Screening the Machine: Technology, Anxiety, and the Movies

Questions, Musings, Notes

What are some of thematic threads and motifs that run through the movies we'll be watching?

Technology and the home
Technology and the workplace
Technology and the city/community
Technology and government/social order
Technology and war/peace
Technology and gender/sex
Technology and the body
Technology and human emotions
Technology and human intelligence, human consciousness
Technology and the spirit -- human soul vs machine soul(lessness)
Technology as liberator, savior/technology as enslaving force, destroyer
The relationship between made-made environment or technology and/nature--synthetic vs natural
Divine creation/man creation: The machine as God

How does the treatment of these themes vary from era to era (or does it vary)? What might be some of the reasons for these variation?

  • Do any of the themes listed above predominate in the films of a particular era? Are any unique to a particular era, or are they recurring?
  • Does pessimism (or optimism) about technology and the technological future dominate particular eras, or do both views exist side-by-side in the movies of an era?
  • Do comic treatments of technology outnumber dark/tragic treatments in certain eras? Do any of the themes listed above predominate in the comedy films that deal with technology?

    Are there parallels between an era's movie portrayals of technology and the portrayal of tech in other art forms and in literature?

    Do representations of technology differ from country to country? How are these differences related to the unique cultural/political history of the country in question?

    The movies have frequently pitted a human protagonist or group of protagonists against machine adversaries or against hostile environments created directly or indirectly by machines. How has the nature of these adversaries changed over time? For the human characters, think about things like gender; social class; moral emotional, and intellectual strength; power to control destiny. For the machine adversaries, think about things like the "human-ness" of the machines represented (their ability to think, feel, act; their physical traits); their intended/unintended functional roles; their relationship with their creators.

    How do the machine "villains" (or "heroes") in the films watched in class compare with human villains and heroes in other movies (particularly, other movies made around the same time)?

    Generally, future or fantasy settings seem to be the most common frames through which technology and technological society have been viewed by the movies. Why is this? In what ways do the representations of technology in future life differ from representations of technology in contemporary or current settings?

    What is the interaction or relationship between technology and science, industry, commerce, and religion in the movies viewed in class?

    How do the movies use movie grammer (camera work, lighting, music, editing) to get a particular techno-portrayal across? How are machines visually portrayed in the movies being watched?

    Some Interesting Questions to Ask About Technology (from Prof. Steve Lubar's course in the history of technology, University of Pennsylvania)

    Notes on Technology and Popular Culture (from Steve Lubar's course in the history of technology -- University of Pennsylvania)

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