My Experience Live-Tweeting Sci-Fi

Ultimately the future tends to be painted with a sly, dystopian brush; science fiction films invite their audience to feel coldly uncomfortable about what’s to come – albeit with questionable accuracy! Science fiction media are marketed as futuristic, but effectively capture the present instead. 

There’s something hugely ironic about live-tweeting (i.e. in the present) science-fiction films that are predicting the future, which actually represent the present more than anything else, and then going back over these tweets to reflect on them as a past experience. Eight weeks into the semester, I have a vast collection of observations to share, after viewing and recording various science fiction films during BCM325: Future Cultures.

Live tweeting in this class (actually, live tweeting films anywhere in “Mam-you’re-in-the-cinema-your-phone-needs-to-be-turned-off” culture) is weird. As each film unravelled on the projector, twenty-something students were plugging their own experiences through various invocations onto Twitter; fingers tapping across a sleek keyboard, swiping across a smartphone screen to select the perfect gif, or even mastering every student`s favourite graphic design tool, Windows Paint, and producing quality, original illustrations, to make sense of the media in front of us.

As a Q U I E T student (my Twitter handle is no accident) with a small voice and an illogical habit of sitting as close to the back of the classroom as I can manage, live tweeting for class participation is an absolute God-send.

¬ Disclaimer: Spoilers will follow ¬

Week 1: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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Ghost in the Shell (1995): source

Each media subject I have enrolled in has a different level of patience with memes and humour. For example, in BCM112 memes are literally the main method of communication. For contrast, in BCM212, humorous posts showed up now and again but were by no means the staple communication tool. During this first viewing, our seminar was a little quiet on Twitter. There was not as much content on the #BCM325 hashtag as there was in subsequent weeks and I suspect that my classmates, like me, were effectively sussing out the standards and there was little engagement to be had.

This film was conceptually fascinating in its quiet allusion to what Chris Moore later called a spectrum, scaling technology and the supernatural. This is a trope I came to recognise following screenings. This symbolism links really nicely to the idea of a technological invocation as a conjuration of spirits or binary creation, which may not, technically, be separate things – but that’s for another blog post.

A second epitome I experienced, which again featured in more films to come, was the heavy symbolism of eyes to distinguish between the human and non-human.

This was also something observed by others in the seminar:

Week 2: Westworld (1973)

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Westworld (1973): Source

Westworld provides a deeply disconcerting account of an exploitative relationship between humans and robots.

The second time around, the BCM325 Twitter feed was significantly more lively and collaborative. This week`s conversation centred around what it means to be alive and to be human, and whether or not those are one and the same.

The exploration of robotic death fuelled some important (and unanswerable) questions about sentience and creationism.

 Westworld is a typical utopian/dystopian warning film, that genuinely makes the responder feel bad about being human and implicity warns against the dangers of technology.

Uncomfortably reminiscent of organic culture as we know it, the film brutally explored consent through the programmed rape of a female robot character. This is particularly significant to consider now, both because of the rising #MeToo movement and ethical concerns around the creation of female sex-bots (which is currently being explored by Cat).  My inner feminist could not hold back, breaking my streak of attempts at thoughtful, polite conversation on Twitter.

Week 3: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

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Johnny Mnemonic (1995): Source

Pre-warned that this would be the most abominable film I’d ever have the pleasure of viewing – and having had immense trouble unpacking this week’s reading of the same name – I dove into this film with trepidation.

The man/robot/God trope was explored yet again, but in an alarmingly odd manner. Rogue Jesus stole the show at the conclusion of the film.

A thought-provoking tweet from Ashleigh this week drew my attention to how dystopian societies are intentionally crafted to look dirty, dark and undesirable. It`s such an odd trope that seems to be repeated throughout the genre.

One particular scene reinforced what Chris Moore had previously said about science fiction exploring the present rather than the future. This was the struggle of the legal system to enforce punishment or restriction upon abusers of technology, an issue we see the world struggling with today. Chris and I engaged in a short exchange on Twitter about this issue.

Week 4: The Matrix (1999)

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The Matrix (1995): Source

The technology presented in The Matrix was physically bulky. Interestingly, since the time of filming, most technology has become physically smaller; in a modern sense, “high-tech” is slim, streamlined and augmented. At the time of filming, electronics were bigger in size than they are today, so perhaps it is reasonable to assume the film creatives believed it would continue to grow. Of course, the opposite happened. Similarly, nobody ever foresaw a wireless future, meaning there are a plethora thick, ugly wires in this film.

This film was particularly interesting for me for two reasons, having never previously viewed it: firstly, because it’s strongly related to my research project topic, simulation theory, and secondly because I met the ~real~ version of an iconic meme template.

