done no ill”. No one answered his plea back, and no one gave him company on his last night. “Silence eats at mine will, and it stripped me of my freedom”. “Free, I was once a free man!” he shouted out at the into the darkness, “I deserve mine freedom again!”, his own voice was the only thing to meet his first shout.

Thinking of the past would do him no good now, but the men, his workers that plotted against him. They were worthy of his time and his ire. his misfortunes are numbered to many for him to care about things like that. “Traitors and that Bastard of mine own blood”, the thought of the two men, and his son, who he was sure was the leader of this treachery brought his emotion to a boil at the thought.

“Men without honor to hold them steady”, Jacob’s anger continued to eke out into the cell as he recalled the three who placed him here. The first two were of little note to Jacob, “fools made of sloth and gluttony” Jacob only thought it befitting that he should describe the source of his ire with sins that most offend god, and he let a wry cackle out of spite for them. Samuel Morgan and Abraham Morgan, these two men were brothers with whom his son grew up with an Jacob apprenticed because of that. In his opinion both were lazy men with little talent besides finding ways to spend in leisure. Jacob could not recount how many times that he told them to straighten their work for the sake of themselves and to please God with work and not wasted time. He would not deny to himself that he would often resort to showing them his meanings with force, but felt no guilt in purging sin from where he saw it. His son, James Bulfinch, if he dared to call him a son anymore, was a different matter. Jacob had cursed his child since his birth, as his wife died in childbirth to the boy. Stricken with grief that his love was gone, Jacob tried to find pride in his son whom she left behind. However in Jacob’s opinion James turned to be all the failure that his friends were, the three would often find ways to disappoint him, and he made sure to attempt to correct his son for his failure whenever possible. As a carpenter Jacob thought that he would be able to mend his son’s problems with the hard work of learning a trade, and bring those other two under his wing would be his duty to God to produce responsible Men as he could. “I gave three men a chance at life, they repay me with death” rage erupted from his throat,“I will see those bastards pay even if I reach the gallows first”, Jacob took a ragged breath as he began to tear up . “On my death I will curse them, those men did this to me, they think that they are beyond reach” The words of course that Jacob spoke of were what was said during the trial. One of his workers, Samuel Morgan, brought the offense before the local magistrate reporting an offense of murder. Upon hearing the accusation the magistrate immediately sent forth for a deputy to obtain Jacob for questioning.3 That was a process which sent a wracking agony through his flesh as he remembered.

The process of the questioning was done at the power of the magistrate by the will of the magistrate.4 No other lawman or witnesses were allowed to intervene in this matter. Jacob could only reason before that this must be some cruel mistake, but when the events of the trial took place he was revealed a greater tragedy than fate. Jacob focused into the questions raised by the magistrate. The questioning went on in simple terms, as to first where Jacob had been, he quickly answered with his men attempting to finish the barn before the winter freeze hardened the wood and soil. Next he was asked if he saw the murder, to which Jacob replied that he saw it with his own eyes, that Thomas was crushed underneath by a fallen beam. The Magistrate judged his response over with a harsh and weary eye. Finally after what seemed to Jacob to have been far to long at indirect questions the Magistrate delivered the one that he feared. “Jacob Bulfinch, you have been accused of a vile act, before God I tell you to speak truth, did you kill Thomas Stone?” Jacob of course answered that he had not, and that the beam falling was an accident. Once again Jacob was questioned if he would admit to the murder, and again he stood to his truth. What good the truth gave him was a trial to be held in two days time, and a spot in the jail cell to hold him till his time of judgment. While most men would be allowed to go free with warning to return, for the suspect of murder the accused was held for the safety of the colony.5

The thought stung at his mind “I am no threat to people, save those who would see me hang” Anger seared with each word as he Flexed his hands. Jacob felt the Irons that kept him bound, a raw wound had begun to form at his wrists where he struggled had struggled, and now served as a dull ache, a reminder of his condition. Seeking to get his mind away from his own state, Jacob once again thought about the magistrate. Magistrate being all that he knew to call this man who had passed judgment on him against his word and honor. While this man had a name Jacob cared not to recall too much about the ones who played their roles. Yet still, as he struggled to forget the look that the magistrate gave him during that questioning stuck to his mind. He was a perplexing man, whom Jacob had never sought to know personally, in fact Jacob had never given anyone the time of day after his wife had passed during childbirth leaving him to raise his son. Forcing his wife’s death into the recesses of his mind, Jacob refocused on that man, who was appointed to judge the law, and to pass down the punishment to the people in name of repentance for sins. While well aware that the lawman were elected to serve that duty the weariness in his eyes enraged Jacob when he thought of it.6 “A man without purpose in his eyes, cannot judge one who does”, and he knew what his purpose was even if others did not. A grudging acknowledgment ground at Jacob’s attention“A lamb to herd, and a farm hand to lead”, he mumbled to himself when remembering that those men who were supposed to uphold the common law for the people had failed to uphold his truth. After all that was what they were supposed to do, and it was their fault to bare the shame of following so blindly. Being manipulated by the men he once worked with. To Jacob’s reasoning, by things that turned out to only be described as a group of demons in human skins. Anger once again seethed from under his breath at the thought as panic at the silence around him continued on the edge of his mind, which he sought to end by letting his mind wander again.

The trial that Jacob was given but one day after his questioning was once again at the mercy of the Magistrate. In this case there were no jury to pay heed, yet Jacob found himself face to face with the “witnesses” who were going to state the evidence that they had before the magistrate once again. The two workers and his own son, swore to truth before God and began to give an account that seasoned Jacob’s body with a cold despair. Samuel gave the first account to what he heard and saw. “Mr. Bulfinch is a hard boss, though we always thought he was a good man”, Jacob felt the poison slip beneath Samuel’s teeth as he continued. “He always would work Thomas hard, said that it would be a cure to his sloth”, “Thomas did sleep on occasion, but was a good man with good values”. Samuel drove in the point of Thomas’s virtue with a heated virility. “I heard the cry, Thomas laid under the beam when I came to the front of the barn”. Continuing on with their story, Samuel took over to state that he was witness to the murder. “Mr. Bulfinch and Thomas were placing the main beam for the roof when I saw it. “Thomas was pushed by Mr. Bulfinch, and took a fall to the ground” “I was returning from getting tools when I was witness to this” Samuel put on a somber expression for the last line, and the magistrate looked over him with worry. “I am sorry for what you witnessed, may God bless you to heal your mind” the magistrate said over to Samuel. “Now if you may James Bulfinch, what did you witness?” James took a step forward and gave a sharp look at Jacob, a mixture of distaste and a feigned sadness on his face. “Sir, I have seen mine father for what he is. I laid witness to the body of Thomas, with both Samuel and saw the devil’s shadow over his death at my father’s hand” Jacob thrashed out in his bonds “ James, you dare speak out against your father” Jacob was about to scream more but was quickly brought into order by the deputy and silenced. After a time looking at Jacob with the same eyes as before the magistrate asked Jacob if he wished to confess before God. To which Jacob once again replied for a final time that he had done no wrong. This was all the speech that Jacob would be allowed during the trial, as during the time the defendant was not given the legal council, and could not speak on his own behalf save for the questioning period that occurred before the trial. The magistrate after a time put his head down, and said words that crushed Jacob’s spirit to the state that it is in now. “ Jacob Bulfinch, I have hear the evidence, and I judge you guilty of murder, you will hang at the morning of tomorrow”.

After being stripped down into a prison garb, that consisted of a white cotton shirt, gray wool knickers, wool socks, and his shoes for his own sake he was thankful he could keep.7 The experience of going to a cell was humiliating and what came to Jacob was more pain than he believed that he could endure. Despite trying to come to terms with what just happened. After the trial took place Jacob was expected to repent his sins to God, so the he may show mercy by God. With a deep tone of the gospel ringing in his voice the Father approached Jacob with talk of repentance and admission of his sins to please God. He scoffed with a rasp at the thought of it “Why should I repent, when no grave sin weighs at mine heart”, was the reply that he gave the Father with a dull tone. Thinking back with regret he wished that he could take back what he said, as it was hurtful to the God that he now relies upon in his dire time of need. With the empty cell, and wind outside stirring fear in Jacob, if anything was getting worse this night, besides his imminent demise, it was the feeling of being alone that had reduced him to tears. Out of a sense of need he began to pray for salvation and for God to end this torment.

Reasoning out to himself to God only served to increased his anxiety. With no provocation or warning he found himself in tears once again and madly pleading with God. “My lord God, I am humble, am I not, then why was I put to this?” “Of what sin did I offend you to deserve this”, Jacob reached out into the dark for a response, but no answer came in return. Feeling a weight close down upon his mind, Jacob rattled in his bond in hysterics.“What penance must I pay to be rid of this trial God?”, “The Father said that if I was an innocent man that my absolution would come, where is my deliverance?”. Jacob echoed his pained plea louder now, which reverberated in the empty hollow of the cell. Still struggling at his bonds, his wrists began to bleed at the strain, and the irons were made slippery with blood and sweat. The smell of blood in the air jolted Jacob back to his senses and he looked down upon his hands. Jacob’s desperation shot forth, and he howled at his fate and against it all the same. For some time this continued until Jacob exhausted his lungs and throat, in between the heavy rise and fall of his chest Jacob began pleading to God again. “I feel pity for those men, deceived by a devil in human guise”, “God give pity for pity and let me free, father Issac whom wished to help me is a just man so please God take back what offense I brought to him”. Jacob continued with his speech ,”After all it was Father Issac who gave the Word of God to the people, and urged Jacob to repent before the gallows took him. Jacob could only reason before that this jail cell must be some cruel mistake by God, but when the events of the trial took place he was revealed a greater tragedy than fate. “ He chortled in between the rasps of his weeping. “God these men do not know what they have done”. Rocking back and forth Jacob hastily began whispering to himself “I am Jacob Bulfinch, I have done no ill” in a repeated manner for some time, until silence and despair took him deep within his mind and he fell silent to his own devices for the rest of the night.

As the sun began to rise panic set in for Jacob again, as he realized that his time was drawing ever shorter. Yet at this moment he could not find his voice to say anything out in the silence. For an eternity within his own head Jacob pondered his own silence, and how in effort that silence was killing him far more than any noose could accomplish. Without a voice in the trial, with no one to defend his innocence he had fallen prey to the machinations of three men.8 Their word against his proved to be a more convincing argument than one man could provide an argument against. Jacob began silently laughing to himself at the futility of his situation as the dawn gave rise to the Sun in full. With the morning came the deputy to collect Jacob and bring him to the gallows. Jacob was led out with a slow march towards his final moments. The crowd that had gathered was nothing short of what one would expect. Murder is an uncommon thing, and a hanging serves as both a warning and a curiosity to the public of the colony.9

As the noose was being prepared around his neck, Father Issac gave his last graces and rights to Jacob, fitting for a man who begged so desperately for his forgiveness the day before. Jacob looked out over the crowd and searched for the men who would see him die for their own goals. He found them near the front of the crowd watching him with deadened eyes. In return he looked back with the same eyes, ones that were dead even before the noose tightened around his neck. The hanging itself was unremarkable for the crowd. Jacob Bulfinch died as a man who exhausted his words and his options long ago in the night before and all that was left was was a silent voice, never heard and never asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

a. Books: Jones; Jones, Bessie Zaban (1975). The Many Voices of Boston: A Historical Anthology 1630–1975. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

 

Williams, Roger. A Key to the Language of America Or, An Help to the Language of

the Natives in That Part of America, Called New-England. London: Printed by Gregory Dexter, 1643.

