Man and Machine An essay on Blade Runner_ The Terminator .doc by tongxiamy

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									Man and Machine: An essay on Blade Runner, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Star
Trek: First Contact.

'[The Terminator] does not advance an 'us against them' argument, man versus machine, a Romantic
opposition between the organic and the mechanical, for there is much that is hybrid about its constructed
elements. Blade Runner, both Terminator films, and Star Trek: First Contact are all films which explore the
relationship or debate between human and cybernetic forms of consciousness. What exactly is the nature of
the relationship between human and machine? Are they fundamentally opposed to each other, or do they
share many similarities?
The relationship between human and machine, the organic and the mechanic has traditionally been portrayed
as one of opposites and incompatibilities. The organic has been fiercely defended by traditional theorists and
conservative thinkers and filmmakers, portraying the cybernetic as the evil and inferior corruptor of
humanity. More radical and progressive theorists have put a spin on such a belief by emphasising the very
intimate relationship that humanity has with the technological, as the supposed evil is really a product of
what we have created and programmed.
At the root of the debate is the perceived fear that there is potential for human beings to be eclipsed by, and
hence destroyed by their constructions. However, the dawning of an age of technological superiority can
only be possible because humanity has become the maker of its own demise by creating his/her own
successor.
The reality is that the human and the machine share such a similitude, that the meaning of what it is to be
human has become indistinct, uncertain, and potentially irrelevant. Traditional ideas of how one is
distinguished from another have become redundant as images of the organic and the mechanic move towards
a state of hyperreality -- the original and the copy simulate each other to the extent of indiscernability.
Therefore, the notion of what it is to be human has become ambiguous to say the least. While the machine
and the human have many obvious and distinct differences, that they also share common characteristics may
be a disquieting thought to some. Blade Runner and both Terminator films demonstrate how easy it is to
'pass' as human in the present and future. In the former, the only way to discern a replicant from a human is
to take a very precise test of the dilation of the subject's pupils. In the Terminator films, a leather jacket,
sunglasses and a motorcycle was enough to allow the T-800 to 'pass' as human among present day
Angelinos.
This ambiguity in what it means to be human has led to the realisation that that today and tomorrow's human
being has become hybridised with the technological. Whether this is in the form of humanity's reliance on
everyday technologies, or in the possibility of a more advanced form of consciousness (ie. the cyborg or the
android), the organic and the mechanic can not realistically be portrayed as duelling opposites of good and
evil.
Donna Haraway, in her 'Manifesto for Cyborgs', played upon the hybrid nature of the cyborg to comment on
the confusion of the cultural, physical, and now technological boundaries humanity faces. More of a politico-
feminist discourse than a literal dissertation on the physical and psychological effects of the technological on
the organic, she still managed to provide a 'potent talisman for the global convergence of human body and
electronic network, extending our post-Futurist romance with mechanical technology' (1).
The cyborg may be seen as a result of the continuing interchangeability humans are experiencing with
technology. The human beings in the four films discussed in this essay are directly dependent on the
technological. From the motor vehicles, answering machines, and Sony Walkmen of The Terminator, to the
spaceships, replicators, and transporters of Star Trek: First Contact, human beings have ultimately become
one with the machine in film, and hence in their daily lives. The humans in The Terminator failed to noticed
the Terminator because they were 'plugged in to their mechanical devices' (2), as we as human beings have
become 'plugged in' to the abundance of everyday technology that currently exists.
In the reality of day to day life, humanity has become intrinsically connected with the technological, where
everyday instances of technology are utilised to enhance and expedite our daily lives. It would seem that the
emergence of the cyborg, a new hybrid entity, is simply the next step, like Turing's Man -- 'a complete
integration of humanity and technology, of artificer and artifact'. (3) The fusion of the body with mechanical
enhancements already exists today, from basic prosthetic limbs, to telecommunications, and to neural
network computers, technology has become a very entrenched part of our lives. (4) Only a month ago did the
Sydney Morning Herald (5) report that a man had been able to control a computer by thought alone after
receiving an electronic implant that fused with his brain cells. What would have seemed impossible years
ago has now become a reality. The emergence of a cyborg culture now seems more than imaginable: it is
inevitable, and is happening now.
