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Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films

Per Schelde
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters
    Book Description:

    Science fiction films, from the original Frankenstein and The Fly to Blade Runner and The Terminator, traditionally have been filled with aliens, spaceships, androids, cyborgs, and all sorts of robotic creatures along with their various creators. The popular appeal of these characters is undeniable, but what is the meaning of this generation of creatures? What is the relationship of mad scientist to subject, of human to android, of creature to creator? Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters is a profound investigation of this popular cultural form. Starting his discussion with the possible source of these creatures, anthropologist and writer Per Schelde identifies the origin of these critters in the folklore of past generations. Continuing in the tradition of ancient folklore, contends Schelde, science fiction film is a fictional account of the ongoing battle between nature and culture. With the advance of science, the trolls, dwarves, pixies, nixies, and huldres that represented the unknown natural forces of the world were virtually killed off by ever-increasing knowledge and technology. The natural forces of the past that provided a threat to humans were replaced by the danger of unknown scientific experiments and disasters, as represented by their offspring: science fiction monsters. As the development of genetics, biomedical engineering, and artificial intelligence blur the lines between human and machine in the real world, thus invading the natural landscape with the products of man's techno-culture, the representation of this development poses interesting questions. As Per Schelde shows, it becomes increasingly difficult in science fiction film to define the humans from their creations, and thus increasingly difficult to identify the monster. Unlike science fiction literature, science fiction film has until now been largely neglected as a genre worthy of study and scholarship. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters explores science fiction (sf) film as the modern incarnation of folklore, emblematic of the struggle between nature and culture - but with a new twist. Schelde explains how, as science conquered the forests and mountains of the wild, the mythic creatures of these realms - trolls, elves, and ogres - were relegated to cartoons and children's stories. Technology and outer space came to represent the modern wild, and this new unknown came alive in the popular imagination with the embodiments of our fears of that unknown: androids, cyborgs, genetics, and artificial intelligence gone awry. Implicit in all of these is a fear, and an indictment, of the power of science to invade our minds and bodies, replacing the individual soul with a mechanical, machine-made one. Focusing his analysis on sixty-five popular films, from Frankenstein and Metropolis to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator, and Blade Runner, Per Schelde brings his command of traditional folklore to this serious but eminently readable look at SF movies, decoding their curious and often terrifying images as expressions of modern man's angst in the face of a rapidly advancing culture he cannot control. Anyone with an interest in popular culture, folklore, film studies, or science fiction will enjoy this original and comprehensive study.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8875-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Although every year sees a new flock of science fiction (sf) movies populate movie screens with aliens, spaceships, androids, cyborgs, and other assorted monsters, the genre has, until lately, largely been neglected by serious film analysts and theorists. And there still is not a book-length study of sf movies that is not a picture book or a picture-book history. The only possible exceptions areFocus on the Science Fiction Film(Johnson 1972) andAlien Zone,a recent (1990) publication edited by Annette Kuhn. Both are collections of essays, not monographic, unified studies. Both are fine works—the Kuhn book is...

  5. 2 Dangerous Science
    (pp. 25-63)

    This chapter is designed to do a number of things. I start with a working definition of what an sf movie is, then move on to profile the three most important sf stock characters: the Hero or Honest Joe/Jane, the Scientist, and the Monster. The discussion of sf science, its goals and outcomes, is inserted between the scientist and the monster because science is what the scientist does and because the monster, to an extent, is the outcome of science. But first a definition.

    For the purposes of this book an sf movie is defined as a movie that spotlights...

  6. 3 Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen; or, Women and Science
    (pp. 64-83)

    In her nature lies the healing power which replaces that which has been used up, the beneficial rest in which everything immoderate confines itself, the eternal Same, by which the excessive and the surplus regulate themselves. In her the future generation dreams. Woman is more closely related to Nature than man and in all her essentials she remains ever herself. Culture is with her always something external, a something which does not touch the kernel that is eternally faithful to nature.¹

    Here Nietzsche intends to praise woman for her constancy, her healing, life-giving, but basically uncreative “nature.” This image of...

  7. 4 Humanoids in the Toolshed
    (pp. 84-117)

    Today, because of continued economic and technological growth, we stand on the threshold of space. Although it may be easy for some to dismiss the dreams and designs to colonize space as mere extensions of Western imperialism or of technological thinking gone wild, we maintain that the urge to expand into space is basic to our human character. We are the exploring animal who, having spread over our natal planet, now seeks to settle other worlds.¹

    The quote from Finney and Jones makes the genocide of 25 million Native Americans² and of thousands of Aboriginal Australians not only acceptable but...