 

 

 

b. Articles: Clark, David S. “Comparative Law in Colonial British America.” American Journal of Comparative Law 1.-1 (2010): 1-32. .

 

Greenberg, Douglas. “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control in Colonial America.” The American Journal of Legal History 26.4 (1982): 239-325.

 

Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Mar., 1928), pp. 1-9

 

 

c. Websites: “History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Cruel and Unusual: Prisons and Prison Reform : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotations

 

a. Books: Jones: This book offers the historical information on the formation of the Boston colony that was needed to set up the correct period and date to focus the rest of my research on. I only used the basic information about the actual formation of the colony. However the book goes further on the history of Boston, in particular the social dynamics that are important in the profiling of any criminal system.

 

Williams: This is an excellent source for the language used during the mid 17th century. It offers phonetic and dictation for multiple tribal and colonial sources in early America, I used this novel to tune the dialog of the characters to be more impressive.

 

b. Articles: Clark: Offers a comprehensive analysis of colonial law and the reasoning behind the changes when compared to the English common law that the early colonial justice system was based off of.

 

Greenburg: Gives the social reasoning behind laws, and specifically the religious connection between the punishments, and how they are intended as social control for the colonies.

 

Bulletin: A comprehensive collection of craftsmanship pieces for colonial America, the end result is a useful for gauging colonial styling and framework for buildings that involve heavy woodwork.

 

c. Websites: History.org: This page offers a great look at the prison system of colonial America. Most importantly the attire and bonds that they would have been kept in, as well as the detailing of the early gaol jail cells that were used.

1Jones; Jones, Bessie Zaban (1975). The Many Voices of Boston: A Historical Anthology 1630–1975. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

2Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Mar., 1928), pp. 1-9

3Clark, David S. “Comparative Law in Colonial British America.” American Journal of Comparative Law 1.-1 (2010): pp 1-32.

2Clark, David S, Comparative Law in Colonial British America, pp 1-32.

3Greenberg, Douglas. “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control in Colonial America.” The American Journal of Legal History 26.4 (1982): pp 239-325.

4Clark, David S, Comparative Law in Colonial British America, pp 1-32.

5Greenberg, Douglas. Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control in Colonial America pp 239-235.

6Clark, David S, Comparative Law in Colonial British America, pp 1-32.

7“History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Cruel and Unusual: Prisons and Prison Reform : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site.

8Clark, David S, Comparative Law in Colonial British America, pp 1-32.

9Greenberg, Douglas. Crime, Law Enforcement, and Social Control in Colonial America pp 239-235.

Deus Ex

Justin Brewer

Societies of the Future

12/10/13

 

 

More Than Machine, but Not Quite Human

 

With the onset of cybernetics becoming available to people in the future, the question of how society will adapt to this new technology remains to be seen. The idea of a human has always been biological in nature; regardless of the race, culture, or other differences between individuals humanity as a whole is made of flesh and bone. When the bone becomes a carbon Nano tube array, and the flesh becomes a metal alloy the idea of a human is fundamentally changed. In fact the word cyborg even alludes to this being the fusion of man and machine, but still not considered really belonging to either. The moral issues become irrelevant once that border is crossed, and at that moment the person has become a fusion of man and machine they have become larger than the sum of the parts. As with any technology the goal of cybernetics is in to improve the quality of life for the user. The societal potential presents problems of a backlash against this form of enhancement is entirely possible. The rise of an elite augmented stratification, and the question of what will happen to humanities’ free will as the brain is merged with augmentations are all societal issues that should be contemplated as the technology emerges and then becomes implemented into the population. Like all revolutions in society humanity will eventually be faced with the choice to either forgo or embrace cybernetics, much like they have their smart phones, and the countless other controversial technology that has risen over the course of time. At the present moment humanity is quickly becoming less bound by the rules of a natural world, the race that once struggled to wield technology now is fast approaching the means to weld it to their own bodies. The definition of what it means to be a human is changing into something that is not quite a figment of the imagination any more, but still lacks the finesse to be widely incorporated. In the trilogy of DeusEx games, the limitations and boundaries between man and machine have been lifted, and the cost to society becomes a stratification war that ravages the globe. After the dust has settled though, the ending result becomes a human race that is not bound by any obligation to the natural ailments of the flesh, one that has managed to transcend the principle of what it means to be Human. This Hypothesis applies to the real world as well, and in time society will chose to wholly phase out the individual who remains un-augmented in favor or a technologically fused society and race. To address the research for this topic the games themselves were played through, and research went into looking at the societal issues present in the game. After the games were dissected thoroughly for these social elements, further research was made into the non-fictional elements of human augmentation, and the potential effects that it could have on the world in order to support or refute the hypothesis.

In history the aspiration of humanity to become greater than just a mere mortal has existed since man could look up at the sky. However, the means to alter the body into the image of something that is beyond the original body is a technological advancement that has only surfaced as a real possibility in the last decade. With the advent of new possibilities for the individual, it can only be imagined what the collective of society could become with such advancements. This ideal has been the cusp of a technologically based Utopian ideal that can be best summed up as “self controlling, self maintaining, self reasoning. Indeed cybernetics has been characterized as the “science of effective organization”(Ericson 1). Society has come to envision the future of cybernetics with a mixture of awe and fear. The awe stems from the hope that this future Utopia can live up to the expectation that has failed us historically, after all the very idea of a Utopia is found nowhere both linguistically or historically in the real world and the apprehensions toward this possible future has lead to the discursive theories to become a school of thought. Cyborg Anthropology as it is called, is the summation of the thoughts of dealing with these issues “ Cyborg Anthropology is interested in the construction of science and technology as cultural phenomenons” (Downey 265) . The old add-age to lose humanity for the sake of this goal is a common concern when technology and culture are involved together. The idea of Humanity even being overcome by machines is a staple of fiction thanks to the the popularization of the Terminator series. While not specifically depicting a merger of man and machine, the fear “that our automated machines may ultimately become too intelligent and may even eventually do away with us” (Arnold 24) sets the tone of the advancement of robotics in any form could eventually lead to this doomsday scenario. However, Cyborg Anthropology offers a very different view of the eventual singularity between humanity and machines. The alternative to either a wholly humanistic or machine oriented view point, is that only one side can remain dominant is essentially flawed because “ human subjects and subjectivity are crucially as much a function of machines, machine relations, and information transfers” (Downey 266). This states that humanity will adapt to the use of machines, and in the end the two are essentially the same. This theory then stands to reason that humans in themselves are only advanced biological machines, so we can augment the body with compatible machines to achieve increased performance without sacrificing anything. The humanity would not be lost, but rather it would adapt and grow stronger as a result of the change.

The historical context in which the Deus Ex games take are a recent history that truly began in the early 2000′s. The first game in the series chronologically is DeusEx: Human Revolution, and the game is the most recently made, being released in 2011. The story follows the development of fully integrated cybernetic prosthesis that can interface with the body directly into the hands of the public by the year 2027. While at first the development of this technology was strictly medical, the real world applications of the technology for war and other environments where the prosthesis gave an advantage became a quick economy. In light of this an economic boom in prosthesis sales, and the advantages which their owners have over the normal population quickly forms a stratification based upon three groups. The most powerful and influential group are the corporations that run the development of cybernetics and their clients. The second is the lower class who cannot afford to obtain augmentations but wish to do so in order to improve their lives. The third as always, acts as the oppositional force to the movement trend, and sees augmentation as an unethical and disastrous mistake by mankind. The player finds themselves in the role of Adam Jensen, who works as a body guard for Sarif industries, which is the largest manufacturer of cybernetics on the planet. As Sarif industries begins to work on a new chip which can be implanted in the brain to hopefully prevent cybernetic rejection on account of scar tissue build up on the chips. Seeing an opportunity a group attacks the corporation in order to obtain the researchers on the project, and in the process the mortally wound Jensen. Recovering under Sarif’s watchful eye, Jensen is outfitted with the latest augmentations in order to get back up to the forefront of figuring out what is being planned. As the game progresses Jensen learns that the anti augmentation groups are being used as a proxy to attempt to halt the progression of augmentation until the Illuminati can seize control of it for their own goals. Just as Jensen begins to piece together the plot of the Illuminati to seize control a rival company to Sarif corporation has announced the development of the new bio-chip that they were originally developing. The augmented population flocks to this new advancement that will prevent the risk of rejection, and soon a majority of them are carrying the new chip. As part of the scheme the Illuminati then activate a beacon that drives any augmented individual who has the new bio-chip insane by over-stimulation of the nervous system. The signal is originating from a supercomputer aptly named Hyron, which to Jensen’s horror has been routed to human brains to act as its processor. The Illuminati used the Hyron project as the first prototype to controlling the human mind, and with its success used the computer to attempt to take control of the populace. Jenson manages to shut down the signal, however as the news leaks out about the controversies that were in the works behind human enhancement, the world is further thrown into chaos, over what is the right choice for humanity,

The world has fallen into a dystopian future, in the year 2052 a plague called the Gray Death has appeared and wrecks what is left of humanity. Conveniently the only company that can synthesize a treatment for this illness is a proxy company of the Illuminati. As tension’s between the upper class that can afford to purchase this treatment, and the people who are dying without it grows terrorist groups begin to spring up to wage a war against the governments of the planet. The character played in this game is JC Denton, a rookie agent under a anti terrorist division. As it turns out the character is being manipulated by the Illuminati as a test candidate for AI merging. The reason being is that a previous attempt to create an artificial intelligence to police the world ended in failure. As the Ai managed to achieve sentience and determined that the Illuminati themselves were a threat, and therefore it rebelled. The Illuminati having learned from their previous failure decide to engineer the perfect role for the merger relying on neither a sole human or computerized method of keeping control. Over the last few decades since the last game augmentation has progressed to the point where nano-machines have taken to be the main source of cybernetics over physical hardware. The player character JC Denton learns that the Illuminati need either him or his brother’s body to activate the merger with the Ai unit. As a result he decides to openly rebel against the organization that was a part of the Illuminati, and sides with the terrorist cells that are attempting to bring down the Illuminati once and for all. The Gray Death turns out to be, unsurprisingly, an attempt to bring the world under an easier social control by keeping the resources in the hands of the Illuminati, but when the virus is cured then they lose a major portion of their power. Resorting to drastic measures one of the heads of the Illuminati decides to alter himself with nano augmentations so that he will be compatible to the new AI system instead. As the Illuminati begin to start the merger process Denton and his allies see the opportunity to attack the base in an effort to stop the Ai construct all together. However in a twist, the Ai that originally went rouge against the Illuminati decides that the other more peaceful Ai that has been created in the meantime needs to be accounted for in order for the Ai to reach the state of a complete being. In the chaos of the resulting fusion and creation of a new artificial intelligence, that far exceeds either previous parts. JC Denton is given the choice by the new Ai that calls itself Helios, to merge with it in order to guide humanity with the best traits of machine and man. Denton reflects on his past dealings with both the terrorists and the Illuminati and decides that both are too dangerous to be left in power. Denton then accepts Helio’s offer, and as the two become one entity he begins to plan for how to best bring the world to salvation.

