Europa Report Free Film Screening and Discussion with Me, Scientists, Filmmakers, and Writers on Friday, March 28, 5-8PM

Free Europa Report Screening and Panel Discussion!
Free Europa Report Screening and Panel Discussion!

On Friday, March 28, 2014 from 5:00PM to 8:00PM at the Atlanta Science Festival, I will join moderator Gil Weinberg (Georgia Tech, Physics), Marcus Davis (KSU, Biology), Paul Jenkins (Boom Studios), Sidney Perkowitz (Emory, Physics), and Balogun Ojetade (author) to discuss the scientific and cultural significances of the 2013 film Europa Report, which will be screened prior to the panel. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at Kennesaw State University’s 230-seat Prillaman Hall Auditorium (building #41 – Owl Road, 1000 Chastain Rd NW, Kennesaw, GA 30144). More information is available at (http://atlantasciencefestival.org/events/event/602).

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Gender Course, Online Discussion Writing and Group Presentation Introduction, Spring 2005

This is the twenty-ninth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In Spring 2005, I was a member of Professor Carol Senf’s LCC 3304, Science, Technology, and Gender class. Professor Senf–who I now consider a good friend and colleague–organized the class around online discussions, in-class discussions, and a final team-based, research/presentation project. In this post, I am including my introduction for my team’s final project on the transsexuality/transgenderism in film and my eight online discussion postings. In the former, I am including only my introduction, because I do not have permission from my teammates to post the completed project. In the latter, I am including my saved files, some of which appear to be fragments of the online postings–perhaps notes or drafts that I revised online. The discussion postings are based on readings and viewings. They involve analysis and exploration. Aside from the fragmentary nature of some of the postings, the writing and focus seem to improve over time. Everything is posted as-is.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

Spring 2005

Introduction to Transsexuality in Film Presentation

Opening slide that I created for our presentation.
Opening slide that I created for our presentation.

Our group is exploring transsexuality as presented in contemporary film.  Transsexual theorist Sandy Stone defines a transsexual as “a person who identifies his or her gender identity with that of the ‘opposite’ gender.  Sex and gender are quite separate issues, but transsexuals commonly blur the distinction by confusing the performative character of gender with the physical ‘fact’ of sex, referring to their perceptions of their situation as being in the ‘wrong body'” (Stone, sec. 2, par. 2).  A transsexual person feels his/her gender to be disconnected from or other than his/her sex.  This is an interesting topic for discussion because transsexuality calls into question the assumed de facto nature of binomial sex.

Film is a popular entertainment medium that mirrors currently held beliefs, and it can educate and challenge the status quo by bringing stories (otherwise unheard) to a larger audience.  Additionally, film and transsexuality are both technologically based and they both “came of age” during the twentieth century.  Film and transsexuality double one another in that both record performances (i.e., the former on film and the latter on a person’s body).  Teresa de Lauretis (as quoted in Hausman 14) goes so far as to say that gender is “the product of various social technologies, such as cinema, as well as institutional discourses, epistemologies, and critical practices.”  In the last chapter, Hausman writes, “Transsexuals seek to become the true representatives of a gender”  (193).  Gender, in part, is a technologically manufactured construct.  Thus, film and transsexuality are linked because both are manifestations of recording technologies and film is part of the mechanism that constructs the idea of gender for all, including transsexuals, to emulate.

There are many films with main characters that are transsexual.  These films range from biographies to inventive dramas.  We will be taking a cross section of these films to look more closely at how transsexual characters are presented and how other characters interact with and perceive them.  Our presentation will point out common themes as well as stereotypes that we find in these films.  We will look at different reactions to male-to-female transsexuality and female-to-male transsexuality.  Additionally, we want to look at what these representations tell us about the perception of transsexuals today.

In the course of our research we found four narrative types employed in films that feature transsexuality.  Those four categories are:

  1. aversity or challenge
  2. bildungsroman or a coming of age story
  3. doppelganger or the transsexual is a double of other characters
  4. farce or fantasy

Mind you, we are putting the films, not the people, into categories.  These categories serve as shorthand that allows us to build connections between movies and the way that they each present transsexuality.  These filmic presentations of transsexuality form a broad spectrum ranging from cookie-cutter stereotypes to solid character development.  The ways in which the transsexual characters in these films are portrayed as well as the way in which others around them perceive and interact with them tells us much about the cultural moment in which these films were made.  Some films instigate thought and discussion whereas others perpetuate stereotypes.  Therefore, transsexuality in film is a valuable resource for learning more about past and present presentations of transsexuals and they also reflect on the attitudes and beliefs of the filmmakers and the audience.

———————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

01/25/2005

Online Discussion Post 1

Olivia Judson responds to the question, “Isn’t anthropomorphism something biologists try to avoid?” in the following excerpt from the FAQ section of her website:

 

“When I studied animal behavior in college, I was told anthropomorphism was a Big No-No. But as I read more widely, I concluded this stance is misguided. Two of the greatest evolutionary biologists–Darwin and Bill Hamilton (my PhD supervisor, and my nomination for the 20th century biologist most like Darwin)–regularly put themselves in the place of the organisms they were watching, and I think that doing so helped them to some of their most profound insights. As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head–that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description–considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool. Indeed, I think the real danger with [anthropomorphism] is in treating it as an intellectual sin. A taboo on anthropomorphism has the effect of leading us to believe that humans are so different from other animals that we can’t possibly relate to them. But that’s wrong (http://www.drtatiana.com/faq.shtml#anthro).”

 

She makes the point “that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description.”  Metaphor and analogy are models that help us better understand something that is foreign to our experience.  Judson uses anthropomorphism as a tool to better understand the biology and behavior of organisms that lead very different lives from humans.  Additionally, she is able to convey detailed information in a more “friendly” way than an elitist scientific text.  Anthropomorphism is engaging for the layperson and the scientists alike.  Judson is saying that even scientists such as Darwin, Hamilton, and herself use anthropomorphism as a tool in their work thus it shouldn’t carry the taboo that is often associated with it within scientific circles.

 

Similarly, Marlene Zuk’s writes, “A model system is one that is used to obtain general results about some aspect of biology” (24).  Zuk describes a model system as taking detailed observations of one group and then applying the collected results to other groups (e.g., another sex of the group species, another age group, or another species).  A scientist may lose objectivity in an experiment or observation due to anthropomorphism and they may over generalize the results of their experiments and observations due to relying on a model system beyond its scope.

 

A model system is like a rock being dropped into a pond.  At the center there is the largest disturbance of the water.  This corresponds to the model system and the group it was based on.  The model system can be used much more accurately on this central group than any other.  Then there are ripples emanating from the center.  These ripples lose intensity as they get further away from point where the rock/model system impacted the water.  The ripples correspond to the other groups that the model system may be applied to.  In the case of many drug tests, the model system is based on data derived from the “average male.”  When the drug is released for sale, the model system for drug interaction and side effects may vary for other groups that will be taking the drug (e.g., young women, older women, older men, men or women with other health problems, etc.).  If care isn’t taken in the application of a model system to groups farther out from the group that was used for building the model system, then it may result in problems.

 

Linking this back to Judson, if the bounds of objectivity are pushed too far, the data collection in building the model system may be corrupted.  As Darwin wrote, “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened” (Chapter 21, 1st paragraph).  It is the responsibility of the scientist to be aware of what extent he or she utilizes anthropomorphism and model systems.  Zuk’s personal account (using “I” and writing about Brother Loon) and Judson’s anthropomorphism combined with wit are two ways to write about science without losing sight of what they are writing about.  Additionally, Zuk’s description of a model system applies to Judson’s anthropomorphic descriptions.  Judson writes on her website, “As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head…considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool.”  Zuk and Judson both use anthropomorphism as a valuable tool to convey their respective stories and scientific information.  Anthropomorphism, like model systems, is an important tool that comes with a disclaimer limiting the scope and depth of its utility within a scientific discourse.

—————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

2/7/2005

Online Discussion Post 2

David Reimer is quoted on page 262 of John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him:

 

“You know, if I had lost my arms and my legs and wound up in a wheelchair where you’re moving everything with a little rod in your mouth–would that make me less of a person?  It just seems that they implied that you’re nothing if your penis is gone.  The second you lose that, you’re nothing, and they’ve got to do surgery and hormones to turn you into something.  Like you’re a zero.  It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is all directed–all pinpointed—toward what’s between the legs.  And to me, that’s ignorant.  I don’t have the kind of education that these scientists and doctors and psychologists have, but to me it’s very ignorant.  If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”

 

David is addressing the idea that Dr. John Money summed up by saying, “You cannot be an it” (248).  David compares an apparent physical disability with the unseen lack of a penis.  He calls into question the belief that if one’s sexual identity is ambiguous, then their identity as a person is considered less than the identity of a person with a clear sex identity.  He cannot find the logic behind the doctor’s (such as Dr. Money’s) belief that sexual identity is necessary for personal identity.  David clearly delineates what our culture considers important concerning identity when he says, “It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is directed…toward what’s between the legs.”  He considers this “ignorant” because this classification neglects the person in toto.  David has thoughts, feelings, and dreams like any other person.  Even though he endured a botched circumcision, surgeries, hormone treatments, and counseling to help acclimate him to living a life as “Brenda,” he knew on the inside that he was in fact male.  David had not been given a choice about what sex he should be.  His parents and his doctors chose a sex for him based on physical characteristics derived from his injury.  David turns the table on this reasoning by saying, “If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”  A woman’s breasts are one of the most obvious signifiers of being female.  His point is that if the physical manifestation of what we see and identify as being a male or female trait is removed then by the logic of doctors, such as Dr. Money, the person should have their sex reassigned so that they appear to be the sex that their scarred body appears to be.  This can be extended to Bob from Fight Club.  Bob had “bitch tits” and he had been castrated because of testicular cancer.  Should he have been transformed into a female because of his loss of his testicles as well as the way that he looks?

 

Dr. Money’s stand links back to Darwin’s primary sexual characteristics in his theory of sexual selection.  Darwin’s use of primary sexual characteristics is to denote what elements of an organism that are necessary for reproduction.  For human beings, these primary sexual characteristics are used as cues for sexual identity.  This extends to the way in which the individual interacts with others as well as the way others may interact with the individual–based on the perception/understanding of what sex the individual is.

 

Colapinto’s book is not a scientific text.  He uses journalistic investigation and personal narratives to build his argument.  The author gives David, Brian, their parents, and others a voice through their personal narratives.  Without Colapinto’s book and subsequent television appearances, their voice would have been oppressed within anonymous case studies.  In giving David and his family a voice, they were able to dispel the claims made by Dr. John Money concerning the “John/Joan” case.  Additionally, sexual identity is something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Being male or female (for the individual) is more than a checklist (e.g., penis–check, testicles–check, etc.).  David knew that he was male despite being told he was female.

 

It should also be noted that Dr. Money does not appear to have followed the scientific method in developing his theory that nurture is capable of reassigning biological sex or intersexual ambiguity.  Instead of rigorously following up on the John/Joan case, he effectively dropped the ball.  Also, in light of new evidence presented by the Diamond and Sigmundson paper, Dr. Money and others who promoted intersexual infant surgeries did not change or reevaluate their standing on this procedure.  Case studies are based on observation and extrapolation from particular cases.  For example, Freud’s psychoanalysis was based on case studies that he made with only a limited number of patients.  Diamond and Sigmundson paper was “powerful…in presenting anecdotal evidence of the neurobiological basis of sexuality” (210).  The doctors on both sides of this issue have to rely on the case studies of extreme cases in order to derive their theories regarding the basis of sexual identity.

 

Colapinto’s book reveals that more than scientific discovery is taking place in these investigations.  It reads like a drama because of the personal stakes that the doctors have in their work.  Dr. Money’s personal attacks erupt within his books that are supposed to be scientific texts.  Additionally, Dr. Money is presented as being less than objective by not disclosing certain elements of why he chose to not report what he knew had happened with Brenda/David and he would not explain his own shift in beliefs that took place between his doctoral dissertation (which presented a positive picture of intersexuals who had not undergone surgeries in infancy) to his profound belief that a person with ambiguous physical characteristics must be made either physically male or female while they are very young.

 

A final important point that Colapinto makes in As Nature Made Him is that David exists has a hybrid.  David identifies himself as male now even though he was raised as a girl.  He said, “I feel sorry for women.  I’ve been there” (262).  He then talks about gendered roles for women such as staying in the kitchen and being told to leave chopping the firewood to the men.  David goes on to say, “I remember when I was a kid and women were fighting like hell to get equal rights.  I said, ‘Good for them.’  I kind of sensed what position women had in society.  Way down there.  And that’s who I was portrayed.  And I didn’t want to go way down there.  I felt, I can do whatever anybody else can!  But ‘Oh, you’re a girl–you might get hurt playing ball'” (262).  He has walked the proverbial mile in another sex’s shoes.  His hybridity allowed him to see the demarcation lines because he had crossed over them in his transformation from Brenda to David.

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 3

Doppelgangers in The Stepford Wives destabilize female identity and agency.  The American Heritage College Dictionary 3rd edition defines doppelganger as, “A ghostly double of a living person, esp. one that haunts its living counterpart.”  Doppelgangers are a mirror of a person, but not an exact duplicate.  Additionally, a double is not natural and it is usually dangerous because of its encroaching on the identity of the original.

 

There are two kinds of doppelgangers or mirroring in The Stepford Wives.  The first mirroring takes place between the women of Stepford (i.e., Carol Van Sant et al) and the women who have recently moved to Stepford (i.e., Joanna, Bobby, and Charmaine).  The established women think and behave as a representation of an ideal of femininity held by the men of Stepford (and reinforced by the culture at large such as in advertising of housecleaning products).  The women who have recently moved to Stepford are trying to maintain their own identity and agency.  There is a conflict between the constructed identities of the Stepford women and the recently arrived women.  Joanna and Bobby can’t identify with the Stepford women because they are embedded (literally) with a diametrically opposed view of what it means to be a woman, and in particular, a wife.

 

Underlying this is the obvious level of doppelgangers between the original woman and the ideal Stepford wife that she “becomes.”  The robot/animatronic doubles are revealed at the end of the film when Joanna stabs Bobby to see if she bleeds.  Bobby does not and she falls into a loop of her preprogrammed motions and words.  The women of Stepford are replaced with robotic replications.  These robot doubles are built by the Men’s Association to give the husband what he considers an idealized housewife.  These doubles are unnatural (they don’t bleed and they are mechanical instead of organic) and they are dangerous to the not-yet-replaced women of Stepford.  The doppelganger has to usurp the place of the real woman by killing her.  The synthetic replaces the organic.  Additionally, this point is interesting because it means that the men can only enjoy their ideal of the female if that ideal is a constructed, synthetic being instead of an alive, organic one.

 

The doppelganger is important to our study of gender because it makes apparent how one group is objectified by another group (e.g., in this case women/wives are objectified by men/husbands).  The men already objectified the women before they were replaced with robot doubles.  Joanna didn’t have a choice in their move to Stepford and her husband doesn’t respect her choice to be a photographer.  Because Joanna is a “thing” instead of a person, Walter is able to replace her with her robot double.  In doing so, Joanna is killed and her voice (i.e., choice, creativity, and identity) is destroyed.

