serial experiments lain

To what commodity end are concepts of the ‘post-human’ and the ‘cyborg’ marketed? Give screen and theoretical examples of each. 

In its exploration of the concept of the ‘cyborg,’ Lain offers a form of escape to its audience. This is an escape not only from mundane lives, but also from the binaries and distributions of power that constrain and define social life.  Thus the cyborg may imply progressive or utopian visions that offer an escape from partriarchy/capitalism.  

Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. (Haraway, 2000, 316) 

In the body of the cyborg, dominance itself becomes a shifting and unstable field. The cyborg questions the very boundaries that designate power relationships. (Pinksy, 2003: 120) 

Donna Haraway emphasizes the confusion of boundaries implied by the concept of the ‘cyborg.’ As they are everywhere and invisible, modern machines change the notion of physical and non-physical, while the separation between human and animal has never been entirely convincing anyway. Haraway also envisages the cyborg as a creature in a ‘post-gender world’ where the boundary between male and female is confused. (Haraway, 2000: 292-294) Haraway argues for pleasure in the confusion of such boundaries. Lain offers this pleasure as it questions the distinction between physical/non-physical, the real world/the Wired and the body/mind/soul. The text subsequently offers escape through the confusion of boundaries. 

In layer 06 “kids,” Lain appears in the sky, her body breaking through the clouds and shining down like a God with majestic music forming the soundtrack. This scene not only suggests breaking down the boundaries between physical and non-physical (how can she be in two places at once?) but also suggests a shift in distributions of power. Lain, an adolescent girl, is portrayed as a powerful God while kids on the street raise their arms upwards as if worshipping her. 

(it’s a long clip so start is at around 7 mins for this bit) 

Lain may also offer escape through its assertions about the irrelevance of the body and the possibilities of the virtual world. Four minutes into the previous clip, Lain is floating in a colourful, borderless space as she laughs and talks to the Knights. Perhaps this is a comment on the eradication of ‘public life’ and real communities as they are replaced by virtual worlds and television addiction. Lain becomes increasingly addicted to the Wired and even takes her HandyNAVI to school. Haraway contends that technologies are producing modern forms of ‘private life’ that can also facilitate a science fiction escape from the planet (and its destruction). (Haraway, 2000: 306) In week 6, we spoke about television replacing real communities with shows like Buffy and Friends. Television and the internet can facilitate a feeling of belonging and impression of community that may not be found in real life. (Bauman, 2000: 99) In this way tv/internet become an extension of the self, televisual/internet becomings.   

 Although Lain may offer some form of escape from the dualisms of capitalism and patriarchy, it remains a commodified product. The text bombards the audience with information and a convoluted situation that is difficult to grasp. Subsequently this technique results in addiction to the serial, as audiences need to buy the DVD set in order to watch the show repeatedly. A play station game (the creators of the game prefer to refer to it as a ‘Psycho-Stretch-Ware’ rather than a game) has also been created so audiences can continue to understand Lain’s world.

This ad for the playstation game further emphasizes this idea of escape in the eradication of boundaries. The flashes say ‘no nation, no race, no freedom..’ evoking a utopian cyberspace. The kinds of products that extend from Lain, as well as the show itself, also emphasize consumption as an individual pastime. (Bauman, 2000, 97) 

The connection to Apple computers emphasizes an undeniable product placement. These include the use of the slogan ‘Think Different’, the resemblance of Lain’s NAVi and HandyNAVI to Apple products and the use of Apple’s “Whisper” that comes with Mac OS.  The connections are explained thoroughly here. Lain also extends to a manga, soundtracks and five art books.

This demonstrates that there is no escape from capitalism. As Adorno and Horkheimer say ‘something is provided for all so that none may escape.‘ Consumers are classified, organized and labeled so that each is provided for. ‘The public is catered for  with a hierarchical range mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification.’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1993: 32)

Jennifer Gonzalez questions the likelihood of cyborgs being able to exist free of the constraints already imposed upon humans and machines.(Gonzalez, 2000: 61) As a text that may have progressive or utopian implications, Lain works within the systems of capitalism and patriarchy.