The third game, DeusEx: The Invisible War, is the last chronological game in the DeusEx series and takes place in the year 2072. As Denton bides his time to establish a plan for the ideal world order, different factions have built themselves up as world powers in the mean time and a world of war is all that is left. This event known as the Collapse has left the people of the world broken and scattered. Heavy augmentation has become necessary to survive the harsh environment of war, but as a result of the constant conflict anti augmentation groups are a major world power as well. The character in this game goes by the name of Alex Denton. A mercenary that does freelance work for all of the world powers in exchange for pay. Over the course of the missions that Alex is sent on he learns that he is a clone of the original JC Denton. Finally being able to meat the original Alex is presented with the plan that JC denton spent so long planning. The final plan involves augmenting the entire human race to one large computer network, a person would belong to the collective government by thought, but would still fundamentally keep their individuality to keep intact human nature while also creating a true world equality without difference or issue. Alex decides to back JC Denton’s idea of a perfect world, and with the information for mass nano machine construction, the entirety of the human population is able to be quickly be modified and added to the collective government of the planet. The results of this is staggering with the ability to share information and motive on a whim, to be guided by JC Denton which ends with a society in which war is nonexistent, and the entirety of humanity can go on to focus on their passions instead of worrying over issues of inequality and war.

From the perspective of values, norms, and sanctions the main power that manipulates society from the background is the Illuminati. They first among all else value control and obedience among the populace so that they may guide them. “Such things will only be dimly remembered upon waking to their normal lives” (DeusEx), gives this example the Illuminati work by proxy and so seek to coerce the populace into doing its bidding. The norm that arises through this for the population is the need for privacy that is valued heavily by the Illuminati so that they may work in secrecy in order to deceive the world. When this idea of gentle coercion fails for the Illuminati the sanction that they fall back onto is through a threat of destruction. Whether it be the bio-chips causing madness or the Gray Death keeping the population in line, the Illuminati seek to keep people in line through causing bigger problems to take the attention off of themselves. On the opposite spectrum the line of values that the protagonists favor is toward free will and progress. In each game the main character ends up canonically making the choice to progress humanity towards the next step in evolution while trusting it to make the right choice in the future. In an odd twist the sanction that this line of thought follows is equality. “We’re now ready to transform the human race” (DeusEx Invisible War), are the words that JC Denton uses before he gives up the reigns of progress towards the collective of humanity. The Irony in that to achieve this they have no choice, and are therefore sanctioned with equality in the form of augmentation. While JC Denton and Helios see this as a just reward, the counterargument towards people wishing for privacy makes it a forced “right” of the population.

Surprisingly for a trilogy that seeks to end stratification the only ones seen through the trilogy coincide with one another. The world has been split up into two groups the wealthy who profit off of augmentation and have it themselves because they can afford it; and the poor who though many wish to be augmented to gain either status, or to benefit their quality of life cannot afford to buy the augmentations. This leads to an every increasing rift that accumulates into the collapse event of the first game. In civil war the two sides are stratified irreversibly by hatred until the ending of DeusEx Invisible War where stratification is ended by the planet wide augmentation. Other social differences such as age or gender play no part in the stratification, meaning that the sole reason for the inequality comes from the advantage that augmentations give over a entirely human body.

In terms of the social institutions seen the three major ideals take form of the Illuminati, and the Templar philosophy. The Illuminati have importance to the narrative from the stand point that they have the most power through out the trilogy. The economy is entirely run by their proxy companies to forward the goal of guiding humanity in the way they see fit. Despite this all powerful control, the Illuminati is depicted in an often negative light in comparison to the idea of Augmentation freedom. Though they may be the “Invisible Hand” (DeusEx), by taking a reserved backseat driving approach, as an organization they have lost touch with the very world that they seek to control, which leads to them misjudging the actions of the protagonists. Despite limitless power without the knowledge to back it up the resources are wasted. The theme of progress is handled in the institution of Sarif industries, the goal of the corporation is to create and progress human augmentation by any means necessary. As said by David Sarif “They cannot stop us. They cannot stop the future” (DeusEx Human Revolution), Sarif industries serves to act as the embodiment of sacrifice for the greater good, a hope for Utopia and a continued progress towards the singularity of augmentation. The Templar’s on the other hand are present as the antithesis towards change, they do not wish to see augmentation controlled or allowed to flourish freely, but want to keep the status quo intact. Humans should remain solely human, and to tarnish the natural body that was given is a sure way towards destruction.

The role of conflict and by extension war as a method of social change is important to the series, because it acts as a crucible for the way of Augmentation. Much like the Terminator was meant to represent the “replacement of a machine that can do it better, faster, cheaper” (Arnold 24) , the end result is that biological functions simply cannot keep up with the synthetic alternative. The world must adapt this technology to themselves because it is the end of survival if they do not. The conflict essentially boils down to a war against stagnation of the human being. As one soldier in the series puts it so eloquently,“Human society is now so destructive that organic life itself is an endangered species”, when out competed the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest holds true, even if it is a designed change.

As a whole technology is seen in a positive light throughout the trilogy. In the beginning Augmentation allowed for medical advances unseen before that point. Further development to the nanobot cybernetics cleared the hurtle of cost for the individual, allowing for augmentations to be available to the masses. Finally the merger of human consciousness into one large network, increased communication into a singularity and ended stratification entirely. The negative aspects of technology only showed themselves when someone wished to abuse the power of them. It is human nature to weaponize technology, “Even primitive savages invented such ingenious machines as bows and arrows” ( Kaempffert 432). That does not mean that the technology is bad though, and if weaponry is born out of the necessity to obtain the selfish desires in order to keep one alive, than the augmentations that have the capability to eliminate these desires are a good worth keeping in the world.

The main theme of this trilogy of games is the progress of mankind with the pressures of technology looming over the horizon. Each game follows the theme of revolutionizing a central part of what culture considers to be part of a human. Causing the question what is a human? and where does the potential of one end. DeusEx: Human Revolution preaches the theme that humanity will not lose itself to technology, and that though the progress too reaching perfection is a hard road, it is one worth following. “Some people will be left behind. It’s evolution!” (DeusEx: Human Revolution), are the words stated by David Sarif, on the realities of progress. The game makes it clear by the sacrifices that are made in the sake of progress, such as the Hyron merger with human brains will one day pave the road to true enlightenment. The importance comes from acknowledging the sacrifice of others and to honor that choice by keeping your morals in check. The struggle to retain these morals become the games argument, and with proper use any advancement is just a tool to improve humanity, nothing more nothing less. “we were cold so we harnessed fire, we were weak so we created tools. Every time we met an obstacle, we used creativity and ingenuity to overcome it” (DeusEx: Human Revolution), the idea of progress in this game is limited to the physical side of humanity. Accepting that power without giving into the temptation to abuse it is what leads the next step in human evolution.

The second game deals with human growth in terms of the mind and concept of self. Specifically the merger between the Helios Ai and JC Denton is not depicted as a loss of individuality, but a gaining of the logic and knowledge of the artificial intelligence system while still retaining the human portion of Denton needed to empathize with humanity as its leader. As Helios states before the merger, “the barriers between us have fallen, and we have become our own shadows” (DeusEx). Helios refers to itself in the plural sense, yet still emphasizes a gain to be had with a further fusion with Denton “together we can be more, if we join” (DeusEx). The core theme of attaining the wisdom of a collective with the compassion that comes with emotion and empathy on the human side, is that the vast power that comes with knowledge can be best used to serve for the greater good of all.

The third game in the trilogy deals with the concept of all with the inclusion of society into the full merger of machine and man. Both Alex and JC Denton are relying upon the unification of humanity to absolve their differences into the collective of a true and instant democracy. This process is described in detail that “Wisdom must first be human. You must start with what a human sees and feels. But wisdom must also be knowledgeable, logical, and fair to billions of other beings” (DeusEx Invisible War). The way to achieving the Utopian society comes from a benevolent power seeking to mediate the vast collective, but does not wish to take away free will, but merely understand the will of the populace with a “deep understanding of every person’s life and opinions” (DeusEx Invisible War). This theme of a guiding force presiding over the human race is very similar to the ending of The Day the Earth Stood Still, however the difference is that the populace has a direct input into the system rather than just being ruled over by it. In an optimistic turn the Helios Ai, and Denton believe that humanity when fully integrated with knowledge from birth will be able to make the right decisions for the species as a whole.

As can be seen, in the world of DeusEx the idea of a non augmented human was eventually eliminated for the sake of progress towards an ideal, but what of the real world? This rests on whether the body, the mind, and society can be fundamentally improved through augmentation. Ideally the evidence for a future of augmentation of the body can be argued to already be on it’s way. The jump in the ability of prosthetic arms, and bio-tech is increasing at an ever expanding rate due to the Singularity principle. As technology is progressing at this heightened rate this will theoretically lead to a technological singularity. This singularity itself could lead to “technological humankind in its acceleration toward something utterly beyond itself” (Smith 203), it is at this point that the curve of technology begins to shape the whole of human reality. In terms of the body, when synthetic limbs have the ability to outperform the biological originals than natural selection will see the strong, whether it be through the need for military might or medicine in order to “give it new purpose and direction, and lay the foundations of engineering and mass production” (Kaempffert 432) a need for progress will at least guarantee the creation of augmented physical bodies. In terms of the mind becoming augmented it like the physical augmentation would prove to be advantageous to thought speed, much like the processor of a computer the brain could be upgraded and improved. What acts as further evidence that it will occur is the relationship between the agency of a human and a machine. Any sentient being relies upon what it gets from the outside world to define what it is. The concept of a human centric sentience is nothing more than semantics for our species. In reality even a “post human beings depend upon the embodied experiences, and upon their interaction with their complex and shifting environment” (Stevenson 88). It is then truly impossible to abandon the mind frame of the self through any alteration to the brain. Given that if memories were altered during the process, the person stops being themselves in the truest way and is then dead in the process. The incline in society towards ethics and the rights of human beings, means that the value of the information that makes up a human mind would be carefully guarded by law. If ideas and writings can be patented, than the unique thoughts that make up yourself inherently belong as property. As it is now progressing at a rate that has become a self sustaining process, humanity will inevitability change as the result. From the perspective of society itself, can that fall under the same spell of augmentation to improve relations on the planet. In a way just that is happening through economic globalization. “From 1973 until today, world trade grew at a pace of 11% annually, rising from just over 22% of the world GDP to 42% today” (Mishkin 260), and with this increased need for trade larger and more companies are being created, that have a greater monopoly on the world power. Such companies continuously devour one another into ever increasingly powerful conglomerates, so this too is a singularity towards a global economic power. When the world is unified under one economy that seeks to protect its own place at the top then the Earth will stabilize politically as a result. Much like the wold of DeusEx, the real world economy has become more reliant on communication and technology for transaction and processing. In the event of the technological singularity the rate of communication would rise as a result into the global grid presented at the end of the Trilogy. To say that the augmentation of the world through cybernetics is an inevitability, would not be far from the truth. If anything it can be argued to be highly plausible, and with that world change, the resulting environment will be unsuitable for the un-augmented person, leading to the eventual phasing out and then extinction of a un-augmented reality.