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 4

Alice Domurat Dreger quotes Donald Bateman (a hemophiliac) in the Epilogue of her book, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, as having said, “the social history of medicine is usually recorded by its practitioners, by social workers, or researchers.  Not much of it is chronicled by its victims or the recipients of treatment.  The sick, like the poor, leave very few archives behind them” (167).  The medical professionals usurp the voice of the individual who they objectify as the patient.  The body of the individual is made to “tell a story” through the doctor’s descriptions, photographs, and drawings.  The individual/patient is denied a voice in the medical literature because it is meant to be “objective.”  Science and medicine considers things, not individuals.

 

An example of this is a gynecological examination.  The woman to be examined has her body covered in such a way to section off the upper portion of her body from her lower portion.  The doctor is meant to conduct his/her examination on “body parts” that are in a sense removed from the individual.  This has come about in order to establish the objectivity of the medical professional as well as lowering the possibility that some may consider the doctor conducting the examination in a non-professional way.  This objectivity may also make the woman more comfortable in a situation that elicits the taboo against persons (particularly of the opposite sex) looking at our naked body.  The objectification of intersexual individuals however extends beyond this example.

 

Intersexuals have had decisions made about their bodies and their sexual identity without their voice being heard.  These decisions may be made while he/she is very young and it may be made by the medical professional along with input from the individual’s parents or the parents may go along with the “professional opinion” of the doctor.  The dynamic of this decision-making has a lot to do with many factors such as socioeconomic background of the parents, education, and geographic location of the parents and doctor (people in one location may have accepted mores or ideas that are different from people in other places).

 

Dreger goes on to say that a shift took place after the “Age of Gonads.”  Dreger writes, “The late twentieth century, however, has seen the emergence of the voices and claims–to autonomy, to authority–of medicine’s subjects.  Intersexuals, like hemophiliacs and other medical patients, have begun to record and make known their stories in ever greater numbers” (168).  We have been reading about these voices such as Herculine Barbin’s memoirs and David Reimer’s story in John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  There are stories to be told that are important both to the teller of the story and to an anticipating audience.  We have also read stories and seen movies where a person isn’t give a choice such as Joanna in The Stepford Wives and Yod in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna wants to be remembered through her photographs.  Yod leaves a message for Shira where he gets to tell his own story and make his own requests.  Barbin dealt with medical and legal authorities in his transformation from woman to man.  Reimer had to contend with the accepted authority on intersexuals–Dr. John Money.  The individual challenges authority in order to make their voice heard.

 

Individuals “placed under the microscope” struggle for agency and the authority of the self.  Intersexuals, like anyone, want control of their bodies and their identity.  Certain authorities exert their power over the individual and in so doing render the individual an object without a voice.  Authority exerted by the medical profession continues to the present from the “Age of Gonads” that Dreger looks at.  Intersexed individuals have come a long way to gaining a voice, but there are areas that there is still a conflict on whose authority reigns supreme.  What form do these conflicts take?  What other areas do there exist conflicts between the intersexual as an individual and an authority that denies the intersexual a voice (e.g., the law or the church)?

 

 

 

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

 

Intersexuals and others identified as in need of help by the medical profession are objectified as patients instead of individuals.  The scientist and the doctor does not name them nor does he (more often than she) allow them a place or venue to tell their own story.  The object is voiceless whereas the individual has a voice to tell his/her own story and to make choices for his/herself.  Because medical professionals saw these individuals as objects of study, they also were denied a voice in the choices made about their own bodies.  Authority to medicine and law overruled the unacknowledged authority of the self.

 

The issue of authority has been present in most of the works that we have considered thus far in the course.  David Reimer had choices made about what sex he should be raised as in Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  Yod was created to serve a purpose in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna faces the lesser decision made by her husband to move to Stepford, and then she is made to forfeit her life when her husband has a robot double created to assume her role as wife and mother.  There is a constant struggle between those of authority and those victim to the whims of that authority.  The issue lies in those persons [fragment]

——————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/18/2005

Online Discussion Post 5

Destabilization of Normality and Reactions from Authority

 

Before Callie/Cal runs away from Dr. Luce and her parents in Middlesex, Eugenides writes:

 

I had miscalculated with Luce.  I thought that after talking to me he would decide that I was normal and leave me alone.  But I was beginning to understand something about normality.  Normality wasn’t normal.  It couldn’t be.  If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone.  They could sit back and let normality manifest itself.  But people–and especially doctors–had doubts about normality.  They weren’t sure normality was up to the job.  And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.  (Eugenides 446)

 

Binomial sex is considered the norm and

 

 

The authority here lies with doctors and with parents to a much lesser extent.

 

 

Another example of an authority trying to regulate normalcy is 19th and 20th century England.  In the movie Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s claim against [fragment]

———————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/1/2005

Online Discussion Post 6

Categorization and Authority in The Well of Loneliness

 

Stephen’s tutor, Miss Puddleton (Puddle), is concerned about Stephen because “none knew better than this little grey woman, the agony of mind that must be endured when a sensitive, highly organized nature is first brought face to face with its own affliction” (155).  Puddle practices what she would say to Stephen.  She considers saying, “You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you’re unexplained as yet–you’ve not got your niche in creation.  But some day that will come, and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself, but just face yourself calmly and bravely…Cling to your honour for the sake of those others who share the same burden.  For their sakes show the world that people like you and they can be quite as selfless and fine as the rest of mankind.  Let your life go to prove this–it would be a really great life-work, Stephen” (154).  She wants to say that Stephen is not “unnatural,” “abominable,” or “mad.”  Puddle’s conception of categorization holds that an “invert” or lesbian identity has not yet found its “niche in creation” because a person like that is “unexplained as yet.”  She believes that when that behavior is explained (categorized) by someone (authority) then inverts will hold a place all their own in the “natural” world.  Puddle wants to tell Stephen that this goal is accomplished if she will be herself and maintain her “honour.”  This path is akin to leading by example.  Stephen can show the world that she and others like her are no less human than anyone else.

 

Unfortunately, there are many forms of categorization and different authorities vying for the power of categorization.  Puddle’s formulation maintains that authority in the invert by leading a good life.  This is honorable, but not always practical because people often have prejudices and opinions that are not easily swayed.  Stephen’s parents, Sir Philip and Anna fight over Stephen’s nature.  Sir Philip is accepting of his daughter, but he dies before he can explain to Anna what Stephen’s nature is.  Others, like Puddle and Sir Philip, are accepting of Stephen because they see her as a person with skills and abilities that they respect despite the gendered overlay of those skills.  For example, Colonel Antrim “dearly loved a fine rider, and he cursed and he swore his appreciation” (109).  Colonel Antrim would defend Stephen to the other riders.  The others were made uncomfortable that a woman entered what was generally accepted as a male sport.  They would snicker and whisper when Stephen was not around that she was only a girl or that what she was doing was unnatural.  They would credit the horse more than the rider.  Colonel Antrim would hear none of that and exclaim, “Damn it, no, it’s the riding.  The girl rides, that’s the point; as for some of you others–” (109).

 

Colonel Antrim’s “oaths could not save Stephen now from her neighbours, nothing could do that since the going of Martin–for quite unknown to themselves they feared her; it was fear that aroused their antagonism.  In her they instinctively sensed as outlaw, and theirs was the task of policing nature” (110).  The community plays a great part in the categorization of “normality” versus “abnormality.”  Because Stephen participated in many male dominated sports and academic pursuits, it unnerved many in the community that believed that this was not the natural order of things.  As John Merrick says to two socialite guests in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, “People are often frightened by what they don’t understand.”  “Inverts” or lesbians were not understood in the binomial heterosexually dominated world of Radclyffe Hall.  Stephen is female but her “mannish” appearance is disconcerting to many people (both female and male) in the community.  Social mores and beliefs are constructed from the interaction of people within a community (which was larger at that time than say a thousand years before that due to such influences as new transportation technologies and publishing).  Within a small community such as that around Morton, the people gossip and react to the things that they observe.  Based on their own interaction and connections to the world outside their small community, “theirs was the task of policing nature.”  They feared Stephen because she was not like other women in their cultural moment.  Their “policing nature” did not mean that they were likely to lock her up, but that they reacted to Stephen and what she represented to them (i.e., a challenge to the status quo of binomial heterosexuality).

 

This policing action is made very clearly when Ralph, the husband of Stephen’s first lover, Angela, reacts to the green-fly, “He nagged about the large population of green-fly, deploring the existence of their sexual organs:  ‘Nature’s a fool!  Fancy procreation being extended to that sort of vermin!'” (151).  Ralph is calling Nature “a fool” because he does not believe that insects should procreate the same way as humans do.  Science has revealed that sex is not only binomial but of many different combinations of sex and procreation beyond “male” and “female.”  Ralph’s arrogance is directly connected to the arrogance of those that react negatively toward Stephen and her nature.  In the same paragraph as Ralph’s exclamation against the green-fly, he says to his wife, “How’s your freak getting on…She’s appalling…it’s enough to make any man see red; that sort of thing wants putting down at birth, I’d like to institute state lethal chambers!” (151).  He marks himself as a fascist and closed minded about a woman who does not act or dress according to the way he and others believe a woman should act and dress.  Ralph is an extreme example, but his belief that the culturally created definitions of what it means to be male or female (and how to act and dress according to that sex) is above one’s nature and the way that Nature makes people.

 

Science also grapples for authority to categorize things and people.  The work done by science is often an extension of cultural preconceptions.  For example, the American Psychological Association labeled homosexuality an illness until a little over twenty years ago.  In Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s “Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity:  The New Woman 1870-1936,” she describes the work done by Krafft-Ebing in categorizing women he labeled as lesbian.  He used “social behavior and physical appearance” instead of the “sexual behavior of the women” when he categorized them (269).  An interesting side note is that Havelock Ellis wrote the introductory commentary for The Well of Loneliness.  He is described by Smith Rosenberg as “a complex figure” who was “an enemy of Victorian repression and hypocrisy” but he “insisted that a woman’s love for other women was both sexual and degenerate” (270).  He did argue however that “Inversion…was biological, hereditary, and irreversible” (270).  So there was discussion going on before and during the time that The Well of Loneliness was published about what it means to be a lesbian.  The majority view however was that homosexuality was a mental disease that can be treated and possibly reversed.  Some today, still hold this view (e.g., the debate in the Technique in 1996 over the publication of a religious group’s full page ad showing an attractive young woman who was able to turn from gay to straight thanks to the help of the church–not exactly science but a case illustrating the continuing debate over reversibility of homosexuality).

 

The Well of Loneliness is a source of many examples of different authorities working to promote their own understanding of nature.  Categorization and labels serve both to help others understand who a person is, but they can also be used to undermine a person’s agency and self by assigning them a position “less than normal.”  Normality should be viewed as a spectrum rather than an absolute list of criteria with any deviation being identified as abnormal.  Understanding and acceptance (Sir Philip, Puddle, and Colonel Antrim) are more useful and powerful because they are inclusive whereas choosing not to understand and early medical categorization as other (Mr. Antrim, Ralph, and nineteenth century science) are both overlaying community prejudices in order to exclude persons who have something to contribute to the community.

———————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/15/2005

Online Discussion Post 7

Transformations and Authority in Hausman and Two Postmodern Fictions

 

Authority is one of the primary issues that we have been discussing during the course of this semester.  This issue is apparent in Bernice L. Hausman’s Changing Sex:  Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender and it also appears in two books that I have read outside of class in Greg Bear’s Blood Music and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.

 

Hausman writes, “trannssexual’s demands for surgical and hormonal interventions were perceived, at least partially, as an effect of a still developing medical technology that had yet to realize its full potential.  This differentiates the medical practitioners from their transsexual subjects, for whom surgery was the final answer to their misery, a technological repair of ‘nature’s mistake'” (43).  She also writes that transsexuality is an invention of the twentieth century because it wasn’t until after Dreger’s “Age of Gonads” that medical technologies were developed to assist in the physical transformation of a person of one biological/physical sex into the opposite sex.  With the birth of endocrinology and advanced surgical techniques, one could potentially metamorphose into the gender (also a recent development) that they believed that they were.

 

The authority to define, control, and reinforce physical transformation such as the bodily metamorphosis of the transsexual lies in many different hands.  As we increase the magnification of the microscope, the endocrinologist becomes the new definer of what it means to be male or female.  Before the rise of the chemicalization of the body, the “Age of Gonads” depended on observation of the gonadal tissues of the individual to determine sex.  Endocrinology discovered the hormonal messages that are sent and received by different organs within the body.  It was also determined that the female body should be the focus of endocrine research because of the more complex female endocrine system because of its regulation of the reproductive cycle.  Hausman writes, “One result of the emphasis on women as the ideal subjects of endocrinology may have been the differing ratios of men to women seeking sex change:  statistically, more men have, in the past, requested and achieved sex change” (37).  Because women were the subjects of endocrine research, Hausman goes on to say, “Thus, I would suggest that the historically higher numbers of men seeking sex change must somehow be correlated to the discourses within which both men and women who feel themselves to be ‘in the wrong body’ construct themselves as entitled subjects of medical treatment” (37).  The medicalization of the hormonal systems of women led to the establishment of people seeking medical treatment and surgery when they felt they were actually the other gender.  Therefore, transsexuality as a phenomenon is a technological invention.

 

Transsexuality serves to reinforce the binomial sex paradigm as well as the authority of the medical professional.  Hausman writes in the Introduction, “physicians and other clinicians demonstrate the homophobic prejudice that grounds the practices of sex change in a desire to see bodies that are sexed in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance” (7).   What other groups connect to this discourse of “sex[ing] in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance?”  The biochemical and drug manufacturing industries certainly play a part in developing synthesized hormones that were administered for menopausal women.  These chemical companies coupled with the rise of the advertising agency drove the chemical companies’ products into new hands where a need might not have existed before.  Along with this was the move from injected hormones to pill form hormones that could be administered at home without the need of a doctor’s visit.  This also led to self-medication and the use of these medicines by persons without a prescription.  This leads to the appropriation of authority by the individual.  There are those, such as Agnes in Hausman’s introduction, who self-medicate in order to achieve their goal of gender transformation.  Additionally, Agnes coupled her hormonal treatments with performing herself as female in order to convince the doctors that she was a hermaphrodite instead of a male who had been taking hormonal treatments for a very long time.  Today, the process for gender reassignment in the US is complicated by psychologists labeling transsexuality and transgenderism as an illness that is mitigated through a protocol with a goal of transformation.  The individual is the ultimate authority as far as choice is concerned because he or she decides that he/she is not of the gender that he/she feels.  But there is a feedback loop where all of these authorities play off and within each other in order to build male and female gender distinctions.  Therefore, endocrinologists better define and label the human subject within their science, biochemists manufacture new synthetic hormones to be administered to the human subjects, advertising agencies work with the biochemical companies to sell their product and infiltrate new markets (with existing medicines–less R&D spending), and the male or female individual chooses to use these medicines and technologies for bodily transformation or for mediating menopause.  These authorities feedback into one another so that one cannot be said to be an ultimate authority, but that each in turn plays a part in how gender and transgenderism is presented and “treated.”

