Posts Tagged ‘Ghost in the Shell’

The academic poster is one of the different ways you can share information about your subject. For the humanities, a least, this format forces you to really think about how you might convey your topic in a visually arresting way.  The science subjects have had ownership of this part of the academic landscape but things are changing.

The Humanities Resource Centre at the University of York, where I am based, run a competition every year for PhD students to submit a poster which: –

  • Offers a clear ‘taster encounter’ with your research project for a non-specialist audience
  • Has a quickly appreciable dramatic visual impact

I thought, as my research looks at Anglo-American films and anime which have a distinct visual style, this might be a fun way to rethink my research.

I knew from the start that I wanted to design a poster which would emulate, in some way, a movie poster – bit of a no brainer there. I also want to use text in an interesting way. Initially wanted to use a word cloud to present key words from my research, perhaps to replace the face of an iconic figure such as Rick Deckard (Blade Runner.)

posthuman word cloud

Word cloud of key terms related to my PhD

In the end I borrowed the style of text from The Matrix; vertical acid green trails of the film titles in the posthuman noir corpus fill the background of the image. Meanwhile for the main titles I chose a font which would emulate those used on Blade Runner posters in the colour red, which stood out against the dark background and symbolized the violence of the genre.

I also wanted to use images from both Anglo-American film and Japanese anime. I toyed with using one to be a shadow of the other – which didn’t work quite as well as I wanted – but settled on using the two figures as mirror images of each other. For the figures I picked Rick Deckard as the main image and his mirror/shadow would be formed by a robot from Ghost in the Shell.

To match the moody, dark tone of posthuman noir I had to keep my own poster fairly dark – in hindsight I feel was a mistake as it only really reads well when A2 sized or larger.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves whether this image works as a window into my research…

PhD Poster two

My PhD poster

 

I entered the poster, not thinking it would do well but happy that I had been able to view my research differently. A month or so passed and I found out it had come joint third. Not too bad for my first attempt at an academic poster. If you want to see the poster that won, and other entrants you can here.

 

 

Last week I re-watched Transcendence, (Wally Pfister, 2014) a film which I didn’t hate at the cinema but which I felt in many ways let itself down. There was a lot of potential in the idea, but as with most posthuman films, especially those which involve some form of collective consciousness, it pulled back from the brink, relying on a traditional A.I. = evil clichés for the climax.

 Transcendence Trailer

Transcendence failed to generate a lot of interest in the box office, firstly because it wasn’t the sci-fi action-er the trailer indicated it might be, not a cardinal sin in my opinion, but this probably resulted in false expectations for some audience members. Secondly, and more importantly, because the film has a tendency to undermine itself through the way its characters easily and conveniently change their life stances.

….. From here on in there are spoilers for Transcendence and Ghost in the Shell …..

Watching Transcendence this second time I found myself, for the most part, firmly on the side of A.I. /Will Caster, as this computer program/human uploaded consciousness pursued its agenda to develop technologies which would regenerate desolate landscapes, and damaged human tissue. What exactly was wrong with the way this program enabled blind men to see? Or disabled people to walk? Was this getting a little too close to playing God and thus playing down the Frankenstein hubristic line?

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Sure, at points, Will Caster/A.I. went a little overboard and took measures which fixed the damaged humans beyond what was required. The scene where the previously beaten up construction worker single handily lifts gigantic girders, caught on someone’s smart phone footage, oozes with humanity’s fear of the other. The construction worker has become one of ‘them,’ posthuman, something that with physical enhancement might begin to follow an agenda parallel, or even at odds, to normal/traditional humans.

This is the perennial concern of the posthuman movie, exacerbated in Transcendence by the fact that all the characters enhanced by Caster/A.I. are also networked together and to him/it.

Collective consciousness or the networked hive-mind appears as a prospect of true terror in posthuman movies across most of the west. In societies that pride the autonomy of the individual above the collective this method of becoming posthuman is often demonised. Although many movies and stories offer the mantra that “there is no ‘I’ in team” British and American science fiction continues to rally against future societies which encourage too much collective integration. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but don’t be too team oriented either for therein also lies danger (Will Robinson). Whether this is a throwback to the fears of collective societies of cold war communism, or a reflection of self-orientated neo-liberal values, the negative attitude to collective consciousness seems here to stay.

This is one of the major areas where attitudes differ between Anglo-American and Japanese popular media. In the Japanese anime that I look at for my PhD I have found that there is a more positive portrayal of networked minds. There are many complex social and philosophic reasons for this which I may go into in another post stemming from the religions of Shinto and Buddhism, and from the way Japanese society has constructed a sense of collective identity, post the Second World War.

(An interesting aside in relation to posthuman noir… Many of the Japanese posthuman characters who are framed as outsiders, both in their nature as posthumans as well as their position in society, are brought doubly back into the fold by the end of their narrative journeys, they regain human emotions and are reintegrated into Japanese society. More on this in a future post, although more on this idea of the tragic loner character separated from the rest of society is explored in chapters on Japanese film noir in International Noir.)

Ghost in the Shell poster

Ghost in the Shell poster

I wonder if these differing positions will have an effect on the live action version of Ghost in the Shell which is currently in development. This film is already courting controversy in the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, who may have proven her action heroine and sci fi abilities (see my post on Lucy) but who isn’t Japanese like Kusanagi. But in relation to the question of collective consciousness, I wonder if the live action version of Ghost in the Shell will follow the original film ending with Major Kusanagi merging consciousness with The Puppet Master villain, losing the individual personality to become part of something greater? We will have to wait and see.

On a slightly different, but related, level I found re-watching Transcendence provoked questions on the possibility of a human ever being able write a truly posthumanist film. (If anyone has suggestion on films which can really be classified as posthumanist I’d be excited to hear.) Is it ever possible to think beyond our anthropocentric concept of the universe? And do we really need or want to?

These thoughts are particularly pertinent to me right now as I have begun to work on the first feature film screenplay for my PhD. Often with my current idea I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew as I try to think of ways to think beyond some human binaries, beyond notions of current human embodiment and what the intangible elements that make humans human might be. When I began this script I wondered if I would be able to write a posthuman noir script that might even be posthumanist, but the further my research goes the more I realise these two things might be incompatible. The agenda of posthuman noir is not to push a posthumanist revolution, but rather to re-enforce a humanist standpoint.

If I attempt for posthumanism do I fail in writing a story that explores the theme of posthuman noir? I guess I will find our when I get there, but at the moment I just need to concentrate on keeping my strange posthuman noir train on the rails.