So although Lain and ‘cyborgs’ are perhaps marketed at those seeking escape, none may escape. How Bleak!

Haraway update? 

Perhaps it is worth considering then, how useful Donna Haraway’s cyborg manifesto might be now, and whether it needs updating. Writing in 2002, Michael Ian Borer criticizes Harraway’s utopian visions, labeling them ‘otiose as an analytical resource.’ Her conceptualization of the cyborg as a human-machine hybrid implies, according to Borer, that technology and humanity exist independently of each other. This misunderstanding leads to the belief that cyberspace is an ‘other-than-human’ entity, but in a practical sense it cannot function independently or without ‘human intervention and facilitation.’ (Borer, 2002) Perhaps this is why Haraway’s theory is difficult to utilize when considering the inescapability of commodity culture and patriarchy. The separation of humanity from technology can facilitate the separation of new cybernetic systems and cyborgs from their historical origins. Thus a progressive/utopian cyborg society can be imagined. However, it is important not to forget the interrelationship between technology and humanity,  which is emphasized by Borer’s concept of the cyborgian self

Understanding the cyborgian self as a conceptual, dialectical synthesis of technology and humanity…(is) a more cogent and appropriate optic for understanding the everyday uses of contemporary technology. (Borer, 2002)

 The usefulness of the cyborgian self lies in its ability to be conceived as more than a physical synthesis of human and technology. It expands the concept of the ‘cyborg’ and it is interesting to think about whether the cyborg, as it is imagined by Haraway, is already out of date. 

References: 

Donna Haraway (2000) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in The Cubercultures Reader. Eds David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy. London: Routledge, pp. 291-324

Jennifer Gonzalez (2000) ‘Envisioning Cyborg Bodies: Notes from Current Research,’ in The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader. Eds. Gill Kirkup, Linda James, Kath Woodward, Fiona Hovenden. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 58-73 

Michael Ian Borer (2002) ‘The Cyborgian Self: Toward a Critical Social Theory of Cyberspace,’ in Reconstruction Studies in Contemporary Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3, Accessed on 26th May 2008 from http://reconstruction.eserver.org/023/borer.htm

Michael Pinsky (2003) ‘The Cyborg Body: Two Case Studies,’ in Future Present: Ethics and/as Science Fiction. Ed. Michael Pinsky. Madison: Farleigh Dickenson University Press, pp. 119-156

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1993) ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,’ in The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon Durling. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 29-43

Zygmunt Bauman (2000) ‘Time/Space,’ in Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 91-129

 

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May 25, 2008. Tags: , , . Uncategorized.

4 Comments

  1. margheritawithextracheese replied:

    I think your point on how the internet and tv provide spaces that act as virtual communitites. In a sence, our online world and friends we make with characters on tv are replacing the old fashioned communities (if there ever was such a utopian idea, i certainly don’t remember it). Considering we spend countless hours on facebook, these online zones are literally an extension of oursleves. And when we form addictions with tv shows, it is usually becasue we have some attachment with the characters, and personalise them. For example, we how often do you hear people say, “You know that seinfeld episode when Jerry….”, “That’s like in Sex and the city when they go to…”. The screen paradigms graft onto our own lives.

  2. Steph replied:

    Nice post!
    I agree Harraway’s article seems dated now. I think it is also worth considering whether technology will ever be able to think independently. Countless films and novels have been dedicated to technology’s annihilation of ‘humanity’, seemingly forgetting our compliance in the development of autonomous technology.

    I think it’s very interesting how recent discourse on the body relates to technology, while recent technological discourse relies upon biological typology. The body is becoming technologic, while my computer becomes biologic!

    Anyway great post!

  3. zoe replied:

    You’re right. I think maybe we need new tools for conceptualizing this relationship between technology and humanity.

    Although it has become a cyborg, the body is still coded as it was before, it’s just more complex.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. felicity colman replied:

    i particularly like your writing z: ‘the brown monochrome of the students..’ v. nice! 🙂 fc

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