The realm of cybernetics in all fashions are quickly becoming developed, for different purposes and functions. All realms of the human body and being can be addressed by these changes in a variety of ways. As shown when something outpaces the original it has a tendency to phase out, it would be superfluous to believe that the human body is exempt from this rule. Furthering the goal of a united and augmented world, the global economy is becoming more and more reliant on technology to keep up with the naturally increasing demands of the population. If current trends in development of these technologies develop the world will fast approach the technological singularity. It is at this point where DeusEx most speaks to the core result, in that moment the definition of reality for humanity will be transformed though not necessarily lost. In support of the hypothesis that society will chose to phase out the individual who remains un-augmented in favor or a technologically fused society. The trade off for a changing reality, are the changing needs to be able to experience it, and in this case the natural human body realistically would be unsuitable for this environment, and will therefore need to adapt in order to survive. These adaptations will come with great changes to the balance of power, and the ability to abuse this power will present itself. The largest impact on society will be to overcome this urge to abuse the power given long enough for the world to adjust and settle into this new form. The potential for war and other horrors will most likely be a possible outcome of this instability. The trade off for progress is always the risk it entails, and the larger risk the greater the outcome when society emerges from the crucible.

 

Works Cited.

Arnold, Robert F. “Termination or Transformation? The “Terminator” Films and Recent Changes in the U. S. Auto Industry.” Film Quarterly 52.1 (1998): 20-30.

Deus Ex . N.p.: Eidios, 2000. Computer software.

Deus Ex Invisible War . N.p.: Eidios, 2003. Computer software.

Deus Ex Human Revolution.El Segundo, CA: Square Enix, 2011. Computer software.

Downey, Gary Lee, Joseph Dumit, and Sarah Williams. “Cyborg Anthropology.” Cultural Anthropology 10.2 (1995): 264-69.

Kaempffert, Waldemar. “War and Technology.” American Journal of Sociology 46.4 (1941): 431.

Mishkin, Frederic S. “Is Financial Globalization Beneficial?”Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 39.2-3 (2007): 259-94.

Smith, Darryl A. “Droppin’ Science Fiction: Signification and Singularity in the Metapocalypse of Du Bois, Baraka, and Bell.” Science Fiction Studies; Jul2007, Vol. 34 Issue 2, p201

Stevenson, Melissa Colleen “Trying to Plug In: Posthuman Cyborgs and the Search for Connection.”Science Fiction Studies;Mar2007, Vol. 34 Issue 1, p87

Kaempffert, Waldemar. “War and Technology.” American Journal of Sociology 46.4 (1941): 431.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gattaca: Un-re-mediated.

ustin Brewer

 

11/14/13

 

Societies of the Future

 

 

 

Defining the Worth of Your Genes

 

When the control of your birth is taken out of the hands of fate, and laid bare on a designers monitor, the value of a person changes. In Gattaca what genes make up a human is worth more than any other skill or trait that they could posses. The film was envisioned by Andrew Niccol , who both wrote the screenplay and directed the film as his take on what the future would become if the process of genetics was honed to perfection. The film was made in the US, and released in 1997. This was an important time for genetics, as great strides were being made in decoding the human genome, also the use of DNA in criminal prosecution had since opened the door that everyone could be identified and quantified. A major thought process evolved from this notion and the interest in the genetic potential and meaning of humanity was at the forefront of culture during this time, as society came to grips with what the future technology of genetic manipulation and tracking would mean for the world.

In the society of Gattaca the pinnacle of genetic technology has lead to DNA being the sole determination of worth in society. The main character of the film, Vincent Freeman, lives with the stratification every day of being born natural, and as a result never being good enough in the eyes of society to achieve his dreams. Often compared to his brother who was born of design, a major theme of the movie is explored in the early competition between the two. As Vincent had to learn, beating the system and by extension his brother required more than the effort he put in. While they were designed to win, the way for Vincent to achieve his goal of space flight, or to beat his brother in a swim is to take drastic measures. As a child this means risking his life to keep swimming beyond safety, but as an adult this means for Vincent to discard himself as a person entirely. The trick to getting his opportunity to fly is held in the plan of adopting another genetic identity, one that is more than he would ever be able to be worth to society without. Doing so shows the theme of futility in attempting to rise beyond your natural state in this new system of genetic worth. While Vincent through cunning and guts is able to fool society, his own identity as a person had to be forfeit as the payment, in essence Vincent lost his life to this society in terms of his individuality. The main conflict between brothers resurfaces as Vincent’s long awaited time of flight comes, his brother acts as the cop who plans to bring his brother in as either an invalid a murderer, or both. Though Vincent is innocent, the dichotomy between the two in this game of cat and mouse shows how far the Genetic identity is worth. That with the proof of finding Vincent that he would be convicted of murder without question, brings home the fact that your genes are everything, and if you don’t fit the laws of society will remove you from the equation. The only reason that he is not caught sooner is by managing to beat his brother once again in the race that defined their childhood; which he manages a win only through a suicidal mentality and a trust in his chances. Through the same mixture of luck, and the support of those who saw his worth apart from his genetics does manage to achieve anonymity from the system. However, the final theme of the film is that you cannot escape the rules of society, a person can discard them to forge there own path, a bittersweet revelation if nothing else.

These rules of society in Gattaca are simple and clean, in face there is only one value of note to society. This of course is the genetic code of the individual, that is designed to be the best, and as a result society becomes haven to the value of elite individuals over all other traits. The norm that arises from an elite expectation, is that a child will be of a designed birth, and those that choose to have their children in a natural way are seen as fools. To keep this norm inline with what is expected from couples, the sanction of Gattaca are seen in the way that society handles the people with inferior genetics, by separating them from those who meet the criteria to be considered valid.

This method of seperation based on genetic validity of being deemed invalid for that area, is the main form of stratification seen in the film. For those with the classification of an invalid, many career opportunities, forms of education, and benefits of life are kept under lock and key. The society’s reasoning for this is that an invalid would be a liability for the company if resources were spent to develop them in whatever they chose but something happened based on their genetic makeup, such as a disease for example. The secondary effect of this stratification between genetics results in a discrepancy between male and females. While this stratification seems to be only in numbers, the vast majority of people in this world seem to be male, and since gender is assigned at birth this is a societal stratification indicative of a patriarchal society. This idea of stratification by gender is further reinforced by the fact that all of the directors at Gattaca are older males, and not female. While race and age may not be a factor anymore it seems that even in a world stripped down to pure choice that biases will still be produced among the elite.

The main institution of the elite, valid seen is the economic and political giant, Gattaca corporation as the movie is named after. The major source of economy in the film is pointed towards space travel to gain both scientific and material resources from space. While there is never any notion of any major shortage on earth, the need for space travel as an economy is great enough that Gattaca cannot afford any risks to the efficiency of the operation. Thus beyond the basic maintenance workers all employees of Gattaca must be of the genetic elite. Taking the hint of this superiority bias, the educational system can be seen turning down Vincent as he did not meet their genetic criteria. Based upon the withholding of the highest quality of education those with genetic gifts are set up to gain entry into other institutions based upon the quality of their blood sample, and not the merits of effort. While the model of efficiency is king in Gattaca, in the family setting of Vincent in childhood the family institution is seen to be supportive to the best of the inferior children to the best that society will allow. It is not that Vincent’s parents did not want him to succeed, however the vast pressure of society crushed their will to see Vincent as anything more than a sick child and a weaker individual than his brother.

Among a society that sees invalid’s as a liability and a burden it is no surprise that the method of social change to combat this ideal is to become a person of worth. The invalid can trade genetic places with a valid in an agreement to gain the status needed to make life opportunities happen for them. In the mainstream society this method of cheating is a criminal act that is seen as an attempt to usurp the title of a valid from those who rightfully have it. To an invalid the act of swapping is the only way possible to seek change in a system that does not care for you as a person, but only for the value that your code brings to the table.

To go along with the sterile concept of genetic elitism, the technology of Gattaca has grown to emulate this goal. The main method of power on the planet seems to be derived from solar power, which offers a clean alternative to the global warming issue seen in other films. Cars also run off of a similar fuel cell that is clean, and prevents the issues of carbon footprint. Space travel follows a similar pattern of improvement, with a cleaner and faster propulsion system paving the way for humans to explore the stars in Gattaca for future colonies and resources. All of the other advancements in technology over the time in the 90′s when it was filmed is the mastery of genetic technology. In Gattaca the entire human genome has been more than mapped, it has been quantified and categorized into an easily changed format for birth. The result of this is the perfect elimination of diseases and inadequacies that may plateau natural humans. However, as a cost to this little progress in the way of conventional medicine seems to be made as the technology to treat basic wounds and conditions such as a heart murmur cannot be treated, or at least no one cares to fix these problems in those who were not born to gene manipulation.

In a similar vein to the other technologies, while the environment of the film seems sterilized and spared from excessive pollution damage, it also seems to be underdeveloped with urbanization being more like the conventional times, rather than a sprawling metropolis world space. I would argue that this balanced environment is due to the genetic control, which leads to population control. As more parents had their children engineered the need for multiple attempts at children lessened, which in turn lead to a lower birth rate that meant less stress on the environment. The built environment of Gattaca is entirely sterilized, to both avoid contamination and to boost efficiency in the workers.