 

Greg Bear’s Blood Music is about a lone male scientist (an authority) working in a big lab who reengineers a set of his own white blood cells to be thinking machines called noocytes.  When his superiors (another authority) sack him on the suspicion of his work, he injects these intelligent machine cells back into his body in order to smuggle them out of the building in the hopes he can retrieve them later.  These cells (a new authority) then go about reengineering his body so that he becomes one with these cells.  The cells then venture away from his body (i.e., labeled a plague by medical authorities) and convert all living matter in North America into one huge organism where the identities of the people are embedded within this new life form, but few of the millions of inhabitants of North America are given a choice in joining with the new life form.  This summary of the novel reveals the layers of authority that exist.  This example doesn’t directly discuss gender other than the whole mess is instigated by a Frankenstein like character who decides to do very dangerous science (working on human biologicals much less reinjecting those biologicals into himself).  But it does reveal the authority that is assumed by certain individuals or groups and ultimately the greatest authority is represented by the new life form in its assimilation of North America.  The medical professionals and scientists that we have been reading about assume this kind of authority.  First the physical appearance was assimilated and cataloged, then the gonads/sex glands were identified and labeled, and now the endocrinological/chemical systems of our bodies were dissected and put into “male” or “female” categories.  Our bodies were assimilated from without by medicine and science.  Additionally, when North America is turned into a “germ” civilization, what does it mean to be male or female?  Memories and consciousnesses are there within the fabric of these microscopic creatures, but the physical manifestation of a person is no longer relevant (except when the noocytes need to communicate with one of the few unaltered humans in North America).  Therefore, this colonization made us strangers in ourselves because it narrowed the focus of sex/gender identities as either male or female while turning the spectrum of reality into abnormality.

 

The other book that I mentioned above is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.  Reed’s novel is a postmodern retelling of history through a narrative that takes place in the early part of the twentieth century (which coincidentally is when advances took place to move medical science from the “Age of Gonads” into endocrinology).  “Jes Grew” is a identified as a plague by the Atonist authorities (essentially western, white, Christian leadership) because it is an invasion of the spirit that empowers groups under the Atonist powers that be.  It is difficult to give a short description of Jes Grew, but I think that the quotes of James Weldon Johnson at the beginning of the novel point the reader in the right direction.  Johnson wrote in The Book of American Negro Poetry, “The earliest Ragtime songs, like Topsy, ‘jes’ grew.'” and “we appropriated about the last one of the ‘jes’ grew’ songs.  It was a song that had been sung for years all through the South.  The words were unprintable, but the tune was irresistible, and belonged to nobody.”  Jes Grew is both an invasion from without but it is also an appropriation by a group’s past (African American) into the present.  The dancing and song that was part of Jes Grew empowered individuals that were part of an oppressed group in American society.  It relates to gender because both African American men and women were part of Jes Grew.  It went against prohibition and anti-dancing movements that were part of early twentieth century America.  Another part of the narrative shows a separation between Voo Doo practitioners as being predominantly male.  Some of the history of The Work involves both men and women, but in the story it is men who drive the story.  But in the end, one of the main characters, Earline, who was possessed earlier but relieved of the bad spirit, apologizes for her “breakdown” but PaPa LaBas says, “I don’t think it was a nervous breakdown, I have my theory.  Nervous breakdown sounds so Protestant, we think that you were possessed.  Our cures worked, didn’t they?  All you have to know is how to do The Work” (206).  Earline goes on to say that she wants to travel and learn more about The Work so it may not be so male dominated because it is a female that is identified as the one going off to seek more learning, but it the division within the novel is something to take note of.

 

Hausman writes about a real world struggle of authorities within the discourses of gender and transgenderism.  Bear presents an inventive story where choice is irrelevant to the overwhelming force of intelligent germs.  Reed’s Jes Grew is a spiritual invasion that he describes as having a rich history that is at odds with the Atonist/western hegemony.  Each of these works talk about how authority and hegemony figures into discourses of identity, gender, and transgenderism.  The fictional works are primarily concerned with gender and identity whereas Hausman’s work delves into all three issues.  Thus, issues of identity are bound to the interplay of the authorities that construct the framework within which one can know who he/she is.

——————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

5/3/2005

Online Discussion Posting 8

Issues of Shame in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir

 

Michael Warner’s theory of sexual ethics and shame appear in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir.  McCloskey is writing about her transformation from man to woman.  She is an outside other who is using medical technology and techniques to physically alter her male body to match her female self.

 

In Chapter 14, McCloskey writes about how rumors began to circulate about her plans for transformation that prompts her to confront the issue head on by sending letters to her colleagues and speaking with the press.  She writes in bold, “I am not ashamed of this and am not going to let people treat it as shameful.  For myself and for the politics I am not going to be put back into a closet, ever” (90).  McCloskey invokes the language of shame that Warner discusses in his book The Trouble With Normal.  McCloskey is “not ashamed” and she will not “let people treat it as shameful.”  She feels female inside but she has a physically male body.  The medical intervention that she chose to have performed will allow her to cross from a male sexed body to a female sexed body.  She sees no shame in this because she had no choice in the way that she feels.  In the same way that a person with clinical depression should not feel ashamed of the way that they feel, Deidre does not feel ashamed of the way that she feels (which forms part of her identity).  Warner writes, “Sooner or later, happily or unhappily, almost everyone fails to control his or her sex life.  Perhaps as compensation, almost everyone sooner or later also succumbs to the temptation to control someone else’s sex life” (1).  Warner is primarily writing about gays and lesbians and sexual orientation, but his theory of shame works with anyone with a different sex identity than what is presented or believed to be “normal.”  McCloskey is the outside other who does not fit into what most people would believe to be normal.  Despite her not being like most men because she choose to transform her body into a that of a woman, she should not feel ashamed of her identity or her medically altered body.

 

Warner writes about the different meanings that we have for stigma.  He writes, “Ordinary shame…passes.  One might do a perverse thing and bring scorn or loathing on oneself…This kind of shame affect’s one biographical identity” (28).  This transitory shame is not the same as the shame that someone that falls outside of what is assumed to be sexually normal.  Warner goes on to write, “The shame of a true pervert–stigma–is less delible; it is a social identity that befalls one like fate.  Like the related stigmas of racial identity or disabilities, it may have nothing to do with acts one has committed.  It attaches not to doing, but to being; not to conduct, but to status” (28).  McCloskey performs herself as and appears to be a biological woman.  However, her body is literally marked.  She has stigmata (physical markings–scars) that, if seen, mark her as a “true pervert” who has made a crossing that to many people is unnatural.  McCloskey writes that she will not be “ashamed” and she will not let others “treat it as shameful.”  McCloskey understands that to those who know of her transformation, she is marked.  Many are accepting, but others cannot deal with her choice.  Warner writes, “The ones who pay are the ones who stand out in some way.  They become a lightning rod not only for the hatred of difference, of the abnormal, but also for the more general loathing for sex” (23).  Transgendered people are “lightning rods” because during their crossing, they may appear to be of both sexes.  This stage of metamorphosis (and some may never gain the accepted physical appearance of the sex that they choose) brings their transformation to the forefront to those who consider it unnatural.  Warner goes on to write, “It is their sex, especially, that seems dehumanizing” (24).  This identification of “sex” with “dehumanizing” may be what precipitates violence and outrage by some against those with different sexual orientation or gender identity.  The “normal” person dehumanizes the outside other because of their difference.  Because the other is “abnormal” they are identified as being less than a “normal” person.  The “normal” person disregards the identity of the self or the fact that the other is a human being due respect and equal rights.

 

Is McCloskey ambivalent about her identity as a post-operative MTF transsexual?  Warner writes about “identity ambivalence” in the lesbian and gay movement, but this can also apply to transgendered persons because they are also made to feel sexual shame.  He writes, “The distinction between stigma and shame makes it seem as though an easy way to resolve the ambivalence of belonging to a stigmatized group is to embrace the identity but disavow the act” (33).  Ambivalence is the disregarding of some aspect of your identity yet still holding on to the group identity.  Warner is writing about gays who disregard the fact of gay sex yet want to have a gay identity (he cites the example of the author who cuts out his article in a gay magazine to send to his mom because on the same page is a gay phone sex ad).  At first, McCloskey was going to keep her transformation under wraps until after she began the trip that would culminate with her surgery in Australia.  After rumors began to circulate, she communicated her intentions to her colleagues as well as the curious press.  But she writes of herself as the feminine Deirdre and she refers to her past self, Donald, in the third person.  She performs herself as female and she writes of behaviors and thoughts that might be described as feminine or of the female mind.  Granted, we only read part of her memoir, but it seems like she is shifting from a transsexual identity to that of a real woman.  Deirdre writes about an encounter with a nurse who told her “I’m like you, I had the operation…I mean, I’ve had a hysterectomy” (201).  Deirdre writes in response to this, “So just like me, thought Deirdre, she has a vagina but no ovaries.  Deirdre was like her, like a woman on hormone replacement therapy after a hysterectomy or menopause.  Goodness, she thought, I am a woman on hormone replacement therapy” (201).  The ultimate goal of a transsexual transformation is to become the physical reality of the felt gender identity.  Perhaps it is best that someone who crosses should then assume the identity of the sex and gender that he/she has become and disregard the transsexual identity of transformation.  Additionally, if the person assumes the sex and gender identity of that which they have become, this sets the person within the generally accepted framework of binomial normalcy.  However, I think Warner would identify McCloskey as being ambivalent about her sex identity because she is like the new middle-class gays who don’t want to get involved in politics.  She has attained what she wants (to become a woman) and she has established herself within her field as an expert.  She no longer has to struggle to attain what she wants.  The same is true for the gays that Warner discusses in his book.  The old fights and struggles are a distant memory to the comfortable middle-class gays who have jobs and relationships without (much) fear of reprisal.  They have ambivalence about their gay identity that allows them the luxury to disregard part of that identity in order to make themselves more acceptable to the general public (who have opinions on what is “normal” and who have their opinions shaped by popular culture).

 

McCloskey’s memoirs bring up the issues of sexual shame and identity ambivalence that Warner describes in his book.  Deidre works against sexual shame during her transformation but she seems to give into identity ambivalence once she has attained her goal of becoming a woman.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Race, Critical Commentary and Handout for N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality” Nov 16, 2005

This is the twenty-seventh post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Professor Deborah Grayson led the LCC 3306, Science, Technology, and Race class that I took in Fall 2005 at Georgia Tech. Unlike many other classes that I had taken up to that point, Professor Grayson organized the class around student-led discussions of daily readings and larger presentation-based projects. Her class was as much like a seminar as a 25-student class can be. Her class’ structure gave me ideas for engaging students that I continue to use in my own teaching today.

This Recovered Writing post contains my “critical commentary” and “study guide” on N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Critical Commentary on “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

Hayles argues that bodies are very much connected to our experiences in cyberspace.  We cannot have our bodies disconnected because there would be no way to interface ourselves (through our senses) to the computer.  She writes, “Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).  VR designers have to take our bodies into consideration when designing interfaces for their simulations.  If we cannot interface with the simulation, then its import is significantly decreased!

She goes on to identify the reason why there is talk about disembodiment in cyberspace.  She begins by outlining the Hans Moravec’s argument in Mind Children.  Moravec essentially is saying that there is a coming shift from our organic selves to silicon based immortality.  Hayles attacks this position by looking at the dualisms, or binary opposites, involved in the removing the body from cyberspace.  She writes, “Now the (male) technoscientific mind devises for itself a new body, nor born of woman, that it imagines will be more suited for its rational thought processes and immortal yearnings.  To unpack the implications of these associations, notice that one set of dualisms, male/female, reinforces and powerfully interacts with another, mind/body” (3).  She points out that male narcissism combined with a Frankenstein complex leads “male technoscientific” persons to set about building new bodies or receptacles for their consciousness without the necessity of women.  Though, by following simple dualisms, Hayles concedes that it is relatively easy to remove our need for bodies in cyberspace.

What is required is a more complex language that addresses multiple factors involved in the discourses surrounding bodies in cyberspace.  Hayles goes on to employ the semiotic square, and multiple binary opposites mapped onto the square, “to unpack the implications inhering in a binary pair by making explicit the hidden terms that help to stabilize meaning and generate significance” (6).  Her mapping binary opposites onto the semiotic square yields interesting connections between apparently unrelated (on the surface) identities/signifiers.  The semiotic square enables scholars to dig deeper so that hidden meanings are fleshed out.

Hayles points out that the semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).  Hyperreality and mutation are important concepts for our study of race and in particular, race in cyberspace, because we carry our identities to greater or lesser extents with us online.

Performativity of race is related to these two concepts because hyperreality, or the appearance of a copy without an original, is the very basis of digital media.  Identity and online self-expression (through music, art, online communication technologies, etc.) is based on that which is hyperreal.  Online, we play with ones and zeros that are transformed into information that we can understand only after those ones and zeros are interpreted through layers of code that acts like the Rosetta Stone.  Mutation comes into play with the way that understandings of identity and race change and morph through the interplay of persons in RL (real life) and online.         Hayles uses the connections in the semiotic square to make the point that, “the posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).   Hayles has a book that delves more into her idea of the posthuman, but in this passage her ideas about online identity construction has a lot to do with Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.”  We are, in part, becoming posthuman because of the “integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components.”  However, “the virtual body” is dependent on both, “the ephemerality of information and the solidity of the physicality.”  The body is definitely in the picture, regardless of views of technologists such as Hans Moravec.

I found Hayles’ use of binary opposites compelling and useful in determining hidden meanings behind simplistic binary pairs.  After reading this article, I can see how the semiotic square and binary opposites can be utilized in studying other areas such as race and gender.  She does address these issues tangentially when she is developing her argument about needing something more powerful than simple binary pairs.  She makes valid points regarding what is “understood” in binary pairs.  For example, she writes, “In the black/white duality, the black race is discursively constructed as the opposite of the white race, which is assumed to be primary and originary” (3-4).  Therefore, binary opposites not only convey or define something by what it is not, but they also carry a built-in hierarchy with one opposite being above the other.

————–

Jason W. Ellis

Dr. Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Study Guide for “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

“Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).

“For our purposes, virtuality can be defined as the perception that material structures are interpenetrated with informational patterns” (4-5).

The semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).

“The posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).

Hayles, N. Katherine.  “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”          Immersed in Technology:  Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.           Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Main Points:

Mind and body are not separate.  We rely on our senses not only in everyday reality, but over time, our senses and the information that they collect, combine to construct our mind.

Cyberspace and VR are constructed to interface with bodies.

Binary opposites and the semiotic square are useful tools for finding hidden meanings embedded in the connections between interconnected, but seemingly unrelated, aspects of reality.

Body boundaries can be challenged through low-tech and high-tech VR methodologies.  The idea for studying the ways in which our bodily boundaries may be challenged comes from the study of persons whose proprioceptive sense is damaged.

