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Biopolitics of Pop Culture

pinocchio.pngJoin me and a pretty nifty selection of speakers on December 4 at the Biopolitics of Popular Culture event in HOLLYW--er, IRVINE, California.

Popular culture is full of tropes and cliches that shape our debates about emerging technologies. Our most transcendent expectations for technology come from pop culture, and the most common objections to emerging technologies come from science fiction and horror, from Frankenstein and Brave New World to Gattaca and the Terminator.

Why is it that almost every person in fiction who wants to live a longer than normal life is evil or pays some terrible price? What does it say about attitudes towards posthuman possibilities when mutants in Heroes or the X-Men, or cyborgs in Battlestar Galactica or Iron Man, or vampires in True Blood or Twilight are depicted as capable of responsible citizenship?

Is Hollywood reflecting a transhuman turn in popular culture, helping us imagine a day when magical and muggle can live together in a peaceful Star Trek federation? Will the merging of pop culture, social networking and virtual reality into a heightened augmented reality encourage us all to make our lives a form of participative fiction?

During this day long seminar we will engage with culture critics, artists, writers, and filmmakers to explore the biopolitics that are implicit in depictions of emerging technology in literature, film and television.

On the roster are Annalee Newitz (the first time we'll be speaking on the same program!) and my friend and comic book/superhero fiction historian Jess Nevins, along with:

Natasha Vita-More
Kristi Scott
J. Hughes
Mike Treder
Michael LaTorra
RJ Eskow
PJ Manney
Matthew Patrick
Alex Lightman
Edward Miller

(Still not gender parity, but a speaker list that's one-third women is a significant improvement over nearly other future-focused event I've been to. Good work!)


Hmm, we must be surfing the same sites as I was having convergent thoughts. Hollywood and western media invariably paints the downside of new or anticipated technology. So much so that I was pondering whether Hollywood was actively holding back or at least deterring progress in countries where Hollywood movies are common. And also wondering if Japan and its manga embracing media meant the opposite was true there?

Hollywood movies are as popular here as anywhere, it's not all manga. And a huge amount of manga/anime is dystopian.

I am not disputing that there is a strange conservatism about technology in western culture that is quite different from Japan, Korea, China, etc. - I think it would be oversimplifying things to posit that Hollywood vs. Manga is a primary causal factor.

There may be a distinction between movies ans tv at play, too. Movies need the shock factor to draw large audiences in their first weekend, before they are replaced by the next flick. OTOH, tv serialized format requires audiences to feel and connect with their heroes, so that they come back every week and maintain a large enough audience to keep them on the air; thus vampires and cyborgs need be persons (as in personhood), humane, part of society, civilized, rather than monstrous freaks. Note that among movies (and books) that also go that way, most are also of the serialized type.

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