The effect of this society that is bound to the law of a genetic identifier, is one that could exist in the future of the real world. There has already been a push for getting genetic testing in children for diseases, and the idea of human gene manipulation has already reached a primitive phase. In the film, these early attempts to create a safer world though genetics may have one over the populace, and then the culture grew more dependent on this technology as a source of comfort against the uncertainties of life. Many parents would want to give their child the best chance that it has in life, and with the genetic manipulation this would be possible. As a result of this positive thinking for genetics, its value rose until the norm of a genetic elite became embedded in the populace. Just like in present day, corporations would wish to make use of a growing efficient workforce, so they began with simple genetic testing, that established the status of an employee. While on the political spectrum they could not discriminate based upon genetics, just like in real life the rules were bent for the sake of making money at the end of the day. An unofficial layer of discrimination towards the invalids left them with little to look forward to. The idea of rising up in status had been killed when they were born, so they chose new identities to fight the system, just as any society that is maltreated will make an attempt to rectify the situation to better quality of life. As far as the element of a true life Gattaca emerging in reality, the probability is high that this will occur. It can be argued that as it is human nature to better ones self, that as a society whatever it needs to advance itself will be used and eventually embraced as the new norm for a perfect human.

By creating a thought provoking peak into a very probable and realistic society gripped with the thought of attaining perfection. Gattaca was well received by critics which applauded the film for its reflection on a future with untested technology, and that the turn that humanity could make as a result. In terms of awards the film was nominated for the Oscars and Golden Globe, but only won awards in foreign categories such as the Bogey, and London Critics Film Awards. While the budget for the film was 36,000,000 the return box office total of around 12,000,000 shows that it was more of a critical success than a commercial block buster. This can be attributed to the lack of flair in the movie as it had more subdued special effects and a more discrete plot that emphasized suspense and not action. Despite the set backs at the box office, Gattaca managed to have an impact by being the first exploration of genetic technology as a path to the future. A path that many films sense have emulated, with genetic engineering since becoming a common trope in the Sci-Fi genre. A pioneering movie to show the potential and dark side of genetics, Gattaca gives the recipe for an entirely plausible future world, while cautioning humanity on the drawbacks of this path.

Things to Come

Justin Brewer

12/10/13

Social Assessment 1

Things to Come

 

In a rare example of film, Things to Come, does not offer a traditional story arc, or stick with one main protagonist, but rather plays out like a speculative documentary. Offering an overarching moral lesson about how we should govern our future with daring and knowledge instead of violence. This film was made in 1936, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and had the screenplay written by H.G. Wells. Things to Come was an UK film, and was met with mixed reactions upon its release. The consensus of the audience was that this was much an average film though unique in its time. As a result the movie has had little impact on society, besides the wandering sickness inspiring future zombie films. Especially in comparison to what was achieved in other works over the span of H.G. Wells’s lifetime. Although it has flaws, many note that it depicts a very realistic time frame for the start of World War Two, and manages to get a good grasp of future technologies.

This film takes a generational approach to its narrative, with the same actors reprising decedents of their family’s line as the story progresses. The movie starts in Everytown, which is a mockup of an English town. In 1940a s Christmas is the main center of everyone’s attention, the looming war foreshadowed through out the first scene goes over the heads of the populace. Soon as foretold war breaks out interrupting the evening of the Cabal family’s enjoyment. The chaos of a bombing run envelopes the city, and in the echos of war the film flashes forward to an aerial battle between John Cabal and an unnamed enemy, that is promptly shot down. John then lands his plane and contemplates war with the downed fighter as gas rolls in from the enemy. Choosing to save a little girl ironically from his own gas the enemy pilot sacrifices himself to give life in an effort to aid humanity than destroy it, which is the beginning of the moral lesson. Once again moving forward, Everytown has devolved into a dictatorship run by a wartime economy. With the wandering disease a rampant biological weapon, contributing to the devolution of man down to a base level. John Cabal returns to his hometown as the member of a new organization dedicated to peace known as Wings over the World. Though he is captured and interrogated his prediction that his organization, dedicated to peace instead of war, will win comes true. As they reclaim the town through more peaceful means in order to improve the lives of its citizens instead of dominating them. With one final flash forward to the year 2036 Everytown has escalated into an underground metropolis, filled with leisure, proving that the intellectual path has merit over war, and yet discord still surfaces at the attempts to travel in space at the risk of life. The complacent citizen’s quickly rise to anger after a rousing speech and attempt to destroy the gun that will fire the space pod. The ancestor’s of John have realized this outcome and manage to race to the gun beforehand so that they may fire it out of the need for intellectual conquest. Though they succeed with the gun the rioters still manage to destroy it after it has fired. This resulting conflict is left unsolved however, as the audience is left with a metaphorical ending that results in the question if it is better to challenge the world and prosper or to stagnate in complacency like an animal. With this final thought the credits begin to roll, and although the end result was certainly not a well paced narrative, often jumping to different situations with little context, the strong moral message of the future is delivered well enough and brings a good deal of discussion in relation to the social elements of the film.

Aptly starting with the social control and culture of the film, the themes are explored very differently over the three separate time zones. In 1940, the culture of Everytown is very proud of its nation and military. There is a norm of celebrating the holiday of Christmas, and children can be seen receiving gifts associated with soldiers, and even dress as soldiers out of admiration. These people seem to value their freedom as a right, with little worry for the impending war even though it is almost upon them. Forward in time to 1970, Everytown has a similar, yet drastically heightened view of war as it has become the new norm. At this point in time it has consumed their culture leaving the town to be lead by a warlord who urges them on in constant struggle. Here no children dress as the military, and in a way every member of town serves to aid the military in there struggles against whichever enemy they are pointed against. A sanction that can be seen is with the handling of those with the wandering disease. These men and women are shot instead of treated like one would expect in a civilized world. With resources scarce this harsh way of doing things permeates the citizens over time, to accept death and war as the only way. This leads to a value of strength over intelligence in the population, as good soldiers would do better for the wartime. In a stark contrast the world of 2036 has come to accept freedom of choice and knowledge as the norms for citizens to follow, along with the values of intelligence and effort. There are roles in society dedicated to passions such as art, and little danger present, save the risk of testing the next frontier. With this lifestyle the values of peace and knowledge are key to the ending of war in order to create a lasting land of plenty and not famine. Overall the film presents these norms and values to be the building blocks towards what Wells believes is the ideal society, and therefore you can see in the language across all the eras how the intellectuals talk of peace at odds to the despots that only can speak of war to secure what they believe to be safety through force.

In the social structures that make up society the major factor of separation seems to be the intelligence of the person. The people who start war and strife within the film are depicted as selfish and forceful, not surprising as these are the traits needed continue a war for such a prolonged time. The intelligent engineers and craftsmen of the movie have an altruistic quality, instead either wishing to abolish war through progress, or looking out for the safety of their people. The few times that we see women in this film, they play supporting rolls, leading to the assumption that in all eras that the main culture is patriarchal in nature. Even the daughter of Oswald Cabal is only going on the mission because of her heritage, and not due to any special qualifications that she is shown to possess. The older men are treated in a similar manner to the women in this film. Though they are respected more, they offer the more expected roll of wisdom, yet they do not actively take part in the conflicts. This leads them to serve more of a explanation role in this culture to the children than as active workers in society. The children themselves are shown to be important in both the 1940′s and in 2036 where they are seen as the future of society and are kept in close to family to raise and educate them to be the best as possible. In 1970 the children can be seen left mostly to their own devices in the streets, suggesting that there is little family suggesting that the work of the parents supersedes raising the children. The idea of poiting towards the future is a central theme in the film, so children make up a good part of the foreshadowing in the film. We first see the little boy dressed as a soldier to represent the coming wartime world, and then the little girl in 2036 is filled with awe and whimsey at the past; which represents the success of looking towards the past while realizing that the future that exits now is better.

Of the social institutions in Things to Come, Family, the military, and the Wings over the World play the biggest parts in the film. As previously stated in both 1940 and 2054 family is shown to be enormously important to society, because they are recognized as the next ones to inherit the direction of the world. Specifically in regards to children although we see no formal means of education, it seems that the elders of the community teach the children to some degree. The military is most seen in the 1970 era, where it makes up the ruling class of society. Specifically the military is used to enforce rules and to uphold the general order of society. Wings over the World, being the establishing force of the new government in 1970 is a form of military focused on using nonlethal means assert control over territory. Unlike the totalitarian rule of Everytown, the Wings over the World are lead by a council of free men to illustrate everyone as intellectual equals that make decisions together, and do not simply follow orders. In 2036 idea of military has been phased out entirely in favor the way of peace, leaving the people to govern themselves by the norms that are upheld in that community. Although there is a governing council to delegate laws and actions ,there seems to be little enforcing these decisions. As for overall importance to the film, the institutions that uphold order being phased out is shown as a progression of mankind, in that man can lead his or her own destiny without being forced into line.

Societal change comes in a wave of destruction and then rebuilding. At the start of 1940 the war begins and humans quickly release biological weapons to use against the enemy. From polite society to war the human race gets crueler as it destroys itself through hatred. Resorting in the 1970′s to flat out killing any infected that they notice, and then going right back to war when the plague has been dealt with. Wings over the World bring back with them the change towards a common goal of civilized society again, however this time war will not be tolerated and strength will not be valued over the brain. These changes seem to come fast to the people of Everytown as right after Wings over the World has taken over, the process of rebuilding starts. Showing off the effort needed to expand Everytown in the montage, it would make sense that the next change in society is a break from working, and with the looming dangers of space travel this gives the public the trigger to act on their fears. It is not shown in the aftermath of the riot if the rest has become the new norm or not, as the last scene continues the conflict metaphorically without an answer. Through out the film, these changes are more seen in the background, as results of the other changes in environment over the course of time. It is implied that the means of conquest and discovery through effort will continue as according to the film that is the true way to overcome the base animal nature that human’s share.

Similar to societal change, the technology in this movie get’s worse before man can progress. In 1940 the technology was typical of the era, cars were present, tanks and guns were plentiful, and planes were the newest and most influential technology. As the war continued on into 1970 the importance of airplanes became a cornerstone of the military, as whoever controlled the air would win the war. Other than the remnants of technology left over Everytown has devolved into a dark age setting, where guns seem to be the only surviving technology available, and fitting for a wartime community. The rest of the town relies on horse drawn wagons or car wrecks. Medicine has reverted to the most basic practice, and people have lost the ability to manufacture goods of any kind.

It will not be until 2036 that we see the jump in technology to befit a society that holds intelligence higher than all other traits. In order to renovate Everytown after the way, Large plasma drills were used to carve out an underground city, large factories can also be seen during the rebuilding montage, in order to manufacture walls for the buildings. Over time medicine has improved to the point of extending lifespan. Sunlight is also no longer necessary to live because they have developed a way to create artificial sunlight in their cities. Furthermore in the field of aviation helicopters have replaced planes as the main method of fast transit, and they have developed rudimentary space travel via use of a rail gun. Even the media has been expanded upon with large flat screen monitors being used to communicate to the masses. The importance of technology flourishing in the final era creates the notion that without war and fear holding humanity back, true technological achievement can be made.