Questions:

Have you experienced a true VR simulation?  Did you feel disembodied during the simulation?

When you play games online, do you create characters that are like you or do you create characters different than yourself?

Annotated Bibliography:

Kevorkian, Martin.  “Computers with Color Monitors:  Disembodied Black Screen Images            1988-1996.”  American Quarterly 51.2 (1999):  283-310.

Kevorkian addresses film examples of disembodied black actors and actresses in contemporary film.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often technologized in some way.  He also confronts frequent representations of black film characters sacrificing themselves in order to protect their white superiors and friends.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often apparent and literal because of the powerful impact of the image in film.

Lewis, George E.  “Too Many Notes: Computers, Complexity and Culture in           Voyager.”  Leonardo Music Journal 10 (2000):  33-39.

Lewis explores the implications of an interactive musical composition called “Voyager.”  Synthesizers and computers augment the original performance of a musician, but the technology (through programming) is designed to improvise which the author identifies, “ as a kind of computer music-making embodying African-American cultural practice” (par. 4).  This musical performance piece appears to present a computer that contains contains human thought (through the use of algorithms) that is capable of reproducing a style of music that is group/racially identified as distinctly African-American.

Nishime, LeiLani.  “The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future.”  Cinema Journal          44.2 (2005):  34-49.

Nishime compares representations of mixed race characters in films to representations of fictional cyborgs.  She draws parallels between categories of bad cyborgs, good cyborgs/tragic mulatto/a, and mulatto cyborgs.  Her article is applicable here because of some of the cyberpunk and cyberspace oriented films that she examines.

Related Works:

Bailey, Cameron.  “Virtual Skins:  Articulating Race in Cyberspace.”  Immersed in Technology:    Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.  Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Haslam, Jason.  “Coded Discourse:  Romancing the (Electronic) Shadow in the Matrix.”  College Literature 32.3 (2005):  92-115.

Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman:  Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature,     and Informatics.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Race and Pedagogy Project.  University of California, Santa Barbara.  2005.  15 November 2005    <http://rpp.english.ucsb.edu/category/race-and-the-internet/&gt;.

Thacker, Eugene.  “Data Made Flesh:  Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.”          Cultural Critique 53 (2003):  72-97.

Weheliye, Alexander G.  “Feenin”: Posthuman Voices in Contemporary Black Popular Music.”     Social Text 20.2 (2002):  21-47.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Race, Critical Commentary and Handout for Mark Hansen’s “Digitizing the Racialized Body…” Oct 24, 2005

This is the twenty-sixth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Professor Deborah Grayson led the LCC 3306, Science, Technology, and Race class that I took in Fall 2005 at Georgia Tech. Unlike many other classes that I had taken up to that point, Professor Grayson organized the class around student-led discussions of daily readings and larger presentation-based projects. Her class was as much like a seminar as a 25-student class can be.  Her class’ structure gave me ideas for engaging students that I continue to use in my own teaching today.

This Recovered Writing post contains my “critical commentary” and “study guide” on Mark Hansen’s “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address,” SubStance – Issue 104 (Volume 33, Number 2), 2004, pp. 107-133.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

October 24, 2005

Critical Commentary on “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address”

Mark B. N. Hansen argues in “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address” that “deploying the lens of race to develop our thinking about online identification will help us to exploit the potential offered by the new media for experiencing community beyond identity” (108).  He is not merely arguing that the Internet and computer technology enables passing, or the effective performance of a race in an online environment, but instead he shows how new media can be employed to broadly convey an affect of a community to other individuals and other communities in a way not possible with broadcast media.

The effectiveness of interactive new media is brought about because of the lack of a visible element in textual communication.  New media however does use visuals and interactivity to go beyond interpellation because of new ways of presenting those visuals in new media.  Hansen goes into detail on the shift from textual passing to “moving beyond interpellation” in his experience with and subsequent analysis of Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains art exhibit (114).

A particular element of Hansen’s argument that I found interesting regards the production of the “whatever body” through the engagement of the Internet and the new media.  First, he draws on Agamben writing, “if humans could, that is not be-thus in this or that particular biography, but be only the thus, their singular exteriority and their face, then they would for the first time enter into a community without presuppositions and without subjects, into a communication without the incommunicable” (qtd. in Hansen 110).  Instead of “being thus,” or being a certain way, the individual can become “the thus,” or a true singular individual devoid of “presuppositions and without subjects.”  Then Hansen points out that, “the new media actively invests the dimension of the thus” (110).  Cyberspace and its technological accouterments are the means for realizing “the thus.”  Can these singular identities be enforced so that they are recognized by others?  Do they need to be recognized?  These questions are problematic with the broader effectiveness of “moving beyond interpellation.”

The part of Hansen’s argument that I have the most questions about is when he explores “how [we can] use the new media and the internet to move beyond interpellation, more exactly, to liberate the body from its socially-imposed dependence on interpellation through preconstituted social categories of identity, subjectivity, and particularity” (114).  He takes Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains exhibit for an analysis and extending of his argument.  Hansen goes on to describe his first-person experience with the exhibit.  In one of the two smaller exhibits, Hansen writes about the way in which Piper uses affect.  He writes, “Caught Like a Nigger in Cyberspace compelled me to undergo a kind of becoming-other, a loosening of the grip of the identity markings on my embodiment, a felt recognition of  the fluidity–the bodily excess–underlying them.  At this moment, I confronted myself as an affective subject, a subject defined by my own excess over any of my actual states” (123).  His being “an affective subject” realizes the ability of conveying affect with the new media.  He is able to engage emotions presented by the artist through the work in an interactive way that is not possible with broadcast, passive viewing.  How effective is this in other works?  Even though a work conveys an affect to the viewer, is the affect the same for each individual viewer?

Piper’s work isn’t the end-all solution, but, “Relocating the Remains offers the catalyst for a radical reconfiguration of the self beyond identity, a reconfiguration as a self rooted in the potentiality of the body, as a self essentially ‘out of phase’ with itself” (124).  Not only is it “the catalyst for a radial reconfiguration of the self,” but it is also a catalyst for shift away from bodily identified racial signifiers.  Hansen writes, “If his [Piper’s] work manages, even for an instant, to expose the bare singularity, the common impropriety, that binds us beyond identification, and it if does so for potentially any viewer, then it can be understood as a form of resistance to the very principle informing today’s technologized racism” (126-127).  How effective that resistance is remains to be seen.  For some persons, I can see how affective works of art can convey messages more powerful than in older forms of media.  Perhaps these messages can be integrated into more popular forms of interactive media such as video games.  However, this integration would be difficult because of competition with such popular titles as Grand Theft Auto that perpetuate particular stereotypes.

I found Hansen’s argument engaging, but I did take issue with his sidelining of gender at the beginning of his paper.  He writes, “the fact that race, unlike gender, is so clearly a construction, since racial traits are not reducible, i.e., genetic, organization” (108).  He might have chosen better language in this sentence such as “sex” instead of “gender.”  Gender is constructed within or without the individual needing particular “hardware.”  I found his usage here unusual because he later quotes Sandy Stone, who I believe would have also taken issue with this because other work that I have read by her (e.g., “The Empire Strikes Back:  A Posttranssexual Manifesto”).

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Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

October 24, 2005

Study Guide for “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address”

“I would suggest that Piper’s concrete engagement with technology as a site of de-differentiation and universality must itself be understood in the dual mode of confrontation and invitation.  The result is a significant complixification:  not only is the address to black subjects nuanced in a way that routes self-perception through perception by the Other–that is, through the surveillant and/or consumerist gaze, but the address is opened in an unprecedented way to non-black, non-minoritarian, that is, white subjects” (116).

Caught Like a Nigger in Cyberspace compelled me to undergo a kind of becoming-other, a loosening of the grip of the identity markings on my embodiment, a felt recognition of  the fluidity–the bodily excess–underlying them.  At this moment, I confronted myself as an affective subject, a subject defined by my own excess over any of my actual states” (123).

“Through the affective confusion it brokers, Relocating the Remains offers the catalyst for a radical reconfiguration of the self beyond identity, a reconfiguration as a self rooted in the potentiality of the body, as a self essentially ‘out of phase’ with itself” (124).

Hansen, Mark B. N..  “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address.”        SubStance.  33:2 (2004):  107-133.

Main Points:

Online “passing” serves as a mechanism for reinforcing certain stereotypes and identities.

The Internet and the new media can be utilized “to move beyond interpellation” because of the effectiveness of interactive media to convey an affect held by the artist or by a group of people.

Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains is a powerful example of a work to use excessive affect in bringing about a better understanding, a glimpse of being, and an emotive response in “non-black, non-minoritarian, that is, white subjects” (116).

Questions:

Have you had an experience online where you chatted with someone online, but after you met the person in real life, the person did not match your preconceived image of him/her?

Have you been to an interactive art exhibit or visited a website that actively conveyed an affect of a person or a group of people represented in the work?

Do you think that the affect of experience of one group of people can be conveyed in the work by a person not of or not considered a part of that group?  (e.g., Postcolonial critiques of elite writers who are disconnected from their country of origin.  For example, Salman Rushdie has written about the country of his birth, but his life is far removed from someone that actually lived their whole life in India.)

Annotated Bibliography:

Everett, Anna.  “The Revolution with Be Digitized:  Afrocentricity and the Digital Public      Sphere.”  Social Text.  20:2 (Summer 2002):  125-146.

Anna Everett explores the “African diaspora’s” early access to computers and the Internet.  She also maps the shift of the African American press to the Internet.

Kolko, Beth E., Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds.  Race in Cyberspace.  New York:       Routledge, 2000.

This collection of papers addresses many aspects of race in ‘cyberspace’ (e.g., online, in games, and other digital forms).  Jennifer González’s “The Appended Subject:  Race and Identity as Digital Assemblage” is one work in this book that relates to the issues that Hansen addresses.  González looks at websites that present the body through racialized appendages.

Nakamura, Lisa.  “Race In/For Cyberspace:  Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the     Internet.”  1999.  20 October 2005

<http://www.humanities.uci.edu/mposter/syllabi/readings/nakamura.html&gt;.

Nakamura addresses issues of performing identities online such as in chat spaces like LambdaMOO.  She calls the theatricality of assuming and performing as an online identity, “identity tourism,” which is akin to Orientalist appropriations of the Other.

Related Works:

Piper, Keith.  Relocating the Remains.  1997.  22 October 2005 <http://www.iniva.org/piper/&gt;.

Porter, David. ed.  Internet Culture.  New York:  Routledge, 1997.

Poster, Mark.  What’s the Matter With the Internet?  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota           Press, 2001.

Poster, Mark and Stanley Aronowitz.  The Information Subject.  Amsterdam:  G+B Arts      International, 2001.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Independent Study, Networks Between Science, Technology, and Culture After World War II, August 4, 2005

This is the twenty-first post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

During the summer prior to writing my undergraduate thesis at Georgia Tech, Professor Kenneth J. Knoespel agreed to lead an independent study with me on the theoretical underpinnings of my intended thesis topic: Cold War popular culture. During the summer, we met to discuss ideas relating to Cold War politics, network theory, science and technology studies, and popular culture. These conversations are among my favorite undergraduate memories at Georgia Tech. The essay included below is my attempt at working through and understanding the topics of our discussions. Some of this research was later incorporated into my undergraduate thesis.

This project, along with other late-undergraduate work, helped me understand the importance of research, writing, and its required cognitive effort to developing your thinking, understanding, and insightfulness over time. The exertions of uncovering facts, employing different literacies, outlining, writing, revising, and building connections yield longterm cognitive benefits and generate deep pleasure from finding things out.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kenneth J. Knoespel

Independent Study

4 August 2005

Networks Between Science, Technology, and Culture After World War II

This paper’s purpose is to explore the spaces where science and technology is discussed in American culture following World War II.  First, I will investigate ‘three ways of seeing’ through the lenses of science studies, Cold War studies, and science fiction (SF) studies.  Then, I will apply these lenses to a series of American film examples from the Cold War era.  The net result will be a sort of annotated bibliography of theory and cultural examples that reveal the networks between science, technology, and culture.

I would like to begin by looking at science studies.  This area of study involves looking at the connections between science, technology, and culture.  Science study engages questions such as:  Where do these seemingly different “things” intersect one another?  How do they interact, morph, and promulgate as a result of those intersections?  Before we can delve into these questions raised by science studies we should look at the meaning of the word we all use in everyday conversation:  ‘technology.’  According to Langdon Winner, the meaning of technology has changed over time.  Today, the term “’technology’…is applied haphazardly to a staggering collection of phenomena…One feels that there must be a better way of expressing oneself about these developments, but at present our concepts fail us” (Winner 10).  He goes on to write, “One implication of this state of affairs is that discussions of the political implications of advanced technology have a tendency to slide into a polarity of good versus evil…One either hates technology or loves it” (Winner 10).[i]   Perceptions of technology in dualistic terms is a theme that comes up in the other areas of study that I am exploring.[ii]  One solution that he proposes to address this problem is to develop a better terminology with which to engage all of the elements of technology specifically instead of by using terms of generality.[iii]

Winner goes on to address the issues surrounding the proliferation of modern technologies.  He writes, “One symptom of a profound stress that affects modern thought is the prevalence of the idea of autonomous technology–the belief that somehow technology has gotten out of control and follows its own course, independent of human direction” (13).  “Autonomous technology” is synonymous with the idea of a living system.  The interaction between all of the parts of the system forms an ‘organism’ that has a will of its own.[iv]  Do we control technology or does technology control us?[v]

Connected to the idea of personal/technological autonomy is the relationship between humans and ‘their’ technology.  Winner further elaborates on the idea of autonomous technology when he writes, “In our traditional ways of thinking, the concept of mastery and the master-slave metaphor are the dominant ways of describing man’s relationship to nature, as well as to the implements of technology” (Winner 20).  Humanity created tools and skills (i.e., technology) to serve the interests of humanity.  What happens when there is the perception among many people that technology is no longer serving humanity?  The tables may have turned, thus the question stands:  does humanity serve the self-perpetuating system of autonomous technology?[vi]

This problem exists in opposition to the observation that “Western culture…has long believed that its continued existence and advancement depend upon the ability to manipulate the circumstances of the material world” (Winner 19).  Manipulation takes place through the use of technology.  The two systems, humanity and technology, rely on one another.  If technology is considered an autonomous system, it is borne of humanity’s ingenuity and its perpetuation is due to ideas held in Western cultures that progress depends on the use of technology.  It appears to be a symbiotic relationship, but is technology an autonomous system?  Winner addresses this issue when he writes, “The often vulgar Hollywood use of technological animism should not obscure the fact that images of this kind have been useful symbols for artists and writers concerned with the implications of modern technical artifice…In this regard the notion of a living technology merely recapitulates the myths of our own beginnings–the rebellion and fall of man–and the ensuing harvest of troubles” (31).  Autonomous technology best serves as a metaphor for the enormity of the interconnections within technology and its connections to humanity, culture, and science.  Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times comes to mind as an example of the great factory and its ingestion of humans to serve its ends.  This connects to Winner’s description of the voluntarist way of viewing technology, which is best described as technology advances thanks to human controllers.  Winner further describes it by stating, “behind the massive process of transformation one always finds a realm of human motives and conscious decisions…Behind modernization are always the modernizers, behind industrialization, the industrialists” (53).  People still use their capital, inventiveness, and decision making to shift the course of technological change in the direction that they choose to do so.