Image source: Pinterest

The notion of mega-corp as an enemy to both humanity and robots is enticing. In his simulation theory, it is possible that a computer simulation is a for-profit specimen created by a business rather than as a hobby or science project. This is something I`m currently drawing on in my digital artefact plans. Capitalism is so often warned against in science fiction films. In fact, it’s been argued that speculative science fiction writers have lost the ability (or perhaps interest) to predict alternatives to capitalism.

Once again, that spectrum of spirituality and technology was weaved covertly through the film.

Week 5: Black Mirror: Be Right Back (2013)

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Black Mirror: Be Right Back (2013): Source

Is ‘corpses in the attic’ the new ‘skeletons in the closet’? It may be so. 

Unlike much science fiction from the ’90s and early 2000s, which focuses on ‘futuristic’ technology, The Black Mirror series often features technology we are very familiar with. It absolutely delights in crassly objectifying the viewer purely for existing in the digital age. It’s darkly speculative about the now, rather than the future. Be Right Back, written by Charlie Booker, navigates the consequences of technology that dissents against the accepted relationship between the living and the dead. The theme of man playing God is starkly apparent here – how far can we take this? This is a harrowing question because we are on the edge of the very technologies explored in this episode.

Again, the idea of technology correlating uncomfortably with the supernatural and spiritual arenas is touched on:

This short exchange between Ashleigh and myself was satirical in intention, but may have significant repercussions in years to come. Is it dangerous to be considering this a joke when it may grow roots in reality?

Kara asked a poignant question about the meaning of death if technologies such as these become widespread, which I liked and found immensely interesting. I believe our relationship with death is akin to our relationship with a God, nature, spiritual realms and the supernatural: it`s all intertwined.

Several months ago (disclaimer: shameless plug alert) I wrote a response to this episode on Chattr to explore existing technology which tries to imitate the dead as a darkly addictive comfort for the living grievers. Black Mirror’s Frankenstein-esque exploration of these existing technologies was so awkwardly bizarre it was borderline humorous, at least as much as it terrifying.

That last tweet received 17 likes, several of which were from outside of BCM325. I hope they understood the context, or else they`ll be wondering what on earth I do at uni.

Week 6: Robot & Frank (2012)

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Robot & Frank (2012): Source

This endearing film examines the relationship between a lonely but stubborn elderly man and his robotic companion, who appears half robot, half appliance. Robot is programmed to nudge Frank into a healthy lifestyle, much to the latter’s disgust. My recount of the scene where Robot tries to coax Frank into eating cauliflower led me to be low-key trolled on Twitter – by a cauliflower.

This robot was nothing like a human in aesthetic, unlike many other films we have consumed. It was a little eerie; Robot was programmed to have a human personality and emotions, yet kind of resembled a portable, futuristic dishwasher. This led me to reflect back to week 1, when considered the symbology of eyes in non-human technologies.

Robot creeped me out, but did not have the same impact upon everyone in the class (source: Twitter)
Robot was programmed with human emotions, which I found disconcerting until Chris offered me an alternate viewpoint (source: Twitter)

I also liked Reece`s perspective of the benefits of robot technology in the aged care facility. So often these technologies are portrayed in such a heavy dystopian manner, we forget the legitimate benefits of using them.

Week 7: Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation (2016)

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Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation (2016): Source

The technology presented in this episode is so familiar, it would be unsurprising to see something like this unfold tomorrow. From a perpendicular mindset, we have already – disturbingly – seen a surge in suicides from social media bullying and harassment. Is this the same? This episode deals with the issue of online bullying in a very blunt, Hunger Games-esque manner, with a hint (or one thousand) of mutant bio-engineered death-bees. 

After a plethora of tweets implying that the ability of people to post harmful content freely online was strongly negative, this tweet from Kristy , which cleverly incorporated the free speech argument into the conversation, reminded me that the issue is a lot more complex. Is it too much to implement freedom of speech and hope people will be kind to one another? Apparently.

Week 8: Bladerunner (1982)

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Bladerunner (1982): Source

Although I could not attend class this week, I have seen both Bladerunner (1982) and Bladerunner 2049 (2017), so I could somewhat follow and appreciate the Twitter conversation from afar. They’re confusing films; not until the last half hour of viewing the sequel did I actually realise it was a sequel and not a remake (sorry). Not fully understanding the plot, in some ways, actually made it easier to identify the futuristic devices used in the film because I didn’t get lost in the story.

One of the most significant tropes in the Bladerunner universe is the notion of memory as an ingredient to humanity. Brianna made this insightful comparison between several of the films we’ve seen this semester in terms of the self-awareness of robots, which strongly relates to memory and human identity:

Chantelle provided a similar analysis:

The key question here regards the difference between algorithmic memories being coded into a robot and organic memories developing inside a human`s mind. Is the gap closing? If yes, what does it mean to be human?

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