  8. 5 In the Belly of the Beast
    (pp. 118-131)

    Fictional science and genius scientists are important ingredients of sf. But at the core is the interplay between science’s most profitable invention, the machine, and the human beings who have to operate them, program them, or be them. My discussion will deal with machines versus humans in terms of power play: Will machines conquer us, will they eventually dominate us? But what’s really at stake is the sense of self, or “soul.” Can humans remain human in a world where more and more of our time is spent interacting with machines and technology? This is the chapter where the “plot”...

  9. 6 Disembodied Brains
    (pp. 132-149)

    The machines that daunt the “little tramps” are mindless—strictly nuts and bolts and belts moving things along. They do not solve problems and figure things out. They replace manual labor. That was very much what machines were all about until the Second World War and Alan Turing’s famous Test, which claims that a machine can be constructed that is able to answer questions in such a way that the answers are indistinguishable from those one would expect from a human being.¹ While machines like the ones inModern Timesand Lang’sMetropolisintrude into the lives of ordinary humans...

  10. 7 Docile Bodies
    (pp. 150-165)

    Computers do not fare well in sf movies because they’re not photogenic. Computers are, however smart and silky voiced, neverreallycute. They are machines with square metallic surfaces, gauges, controls, lamps, and screens blinking on and off. Robots are quite another story. They are mobile—which in and of itself makes them infinitely more anthropomorphic, even when they do not particularly look like humans—and they are often de facto constructed in the image of their creators or of other living creatures (pets). Robots are, by definition, machines that do work. The word was coined by the Czech writer/playwright...

  11. 8 Intrusive Media
    (pp. 166-186)

    Speaking of “docile” bodies is of course pure metaphor. What power needs and wants is docileminds. Smart, fast, knowledgeable, utterly obedient minds inside strong, pliable, enduring, and beautiful bodies. Sf is full of stories about attempts being made by scientists, or those who employ scientists, to “improve” on the human race.

    At this point my “plot” makes a slight detour to look at sf films that represent the pervasive “fear of communication technology”: the fear that science will find ways to imprison humans in their brains with machines that enter the mind and control thoughts and emotions.

    Science is...

  12. 9 The Dystopia
    (pp. 187-195)

    The dystopias presented in the previous chapter used communication technology as their primary or sole means of control. Below, we shall encounter dystopias that enslave humans through a “science of fear.” The three movies I examine are all, interestingly and ironically, permeated by the present and the past—while, perhaps, dealing with the future. BothBraziland1984present the past-as-future. InThe Handmaid’s Tale,a movie set in the not-too-distant future in the United States, traditional values, such as family and religion, have won the day and the new, male rulers have ushered in the Christian millennium, the City...

  13. 10 The Human Form Submerged, Beleaguered, and Triumphant
    (pp. 196-213)

    In this chapter we will encounter radical routes to creating humanlike forms that are but human in name: genetic engineering used to create perfect and perfectly docile beings; or docility secured by submerging the core of a human into an encasement of technology: cyborgs that merge human flesh and hard-core machinery. Typically, the heroes of these films are also the scientific monsters who have to find a way to connect, triumphantly, with their core of humanity.

    InThe Handmaid’s Talethe morning dose of tranquility-inducing drugs is only a minor aspect of the endeavor to eradicate opposition and individuality. In...

  14. 11 Have Mind, Seek Soul: The Android’s Quest
    (pp. 214-240)

    The final link in my “plot chain”—the denouement, if you will—is the point where the boundary between human and machine has finally become so blurred that there no longer is a difference between the two. InRobocopa human is encarcerated in a killing machine, his self effectively drugged under. In the films discussed in this chapter, humans have become virtually extinct and the machines have taken over. The central conflict is between opposed methods of “procreation”: natural or scientific. Naturally created humans have souls and selves, mechanical ones are, or they were supposed to be, simply more...

  15. 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 241-244)

    In the quotation above, Giuliano Bruno refers specifically to the replicants ofBlade Runner,but the truth of the matter is, of course, that the androids are stand-ins for us, for the human race. Power, meaning the New World Order grounded in a capitalist ideology that makes profit and consumption the ultimate freedom, has forced all of us to follow suit, to become extensions of machines, docile bodies turned to technology. We have allowed the tool to become our master instead of our servant. That is the big irony—that our own elaborate fortifications against loss of self and soul...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-252)
  17. Filmography
    (pp. 253-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-279)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 280-281)