The environment plays second fiddle to the other topics in this film. Although we can be sure that by 1970 humanity has managed to wipe out a vast majority of habitable land through war. Pestilence comes in the form of the Wanderers disease, that ended in a mass purging of the sick, damaged the cultural environment of humans. In 2036 there is no longer a need to live outdoors so the entirety of the environment is man made by that point in time. However, it is interesting to note that the town is not heavily industrialized, but instead is mainly made of open ground for travel and meeting, and not for production as the Everytown of the past was for a wartime economy. The only outdoor area we see is the base of the gun, and although there is plant life, most of the area is covered by the same material as Everytown. At least this shows the the people of the furture were able to recreate the natural land above after it was ravaged by war.

These social aspects of society, lead to the question that by 2036 will our society match any of the predictions shown in the film? From the point of values and norms, this is a yes, in the current real world society, there has been a major push towards increased of leisure because technology that makes everyday tasks easier for humanity. Also intelligence is being sought more than ever so that the latest technology can continue to be developed for the sake of economic and societal growth. However, our social structures will not be similar, unlike in Things to Come there are still multiple races and tensions between individuals due to differing religions and opinions,which will lead to conflict. Economic stratification between classes seems to be increasing if anything, because of the gap between the rich and the poor has been statistically getting wider. So the notion that humanity can achieve peace through valuing the intelligence of the individual is a far way off. With differences comes discord and war, and there will need to be a group of officers, and military to deal with upholding defense and laws. Even in the future there will probably never be an escape from people to enforce what society deems right. In all ways the technology of the future will far outpace what was shown in the film, as even the current technology in the present is more advanced. When it comes to the environment, the real future is more likely to destroy the environment than live underground while preserving it.

In conclusion this film, while showing a strong moral towards peace through science, it was not critically a hit, nor a hit with the audience. More than anything at the time this film simply was an average experience. It won ninth best British movie of 1936, and had a budget of £300,000. Audiences today receive the film better than the original viewers. Often praising the film for its originality and view of the future from the perspective of 1936. The only notable pop culture influence the the film had was surprisingly the zombie genre, which often borrowed several traits of the wandering sickness as a base for zombie behavior. The idea that the people of the world can get along based on a common intellect, and without any enforcement is so far a dream at best, but the portrayals of technology though dated are startlingly accurate. Overall this film shows an interesting spin on how Wells viewed a future Utopian society would work, just the package that it delivers it in can be hard to follow.

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Justin Brewer

10/10/13

Societies of the Future

 

The Day The Earth Stood Still Assessment

The Day The Earth Stood Still, directed by, Robert Wise was a film set to the context of a world at war. Just coming out of World War 2, America faced yet another impending war with the Soviet Union over both political and nuclear tensions. This Cold War era sparked a fear amongst the American people that the country may be invaded by communist ideas, as well as soldiers. The film was released in 1951 when tensions were creasing, and the theme of invasion by an outside and mysterious force was commonplace for Scifi films. The Day The Earth Stood Still, took a different approach to the idea of invasion, instead having the visitor be seen as an overwhelmingly positive force, preaching to end war and not start them. This theme of bettering one’s own life over spending time on war and strife hit home to the audience. While the film had a budget of 1,200,000 dollars, it was a commercial hit and managed to gross 1,800,000 while in theaters, and went on to impact the Scifi genre and become a recognizable staple of American Cinema.

As a plot, the film grips with the terror that an invasion can cause. The reactions to the arrival of

Klaatu are evident in the panic of the citizens. The message of this comes to light when Klaatu is shot by the military moments after arriving on earth. The sentiments against war only continue when Klaatu is denied a world meeting due to the frivolities of political issues. Unsatisfied with the response that he has received, he journeys out to the public. Upon finding an alias to go by and a roof to stay under, Klaatu begins to study humans through the interaction with a family that lives in the complex. Specifically through the relationship with the young boy Bobby, the film paints the virtue of innocence as something to be cherished and not forgotten. Klaatu is pleasantly surprised to find that some humans, if even a boy can find such a moral center against war then there could be hope. The military steps up their search for Klaatu as he reasons with the scientific community to hold a meeting. Here it is obvious that the idea of intellect over military might is present, as while klaatu is unable to reason at all with the political and military leaders he finds common ground with scientists who realize logic. The anti military sentiment grows stronger when the military manages to temporarily kill Klaatu, an action that could have potentially destroyed the earth along with it. Upon his revival, Klaatu takes advantage of the military and press coverage around the ship and scientists to convey his final message. That if Earth cannot stop warring amongst itself and by extension stop being a galactic threat, that it would be destroyed without hesitation. This message in itself seems Ironic, that a threat of force is used to ensure peace, however, the film makes it clear that this overwhelming force of extinction is the only thing that can hold a long term peace. On the more positive theme of this message is that without war Earth should be capable of producing the technologies and culture to help its citizens, in order to further the world into a self sustaining utopia over time, much like Klaatu’s home planet.

The means of culture and social control needed to create this world are evident with the description of Klaatu’s world. Firstly the norms of this planet are peace and understanding, and more importantly to avoid conflict if at all possible. The values follow a similar path with intellect and logic being held in high regard, as well as the value of life in general. In comparison Earth has the norms of suspicion, and war as seen with the mass hysteria upon the arrival of the ship along with the ongoing presence of war tensions being both a theme of history and the current issues preventing Klaatu from his mission. Earth’s values show a sense of separatist thinking, with national and cultural boundaries defining the planet, and not the common will of the people in unison. On a more positive note family is heavily valued in society as we can see the Benson family have a healthy interaction with positive results. Earth has potential in it’s ideas of values but the film makes it clear the the one defined sanction of Klaatu is what is keeping Earth from achieving unity. This sanction is the inability to cause any war with either yourself or other species, as doing so will invoke the wrath of the galactic policing force. This sanction specifically holds down the morals of Klaatu’s culture to a very specific limit, the idea going that without violence being tolerated only peace can remain.

The social structure and stratification in the film can be difficult to judge as Klaatu is the only notable example of this alien society. From what is shown many of the stratifications have been eliminated in favor of a common goodwill towards man. A class system is never mentioned by Klaatu beyond the police robots holding absolute authority, all other species are by definition equal under this rule so classes cannot exist. The concept of sex and race, are not considered issue as Klaatu treats all equally, it can be assumed that his species does the same. The concept of age is equally strange to Earth as demonstrated with the doctor’s confusion over the estimated 140 year lifespan of his people. The difference in the movie on earth is night and day. Age, is understandably also not much of a stratification for earth with the common practice of respecting your elders being the normal behavior. In contrast to other movies that we have seen the inclusion of Helen Benson as a fairly strong female character, shows a progress of earth towards sexual equality. Race is also shown for the first time, with the scientific community appearing as several different races, who all seem to be respectively dressed and equal with each other. Rather the main stratification for earth is the political differences of respective nations rather than the differences between each individual. A message that strengthens the idea that war is a poison that keeps people from their potential in reaching equality.

Similarly vague as the social structures the only social institution that we see from the alien society is the intergalactic police force. As described they have absolute authority in all matters concerning judgment and punishment. They also seen to be shown to have a limitless control over how they conduct their job, as Klaatu states that they may come at anytime from anywhere to check up on different planets. They are represented as the all seeing eye that enforces the social rules and nothing else, this sort of control is totalitarian in a respect to choice, as they only give the ideals of peace or destruction with no middle ground. Ironically the main social institution that is seen from earth is the military. This institution is shown in a mixed light, by showing incredible control over the other institutions, issuing commands as needed. In this manner they show a level of importance on earth as the police do to space-fairing society’s. At the same time they are presented as being highly ineffectual when it comes to enforcing their rules, often being the cause of further problems than the solution. This portrayal perpetuates the notion that war only brings problems instead solutions. The political institution is closely entwined with the military, and war is the driving force behind the decisions which hinder society rather than help in the eyes of the movie. The Medical institution is also shown in a negative light, with the practices of Earth being far less effective then the medicine that Klaatu brings. A further product of the times in which this film was made shows the doctor’s smoking. This to a modern day viewer raises a red flag to just how little the medicine of the time new in comparison to future societies.

The positive institutions of the movie come with family and education. The Bensons are the prime aspect of family, and it shows a functional relationship between mother and son fostered out of love and respect towards one another. Education embodies the value of logic and intellect, with the scientists while still subservient to command of the military being capable of rationalizing the importance of Klatuu and to show a positive influence through education. This educational process is demonstrated with Bobby, where his nightly homework is shown to be a positive influence towards the logic of critical thinking rather than the hysteria and mistrust of a war consumed individual.

With most of the film showing the positive aspects of humanity in the younger generation and men of science. It stands to reason that the vast majority of individuals who hold ruling power are driven outwards to conflict and war as the method of issuing social change. The theme of the movie holds the social change towards peace as an important feature. With peace being enforced regularly Earth is shown at the end of the film to be in a precarious position with the change being peace or death. This abrupt force of change illustrates the importance that peace has within the idea of a utopian society. To the point where even if the natural evolution towards peace has not yet happened it can be ensured with enough force. An ironic statement considering the show of force is what leads to wars in the first place. The message then would fall to the idea that peace cannot come about naturally but must be given a stern hand before it can become the norm of society.

It helps towards the idea of peace over war in the film with the progress of technology from the alien society when set against Earth’s. Medicine for example has the capabilities to fully heal wounds in hours with an ointment, to being able to resuscitate body from a state of death to life. While Earth’s best doctors are still stuck with remedial first aid by comparison. The weaponized technology of the ship and Gort both far exceed any thing that man has been able to create, to the point where ability to destroy the planet renders the warfare of human’s to a childish threat. The ship is also capable of extraordinary intergalactic travel that is as equally great to humanities attempts at travel as the weapons were to matching Gort. The other technologies shown such as the device to communicate with, or at least view other planets, to the metal that the ship and Gort are made of are out of the realm of humanity. The important message of the film is not how strong the invaders are, but that Earth should be capable of the same feats if it would just focus on bettering life rather than on a war budget. The scientist can even be seen working on some of the same basic mathematics as the alien culture, yet due to the stresses of his life by both politics and war does not have the time to complete.

In a similar case though the environment is not heavily shown from the perspective of Earth. As it does not play a prominent role in the film. From the standpoint of the alien society, the only evidence of their environment is the comments that Klaatu makes about how most worlds are beautiful. From this it could be assumed that the environment would benefit from the lack of war as much as technology does. When allowed to flourish under the care of a peaceful society the environment becomes that much more protected and beautiful over time.

Under the trial’s of real world stresses could a society like Klaatu’s exist on Earth?

