Category Archives: Week13

Darth Vader

By: Arianna Drumond

In art and literature, technological advancement and the exploration of the human condition are often inexorably linked. Society is at once astounded by and terrified of its own advancement. As we simultaneously revel in our achievements and fear its impact on our humanity, we employ a variety of metaphors to explore the relationship between man and technology. Chief among them is the cyborg. While there are many iterations of the cyborg, the fact that it is always a hybrid figure, both organic and machine, is its defining characteristic. Among the most striking cyborgs in cinematic history is Darth Vader of the Star Wars franchise.


The 1977, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope introduced disgraced Jedi Darth Vader. Over the course of six films and thirty years, series creator George Lucas explored the events that led to the death of the man Anakin Skywalker, and the birth of the cyborg Darth Vader. It is through the Star Wars prequel series episodes I, II, and III, that Lucas explores this particular character’s history. Though a brilliant and gifted Jedi, Skywalker was easily corrupted and, after a series of tragedies, fled the cool discipline of the Jedi for the power and action of the Sith. After an altercation with Obi-Wan Kenobi left him limbless and near death, Skywalker was rescued and resurrected by the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Skywalker would never be whole, he was given cybernetic limbs and a life-sustaining suite, and the final stages in his transformation from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader would now be complete.


Darth Vader embodies all of our anxieties about technology and even about our humanity. Though once a brilliant and gifted man, grief and greed overpowered Anakin Skywalker and led him to abandon his morality. In this particular case, the idea of a cyborg, of something posthuman, is a metaphor for lost identity.


Works Cited

Hayles, Katherine. How we became posthuman. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Darth Vader.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 26  November 2013.

Wookieepedia Contributors. “Cybor.” Wookiepedia: The Star Wars Wiki. Web. 26  November 2013.


Inspector Gadget

Vittoria Somaschini

Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto deals with many of the cultural issues surrounding dictional representations of the cyborg. According to Haraway, “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (Haraway 142).  Inspector Gadget is a creature of fiction that is shaped by social realities but suited to please young viewers.


Inspector Gadget was a television series from the early 80’s that was later adopted into a film by Disney (1999). The premise of the show is that a goofy security guard is made into a cyborg police officer that is lovable yet unable to accomplish the simplest missions. He and his niece Penny go on adventures to try and stop the villain Dr. Claw.  Both in the cartoon and in the film, Dr. Claw and Inspector Gadget are cyborgs that are battling, one fighting for a good cause, and the other for total world domination through the M.A.D. organization.


Inspector Gadget is half human half robot. He is the human version of a Swiss Army knife, and by stating “go go gadget [insert gadget of choice here]”, the item of choice will appear. Dr. Claw on the other hand, simply has a mechanical claw for his left arm. Interestingly, we are given a glimpse of the cyborg theme molded for young viewers, and we see both the “good” cyborg, one that does actions for the state and the betterment of society, and the “bad” cyborg, who wishes to take over the world and acquire fame, fortune, and wealth. The theme within Inspector Gadget is standard for children’s shows, however, the incorporation of cyborgs, is unusual.

Works Cited

Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto. New York; Routledge, 1991. pp.149-181.

“Inspector Gadget.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 

Wikipedia. Inspector Gadget.


Cronos: Cyborgs and Vampires

Cronos (1993), the first horror film written and directed by Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, deals with cyborgs and vampires, topics that in later years would become very popular in Hollywood movies.  The film narrates the story of Jesus Gris, an antique dealer, who finds a 450 year old mechanical device inside the statue of an archangel.  The device, created by an alchemist in Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1536, provides the key to eternal life.  The machine looks like an insect, but it has an internal clock that, when it penetrates a person, causes a slow change in their bodies until they become vampires (Wikipedia).  At the same time, his counter protagonist Dieter De La Guardia, a rich businessman who is extremely ill, searches for the device to secure his immortality.  In this search he sends his nephew, Angel, to find the Cronos which Juan Gris has found by coincidence in his antique store.  The need to insert the Cronos device into the skin turns them into cybernetic human beings producing a number of uncanny situations where the protagonist Juan Gris suffers a process of defamiliarization of his own body.

