Exploring the intersections of ecology, technology, and ideology: Marx, machines, Gibson, and Shanghai.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Good Old Humanism, A New Cold War, or A Cheap Shot at Tom Cruise and L. Ron Hubbard?

The Invasion, the recently released re-make of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is another example of the trend I’ve noticed in the sf shift from technophobia that fears machines of our own creation will rise up against us to what I am calling a biophobia—a fear that has turned its gaze away from externality and focused on life itself—specifically human life. These 2 phobias were actually synthesized in a complicated way in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—the sf text that not only inaugurated a genre but anticipated perhaps its core dialectic. Much more on this later--look for separate entries on Frankenstein and on Bruce Sterling's "Cyberpunk" preface to Mirrorshades.

One could easily glean from even the trailers for The Invasion that this would be a biophobia film. But what the trailers left utterly blank, and what I found most intriguing as I watched the film in the theatre, is the ideological position on humanity that is meant to stand up against the invasion of this dreadfully collective alien life form—the reason for us to adopt Nicole Kidman’s character as our avatar in the film, our heroine, and the representative of an ideological stance we could agree with, even if cautiously or only partially. In the original 1956 version, the Cold War atmosphere, with widespread public rhetoric of Communists (especially the many millions of Chinese) living as insects—emotionally blank, devoid of identity, and with an indefatigable drive to convert all other humans to their insect-like mode of un-living organisms comprising a hive. On a relatively wide global scale, Communism/Socialism posed a genuine alternative to Capitalism, and thus the film spoke to the genuine concern of the day.

Now, however, unless one wants to overvalue (unless this is where I’m severely misled or underinformed) George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin’s posturings over the anti-missile defense shields, with Eastern Europe as the membranous geography being fought over, the anti-Communist Cold War sentiments are almost wholly absent from public discourse on any significant level. Moreover, news footage features prominently in The Invasion, narrating via the multi-media global network the transition as the virus spreads from a state of constant and uncountable world conflicts toward a peaceful coexistence. (As the film proceeds, we see/hear in the background newscasts about Bush forging relations with Hugo Chavez as well as the end to the Iraq occupation). Earth is being transformed into a planet of peaceful coexistence amongst all the human beings who’ve been transformed by the bio-invasion.

So, what is Kidman’s character fighting for? The only moment in the film that articulates her position takes place when she attends the Czech ambassador’s dinner with her boyfriend/best friend, Ben. The Russian and Czech ambassadors (perhaps I am off the mark about this W.Bush/Putin material) are debating humanity and civilization. Kidman’s character argues that while conflicts such as those mentioned by the Russian ambassador (Iraq, Darfur…) are terrible, the human being is still evolving. She says, “500 years ago postmodern feminists didn’t exist, yet here you sit next to one tonight.” Thus, her value system resides in evolution, though with a po-mo position, which means a position structurally enmeshed in late capitalism, as the chief positive example meant to thwart the Russian’s utopian vision. In response to her, the Russian ambassador remarks that we would cease to be human in a world without constant conflicts, and yet this line is delivered as well as formally coded without a hint of terror, disgust, or even irony. It’s a matter of fact statement, and it is indeed the situation unfolding as the narrative progresses.

My point is that I could not read the code, if one is really present, in which this pivotal declaration is communicated. This radical blankness in the delivery of the labeling of non-human, or what would be called the posthuman, is the most telling and significant part of the film’s ideology. Even more important than the shadow-biographical moment in which the now-invaded Ben confronts Kidman’s character (barely veiled overtones of Tom Cruise’s Scientological position against prescription medications for psychiatric/psychological illnesses—in fact, if this were a David Lynch film, we might read the entire narrative as the fantasy of Nicole Kidman reclaiming the perfect family life she was part of and with a Tom Cruise free of the Scientology invasion) regarding her role as a psychiatrist in prescribing synthetic chemicals to try remedying human conflicts. In the end of the film, we return from the alien invasion, the motive of which was never addressed, to the representation of comfortable white upper-class heterosexual family life (complete with that contemporary fashion accessory, the adopted East Asian orphan), inhabiting a world that is finding its way back to mass conflicts. A people who have learned nothing—those infected literally have no memory of their dalliance with collectivity because it was all linked to their REM sleep brain functions—and those handful of individuals that saw the face of the human drawn in sand at the edge of the sea being erased and somehow managed to reinforce it, at least until another alien tide arrives.

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