Given the requirement that humanity must either face peace or death, by some outside force; that means that contact with another species has been made and the power to destroy earth if provoked is undeniable. At first this type of threat works very well as a deterrent towards war. This idea of anti war being regularly enforced would over time ingrain itself into our culture, that is if some one at the time who was in power was not already insane enough to challenge this new rule. If humanity manages to survive the first generation of enforced peace, than I can see the outlet towards newer technologies to improve life to become available due to the fact that the funding for war would not exist anymore. While the institution of military would be abolished out of necessity, the need for a global police force to handle minor disputes would be needed to handle the minor issues of day to day crime. Politics would also need to undergo a change, either becoming one global government or the formation of a republic similar to the United Nations, only on on a grander scale. Other social stratification would also need to be abolished, however the difficulty of this seems impossible over the short term, which is why such a large police force would be needed. Over time this type of unified society should be possible as long as the idea of violence could only lead to death. In a way it would work like Global conditioning of the human race to avoid conflict in time until the idea of global peace becomes the way of culture.

In conclusion this type of Utopia should be possible. The theme of the film goes well to implement the value of not causing war and the benefits that it has over the destructive alternative. The testament to how well that this theme was received at the time can be seen with the public response to the film. In addition to grossing a profit, The Day The Earth Stood Still one the Golden Globe for promoting national understanding in 1952, this award was created especially for this film. Also it was inducted into the national film registry in 1995, proving that it can stand the test of time. In popular culture the film has sparked a remake of the original, and has been referenced in Scifi films of all types, even to this day. The resounding lasting appeal of this film can come down towards it’s message of world peace and the benefit that comes with it, as this idea of a world without war has become one of the main staples of the utopia, the film that represented it in such a popular format was bound to become a success.

Sun Wukong

Justin Brewer

English 206

12/3/2013

 

Journey Through a Monkey’s Eyes

Journey to the West, considered to be one of China’s four great works is a fiction that many people in the East are well acquainted with. Even if you have not heard of it the impact on popular culture that this work has makes its presence known in the monkey trickster archetype. Journey to the West grew in popularity and influence over its considerable time span because it was written with the action and drama of a timeless nature. The titular character SunWukong, embodies the spirit of adventure and struggle, whether it is the inward struggle to attain enlightenment, or the outwards acts of mischief and violence. He carries the stigma of coming from earth as the product of heaven, and he acts as a bridge between what an animal and a human is. To call Sun Wukong just a monkey would be a folly, to cross him based on that opinion is a disaster. He is a character that manages to usurp gods, and cross the path to true enlightenment by the end of the tale. Sun Wukong and his origin carry with it the answer on what makes this book universally endearing.

Before his stint on Heaven’s most wanted list Sun Wu Kong was born from an egg. Not an egg from anything mundane mind you, but from a stone that had collected more heavenly energy in its sacred structure, than any other object. His birth came as a whim from the heavens as a product of the eternal energy of heaven, yet Sun Wukong set his sights to rebel against the customs that dominated heaven save for the notion of immortality. The beginning of the tale recounts how he managed to gain the powerful artifacts and abilities, which would later serve to protect his comrades and entertain the audience. Upon reaching what he thought to be the zenith of any mortal Sun Wu Kong, ascended to heaven and demanded his place among the ranks of the Gods. Out of spite and contempt for these aspirations the Jade Emperor saw fit to giving Sun Wukong the title of stable keeper. Quickly realizing that he was being mocked, Heaven managed to gain the attention of Sun Wu Kong’s greatest vice, his pension for rebellion and mischief. This attitude of rebellion continues through much of the beginning of the novel, which amounts to him conquering almost the entirety of heaven before the Buddha himself was called upon to intervened in order to prevent Sun Wu Kong from disturbing the Universe itself. Despite his eventual defeat, the trait that he was born above all others was a need to attain greatness would not fade, and in a way he becomes closer to his original state of purity that was lost when dwelling on the earthly realm as his journey to enlightenment progresses.

Sun Wukong’s fiery aspirations originates long before his story became a legend in China, and his inspiration hails not from China but from the myths of India. Specifically he is based off of Hanuman, who in Hindu mythology was “The monkey king who’s devotion to Rama is held as to what a model of what human devotion to God should be” (Lutgendorf 217 ). However this devotion had to be earned through strife, much like how Sun Wukong had to mature his aspiration towards the heavens through his journey. In Buddhism, the strain towards enlightenment is the primary tenant of the religion. Sun Wukong is seen as admirable by this definition because striving toward greatness speaks to others of a form of progress towards a better future. The spirit of wishing to attain more is a base of human nature, and Sun’s wish can be related to by anyone who has wished that their fortunes can change. More importantly his ability to create this change through his own personal growth endows him with more depth as a real personality that has captured the attention of so many people.

By the end of his personal journey the audience can see how Sun Wukong has changed from being causing disaster to bringing fortune to people. Upon reaching their final destination to receive the scriptures he sees the state of the people in poverty and offers a blessing, “I guarantee that the families in your village will have many sons and grandsons, flourishing livestock, wind and rain at the right time year in and year out, and rain and wind year out and year in at the right time.” (Wu 1390). Sun Wukong manages to show the aspect of humility to the people that he once considered beneath him to help, and that growth shows the mark towards Buddhism for the character.

From a personal perspective, Sun Wu Kong, and by extension Journey to the West holds a sentimental value to me. I have always been infatuated with Eastern culture since my childhood, so it comes as no surprise that I discovered one of the many adaptations of Sun Wu Kong, through my experience with reaching into this culture. What struck me first was the endearing strength that these adaptations possessed, and as I grew the wonder of what inspired these characters came to action. What I discovered was a character who has many of the traits that defines youth. Whether it be mischief, boundless energy or the tendency to act first and think later; I was drawn to Sun Wu Kong as a figure that I looked up to because of his strength and perseverance against what fate dealt him. As I reflect upon my childhood experience now, the thoughts of why I was drawn to him so readily have become clear to me.

This rise in popularity of Sun Wukong by principle of his struggles, and unique method of dealing with his ordeals in such a fantastical way guarantees the entertainment of the audience. At the time that Journey to the West was envisioned many stories made in china followed the rule of Avant-Garde literature or as described “fiction about fiction” (Zhao 91). Journey to the West is one of the great classical works that has over time have became an all-inclusive role in Chinese culture. While it is true that this novel was created upon an amalgamation of lore, the originality of the character in Sun Wukong and his companion’s forged a popularity in early China. With the adaptation of the Buddhist teachings into a gripping story; the way that the mythos was transformed from the original source allowed for the work to gain an identity outside of the meta-fiction. Where as time progressed many individuals have been inspired by the influence of this work, in return the novel has transformed into a Meta fiction of its own by the value of popularity and time. This occurs till the point where the literary field concerning this piece has become saturated on a global scale.

On the topic of Sun Wukong in the culture of the world, the character has been inducted canonically as referenced by western authors. This claim to the mischievous monkey has propagated into what is called “The Monkey Tradition” (Pearson 355). What has drawn people toward the character in China can apply equally to the western audience, in that despite the mischievous nature of the monkey, the fierce pride that it can exhibit, and how it strives towards a goal is an admirable tale. Particularly it is noted that one of Sun Wukong’s most endearing points is the “rambunctious behavior in heaven as his maturation into a heroic Buddhist disciple” (Pearson 357). With this it makes sense as to why his struggle is seen as so palatable to different cultures. In essence Sun Wukong as a character is maturing in the way an infant does into adult hood. With this growth come all the stages of his character traits, from being mischievous and wanting as a child, to reaching wisdom during his metaphorical adulthood. This duality of his person over the journey is a major factor to why people care for the title as a whole. As much as the story is about retrieving the artifacts Sun’s journey to mature into an adult mentality becomes just as much a center of the story.

The composition of a monkey tradition in culture, is accentuated with the monkey taking the role of the trickster archetype in fiction. The characters that are established in this tradition are often protagonists who take characteristics from Sun Wukong. “The monkey is wily ruthless, selfish” (Casal), is a proper way to describe all these characters, as they often make trouble for their own amusement. However such characters are not necessarily antagonistic in nature, and if they are considered a goodhearted protagonist these qualities are developed to be more sympathetic In Asian culture popular series such as Dragonball and One-piece draw direct influence from Sun Wukong, for the use of their title characters. While these characters are by all means a trickster to those who they dislike, too the people that they come to trust inspire a fierce loyalty, as demonstrated between Sun Wukong and the monk. For western examples, apes such as curious George embody the idea of curiosity and mischief, but in a way the gives a sense of comedy to the world around them. In each story that the little ape acts out he learns something about being more human, much like Sun Wukong does. These tricks and behaviors that are seen in the monkey archetype seek to bridge the gap between a human and a character by bringing the more humanistic side of apes and monkeys to the stage as the example. This bridge is established through the similar traits of humans and animals, but in a way that allows for the characters to grow onto the audience by sake of humor and wit that both species share. More so than just due to the cultural impact, on a personal level the humor of the story comes as the bridge for the interaction between the characters and the audience.

Namely Sun Wukong and Pigsy’s characters “make up and ideal comic pair” (Zhou 72). This role of comic relief in a classic is a balancing element to the more serious perils and topics of the novel. By placing the characters into situations that both offer a real tension, but does not lose sight of the lighter elements of the story there can be a degree of empathy by this shared humor. In this balance the dichotomy of characters becomes central to the success of the novel in reaching the audience. The idea that balancing tragedy with mirth, is not a new subject to literature. However, given that there is evidence of a finely crafted balance in Journey to the West, as a testament to the survivability to a timeless sense of humor, gives credence to the work as being worthy of a masterpiece.

A key reason for why the narrative transferred over so well into the west is the way that the characters embrace“ the more abstract notion of travel as crossing boundaries” (Wills 192). The story is more about overcoming inner boundaries rather than physical ones, and this appeal to freedom has had a crucial impact on the religion of China. Journey to the West is important for this notion, as the depiction of Buddhism in the novel, had a great impact similar to propaganda for the faith as it grew in popularity. Over the centuries following the integration into the culture of China, the western influence towards trade resulted in western culture to learn of the novel. Yet it was not until the mid-20th century that the book was translated into an English version. The fact that Journey to the West holds such influence today is a testament to the appeal of the novel to break boundaries as the characters do themselves. The delayed translation due to the isolationist tendencies of China serve as a reason why this ancient text has taken so long into modern time to circulate into culture fully. Because of the focus towards the inner conflict of the characters rather than the physical world, the culture shock is lessened because emotions in the end are easy to grasp despite cultural barriers.