However, the network of science, technology, and culture may provide the impetus of an “invisible hand” that is not unlike the one envisioned by Adam Smith for capitalism.  Winner notes, “whereas the immediate application of a particular technology is usually conscious and deliberate, other consequences of its presence in the world often are not” (74).  Networks and interactions may lead to new developments that were not thought of by the originator of one particular artifact or process.  This reveals the complexity in which there are overlaps and connections between science, technology, and culture.  Therefore, each of these discrete subjects play upon one another.

These concepts are further developed by Bruno Latour’s formulation of actor-network theory.  Latour’s theory is based on the interaction of dissimilar areas of interest such as technology and culture.  Of interest are the networks that form between these dissimilar elements.  Where is there a need for some new science or technology?  How was the need determined?  What solution was developed and how was it developed?  What resources or areas did the solution draw upon in order to be developed?  What networks form after a new technology is introduced?  What ‘political’ power forms around technological successes and failures?  How do things change as a result of a new technology?[vii]

Winner adds to Latour’s actor-network theory when he writes, “technology always does more than we intend; we know this so well that it has actually become part of our intentions” (97-98).  The networks that form between technology and culture are a sort of breeding ground for new uses of technology.  The pathways that connect these ‘separate’ areas of ideology and practice are where re-creation takes place and add to the original intent of an originator of some new technology.[viii]  Changes in Latour’s actor-networks are similar to Winner’s point that “technologies…demand the restructuring of their environments” (100).[ix]  I bring up this point because, by extension, environments for a technology encompasses both the physical location of a technological artifact or practice as well as the networks that the technology is situated in.  All of which may require restructuring.

The next area of study that I am going to examine is Cold War studies.  Cold War studies is the historical evaluation and investigation of the cultural and political aspects of the time between 1945 and 1990 (i.e., the Cold War era).[x]  One of the overarching technological artifacts of the Cold War is the nuclear bomb.  The destructive reality of the atomic bomb (and later, the thermonuclear bomb) brought about a duality of opinions about that technology (i.e., it was perceived as inherently good or evil).  This connects to Langdon Winner’s revealing the perception of advanced technology on dualistic terms.[xi]  Cold War studies, like science studies, looks at the networks involved in the development and promulgation of technologies that alter the cultural landscape, but in this particular discipline, the emphasis is on the dichotomy between the democratic West and the communist East.  It should be noted that not everything between 1945-1990 can be tied to the Cold War, but “so much was influenced and shaped by the Cold War that one simply cannot write a history of the second half of the 20th century without a systematic appreciation of the powerful, oft-times distorting repercussions of the superpower conflict on the world’s states and societies” (McMahon 105).

Paul Boyer begins By the Bomb’s Early Light by looking at a plethora of cultural artifacts (e.g., speeches, newspaper articles and cartoons, radio reports, and documentary films).  He says the aim of his book “is an effort to go back to the earliest stages of our long engagement with nuclear weapons” (xix).  By returning to the beginning, he hopes to uncover how America got to where it is when his book was published in 1985.  Boyer goes on to say that “as I narrowed my focus to 1945-1950 was the realization of how quickly contemporary observers understood that a profoundly unsettling new cultural factor had been introduced–the the bomb had transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness” (xix).  This statement reveals the way in which networks between science, technology, and culture (as described by Latour and Winner) connect to one another.  If there is a shift at one place in the network, the shift is recorded within other nodes in the network.  These seemingly separate elements all push and pull upon one another in varying ways (and these disturbances are not necessarily a one-to-one relationship).

The ‘Nuclear Era’ begins along with the near-beginning of the Cold War.  After the dropping of the bombs called Little Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945 respectively, “the nuclear era…burst upon the world with terrifying suddenness.  From the earliest moments, the American people recognized that things would never be the same again” (DOE 51-53; Boyer 4).  James Reston extends the fact of the Japanese cities’ devastation to the possibility of an American wasteland when he wrote in the New York Times, “In that terrible flash 10,000 miles away, men here have seen not only the fate of Japan, but have glimpsed the future of America” (qtd. in Boyer 14).  Boyer goes on to write, “Years before the world’s nuclear arsenals made such a holocaust likely or even possible, the prospect of global annihilation already filled the national consciousness.  This awareness and the bone-deep fear it engendered are the fundamental psychological realities underlying the broader intellectual and cultural responses of this period” (Boyer 15).  Even though America, at that time, was the only possessor of the bomb, Americans realized that it was a weapon that would eventually be held by others.  The enormity of the destruction caused by these new technological creations weighed on many minds.

The scientists that spoke out against the threat of nuclear annihilation unfortunately “[displayed] considerable political naïveté, seeming not to grasp the fundamental differences between the political realm and that of the laboratory and the classroom” (Boyer 99).  The scientists sought to reform through education or as Einstein said, “To the village square we must carry the facts of atomic energy.  From there must come America’s voice” (qtd. in Boyer 49).  The bomb was not going to go away and the suggestions for a technocratic world government that could rationally control the use of the bomb also lost steam through the end of the 1940s.  Other political currents were at work such as in President Truman’s “address to a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, spoke in sweeping, apocalyptic terms of communism as an insidious world menace that overs of freedom must struggle against at all times and on all fronts” (Boyer 102).  Fear shifts from the nuclear bomb to communism.  This leads to the bomb becoming a part of America’s national defense at the beginning of the Cold War–even more so after the Soviets tested their first nuclear bomb on August 29, 1949.  Additionally, there is a shift towards an American identity based on homogeneity because of the call for an idealized cooperative effort in the post-war years to bolster America’s standing in the world.  There are calls for cooperativeness by Arthur Compton and Eleanor Roosevelt (Boyer 139-140).  This cooperativeness however leads to an alignment of political views that bolster the collective ideology promoted by the Truman, and later, Eisenhower administrations.  The space for open discussion is squashed.

When the Manhattan Project was at work on the bomb, in the laboratory, they were able to cultivate a mighty political and military power through the use of the atomic bombs.  But the science and technology behind the bombs was appropriated by the military and the government leadership.  The United States government footed the bill for the Manhattan Project and there was never hesitation on the part of the Administration on the use of atomic bombs on Japan.  Once they were completed, they were to be used.  Therefore, there was a great deal of political power created within the laboratories of the Manhattan Project, but that power was not for the use of the scientists.  For awhile, the American public listed to the scientists who were opposed to the further use of the bomb, but that power of attention quickly dissipated as the threat of atomic weapons was overshadowed by the political enforcement of a new fear centered around the Soviet Union.

Boyer then shifts to looking at the cultural aspects of the atomic bomb in literature and specifically, science fiction.  He writes, “Apart from a few isolated voices, however, the initial literary response to the atomic bomb was, to say the least, muted” (246).  He goes on to say, “Indeed, it sometimes seemed that the principal function of literature in the immediate post-Hiroshima period was to provide a grabbag of quotations and literary allusions that could be made to seem somehow relevant to the bomb” (247).  The bomb is not immediately engaged by literary authors in this period.  However, “As Isaac Asimov later put it, science-fiction writers were ‘salvaged into respectability’ by Hiroshima” (Boyer 257).  Boyer goes on to say, “Up to 1945, most science-fiction stories dealing with atomic weapons took place far in the future and often in another galaxy…Hiroshima ended the luxury of detachment.  The atomic bomb was not reality, and the science-fiction stories that dealt with it amply confirm the familiar insight that for all its exotic trappings, science fiction is best understood as a commentary on contemporary issues” (258).  Therefore, SF becomes the space where atomic bombs and nuclear age issues are talked about and engaged.  Because of the shifts in political homogeneity and uniformity, SF is a space where issues could be talked about that in another context (e.g., a cultural commentary or popular work of fiction) would be looked down upon or even attacked.

These issues are further discussed in the discipline of science fiction studies.  Sharona Ben-Tov writes that SF lies “at a unique intersection of science and technology, mass media popular culture, literature, and secular ritual” (6).  SF lies at the intersection of all of the networks that I am discussing:  science, technology, and culture.  Ben-Tov continues, “In what source other than science fiction’s rich, synthetic language of metaphor and myth can we trace the hidden, vital connections between such diverse elements as major scientific projects (spaceflight, nuclear weaponry, robotics, gene mapping), the philosophical roots of Western science and technology, American cultural ideals, and magical practices as ancient as shamanism and alchemy?” (6).  Because SF is at the intersection of all of these diverse elements of American culture, it can be used in a manner similar to the way that Latour describes Pasteur’s use of anthrax spores in his petrie dishes.  The scientist, within the laboratory, must go through many tests and permutations before he/she arrives at a result that the scientist is comfortable taking outside the laboratory.  SF is a space where all of these ideas can be worked out and thought over by diverse writers and thinkers.  The person engaged in SF studies then brings these books back to the ‘laboratory’ to find how the connections and networks that exist between science, technology, and culture are manifested in these works of SF.  SF serves as a map or model of the networks that exist in reality, but that might not always be engaged in ‘real-world’ discussions.

Genre theory offers another perspective on the role of SF at the intersection of dissimilar elements of American society.  Ben-Tov writes, “Science fiction’s use is as both model and symbolic means for producing heterocosms” (56).  A heterocosm is described as “an alternative cosmos, a man-made world” and it “made possible the conception of fictional real-life utopias” (Ben-Tov 20).[xii]  Utopias are distinctly related to SF, because they share many of the same elements of story and style.  Additionally, a utopia is written in response to the non-utopian qualities of the here-and-now.  SF creates heterocosms that also respond to the here-and-now, and SF often critiques or gives commentary on the here-and-now.  This commentary can relate to the way in which science, technology, and culture interact with one another.  What networks exist and how might they work more efficiently or differently?

Leo Marx’s The Machine in the Garden explores literary examples that illustrate Americans’ embrace of technology and industry despite its longing for a mythic pastoral existence.  These desires are mutually exclusive as well as historically exclusive.  Scientific and technological progress does not come back to where it began (i.e., the idealized garden).  He explores cultural examples of these conflicted desires and he notes, “By incorporating in their work the root conflict of our culture, they have clarified our situation” (365).  Cultural works are the space where these issues are commented on and worked out.[xiii]  Ben-Tov comments:

Unlike the texts that Marx surveys, however, science fiction does not try to temper hopefulness with history.  Instead, it tries to create immunity from history.  It reveals a curious dynamic:  the greater our yearning for a return to the garden, the more we invest in technology as the purveyor of the unconstrained existence that we associate with the garden.  Science fiction’s national mode of thinking boils down to a paradox:  the American imagination seeks to replace nature with a technological, made-made world in order to return to the garden of American nature” (9).

The paradox of further embracing technology in order to return to a less technological existence is seen in many examples.  One popular example is from the television series, Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  The holodeck is a technological artifact that relies on many networks of science and technology in order to present whatever the holodeck participant wishes to see.  In the first episode of the series, the audience is greeted by Commander Riker searching a forest for Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, who happens to be spending time reclining in the nook of a tree branch while surrounded by an idyllic wooded setting (“Encounter at Far Point, Part I”).  The setting is a hyperreal recreation of a wooded setting within the confines of the holodeck.  The more effort and spending that goes into technology to return us to the idealized garden, the further away we are from the ideal.  Thus, it is within this paradox that some of SF’s societal commentary exists.

Continuing with the idea of returning to an idyllic space (i.e., the garden), Ben-Tov discusses the role of the alchemist.  She writes, “By speeding up nature’s ETA, the alchemist controls the very ends of time, while remaining outside it” (93).  The alchemist’s ‘cooking’ of metals conjures Latour’s image of Pasteur working in his laboratory on the growths in his petrie dishes.  The trials and growths in his laboratory is an unnatural speeding up of processes that haphazardly take place outside the laboratory in the real world.  The image of the alchemist and the scientist are still tightly bound in that they work removed from the real-world in order to arrive at something that can be brought out of the lab and therefore back into the real-world.  Ben-Tov relates the alchemist’s working with metals, particularly with gold, which “often symbolizes the power to bring about millennium, the end of time, when the human race reaches perfection” (94).  Therefore, she points out, “Frequently, in science fiction the perfected form of humanity is literally crafted metal:  robots” (94).  Thus, not only do we further remove ourselves from attaining the idealized garden through our embrace of technology, but we physically remove ourselves by putting robots there in our place.

Now, I am going to turn to an analysis of American film examples.  I will be paying attention to the effect of technology on American culture as represented in the films and the way the films themselves are connected to these networks.  I will also look at the networks that are present within and around the technologies that are presented.

One contemporary film about the Manhattan Project is Roland Joffé’s Fat Man and Little Boy.  A fictional scene between General Leslie R. Groves (Paul Newman) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) points to the heart of the matter surrounding technology and the networks in which it is situated.[xiv]  Groves takes Oppenheimer into a building where the bomb casings for Fat Man and Little Boy are hanging from the ceiling and he says, “Sometimes, just standing here, I keep wondering–Are we working on them, or are they working on us?  Give them dignity doctor, then we can start talking about who can do what and what they mean.”  Groves’ character respects the awesome power of the bombs that he has orchestrated into existence.  He represents the uncertainty surrounding a future with ‘the bomb,’ but he is also quite aware of the networks required to bring a weapon of this magnitude into existence.  Groves came from the Army’s Corps of Engineers.  Before being assigned to head up the Manhattan Engineering District, or Manhattan Project, he reconstructed America’s munitions industry and he oversaw the building of the Pentagon.  If anyone was aware of the interconnections of technology, science, industry, and politics, it was General Groves.  This speech was by the film’s screenplay writers, Bruce Robinson and Roland Joffé.  Their writing this for a character representing General Groves elicits the questions surrounding networks and the unknown implications of new technologies.  Therefore, the man who brings together the networks behind the atomic bombs is represented as someone reverential to the implications of the bomb and to the future that is tied to its existence.  This film does not extrapolate on what the answers to Groves’ questions are, but it does bring up those questions perhaps to provoke discussion in the audience.

The film, On the Beach, recalls the fear that erupted in America immediately following the use of the atomic bombs in Japan.  However, this film comes out nine years after much of the dissension to the further use of atomic weapons has dissipated.   The Cold War intensified through the 1950s and the United States and Soviet Union both continued in ernest with their nuclear weapon test programs (which culminated in the development of thermonuclear weapons in the early 1950s).  On the Beach presents a world devastated by a nuclear war where the only survivors are an American nuclear submarine crew and the inhabitants of Australia.  Everyone that remains alive is awaiting the arrival of nuclear fallout from the devastated continents of the planet.  The film is fatalistic in that it presents a bleak future where no one is empowered to do anything about the impending doom.  All of the networks have broken down.  Australia is being starved because the world relied on networks of economic trade.  A lone country would not have the capabilities to produce all of the foods and goods that its inhabitants required because other technologies such as efficient distribution of goods and services have distributed supply chains and producers around the world.  When the rest of the world is effectively ‘blown-up’ Australia is left with its meager support networks of farms and producers while the networks to goods elsewhere were ‘blown-up’ when the bombs fell.  Cottage industries that might have existed in Australia become worthless when there are no agents on the other ends of the networks.  Moira (Ava Gardner) tells Cmdr. Towers (Gregory Peck) that “It’s unfair because I didn’t do anything and nobody that I know did anything.”  It reveals the powerlessness that the ‘normal’ person has in effecting the politics of nuclear war.  It points to the possibility that everyday people are not connected to the networks of nuclear weapons with any sort of power to enact change.  Clearly, within the movie, the nuclear fallout is an invisible force that unrelentingly continues toward the last bastion of humanity.

