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Warning: Major spoilers for Mr. Robot (through s02e06) follow.

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metled darth vader helmet

I have not seen the new Star Wars but ambient levels of Star Wars have reached such a peak that I feel eminently qualified to review it without actually seeing the film or even reading a plot synopsis. In all honesty I probably will not watch it until I can assure that I will see a high definition version for free through whatever means comes to my disposal. What I have seen, the cross-promotions, the essays, and the toys, tells me everything I need to know to assess it as a piece of culture. Star Wars is not a movie, it is a platform for media and a financial vehicle. Star Wars has plot like America has elections. It’s almost a formality, the official pomp heralding in a new wave of characters, theories, and controversies. If we black box the film itself and instead look at all of the culture that spews out from its unknown (to me) depths, I think we get a much more cohesive (I’d even go so far as to say honest) assessment of the entire event. more...

Source: Marvel.com

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones is a dark and reluctant hero. An alcoholic private detective, Jones’ super-human physical strength remains largely underutilized when we meet her in the Netflix series  opening episode. As the story unfolds, we learn that Jessica self-medicates to deal with a traumatic past in which a man named Kilgrave, who controls people with the use of his voice, held Jessica captive as his lover while forcing her to engage in violence and even murder. Their relationship ended when Jessica was finally able to resist his control—a quality unique to her—and Kilgrave was hit by a bus, leaving him presumably dead. The storyline of the first season is premised on Jessica learning that Kilgrave is still alive, has captured another victim, and is coming to reclaim Jessica. In turn, Jones hunts for Kilgrave to ensure that he dies, once and for all.

About halfway through the season Jessica realizes that Kilgrave is tracking her whereabouts by controlling her friend and neighbor Malcom Ducasse. To wrest Malcom from Kilgrave’s control, Jessica strikes a deal. She agrees to send Kilgrave a selfie at precisely 10am each day. At his direction, Jones even includes a smile.  more...

Chick Palahniuk's Beautiful You
Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You

Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.

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#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books.

Today, guest contributor Rob Horning reviews: Life on automatic: Facebook’s archival subject by Liam Mitchell. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 2 – 3 February 2014 http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4825/3823 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i2.4825

If, like me, you are skeptical of research on social media and subjectivity that takes the form of polling some users about their feelings, as if self-reporting didn’t raise any epistemological issues, this paper, steeped in Baudrillard, Derrida, and Heidegger, will come as a welcome change. It’s far closer to taking the opposite position, that whatever people say about their feelings should probably be discounted out of hand, given that what is more significant is the forces that condition the consciousness of such feelings. That approach is sometimes dismissed as failing to take into account individual agency; it’s implicitly treated as an affront to human dignity to presume that people’s use of technology might not be governed by full autonomy and voluntarism, that it’s tinfoil-hat silly to believe that something as consumer-friendly and popular as Facebook could be coercive, that the company could be working behind users’ backs to warp their experience of the world for the sake of Facebook’s bottom line.

Mitchell is not so overtly conspiratorial in this paper; more...

#review Features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. This week, I’m reviewing:

Sayes, E. M. “Actor-Network Theory and Methodology: Just What Does It Mean to Say That Nonhumans Have Agency?” Social Studies of Science (2014) Vol. 44(1) 134–149. doi:10.1177/0306312713511867. [Paywalled PDF]

Update: The author, E.M. Sayes has responded to the review in a comment below.

Image from You as a Machine
Image from You as a Machine

A few weeks ago Jathan Sadowski tweeted a link to Sayes’ article and described it as, “One of the best, clearest, most explanatory articles I’ve read on Actor-Network Theory, method, & nonhuman agency.” I totally agree. This is most definitely, in spite of the cited material’s own agentic power to obfuscate, one of the clearest descriptions of what Actor-Network Theory (hereafter ANT) is meant to do and what it is useful for. Its important to say up front, when reviewing an article that’s mostly literature review, that Sayes isn’t attempting to summarize all of Actor-Network Theory, he is focused solely on what ANT has to say about nonhuman agents. It doesn’t rigorously explore semiotics or the binaries that make up modernity. For a fuller picture of ANT (if one were making a syllabus with a week of “What is ANT?”) I suggest pairing this article with John Law’s chapter in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (2009) entitled “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Between the two you’d get a nice overview of both of ANT’s hallmark abilities: articulating the character of nonhuman agency and the semiotics of modern binaries like nature/culture and technology/sociality. more...