Even though the story was created on the tenants of Buddhism, there are still overarching universal morals within. This heightens the value of the text as a moral center. As the main moral is the maturation of the characters, the heightened focus on Sun Wukong makes more sense. Balancing the nature of human growth within animalistic characters can increase he empathy for the audience from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. Given that he had the most room to grow among the characters by going from a criminal of heaven to achieving the role of Buddha for his inner revelations is the attainment of his goal of greatness. The fact that the story does not punish those who wish to be great, but rather the way they choose to attain it shows the strong morals from Journey to the West that allowed its narrative and the Monkey king himself to reach around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Casal, U.A., “Far Eastern monkey lore”, M.N. Vol. Xii, 1956 pp13-49. Chamberlain, B.H Kojiki (transl, of),2d ed. With annotations by W.G. Aston, Kobe.

 

Lutgendorf, Philip. “My Hanuman Is Bigger Than Yours.” History of Religions 33.3 (1994): 211. Print.

 

Levy, Dore J. “Female Reigns: The Faerie Queene and the Journey to the West.” Comparative Literature Vol. 39,.No. 3 (1987): 218-36. Print.

 

Pearson, J. Stephen. “The Monkey King in the American Canon: Patricia Chao and Gerald Vizenor’s Use of an Iconic Chinese Character.” Comparative Literature Studies 43.3 (2006): 355-74. Print.

 

Wills, John E. “Journeys Mostly to the West: Chinese Perspectives on Travel Writing.” Huntington Library Quarterly 70.1 (2007): 191-201. Print.

 

Wu, Cheng-en, and Anthony C. Yu. The Journey to the West. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983. Print.

 

Zhao, Y. H. “The Rise of Metafiction in China.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 55.01 (1992): 90. Print.

 

Zhou, Zuyan. “Carnivalization in The Journey to the West: Cultural Dialogism in Fictional Festivity.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) Vol. 16 (1994): 69-92. Print.

 

 

Feminism, History, and the Progress of Ideals.

Justin Brewer

11/19/13

 

Feminism, History, and the Progress of Ideals.

 

The unified ideal of feminist literary theory hinges on the oppression that is felt through a history of an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. This has remained true for the western world up until the common day and has been a struggle for feminists living in this environment, who seek to change this system that fosters misunderstanding by placing a patriarchal view on writings. From a historical sense, the change from a traditional narrative held by native cultures to the translation of a Colonial world was particularly difficult. Afterward,

Under the grip of colonial culture, the originating theories of the native cultures that were taken over were less than ideal for the development of the culture. A notable case, happens to be explored by Paula Gunn Allen who’s area of study includes that of the Laguna-Acoma Keres. This tribe is a matriarchal society, who’s oral tradition fell under the interpretive impression of colonial society. Specifically as the translation occurs, “The cultural bias of the translator inevitably shapes his or her perception” (Allen 2005). This skewed perception of the culture, as Allen argues ends up altering both the oral tradition, and the culture that it came from; because both are irrevocably connected to one another. This is devastating from a feminist perspective because the Oral traditions of the Laguna-Acoma Keres show a rare perspective of a matriarchal culture in a native setting. However, Allen is quick to point out that a pure feminist interpretation will also lead to error in translation. The concept that she instead believes would be most suited for interpreting the theory of this culture is a combination of a feminist-tribal analysis. This reasoning of a merged viewpoint, would “provide a tribally conscious feminist with an interesting example of how colonization works” (Allen 2017); or in other words a perspective that goes beyond the classic approach to feminism and to incorporate the cultural struggles into the theory.

While this example of feminism in a tribal setting speaks to the plight of a native culture in literature. The western colonization that occurred is also a culture in of itself. The woman of this culture that sought to be a writer was met with harsh disdain. As Virginia Woolf explored in her plight to the inadequacies of being a woman born in this time “any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed” (Woolf 898), besides bringing forward woman’s suffrage to the forefront Woolf coined the idea of women beyond the sexual roll that was the norm in both relationships and character. “women, like men , have other interests besides the perennial interests of domesticity” (Woolf 899), is a startlingly bold claim for equality among genders. That women and feminism could travel beyond the idea of women against the common oppression, and that perhaps the blame for this cultural stigma did not lie with women alone, but instead with the concept of gender of itself. In Androgyny Woolf goes the extra step to argue that without gender roles holding back humans that “it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative” (Woolf 901), in reference to the mind under this androgynous state. Woolf, and other women who practiced feminism under colonial rule, managed to open up the ideas of not only woman’s suffrage under a patriarchal society. But that feminism in of itself is not just a theory of one single sex, but a counter movement to the distinguishing of gender as a term of worth.

Long after the colonial power faded away the scars of the hegemony remain implanted in society. The roles of gender are still enforced in what Berlant and Warner call “national heterosexuality” (Warner 2600), which takes the subjectivity of privacy and seeks to quantify it into a wholly sterile practice. This state of privacy then effectively leeches out the intimacy from every day life leaving a separate distinction between privacy and intimacy “its ideal world are protected by the spectacular demonization of any represented sex” (Warner 2602). Beyond the role of limiting the societies that function on intimate communities, both heterosexual and homosexual alike, this cultural sterilization leads to a gap that needs to be filled. The hetero normative response to this is with the concerns of everyday life outside of the private realm, however for those that cannot be filled they band together to form a counter culture to which they belong. This removes the subjectivity of privacy and moves it into an open field where it can be experienced at large. In effect the change that a post colonial world has made is a fracturing of theory and practice, despite the attempts to regain the colonial heritage that is long since dead.

The historical progress of feminism takes the turns that one would expect given age and thought. What originally started in literature as a way to end woman’s suffrage has grown into a battlefield to eliminate the stereotyped gender roles that society has thrust upon humanity. The difference in modern literature in comparison to the contemporary works show the progress of reaching higher levels of theory, as the methods and topics change with the time, feminist theory has adapted to address these new concerns.

Romanticism and Beauty

Justin Brewer

English 206

10/14/13

 

Romanticism and the Beauty of Realization

When reading, how do I interpret the words on the page? As I reflected on this issue, it came upon me that in the context of reading I relate most to the events and emotions on the page, to myself and not towards an outside facet. When reading you insert yourself into the piece, in order to better relate to the emotions and issues of the characters involved. You must interpret the world through your own experience first. This simple truth becomes evident, as all we know must come from an outside source at some point. Before our being can evaluate and respond to an action something must warrant a response. In this way I am sympathetic towards the romantic plight of understanding the internal workings of human nature. As the poets Shelley and Poe struggled to capture the essence of man, I wish to better evaluate my own position of mind by empathizing with the features of literature. The beauty of Romanticism is the process that you undertake in order to reach this point of realization.

In order to understand what occurs in life, I find it better to organize my own thoughts based on the action or affect that is on the page. Poe as a method of writing used a similar technique to begin the process of crafting his works. Going onto “prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect” (Poe 639), a deliberate way to work towards creation would be first having a goal in mind. I agree with this interpretation of the creative process wholeheartedly. Furthermore the act of choosing intent over spontaneity, as Shelley preferred, has more power to it. If something is created by you, or even interpreted in your head, the thoughts are yours and with this ownership you should claim responsibility for your reasoning.

Now a flaw in this logic may come to light when attempting to grasp the issue of taking inspiration in from the outside world versus your own individual thoughts. In particular, Shelley who had the notion that poetry came as an expression of “the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own” (Shelley 596). This should mean that our desires to create are not are own claims. Then do you but totally attribute to a higher power? I cannot agree with this idea, and while I do agree that there is a certain aspect of beauty that can only be brought into literature from the outside, it is how the feelings are ascribed into words and action that makes a piece relevant to the audience. This aspect of the process is fundamental to understanding both the romanticist movement as a whole, and how these works fit into the grand scheme of literature. To understand the emotion needs a vessel of form, that must in turn have a creation.

Forming an image requires the work of the brain, while adding beauty requires the work of the imagination. The separation of a physical and imaginative portion make is supported by Shelley. As he points to imagination is what “collects the brightest rays of human nature and divides them and reproduces them from simplicity” (Shelley 599), I enjoy the allusion to the act of division. The idea that one example can resonate to spark a myriad of other responses from within. In the act of making Romanticist literature I would call these fractures of thought the inspiration that an writer draws from . Yet a fractured medium will still need to be given form from the brain to enact anything that can be experienced as beauty. Poe wished to create this form with a “design of rendering the work universally appreciable” (Poe 641); with intention to tailor the work to the viewer. You have yourself a completed creation when this imaginative idea and form reach the medium of writing. This work would then have all the aspects to render it both a tactile beauty, while consolidating the human experience by the inspiration of the fused form of the Self and the outside universe. A work that can then be experienced by the audience, and then interpreted, or mixed with the experience and judgment of the individual observer. Whether this judgment condemns the work to be good or bad is of little consequence, as long as the observer and the work can relate and interact with each other in order to create a meaningful stimulation of the mind, and through it the soul.

In discussing a soul, I do not mean a part of a person, but rather that the soul is the individual itself in full. The nature of a soul would be a unison between the mind and imagination in harmony. In order to gain an understanding of the romantic beauty a work must spark this unison and actively engage it. A person’s brain will only see the literal meaning, and the imagination will fail to grasp the form that the author had the intent to create. As Poe describes the workings of beauty, that these two forms are “absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul” (Poe 641). This experience contains many emotions, thoughts and feelings, that while given a form still allude the audience, and even perhaps the writer. I would contribute then that when the soul has truly been engaged in a piece, that the end result is the attainment of a sublime state. A state that is met with confusion, and though it may be frightening somehow allures the audience to continue on. Many times this has happened to myself during particularly emotional or tense times in a literary work. As I struggled to bring into myself the emotions that I think that I should feel to properly convey the situation. Now this state may be intriguing but it is also problematic. Particularly, when you need to interpret literature for the sake of criticism. Perhaps the reason that Shelley attributes his poetry to a divine origin is because, the sublime is almost instinctual in nature, or the closest that a human can get to a base state of mind. Without direction it would be easy to be swept up into the antagonistic experience and lose your sense of self to the work as Shelley so often describes.

How then do you make sense of that which has no discernible sense to begin with? As the sublime is often stated to be “infinity, irrationality, fear, and terror” (Norton 12), and while this appears to be a question of philosophy, I assure you it can be interpreted. The key to doing so lies in the very definition of sublime, which is made of individual parts. These parts can then be separated out from the state of the sublime and analyzed. My interpretation of what can be considered the complete form of Romanticism is to view it from within myself, as a part of my own experience. By identifying with your own string of emotions, in relation to the work it becomes possible to re-piece together this torrent of ideas and feelings into a form once again. Where there is a form to create, there is a reason behind its creation, and this interpretive element brings together the romanticist piece and the beauty in which it gives to the audience.

The true mark of Romanticism is the steps it takes to understand it. By giving yourself to the task you intrinsically learn of your own human nature in order to one day relate better to others. As all humans are unique the final interpretation can of course also vary. However, these differences in my opinion just lend to the complexity and beauty of a piece. While Poe and Shelley may not have the same style of creation, I feel the goal is still the same in that they wish to evoke a feeling that is unique to the case that only romanticism can bring.

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