The Manchurian Candidate explores how the ‘soft’ science of psychology can be employed to turn a soldier into a machine.  During the Korean War, Major Bennett Marco’s (Frank Sinatra) platoon is ambushed and captured by the Communist insurgent forces.  It depicts the various Communist governments to be working together which was the West’s belief about the nature of Communism at that time.  SSgt. Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) is ‘programmed’ much like a robot would be programmed to fulfill a set of instructions.  The psychiatrist (Joe Adams) tells Major Marco, “obvious the solitaire game serves as some kind of trigger mechanism.”  Marco remembers that Dr. Yen Lo of Moscow’s Pavlov Institute said that Queen of Diamonds card is meant “to clear the mechanism for any other assignment.”  Shaw is therefore represented as a “mechanism,” implied to be a weapon that is set-off by a “trigger.”  Shaw’s mother works for the communists and she is assigned to be Shaw’s American operator.  She tells Shaw during his final ‘programming’ that “they paid me back by taking your soul away from you.  I told them to build me an assassin.”  Shaw is literally rendered a soulless machine who was built to order.  Major Marco attempts to ‘rewire’ Shaw and he asks Shaw, “What have they built you to do?”  After working through Shaw’s programming he orders Shaw, “It’s over…their beautifully constructed links are busted…We’re tearing out all the wires…You don’t work any more…That’s an order.”  Major Marco attempts to reprogram Shaw so that the Communist programming will no longer work.  The weight of Shaw’s guilt over the things that he is made to do causes him to break both the programming of the Communists as well as that of Major Marco.  Shaw chooses his own destiny/instructions when he decides to end the lives of his mother/operator (Angela Lansbury), his step-father, Senator Iselin (James Gregory), and his own.  The machine/Shaw was broken as no nuts-and-bolts machine could be.  His emotional response reveals the very organic and human underpinnings.  The machine-like psychological reprogramming did not totally remove his ability to be human.

Westworld is an interesting example that shows robots that masquerade as human in the fictional entertainment park known as Delos.  These human-like robots are the targets for human vacationer’s lusts and desires.  If someone wants to kill a robot, that’s acceptable.  If you want to have sex, the robots are programmed to respond to your advances.[xv]  Winner’s master-slave relationship between humanity and technology is clearly delineated in this film.  The machines serve to provide a ‘realistic’ experience of what it was like to live in the American West, medieval England, or ancient Rome.  The dichotomies between master/slave, have/have not, and power-elite/masses are represented in the guest/robot relationship of Delos.  At $1000/day for a Delos adventure, I would conjecture that only those with monetary power and therefore potential for political power (within government or corporations) are able to play in the Delos world.  Delos replicates the world of 1973 in fictitious settings.  It also lies at the crossroads of robotic technology, computer control systems, transportation networks, managerial hierarchies, and the interaction of the power-elite customers within the Delos world.[xvi]  The plot advances when the robots begin to malfunction.  During a meeting, the chief supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) suggests, “There is a clear pattern here which suggests an analogy to an infectious disease process.”  He confronts objections from the others by saying, “We aren’t dealing with ordinary machines here…These are highly complicated pieces of equipment…Almost as complicated as living organisms…In some cases they have been designed by other computers.”  Complexity, therefore, is the factor that connects machines to humanity.  The chief supervisor is suggesting that animal-like infectious disease behavior is being exhibited in the Delos command-and-control structure and it manifests itself in misbehaving robots.  An interesting example of a robot not following instructions is when the robot playing a servant girl named Daphne refuses the “seduction” of a human guest.  The chief supervisor orders her taken to central repair and as he walks away he says, “refusing.”  He says it as half-question and half-threat.  I say this because in the next scene, Daphne is ‘opened-up’ on a table where a cloth is draped over her body and the electronics, located where her womb would be if she were human, are exposed.  The technicians surrounding her are all male and she is referred to as a “sex model.”  The scene invokes an image of gang rape to enforce her programming to fulfill the pleasures desired by a human (male) guest.  One way or another, the human operators in Delos try to make the technology (slave) bend to their will (masters).

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a film about reigning in the escalating Cold War and nuclear arms build-up that followed World War II.  The film was released in 1951, one year before the United States detonated its first thermonuclear bomb.  After a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. the agent-networks of the United States are shown in motion.  The first ten minutes of the film reveals many of the different networks of technology and culture in contact with one another, such as:  military command-and-control, military men and weaponry stream out of Fort Myer to their target, the media mobilizes (print, radio, and television) to cover the story and to release messages from the President, observers bring their cameras, and the flying saucer and its inhabitants.[xvii]  Klaatu (Michael Rennie), Gort (Lock Martin), and their flying saucer represent a power far greater than any on Earth.  A failure in command and control is represented when the soldiers are allowed to have loaded weapons and one shoots Klaatu and destroys his gift for the President.  The present was meant for the President to study life on other planets, therefore it represents a missed opportunity.  This idea of missed opportunities is also reflected in the build-up of nuclear weapons.  Klaatu seeks counsel with all of the Earth’s leaders, but their inability to come together and communicate is another lost opportunity.  The film mirrors the early calls for a ban on nuclear weapon development that Boyer charts out in his book By the Bomb’s Early LightThe Day the Earth Stood Still is about six years late, just as On the Beach seemed to be late for that early ideological party in the early part of the Cold War.  Because Klaatu cannot bring together representatives from all Earth’s nations, he is able to convince Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) to bring together other scientists from around the world.  Klaatu then delivers his message to them to take back to their countries.  This conjures images of technocratic governments that rule through rationality and reason.  Scientists rely on open communication and it is that which allows Klaatu to get his message out.  Instead of going to Einstein’s “town square,” Klaatu chairs an academic conference.  Klaatu informs his listeners that the Earth is now a member of a greater community in the universe and as a member, he warns them that robots like Gort were created to preserve peace among the planets.  Fear of invoking the wrath of the robots for any aggression maintains the peace.   The other worlds of the universe are, as Klaatu says, “live in peace…Secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises.”  He goes on to say, “And we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system and it works.”  Gort and the “race of robots like him” are doubles for the atomic bomb.  Both are technological weapons that preserve the peace through the threat and fear of use.  Supposedly Gort only acts upon aggression–one assumes because of his programming.  The same is true of what is said of the command and control systems in place to control the use of atomic weapons.  There is no one button that launches a missile or deploys the bombers.  Also, Gort and the bomb are outside the control of all of humanity, save a few political and military leaders.  The people can make their voices heard, but ultimately, it is the decision of the politicians whether a system will be taken offline or if an attack will be launched.  The weapons build-up itself is framed within Eisenhower’s ominous warning about the military-industrial complex.  The networks of military power, industrial growth, and commerce helped fuel the arms race as well as the hot wars that took place within the supposed Cold War.  What is the history of Gort and his kind?  Were there similar networks in place on an interplanetary scale?  The answers to these questions were omitted from this movie, but they are pertinent on a smaller scale to our own planet and specifically to America.

Colossus:  The Forbin Project presents another doubling of the dichotomy between US and Soviet nuclear arms proliferation.  Instead of a greater number of nuclear weapons (the ultimate power in death and destruction) providing peace, the US command and control structure is given over to the gigantic computer system called Colossus.  A rational computer handling defense is believed to be more reliable than that which could be provided by irrational human leadership.  The computer’s activation at the beginning of the film is symbolic of the separation of humanity from the advanced technologies that it creates.  That technology, which is assumed to be subservient, is unlike us physically, but as the film unfolds, the technology actually personifies human traits of domination and control.  Ultimately a belt of radiation, also born of scientific and technological innovation and used as a weapon, divides the machine from the humans it serves.  One of the themes that these films I have selected to study show is the turning over human agency to technology.  In effect, it is a representation of American desire to return to the garden through the further use of technology.  Instead of disarmament, we give the power of annihilation to a computer system that is supposedly better suited to deciding when an attack is eminent and when retaliation should take place.  Additionally, Forbin (Eric Braeden), Colossus’ creator, hopes that Colossus will not only serve as a defense mechanism, but also solve a plethora of social ills in the world.  The problems begin after Colossus discovers the existence of another system, like itself, in the USSR.  Colossus demands communication be setup between the two.  Images of the blinking lights even includes one graphic that looks like a pulse on a piece of medical equipment.  The point is that these machines are alive (i.e., self-aware).  Because the weapons that humanity built to destroy one another are put under the control of Colossus and its counterpart, Guardian, the new systems of command and control move to take over the world.  Colossus commands all communication, media, and military control systems be tied into it.  Colossus and Guardian become the hub of all the technological networks.  The master and slave switch places as Forbin is made Colossus’ prisoner.[xviii]    Colossus orders all missiles in the USA and USSR to be reprogrammed to strike targets in countries not yet under Colossus/Guardian’s control.  The ‘voice of Colossus’ states, “This is the voice of world control…I bring you peace…Obey and live…Disobey and die…Man is his own worst enemy…I will restrain man…We can coexist, but on my terms.”  This technology meant to serve humanity is transformed into the technology that comes to control humanity.[xix]  Master and slave relationships are reversed.

The final film that I will discuss is Strategic Air Command.   It begins with Lt. Col. Robert ‘Dutch’ Holland (Jimmy Stewart) being recalled to active Air Force duty because America’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) needs experienced air commanders.[xx]  His wife, Sally (June Allyson), tells him, “anything you do is fine with me, as long as you don’t leave me behind.”  Dutch forgets his wife’s words as the film progresses and he becomes mired in the technology that he must surround himself with on a daily basis.  A sort of ‘love triangle’ forms between Dutch, Sally, and the bombers that he commands.  Dutch begins flying in the Convair B-36 and he is treated to a detailed tour by Sgt. Bible (Harry Morgan).  These scenes are more about the technology of the bombers than the men that operate them.  There are montages of the bomber in flight along with detailed sound recordings of the bomber while it is on the ground.  Attention is also given to the protocols of communication (another technology unto itself).   Later, General Hawkes (Frank Lovejoy) shows Dutch the new Boeing B-47 Stratojet.[xxi]  Dutch responds in star-eyed awe, “Holy smokes she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…I sure would like to get my hands on one of these.”  The bomber is “beautiful” and it is more deserving of the attention of his hands than his wife at this point in the film.  General Hawkes goes on to present a contrast inherent in the B-47 in that it is fragile, but it is also the carrier of the most destructive force on the planet.  He says, “the mechanics have to wear soft soled shoes because a scuff on this metal skin could slow it down 20 MPH” but this seemingly delicate surface carries “the destructive power of the entire B-29 force we used against Japan.”  He believes SAC and the B-47 represents the best hope for peace through superior air power and deterrence.[xxii]  Dutch chooses technology over his wife when he chooses to enlist in the Air Force permanently without speaking to his wife about it first.  SAC appropriates Dutch’s life (baseball, wife, and child).  His wife “doesn’t even know him any more.”  Dutch, in effect, chooses his mistress, the bomber.  Instead of continuing to blame her husband for his technological fetish, Sally confronts General Castle and General Hawkes about Dutch being “maneuvered” into having no choice in the matter of reenlisting.  General Hawkes replies to her entreaties, “Mrs. Holland, I too have no choice.”  SAC, in effect, removes choice because of the need of the technology to be employed in a war of deterrent technologies.  At the end of the film, Dutch is teary eyed when he is forced to stop flying because of a chronic injury.  He didn’t shed a tear when he walked out of the house with Sally crying about not consulting her about his life-long career choice–a choice that she is bound to but had no input in making.  The film ends with a squadron of B-47 bombers flying over the airfield while Dutch looks up to the skies and Sally looks up to Dutch.  He never returns her affectionate stare.  Therefore, the bomber commander’s heart is connected more to the technologies of mutually assured destruction rather than the flesh and blood of his own wife.

These films provide representations of actor-networks between science, technology, and culture.  The films themselves are also tied into those actor-networks.  How we deal with the implications of these networks leads us back to what Leo Marx suggests about the technology encroaching on the idyllic garden.  He writes, “To change the situation we require new symbols of possibility, and although the creation of those symbols is in some measure the responsibility of artists, it is in greater measure the responsibility of society.  The machine’s sudden entrance into the garden presents a problem that ultimately belongs not to art but to politics” (365).  To name something implies power over the thing named.  Therefore, power lies in building a terminology and language for engaging these many layered networks.  When technology meets society, when the laboratory brings out its newest creation after many trials, when there is uncertainty about the implications of technology’s impact on society or the world in general, the language and terminology of ‘what it all means’ must come from art, discussion, and political action.  The agent-networks that consist of the interaction of science, technology, and culture are not easily mapped and therefore should not be thought of as simple systems unto themselves.  There exists a complexity that must be engaged by becoming part of the network itself and it is that, which is reflected in these film examples that I have studied in this paper.

Works Cited

Boyer, Paul.  By the Bomb’s Early Light.  New York:  Pantheon Books, 1985.

Colossus:  The Forbin Project.  Dir. Joseph Sargent.  Perf. Eric Braeden, Susan Clark,       and Gordon Pinsent.  Universal Pictures, 1970.

The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Dir. Robert Wise.  Perf. Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.              Twentieth-Century Fox, 1951.

“Encounter at Far Point, Part I.”  Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Dir. Corey Allen.       Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner.  Paramount, 28             September 1987.

Fat Man and Little Boy.  Dir. Roland Joffé.  Perf. Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, and        John Cusack.  Paramount, 1989.

Latour, Bruno.  “Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World.”  Science Observed.  Eds. Karin D. Knorr-Cetina and Michael J. Mulkay.  London:  Sage, 1983.  141-170.

The Manchurian Candidate.  Dir. John Frankenheimer.  Perf. Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.  MGM, 1962.

McMahon, Robert J.  The Cold War:  A Very Short Introduction.  Oxford:  Oxford UP,     2003.

Modern Times.  Dir. Charlie Chaplin.  Perf. Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.            United Artists, 1936.

On the Beach.  Dir. Stanley Kramer.  Perf. Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.  MGM, 1959.

Gosling, F. G.  The Manhattan Project:  Making the Atomic Bomb.  Department of            Energy.  Washington:  GPO, 1999.  1 August 2005

<http://www.mbe.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/publications/DE99001330.pdf&gt;.

Ramseys, Norman.  History of Project A.  Rough Draft.  Los Alamos National        Laboratory.  27 September 1945.  3 August 2005

<http://www.lanl.gov/history/atomicbomb/victory.shtml&gt;.