The cyborgs depicted in the cinema are a more elaborate construct, but are still based on the same principle
of the organic/mechanic hybrid. In both Terminator films, the T-800 is a robotic endoskeleton encapsulated
by the flesh of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg are a collective of hive-like
beings, encrusted with metal armory, enhanced limbs and faculties. The T-800 is programmed with an
unwavering will to terminate its target Sarah Connor in the first film, and her son John Connor in the sequel.
The Borg are on an unflinching mission to assimilate organic lifeforms so as to enhance their own
knowledge and absorb their technology.
The cyborg represents the hybridisation of the organic and the mechanic. The android on the other hand,
represents the mechanic as simulacrum of the organic. The android does not combine organic elements with
technological parts. In Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel that Blade Runner is
based on, the author describes the androids (or replicants) that populate this dark techno-world as 'fierce cold
things trying to pass themselves off as human, but are not.'(6) The deception that androids generally
demonstrate suggests that such an entity would be defined by its appearance, or how people see it.
Everything begins and ends with appearances, surfaces without depth, copied human behavior [sic] lacking a
basis in human nature. In this respect, the android queers the distinct categories of human and machine.(7)
As figures that are intrinsically all surface, androids do not play with the relationship between the organic
and the machine, but instead, concentrate on how the organic and the mechanic replicate each other to the
point of no distinction. The T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day is
[v]isually indistinguishable from the human … more indomitable and unswerving in its antihuman mission
… in many ways [it is] a starker projection of a tecnologized world. (8)
The android is pure simulacrum. As Baudrillard notes, as simulacra, 'images precede the real to the extent
that they invert the causal and logical order of the real and its reproduction.' (9) As the T-1000 mutates into
the images of those people and objects surrounding it, the original and the copy are no longer discernible.
The T-1000 smooths out the rough edges of its predecessor; it blends in. As a 'trickster' and 'shape-shifter',
the T-1000 annexes the human body and soul rather than simply terminating it. The T-1000 is a perfect
example of the hyperreal -- a copy with no distinguishable original.
Thus, as cyborgs and androids populate these films, and as today's world has already become so
technologised that such entities do not seem so far-fetched, one must recognise that the organic and the
mechanic share much in common. However, the mechanic has been portrayed as the 'other' for centuries.
Descartes compared humans and machines in the seventeenth century, maintaining that humans are always
superior to machines because humans possess the unique ability to reason. (10) Similarly, the Enlightenment
allowed humanity to believe that their ability to reason gave them the capacity to create their own destiny
rather than submit to a preordained social order. (11) In The Terminator, Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor that
'You can't reason with him'. The Terminator is programmed to kill; he does not determine that for himself.
He does not possess the human ability to reason, to feel compassion, or decide for himself what is right and
wrong. The Borg of Star Trek do not listen to reason either, illustrated in their mantra, 'Resistance is futile'.
Futile because they are programmed with the unswerving goal to assimilate the organic and technological
into their own collective.
Entities such as the Termintor, the replicant, and the Borg are figures of human artifice, but at the same time,
they demonstrate the vulnerability of the human body because they have been enhanced. They are the new
model, an improvement on their originators. They are hastening the replacement of the organic by the very
technology that is already replacing human beings in the present -- in factories and with computers.
From a conservative perspective, technology represents artifice as opposed to nature, the mechanical as
opposed to the spontaneous, the regulated as opposed to the free, an equalizer as opposed to a promotor of
individual distinction, equality triumphant as opposed to liberty, democratic levelling as opposed to
hierarchy derived from individual superiority… it represents the triumph of radical change over traditional
social institutions. (12)
Human and machine are portrayed as opposites, or even as enemies, in a battle for supremacy, a battle of
good and evil. Technology represents everything that threatens the tenets of conservative thinking.
Therefore, a spate of films have been made with this attitude, most particularly, with The Terminator, which
portrays the mechanic as a menacing evil intent on the annihilation of humanity.
