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Cyborg Cinema and

Contemporary Subjectivity

Sue Short
Cyborg Cinema and Contemporary Subjectivity
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Cyborg Cinema and
Contemporary Subjectivity
Sue Short
Faculty of Continuing Education
Birkbeck College, University of London, UK
Sue Short 2005
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as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 2005 by
PALGRAVE MACMILLAN
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175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010
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PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave
Macmillan division of St. Martins Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
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ISBN 1403921784 hardback
This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully
managed and sustained forest sources.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Short, Sue, 1968
Cyborg cinema and contemporary subjectivity / Sue Short.
p. cm.
Filmography: p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1403921784
1. Cyborgs in motion pictures. I. Title.
PN1995.9.C9S48 2005
791.43656dc22
2004053939
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
14 13 12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham and Eastbourne
This book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved uncle, Les, and to
Alison Lambert who each knew what it was to be a human being
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Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 1

1 Cycles, Sub-Genres and Cyborg Cinema 18

2 Body and Soul: A History of Cyborg Theory 34

3 Food for Moloch: The Cyborg as Worker 55

4 The Synthetic Female: Cyborgs and the Inscription of Gender 81

5 The Best of Both Worlds? Hybridity, Humanity and the Other 106

6 Heart and Hearth: The Cyborg and Family Values 133

7 Reality Unplugged: Postmodernism, Posthumanism and the Cyborg 160

8 Summing Up the Cyborg: Towards a Conclusion 187

Notes 210

Select Filmography 231

Bibliography 232

Index 242

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Preface

Various factors influenced this study, yet perhaps the most formative event was
a visit to the cinema in 1990. The Ritzy in Brixton was still a flea-pit cinema back
then and would sometimes screen several films on a Saturday night, one after the
other, into the early hours of the morning. One such screening was titled Reckless
Robots and combined Blade Runner, The Terminator and the first two RoboCop
films. It was a memorable evening because although I had seen these films before
it was only by viewing them together that I could appreciate a certain level of
commonality. Most obviously perhaps, cyborgs featured prominently in these
narratives an exciting new figure that lay somewhere between human and
machine and broached a number of possibilities concerning the potential power
of new technologies, as well as the nature of identity itself. Equally notable was
the vision of the future shared by these films, which contained a discernible critique
of existing social structures and policies. Blade Runner envisages a bleak vision of
earth that is all but destroyed through over-consumption, with manufactured slaves
who are more sympathetic than the ostensible human selected to retire them;
The Terminator imagines a post-apocalyptic scenario in which humans are virtually
eradicated altogether, with the opening scrawl affirming that this future is being
decided upon right here and now; and the RoboCop films present an all-too-familiar
dystopia in which the greed and cruelty of contemporary (American) culture is
satirised not only in spoof game-shows and adverts, but in the corporate killing
and reprogramming of a human being one who is subsequently referred to as
product.
Seen together in this way I became aware of a cycle emerging, in which
a prominent theme was not simply technologys intersection with humanity but
its specific uses under Capitalism. I could see that they were cautionary tales, and
that they seemed to be talking about the present rather than any conceived
future, yet what interested me most was that such caution was being expressed in
films seemingly designed for entertainment. I identified them as radical products
of contemporary culture that had somehow slipped through the net of commercial
interests. I was, needless to say, politically optimistic in terms of what I interpreted as
subversive and somewhat nave in their potential effects, failing to assess the
limitations of such narratives, or to consider how their very context as SF films
(much derided at the time) might undermine any critique discerned. But my
fascination grew, and as years passed and new cyborg films were released, I began
to identify new themes.
I noted how later cyborg films opted to avoid economic considerations and
chose to pit artificial humans against one another instead, with combatants either
selected to represent humanity or viewed as our seeming antithesis. I also noted how
celluloid dreams of creating the perfect worker were replaced with comparable
attempts to create perfect women; how surrogate families began to be formed and

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