Strategic Air Command.  Dir. Anthony Mann.  Perf. James Stewart and June Allyson.      Paramount, 1955.

United States.  Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Staff Biography:  General Leslie R.        Groves.  2005.  3 August 2005

<http://www.lanl.gov/history/people/L_Groves.shtml&gt;.

Westworld.  Dir. Michael Crichton.  Perf. Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James        Brolin.  MGM, 1973.

Winner, Langdon.  Autonomous Technology:  Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in

Political Thought.  Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1977.

 


[i] “’Technology,’ therefore, is applied haphazardly to a staggering collection of phenomena, many of which are recent additions to our world.  One feels that there must be a better way of expressing oneself about these developments, but at present our concepts fail us…One implication of this state of affairs is that discussions of the political implications of advanced technology have a tendency to slide into a polarity of good versus evil.  Because there is no middle ground for talking about such things, statements often end up being expressions of total affirmations or total denial.  One either hates technology or loves it” (Winner 10).

[ii] This polarizing effect that Winner observes about technology is discussed in the paper that I delivered at Georgia Tech’s Monstrous Bodies Symposium in April 2005.  It is titled, “Monstrous Robots:  Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans.”  I explore the dualistic natures of two fictional robots:  Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw and Cameron’s Terminator.  These robots are cultural manifestations of the breakdown of technological discourse into a dualism of good versus evil.  Asimov approaches this issue mathematically by endowing his robots with axioms known as the “Three Laws of Robotics.”  These proper starting positions enable the robots to have a moral compass that makes them ‘good.’  Cameron’s view is that given to its own devices, technology (i.e., Skynet and its Terminator henchmen) will seek its own best interests (i.e., annihilating humanity through nuclear war).  I will later develop this idea further in looking at how SF is the space where discussions about science and technology take place.

[iii] Winner defines four elements of ‘technology.’  He defines apparatus as the “class of objects we normally refer to as technological–tools, instruments, appliances, weapons, gadgets” (11).  He defines technique as “technical activities–skills, methods, procedures, routines” (12).  His definition for organization is “social organization–factories, workshops, bureaucracies, armies, research and development teams” (12).  He defines a network as “large scale systems that combine people and apparatus linked across great distances” (12).

[iv] This issue is embodied in SF stories about artificial intelligence (A.I.).  When machines are given thought, self-awareness, and choice–what will they choose to do?  Will they have ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ free choice?

[v] More on this in the film discussions in the latter section of this paper.

[vi] “Something must be enslaved in order that something else may win emancipation” (Winner 21).

[vii] An example of actor-network theory in practice is illustrated in Latour’s “Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World.”  The paper explores Pasteur’s laboratory and how it is situated between farmers, veterinarians, statisticians, science, and economics.

[viii] He continues, “Each intention, therefore, contains a concealed ‘unintention,’ which is just as much a part of our calculations as the immediate end in view” (98).  Specific purposes actually lead to many other purposes.  This leads to progress.  Winner writes, “In effect, we are committed to following a drift–accumulated unanticipated consequences–given the name progress” (99).

[ix] Winner writes, “Here we encounter one of the most persistent problems that appear in reports of autonomous technology:  the technological imperative.  The basic conception can be stated as follows:  technologies are structures whose conditions of operation demand the restructuring of their environments” (100).

[x] There is continued debate about the accepted dates for the beginning and end of the Cold War era.  I have chosen to use the dates provided by McMahon.  He writes, “The Cold War exerted so profound and so multi-faceted an impact on the structure of international politics and state-to-state relations that it has become customary to label the 1945-1990 period ‘the Cold War era.’  That designation becomes even more fitting when one considers the powerful mark that the Soviet-American struggle for world dominance and ideological supremacy left within many of the world’s nation-states” (McMahon 105).

[xi] “One implication of this state of affairs is that discussions of the political implications of advanced technology have a tendency to slide into a polarity of good versus evil…One either hates technology or loves it” (Winner 10).

[xii] “For if the Earthly Paradise garden was not a poet’s imitation of nature but, instead, his own independent invention, then it logically followed that human beings could independently realize the pleasant qualities of the Earthly Paradise.  By applying the theory of the heterocosm to society in general, the utopian attempted to create an improved human condition that owed nothing to powers outside human reason and will.  A man-made system, utopia, appropriated the abundance and social harmony of the garden and replaced Mother Nature as their source.  In utopia the lady vanishes:  the figure of feminine nature no longer enchants Earthly Paradise” (Ben-Tov 20).

[xiii] Marx goes on to say, “To change the situation we require new symbols of possibility, and although the creation of those symbols is in some measure the responsibility of artists, it is in greater measure the responsibility of society.  The machine’s sudden entrance into the garden presents a problem that ultimately belongs not to art but to politics” (365).

[xiv] This scene never took place in reality because the bombs were not pre-assembled like this at Los Alamos.  Final construction of the bombs took place on Tinian Island in the South Pacific (History of Project A 12-14).

[xv] Westworld, however, doesn’t explore possibilities outside of a narrative track.  Death dealing is handled in duels, barroom brawls, and sword fights.  Sex is allowed between men and women with one of the parties being a Delos robot.  Reckless killing and same-sex encounters are two examples that I can think of that were not explored within the film.

[xvi] Of note, the control room, the robot repair room, and the technician’s meeting room each represent a different kind of command and control structure–all of which lie under the Delos moniker.

[xvii] The film itself (as an artifact) represents film production technologies, distribution systems, movie and sound projection systems, copyright law, the networks of payment, guilds and unions, etc.

[xviii] While Forbin is testing out Colossus’s surveillance system, he says, “It is customary in our civilization to change everything that is ‘natural.’”

[xix] This thought is connected to General Groves’ speech in Fat Man and Little Boy that I referenced earlier.

[xx] I’m sure the producers of this film were eager to employ Jimmy Stewart in this role because of his experience flying bombers such as the B-24 and B-52.

[xxi] It seems like the film could have gone in a different direction with characters named “Bible” and “Hawkes.”  However, there does not appear to be any symbolic metaphors at play with these characters other than Hawkes being committed to his role as a ‘Cold Warrior.’

[xxii] In Strategic Air Command, a ground-based radar operator delivers the chilling line, “We’ve been bombing cities everyday and every night all over the US, only, the people never know it.”  He is responding to a question about how practice bomb runs take place even in the rain through the use of radar.  The quote points to an underlying fear that the bomb is a threat from within as well as from out.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Technology & American Society Paper on Handheld Calculators, Nov 26, 2003

This is the fifteenth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This essay was my term paper in Professor Steven W. Usselman’s HTS 3083, Technology and American Society course at Georgia Tech in Fall 2003. I wrote this essay in the second class that I took from Professor Usselman (with the first being HTS 2082, Science and Technology of the Industrial Age). Professor Usselman gave his lectures as engaging stories full of detail and context. As a lecturer, he knows how to guide and support his students on their way to understanding. It is a credit to Professor Usselman that I remember enjoying his lectures, but I do not remember writing my essay below (which alarmingly is true for much of my early writing). However, I thought that this essay would share some correspondence with the object-oriented essays in my previously posted essays from Professor Kenneth J. Knoespel’s Technologies of Representation class. These kinds of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary connections are what excited me the most about my Georgia Tech undergraduate education.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Steven W. Usselman

HTS3083

November 26, 2003

Introduction of Electronic Handheld Calculators

The story of the electronic handheld calculator is about making one product to sell to consumers while proving a piece of that product to industry.  Eventually the electronic handheld calculator would probably have come along, but its introduction in America by Texas Instruments was done not to fill a void or need in the marketplace for electronic handheld calculators.  It was introduced to push the idea of the “heart” of the calculator–the integrated circuit.  The story of the calculator is tightly woven with that of the integrated circuit, or microchip.

Before the handheld calculator debuted there was the desktop electronic calculator which “had to be plugged in (120 v), were the size of typewriters, and cost as much as an automobile” (Hamrick 633).  After WWII scientists, engineers, bankers, actuaries, and others found greater need of computational power.  With the advent of transistors to replace the much larger vacuum tube, electronic computation machines were able to be reduced in size.  The story of the integrated circuit and the transistor are almost a case of history repeating itself.  In 1954, Texas Instruments was one of the world leaders in mass producing transistors.  The public and industry, however, were not as ready to jump on the transistor bandwagon yet.  Pat Haggerty, VP of Texas Instruments, had his engineers develop a pocket sized radio using transistors.  TI had limited experience with consumer products so TI teamed up with Regency Company of Indiana to market the pocket radio.  The radio was introduced just before Christmas of 1954 and over 100,000 radios were sold in the first year.  The salability of the transistor pocket radio impressed companies like IBM who began to buy transistors from TI.

TI had trouble selling the integrated circuit to big companies for introduction into their products.  Also, the nature of the integrated circuit was not good as a business model as it stood when it was first developed.  It was difficult to built a good integrated circuit, but once a good one was built, it rarely went bad.  Without a need of replacing integrated circuits like with vacuum tubes, TI wanted to find new applications for the integrated circuit so that they could be sold for use in many other products not currently using electronics such as transistors or tubes.

Haggerty thought that this “invention technique” would work for introducing the world to the integrated circuit (Hamrick 634).  Haggerty ran the idea by the inventor of the integrated circuit, Jack Kilby while on a flight back to Dallas.  What was to be invented was up in the air at this point.  Haggerty suggested to Kilby, “invent a calculator that would fit in a shirt pocket like the radio, or invent a lipstick-size dictaphone machine, or invent something else that used the microchip” (Hamrick 634).  Kilby liked the idea of inventing a calculator so that is what he went with.  Kilby was allowed to choose his own team back at TI’s headquarters in Dallas.  He choose Jerry Merryman _  and James Van Tassel.   Kilby made his pitch to his assembled team.  He described to them that they would build a “our own personal computer of sorts which would be portable, and would replace the slide rule” (Hamrick 634).  At this time the invention was not yet called a “calculator,” but a “slide rule computer” (Hamrick 634).  It was code named CAL-TECH.  Tasks were divided among the team members:  Kilby worked on the power supply, Van Tassel worked mostly on the keyboard, and Merryman worked on the logic and the output.

The CAL-TECH prototype was completed in November 1966, almost one year after it was first discussed by Haggerty and Kilby.  This first handheld electronic calculator was about 4” by 6” by 1.5” and it was a heavy 45 oz. because it was constructed from a block of aluminum.  What is interesting about the display of the CAL-TECH is that it doesn’t have one.  Its output is handled by a newly designed “integrated heater element array and drive matrix” which was invented by Merryman for this project.  This allowed for the output to be burned onto a paper roll and it was designed to use little power.  The CAL-TECH had 18 keys:  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, ., X, +, -, , C, E, and P (Hamrick 635).  This early calculator could actually only add and subtract.  For multiplication it would add repeatedly and for division it would subtract repeatedly.  The patent was first filed for the CAL-TECH on September 29, 1967_ .

As with the transistor radio, TI did not want to make the first handheld electronic calculators themselves.  TI partnered with Canon of Japan to market the consumer version of the CAL-TECH, the Pocketronic.  The Pocketronic was first offered to the market on April 14, 1970, the day before income tax returns were due (Hamrick 636).  The Pocketronic was lauded in Business Week magazine as “the portable, pocketable, all electronic consumer calculator that the electronics industry had long dreamed about” (Hamrick 636).  It was small and it only weighed 1.8 pounds.  Initially it cost $400 ($1500 in 1995 dollars).  This is compared to the bulky, desktop calculators which cost more than $2000 (over $7,500 in 1995 dollars) (Hamrick 636).  Production costs of the parts to build electronic handheld calculators decreased the cost of production compared to the electronic desktop calculators of the day.  For example, “the 1966 business calculator version retailing for $2000 contained over a thousand discrete semiconductors such as transistors and resistors with a cost of $170” (Ament).  Ament goes on to show that “in 1968, integrated circuits (ICs) began finding their niche in business calculators with a typical selling price of $1000…[which] had 90 ICs at a cost of $125.”  The Pocketronic used a MOS/LSI_  IC which put all the functions of the calculator on one IC chip.  This further reduced the cost of parts and it reduced the number of parts involved in production.  This better economy of production helped fuel the boom in electronic handheld calculators that took place in the early 1970s.

Compared to today’s calculators, the Pocketronic was outrageously expensive and it could only do basic arithmetic.  At that time, however, it was doing something that only specialized and much more expensive machines could do.  It was the first step in democratizing computational machines.  It would start the move of computation from academia and big business to K-12 schools and the home.

The instruction manual for the Pocketronic features a picture of a man dressed in a suit holding the Pocketronic performing a calculation for a woman wearing a coat, tie, and fashionable hat watches while she is standing in the open door of a car (Canon).  She is probably looking at the car at a dealership and the man is a car salesman.  Initially this higher cost item was probably marketed to professionals who could bear the cost of the new technology.  As with much technology it was suggested as primarily as a man’s tool.  Hamrick takes some excerpts from early articles and advertisements of calculators in the 1970s.  Here are a few examples:

1.  “Calculators are being sold to engineers, college students, and women to use for shopping.”

2.  “Every housewife will have one (calculator) when she goes shopping.”

3.  “Salesmen use them to compute estimates and prices for carpeting and fences.  A professional pilot carries one for navigational calculations.  A housewife with skeet-shooting sons checks shooting record cards.”

4.  “At the supermarket, the new calculator will help your wife find the best unit price bargains.  At the lumberyard, they’ll help you decide which combination of plywood, lumber and hardboard would be least expensive for your project” (Hamrick 639).

These excerpts reveal a sexism regarding how calculators will be used by men and by women.  Men are shown as using the calculator in a professional sphere.  The calculator is a tool that helps a man in his daily work.  Women are shown as using the calculator in the home sphere.  The calculator can be a tool for the woman to perform household duties much as she should use a sewing machine or some other appliance.  The calculator was marketed to both men and women, but the attitudes shown in the advertising shows a sexist bent regarding how the two sexes will use their respective calculators.

Demand was great enough however that other manufacturers quickly began making their own electronic handheld calculators.  By “October of 1974, the JS&A Company, which sold calculators through mail and magazine advertisement, offered the Texas Instrument TI-2550 for an incredible $9.95.  For this period, a calculator under $10 was incredible cheap!” (King).  It would follow that in order to justify such a ramp-up in production there must have been a lot of people wanting to buy these electronic handheld calculators.  Robert King writes that there were “seven such ‘milestones’ leading to today’s commonly-used calculator” (King).  He lists them as portability, small size, replaceable batteries, increased functions, liquid crystal display, solar power, and cheapness (King).  These stages of calculator evolution were each mastered or integrated into products increasing the market demand for the calculator while decreasing the cost of the calculator.