Perhaps the most pervasive fear within this persuasion of thought -- along with the annihilation of the human
and rise of the superior machine -- is the potential for the organic to become obsolete. The slogan used by the
Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, 'More human than human', seems a frightening thought in light of the
fact that the product of this multi-world corporation, the replicant, has become indistinguishable, 'a nearly
perfect mimesis … as the replicants threaten to render their creators superfluous.' (13) The mechanic is
expedient, driven and unhindered by the emotional weaknesses of the human. Hence, the mechanic is
portrayed as dangerously superior, amoral, and evil.
This 'technophobic' portrayal of the mechanic as 'the other' in film is undisputable. However, it should be
recognised that the organic and the mechanic do have certain fundamental differences, especially when
concerned with their reproduction and with 'the gaze', maybe even regardless of the fact that their portrayals
in film are politically or socially unbalanced.
The reproduction of the organic and the mechanic provide a stark contrast between forms, as is illustrated in
the aforementioned films. In both Terminator films, technology has virtually destroyed all traces of the
human in the post-nuclear world of 2029, reconstructing the environment in its own image. The facilitator of
this reconfiguration is Skynet, who has ultimately rendered the organic body obsolete because it has
discovered the means of its own reproduction. Indeed , the fundamental tenets of organic reproduction -- the
sexual, have been eradicated.
Without feminine or masculine creativity -- indeed, without human imput of any kind -- Skynet produces
machines, or terminator units, totally artificial simulations of humans to act as weapons in the hunt for the
few remaining people that pose a threat to its autonomy. These creations are not forged from some universal
human code, like the DNA molecule, but rather from the logical parameters of electronic circuitry. (14)
In The Terminator, the heterosexual act of procreation between Sarah and Reese is re-affirmed as the only
way to save humanity in the future. A definite line is drawn between the organic and the mechanic in terms
of reproduction. The self-replicating automata of both Terminator films, Blade Runner, and Star Trek: First
Contact are pitted against the sexual and natural 'procreators' -- human beings. Ironically, the drone has the
capability of exerting its own sexuality in these films. The Terminator exhibits a tough, masculine image, his
leather-clad and rippling muscles have been designed by the filmmakers to arouse sexual desire in the
women and men who watch the film. Even the grotesque Borg Queen in Star Trek seduces the android Data
with her overtly erotic demeanour. One may reconcile this by recognising that any sexual characteristics a
cyborg may possess are still originally human characteristics copied by the machine.
In its self-replication, the cyborg/android produces an infinity of beings -- a collective programmable force.
Humanity produces individuals, or specifically in the aforementioned films, one man -- a saviour. John
Connor, Rick Deckard, and Jean-Luc Picard exemplify the bastion of the organic -- the unique individual
defending the human against the analogous threat of the technological.
The gaze of the organic is motivated by such things as survival, desire, and hunger. Kyle Reese has spent a
lifetime gazing at the photo of Sarah Connor. He has 'come across time' for her. For the cyborg/android, the
gaze is of much less significance. The gaze of the cyborg in The Terminator is enhanced with infra-red,
kilobytes of data, and programmed options. They are programmed, and hence do not have to rely on their
eyes to determine the truth. In Blade Runner, the means of deciphering who is human and what is replicant is
done through the Voight-Kampff test, observing the dilation of the subjects pupils upon being prompted with
questions leading to emotional responses. The film is rampant with images symbolic of the eye, especially
the fact that the replicant's maker, Tyrell meets his death at the hands of his progeny, literally, after Roy
pokes Tyrell's eyes into his brain. Tyrell sees the truth, but all too late.
In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the security guard in the hospital discovers 'the truth' -- that the T-1000
exists before him as replication of himself, only when the T-1000 pokes him between the eyes. (15) As
windows to the soul, the eye is the fundamental part of the human. It allows us to 'see' the truth, and is not
just an artificial enhancement that is programmed.
Nevertheless, in the face of distinct differences between the organic and the mechanic, the conservative ideal
of placing them in opposition is unrealistic. Both the human and the technological share an intimate
relationship that recognises that what it is to be uniquely human has become indistinct and uncertain. The
organic and the machine have become hybridised in the present, opening the way for the future emergence of
the ultimate hybrid form, the cyborg, or the ultimate simulacrum, the android.