On the one hand, he can see how his body has become more vigorous and young.  On the other hand, he craves for human blood.  Freud affirms in his essay “The Uncanny” that the uncanny creates a feeling of a situation being familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  “The uncanny would always be that in which one does not know where one is, as it were” (154).  Freud also asserts that the source of uncanny feelings is an infantile castration complex or a childhood fear.  Moreover, he also affirms that the source of uncanny feelings could be the intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one” (156).  If we apply this last definition to Cronos, the Cronos device produces this type of condition since despite the fact that it is an inanimate device, it becomes alive through the human body, creating cyborgs who need to absorb other people´s lives and human blood.  At the same time vampirism, especially in the English Victorian times, is an allegorical figure of repressed sexuality being liberated through the act of penetrating other bodies for their blood, and I believe this metaphor would fit perfectly well to this film´s plot.  Geoffrey Kantaris asserts in his article “Between Dolls, Vampires, and Cyborgs:  Recursive Bodies in Mexican Urban Cinema,” there exists a close relationship between the body and postmodern technologies affirming that the postmodern cybernetic organism unites the body and the machine interfacing multiple networks.  At the end of the film, both main characters have become cyborgs.  While Gris dies to liberate himself from his slavery to the Cronos device and human blood, De la Guardia perishes in his need to replace his old damaged machinery for a new one. (Interview with Guillermo de Toro) (Movie Trailer)

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden-Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Kantaris, Geoffrey.“Between Dolls, Vampires, and Cyborgs:  Recursive Bodies in Mexican Urban Cinema,”

Wikipedia Contributors. “Cronos.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 26  November 2013.

Superheroins in Japanese animations – Superhuman and sexual objects

Aena Cho

In her essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway sees the cyborg – transgressive combination of the organic and the mechanical – as capable of challenging the dichotomy between nature/culture, reality/virtual, organic/mechanic, etc.   Particularly, as a feminist, she hopes that the cyborg will liberate the self from the gender categories and gender norms which she explains as an attempt of separation created by the authority in society.  At the same time, the cyborg – either humanized machines or mechanized bodies – can be used for further accentuating gender identities, gender performances, sexual desires, and sexual objectification, rather than eroding them.

sailor_moon_render_by_anouet-d5e58cu           sailor moon body

Many characters in Japanese animations or manga are good examples; particularly, I think that the characters from ‘magical genre’ animations, such as Sailor Moon, particularly represent well the mixed characteristics or identities of cyborgs – which are stronger than normal human beings and sexually objectified at the same time.  Sailor Moon is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi.  The main characters are teenage girls who can transform into heroines named for the Moon and planets; they frequently change themselves from normal and naïve girls to magical warriors who “are supposed to save the earth” from evil forces with an enhanced physical body and supernatural power.  The anime has been credited as empowering women and feminism by featuring independent, supernatural females who fight against masculine powers for the first time in the magical genre animations.  Meanwhile, it is also criticized in that it still features sexual objectification of female characters, which is typical in many other Japanese animations.  All the main characters are ideally feminized through their transformation to the magical superwomen which heavily emphasizes jewelry, make-up, and their highly-sexualized outfits (cleavage, short skirt, and accentuated waist).  Also, there are lots of scenes in which they are sexually assaulted or physically damaged by their male enemies.

sailor moon vitimized                 salyor moon (trying to kiss)

Such mixed identities of cybernetic or superhuman characters in Japanese animations – as both super heroines who fight against male evils and sexual objects for men with hyper feminine features – might be seen as one of the ways that “sex is put into discourse” (Foucault , 1990) in public and society.  In this sense, people who do ‘cosplay’ for such characters might be also seen in the similar way.  Cosplay is short for costume play – a subculture of Japanese anime and manga fandom.  By dressing up as the characters with such mixed identities, they attempt literally to embody the characters, as way to realize their sexual fantasy.