This is the first post in a new Cyborgology series we call #review. #review Features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. This week, I’m reviewing:

Goodings, Lewis and Ian Tucker. 2014. “Social Media and the Co-Production of Bodies Online: Bergson, Serres, and Facebook’s Timeline.” Media Culture & Society 36(1):37-51. [paywalled PDF]

review

Goodings and Tucker work to understand the difficulties of embodiment in light of pervasive technological mediation, and in particular, Facebook’s Timeline. They do so using data from 8 focus groups, with a total of 25 participants.

The authors refer to technologically mediated embodiment as that embodiment which exists in light of, and conjunction with, pervasive electronic and digital media. Through the work, the authors identify two key problems or difficulties of technologically mediated embodiment. First, technologically mediated embodiment troubles communicative boundaries, as multiple networks, with varying expectations, converge together in shared social spaces. Second, technologically mediated embodiment stifles the fluid nature of personal biography, cementing the past in ways which inhibit future re-interpretations of the self. more...

Alert to fanpeople: The film version of Ender’s Game is not the sprawling political epic Orson Scott Card created in the Ender series. Alert to those unfamiliar with the story: The film is, however, a lean and contemporary plunge into questions of morality mediated by technology, and in order to tease out various issues, I’m gonna spoil the heck out of both book and film.

If you’re watching hoping to have your heart yanked out and shaken, you’ll probably be disappointed. Asa Butterfield’s guileless face makes a plausible approximation of the story’s world-weary protagonist, Ender, but he struggles to bring emotion to an over-trimmed, manically paced story. Minor conflicts are presented in expository dialogue and resolved before we have a chance to parse Harrison Ford’s (aka Colonel Graff’s) cranky barks. Minor characters are sketched in a single phrase, and the world appears divided into cute children who drift inevitably into Ender’s circle, and less typically-bodied children whose essential malice leaves them beyond redemption. Hood does a decent job of not Hollywood-izing the story beyond recognition: Here is Ender, cerebral, tormented, pubescent strategic genius in a world where children’s minds are employed as the best military defense against an alien enemy. Ender is taken from his home to Battle School in space, subjected to increasingly grueling battle simulations, and, in his final moment of victory is devastated to learn that the simulations were actually the real war. Without realizing, he has annihilated the aliens’ home planet. more...

aaa -- sandra

The film Gravity is having an especially strong run at the box office, and it seems to be having an especially powerful impact on those who have seen it. It’s certainly a beautiful movie, visually, and an unusual one, as far as big-budget Hollywood attractions go. For anyone who thinks a lot about technology, as I do, the film has some interesting, though somewhat ambiguous, messages.

Be forewarned: What follows is all spoiler.

Technology gone wrong plays a central role in Gravity. The film also resonates with a theme that’s central to the technological project: the drive to open new frontiers. This is not to say that either of those subjects is the principal concern of Gravity’s director and co-writer, Alfonso Cuarón. His interests lie elsewhere, as I’ll explain. Still, when you make a saga about human beings in space, questions of technology and frontiers are hard to avoid. more...

Elysium Movie Poster

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Elysium was trashy action flick. It sacrificed any pretense of plot or character development to maximize the number of fight sequences and explosions. It’s clearly geared toward the X-Men 7/J.J. Abrams crowd. However, Elysium does accomplish a few things worth considering:

  1. It injects a class narrative into an action movie—a genre that has been intellectually moribund in recent decades.
  2. It offers a revolution (as opposed to reform) narrative.
  3. It envisions a dystopia arising more from state neglect than from state control.
  4. It avoids technological reductionism.

(Note: Spoilers to follow) more...