Slide rule manufacturers began to fall to the wayside because of the demand for calculators instead of slide rules.  For instance, “Keuffel & Esser, the oldest slide rule manufacturer…made its last slide rule in 1975,” only five years after the introduction of the Pocketronic (Hamrick 638).  Slide rules had been the primary portable computation device used by students, scientists, and engineers before the calculator came along.  The electronic desktop calculators also began to be phased out when more advanced and powerful calculators began to come out such as Hewlett-Packard’s HP-35 in 1972_ .  HP’s website describes the HP-35 as, “the world’s first scientific handheld calculator. Small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, the powerful HP-35 makes the engineer’s slide rule obsolete. In 2000, Forbes ASAP names it one of 20 “all time products” that have changed the world” (HP).  The first handheld calculator makes inroads into markets where people need to make basic arithmetic computations.  These newer, more advanced calculators move into the markets where the more specialized desktop calculators and early computer systems were the mainstay.  The explosion of the handheld calculator market muscles in quietly and quickly usurping the dominant position of calculation technology in many different arenas where people need to make calculations.

In the home and business market, the calculator was swiftly adopted and integrated into a standard tool.  A source of some controversy involved the introduction of the calculator into schools.  There was not a loud outcry about students using calculators in college level classes.  In one example, the University of Ohio redesigned its remedial college math class so that calculators were required for the curriculum.  Leitzel and Waits describe the situation at the University of Ohio in the autumn of 1974 as “we faced approximately 4500 students who were not prepared to begin our precalculus courses” (731).  The authors note that “the enrollment in our remedial course includes typically a large number of students from diverse backgrounds, with equally diverse abilities, with poor attitudes toward the study of mathematics, with poor study habits and, to a large extent, poor academic motivation” (Leitzel and Waits, 731).  Only a few years after the introduction of the handheld calculator these professors are designing a new approach to an old mathematics course that will try to capture the attention of these students with such poor school habits.  The calculator will be instructive and it will be a hook to get the students interested in the material.  They noted that “in using calculators students raised questions about arithmetic properties of numbers that would have been of little interest to them otherwise” and “the desire to use the calculator seemed often to motivate this understanding” (Leitzel and Waits, 732).  The calculator would let the students spend more time doing more problems in a sort of trial and error scenario.  It took a long time to do some calculations with a slide rule or by hand.  A calculator would allow for easy and quick computation involving larger numbers or large sets of numbers.  Leitzel and Waits are proposing that by letting the students explore mathematics with the calculator as a facilitating tool, it is allowing the students to accomplish what they were not motivated to do before.  They add, however, “the question of whether a person who uses a hand-held calculator to do computations is somehow less educated than a person who does computations mentally we will leave for others to decide” (Leitzel and Waits, 732).  This was the big question regarding the calculator for those in education.  Was the calculator something that built upon the learning process or was it something that detracted from one’s development of arithmetic ability.  This question weighed much more heavily on those in K-12 education than in colleges.  Calculators were not rushed into kindergartens or the early grades in school.  I remember using calculators and adding machines at home and at my parent’s business when I was young.  The school curriculum in the schools I attended in southeast Georgia didn’t allow the use of a calculator in until the sixth grade.  That was in 1988-1989.

This debate continues even in the higher levels of grade school.  One of the loudest arguments involves high school geometry and the development of proofs.  Proofs allow the student to see that there is a rational basis for particular mathematical rules and operations that might not appear intuitive at first glance.  James Stein Jr. writes, “I am extremely concerned by the current emphasis on calculators in the elementary and secondary mathematics curriculum.  The vast majority of my students, to borrow Hofstadter’s phrase, are woefully innumerate, a condition I believe has been exacerbated by the reliance on calculators” (447).  Stein_  reveals that by this time, about 17 years after the introduction of the Canon Pocketronic, calculators are used in elementary and secondary schools.  Neil Rickert_  writes regarding this issue, “although the curriculum a generation ago was far from ideal, at least the students learned that mathematics provided a powerful tool for solving interesting and difficult problems.  Today mathematically strong students are leaving high school convinced that mathematics is a boring and sterile subject, overloaded with pedantry” (447).  He feels that by having students spoon feed axioms instead of discovering the proof behind those axioms and principles, students are turned away from mathematics.  The dynamo of change from proofs to the more problem solving ideology is the calculator.  With the calculator students are better equipped to perform complex operations and solve difficult problems whereas before there was a limit to the number of problems or complexity of a problem that a student could tackle with only pencil, paper and a slide rule.  In response to Stein and Rickert, Lynn Arthur Steen_  writes, “the calculator makes possible precisely the exploration of arithmetic patterns that Stein seeks.  To translate this possibility into reality will require greater emphasis on quality teaching so that calculators can be used effectively” (447).  Steen is looking for a solution involving teaching and the use of calculators.  She isn’t placing all blame on the calculators.  She goes on to say, “the need to move students from lower, rote skills to complex problem-solving has been recognized in virtually every report on education during the last decade.  It is calculation rather than deduction (as Rickert states) that improperly dominates today’s school curriculum” (448).  This shows that she also thinks that calculators have too much school space in that students are encouraged and taught to use them in elementary and secondary schools.  She feels that there are greater skills that must be taught along side the use of calculators.  Steen is suggesting that better problem solving skills coupled with the calculator should be the new order for elementary and secondary school math education.  After the initial boom and integration of the calculator into educational life, everyday life, and professional life, there is a backlash against the adoption of the calculator in educational life.  There must be mediation between traditional rote skill learning and the use of the calculator.  There must also be an revision in the way problem solving skills are taught and approached to better utilize the calculator as a tool and not as a reliance.  The debate regarding calculators in the classroom continue to this day though it often regards more advanced calculators such as ones capable of symbolic manipulation_  and graphing complex equations.

The electronic handheld calculator was initially embraced by many different people in different spheres of life such as the home, business, or school.  People needed to calculate percentages, balance check books, more easily solve math problems, calculate interest, and many, many other things.  Initially the calculator moved into these different facets of society and debate or dissent did not arise until the growing use of calculators in the school environment.  College mathematics departments tried to use calculators to help some remedial students get up to speed while other math professionals decried the use of calculators in elementary and secondary schools.  In the professional and home arenas, the calculator has been accepted as a useful tool to solve many problems that were once tedious or nearly impossible to do without the aid of some mechanical or electrical computation technology.  The introduction of the electronic handheld calculator was a quiet revolution that brought a democratization of calculation to nearly everyone in America.

Works Cited

Ament, Phil.  “Hand-Held Calculator.”  The Great Idea Finder.  Oct. 22, 2002.  Nov. 23, 2003 <http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/handcalculator.htm&gt;.

Canon Incorporated.  Canon Pocketronic Instructions.  Japan:  Canon.  1970.

Hamrick, Kathy.  “The History of the Hand-Held Electronic Calculator.”  The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 103, No. 8 (Oct., 1996), 633-639.

Hewlett-Packard Company.  “HP timeline – 1970s.”  2003. Nov. 23, 2003 <http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/abouthp/histnfacts/timeline/hist_70s.html&gt;.

King, Robert.  “The Evolution of Today’s Calculator.”  The International Calculator Collector, Spring 1997.  Nov. 23, 2003 <http://www.vintagecalculators.com/html/evolution_of_today_s_calculato.html&gt;

Leitzel, Joan and Bert Waits.  “Hand-Held Calculators in the Freshman Mathematics Classroom.”  The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 83, No. 9 (Nov., 1976), 731-733.

Rickert, Neil W..  “Mathematics Education.”  Science, New Series, Vol. 238, No.    4826 (Oct. 23, 1987), 447.

Steen, Lynn Arthur.  “Mathematics Education:  Response.”  Science, New Series, Vol. 238, No. 4826 (Oct. 23, 1987), 447-448.

Stein Jr., James D..  “Mathematics Education.”  Science, New Series, Vol. 238, No. 4826 (Oct. 23, 1987), 447.

1 Jerry Merryman is described as a “self-taught engineer” who attended Texas A & M, but never graduated.  He was considered “one of the brightest young engineers at TI (Hamrick 634).  _2 This first patent filing was followed by a refiling on May 13, 1971 and it was refiled again on December 21, 1972.  The CAL-TECH is covered by patent number 3,819, 921 (Hamrick 635)._3 MOS/LSI stands for metal-oxide-semiconductor/large scale integration._4 “The HP-35 was introduced in January, 1972 and was recalled in December, 1972.  The owners were sent a letter pointing out idiosyncrasies in programming caused by a defect in one logic algorithm.  HP offered to replace the calculator.  This was probably the world’s first instant recall.  The defect caused a few 10 digit numbers, when used in an exponential function, to give an answer that was wrong by 1%” (Hamrick, 638)._5 James D. Stein Jr. is in the Department of Mathematics at both the California State University, Long Beach, CA and the University of California, Los Angeles, CA._6 Neil W. Rickert is from the Department of Computer Science, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL._7 Lynn Arthur Steen is from the Department of Mathematics at St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN._8 The TI-92 is able to solve equations for a numerical answer and it can perform many calculus operations such as derivatives, integrals, etc.._

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Astronomy Class, PHYS 2021, Sunset Observation Project, Fall 2004

This is the ninth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

My “Sunset Observation Project” was a semester-long project in Professor James Sowell’s PHYS 2021 class in Fall 2004. Originally, I tried taking this class from Professor Sowell when I was having a lot of trouble  in school in the late 1990s. So, when I returned to Georgia Tech after a stint in the business world, I made a point to complete Professor Sowell’s class. I wanted to prove to myself that I could succeed in this class, and I wanted to prove to Professor Sowell, who I considered an engaging and interested instructor, that I could succeed in his class. Ultimately, I did well in this class and the second Astronomy class on large-scale astronomy that Professor Sowell also taught.

This project helped me begin getting back into shape, because I choose to do it the hard way: instead of observing the sunset from campus, I went to the best observation place outside the city on top of Stone Mountain. This meant that I had to hike up to the top with my tripod and camera on a regular basis.

I used Adobe Photoshop to create a line-drawn skyline and to measure my observations consistently by using layers.

While I am posting my Sunset Observation Project as-is (meaning all of the mistakes contained below are mine), I continue to tell my students today that Professor Sowell was one of the professors who helped me with my writing, because I read his comments and listened to his advice. The takeaway for my students is that we can improve on our writing, communication, and composition anywhere and anytime–even in a class about our great solar system.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor James Sowell

PHYS 2021

Fall 2004

Sunset Observation Project

image001

Purpose

The Sunset Observation Project is designed to use long established techniques to chart the progression of the Sun across the horizon over the course of one school semester. It allows the student to become more aware of the motion of the Earth, both on its axis as well as its orbit around the Sun.

Procedure

Over the course of the semester each student will make a number of observations of the Sun setting.  Each observation must be made from the same location and a point of reference should be chosen along the horizon so that the Sun’s change in location can be measured using the hand and fingers as angular measuring devices.  Each observation should be about a week or more apart so that a discernible change can be observed.

I made my observations from the same spot west of downtown Atlanta on top of Stone Mountain.  I expect smog and weather to cause some problems with observing sunsets, but Stone Mountain provides an excellent view of the horizon due to its height and distance away from tall buildings.

Observational Data

Date of Observation

Time of Sunset

Degrees from Reference Point

Place of Observation

Weather Conditions

Aug 30, 2004

8:05 pm EST

0 deg

Stone Mountain

Cloudy and Hazy

Sep 9, 2004

7:51 pm EST

5 deg S

Stone Mountain

Hazy

Sep 18, 2004

7:39 pm EST

10 deg S

Stone Mountain

Hazy

Oct 15, 2004

6:51 pm EST

26 deg S

Stone Mountain

Cloudy

Oct 31, 2004

5:45 pm EST

30 deg S

Stone Mountain

Cloudy and Hazy

image003

August 30, 2004

image005This was my first solar observation of the semester.  It was also the first time that I had climbed Stone Mountain.  I learned a lot on this first trip about giving myself enough time to hike the 1.4 miles to the top as well as bringing some Gatorade along because the outside water fountain wasn’t working.

image007The cloud cover and haze was a problem that I encountered all semester.  It was difficult to arrange times to hike to the top of Stone Mountain that took into account my school schedule, work schedule, and the weather.  If I had considered these logistical problems beforehand, I would have chosen to make my observations from a window in one of Tech’s buildings.

September 9, 2004

image009This was a good day to hike to the top of Stone Mountain.  Unfortunately, there were distant clouds which obscured the setting of the sun so I had to take my picture while the sun was still above the building tops.

image011The sun moved approximately 5 degrees South of the building that I used for a reference point during the semester of observations.

September 18, 2004

image013There was only a slight haze in the distance when I made this observation.  By this time, I had begun to enjoy hiking to the top of Stone Mountain.  I brought a friend along on the first observation, but no one would join me for any of other observations.

image015The Sun is approximately 10 degrees South of my first observation.

October 15, 2004

image017The Sun had moved a great deal since my last observation.  Weather (i.e., hurricanes) and a busy schedule makes these observations difficult to make because of the time involved going to Stone Mountain and hiking to the top.

image019The Sun is about 26 degrees South of my first observation.

October 31, 2004

image021This is the last observation that I made for this project.  It was a hazy evening which made it difficult to get a good picture of the setting Sun.

image023The Sun is now 30 degrees South of where I began observing it in August.  It has moved across the horizon of a good deal of metro Atlanta.

Conclusions

The Sun was observed to move in a southwardly direction.  From a top-down view, it would appear to be moving in a counterclockwise motion along the horizon.  The rate of change seemed to be larger at the beginning of the semester.  The first three observations covered equal times, but the amount of change increased from the 8/30-9/9 period to the 9/9-9/18 period.  This pattern changed for the last two observations, which covered a greater time between the two observations (16 days), but there was only a 4 degree change in the position of the Sun.  This is probably due to the Sun’s arc across the sky decreasing as the year progresses.  The Sun is lower in the sky so it does not have as far to travel across the sky later in the year.

The Sun should rise about 180 degrees from where it sets if it strictly rose in the East and set in the West.  The Sun does not do this because the inclination of the Earth causes the Sun to appear to be low or high in the sky during the course of the year.  This generates our seasons because the angle of light hitting the Earth’s surface changes as the Earth makes its way around the Sun during the year.  The length of the day gets shorter as the year progresses because the Sun cuts a smaller arc in the sky.  Less distance without any drastic changes in speed means that the Sun doesn’t spend as much time in the sky each day as the year progresses.

Noon is still the time at which the Sun is at its highest point in the sky, but this highest point changes during the course of the semester.  This point will get lower and lower until the Winter Solstice when the Sun will begin to move North again and its path across the sky will likewise get higher too.

Before this project, I had never been to the top of Stone Mountain.  Now I have been up to the top many times!  Observing the Moon and the Sun during the semester has made me more aware of the motions and orientations of the Moon, Earth, and Sun.  Before I had a vague awareness of how these things moved and were orientated, but now I have a much better grasp of the subject.

Some problems that I encountered had to do with the weather.  The barrage of hurricanes in late September and October caused a lot of bad weather here in Atlanta.  In addition, it is difficult to arrange times to hike to the top of Stone Mountain when you have school and work schedules to deal with.  I am pleased with the outcome of my Sunset Observation Project, but I wish that I had been able to make more observations.  Because of this project, I will continue hiking to the top of Stone Mountain to watch the sunset.