Sailor-Moon-Cosplay-VI-421x280      anime cosp

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Cinema and Post-Human Representation

by Abby Bisbee

As technology has improved moving into the twenty-first century, the question of our humanity has become even more prevalent.  The exponential growth of our technological capabilities has allowed humans to mediate technology as an extension of their bodies. Representations of this combination of the machine and the organic human body, otherwise known as cyborgs, have become increasingly more abundant through the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries. In blockbuster cinema the cyborg has captured the minds of the western audience, perhaps due to a subconscious recognition that our culture appears to be entering a post-human world (Hayles). This is partially because of a recognition that the machine is becoming so advanced that soon it may surpass the abilities of its human creator.

While considering the presence of cyborgs in contemporary cinema, I found it interesting that both the representations of machines and technologically enhanced organic organisms stress their superiority in every factor to human beings, but most cyborg representations but it is their human characteristics that the viewer to which the viewer connects. This plays into an inferiority complex perhaps of the human mind, concerned that we may be left behind our post-human counterparts. This is present in both James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and Bicentenial Man (1999) staring Robin Williams.


In Bicentential Man, Robin Williams plays a robot who has human characteristics such as emotions. Recognizing his own potential beyond his mechanically programed skill, he sets off on an adventure to become as human as he possibly can. This movie was released in year before Y2K, a year that carried many anxieties both about the loss of our technological gains as well as a fear of our technology overpowering our human existence. As a family movie, Bicentenial Man reinforces that technology is still our friend and that humanity is still superior to technology. The character of Robin Williams, however, does propose that a combination of machine and human, or a cyborg, can be better than a robot or a human individually.


The second film I wish to discuss, Avatar, is film about a bounty of anxieties that confront the human race in the twenty-first century. Some of these basic anxieties include those of first world domination (and the resulting 3rd world destruction), the loss of ethically sound morals in a capitalist-driven world, bigotry, and, of course, environmental issues such as global warming. One of the greatest anxieties captured in Cameron’s film, however, has to do with the inferiority of the human race in relation to the physically superior Na’vi. The only way that the humans can out perform the native Na’vi is by engineering a technology that transfers the soul/mind of a human into a genetically enhanced and engineered organism, in this case a body of the Na’vi. Living in the body of another organism, or an Avatar, Jake Sully is able to destroy the technology and machinery that is run by mankind on Pandora. While the technology the human military is using is powerful and destructive, the Na’vi’s superior physical stature, adaptation to the world of Pandora, and almost magical connection with the environment around them allows them to conquer the humans. In the end, Jake Sully chooses his avatar form to his human one, a decision that reinforces the concept of post-humanism. It was only through the combination of machine and man, however, that his character was able to make the decision to completely hand himself over to the Na’vi race. One of the most prevalent issues that were discussed in this weeks readings, particularly in the work of Foucault, is that of sex and sexuality. The Na’vi exude this sexuality, they are desirable because of incredible physique, part human, part animal. They do not deny their sexuality and have no inhibitions that have been socially constructed by human experience (Foucault).

In both of these films cyborgs play an elemental role not only to the plot, but to the underlying themes that the movie is addressing. Both Robin’s character and Jake Sully’s avatar are cyborgs – the former shifting from the  pure machine towards humanity and the latter shifting from humanity towards an technologically enhanced organism. This is particularly noticeable if one compares the two posters from earlier in this piece. Despite their different directions, both end up in the realm of cyborgs, as defined in Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” –

“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

Trailer for Bicentennial Man: Bicentennial Man (1999)

Trailer for Avatar: Avatar (2009)

Works Referenced:

Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Sam Worthington. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009. DVD.

Bicentennial Man. Dir. Chris Columbus. Perf. Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt. Columbia Tristar, 1999. DVD.

Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How we became posthuman. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Simians, cyborgs, and women. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.