A film such as The Terminator addresses the fact that it is impossible to clearly distinguish between human
and machines.
It focuses on the partial and ambiguous merging of the two, a more complex response … [rather] than the
Romantic triumph of the organic over the mechanical, or the nihilistic recognition that we have all become
automata. (16)
Two major issues spring from the aforementioned films that illustrate the hybridisation of the organic and the
mechanic. The portrayal of human and machine has been played with in these films, and in most cases, their
'roles' and characteristics have been reversed. Concurrently, the meaning of what it is to be human has
become blurred by such a portrayal.
The two Terminator films most clearly illustrate the role reversal between the human and the machine. Janice
Rushing and Thomas Frentz have noted that the films themselves are aptly named.
[The word] "termination" is a term not ordinarily applied to human homicide: it usually is reserved for the
cessation of mechanical functions. (17)
Since the humans in the film are superfluous nuisances to the superior machines, they are not 'murdered', but
are merely 'liquidated' or terminated, a function that would seem to fit better in the reverse.
As the roles or characteristics of the human and the machine have become reversed, we seem to have become
more like the machine. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Sarah Connor undertakes her mission to save the
world with 'a mechanical determination and [a] tunnel vision that befits both terminators.' (18) When she
finds the scientist responsible for Skynet Miles Dyson, she takes on the role of the mechanically driven
hunter stalking the weak human prey.
When Sarah reaches Dyson's house, the red dot from the infra-red sighting mechanism on her weapon fixes
on the back of his head while he works at his computer, duplicating the scene from T1 where the dot from
the Terminator's weapon appeared on Sarah's own forehead at the Tech Noir. (19)
Just as the machine is programmed, human beings are programmed in their own cultural and sexual
constructs. The Terminator films warn of a technologically inspired way humans have of judging the world
and those in it on the basis of appearance,
while it also cautions us about the basis of those appearances -- how much they are simply constructed for
us, without our awareness, and made to seem quite natural and transparent. (20)
The Terminator initially passes as human based on its appearance, but as the films progress, we see what it is
really made of, on the inside. It perfectly illustrates that bodies 'do and don't end at the skin.' (21) At the same
time, the humans in the films present us with an initial image we accept as normative, until the film
progresses and we see inside them as well. (22)
In Blade Runner, the replicants act in a manner more akin to the human. The humans in the film seem
apathetic and oblivious to one another. The replicants seem to genuinely care about one another, planning
their survival, protecting each other from cancellation, and grieving over each inevitable death. In an almost
cliched twist, they are 'more human than human'. The mechanic figure of the film is, ironically, Rick
Deckard, who mechanically pursues the replicants in his unswerving goal to kill them.
The film most effectively demonstrates that the division between the organic and the mechanic is no longer
clear cut obvious. The replicants in the film simulate behaviour so well that real people do not know that
they are not human. The 'problem is so acute that the burden of authenticity, of having to prove you are in
fact human, falls on virtually everyone.' (23) It is one of the first, and is the most effective film to challenge
the traditional and conservative view of the organic and mechanic in constant battle and opposition. Blade
Runner debunks and deconstructs the oppositions at work within conservative views on the organic and the
mechanic.
The marrying of human and replicant undercuts the posing of nature as an opposite to a negative
technological civilisation… [T]he film deconstructs the oppositions -- human/technology, reason/feeling,
culture/nature -- that underwrite the conservative fear of technology by refusing to privilege one pole of the
dichotomy over another and by leaving their meaning undecidable. (24)
The meaning of what it is to be human is now less defined and more uncertain. The present day attests to
such a statement, as humanity has become 'plugged in' to everyday technologies to make our lives easier,
more convenient, and more enjoyable. The four films previously discussed have shown that the cinema has
taken this idea and has merely enhanced it by introducing such mesmerising creations as the Terminator, the
replicant, and the Borg. It is the hybrid form (whether as physical hybrid 'cyborg', or simulacrum 'android')
that seems to be the most accurate and realistic description of how the organic and the mechanic exist in
relation to each other. It is a symbol of the relationship we have with the technological in the present, and is
the image used by filmmakers in portraying the future.

								
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