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Spectacular Posthumanism: The Digital Vernacular of Visual Effects
 1501340085, 9781501340086

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Spectacular Posthumanism

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Spectacular Posthumanism The Digital Vernacular of Visual Effects Drew Ayers

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2019 Copyright © Drew Ayers, 2019 For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. ix constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover image: Film, Trois cents 300 (2007), Collection Christophel/ArenaPAL All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-4008-6 eBook: 978-1-5013-4009-3 ePDF: 978-1-5013-4010-9 Typeset by Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

To Henry and Margaret For reminding me there’s more to life

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Contents List of Figuresviii Acknowledgmentsix Introduction: Vernacular Posthumanism and VFX1 Part One  Hybrid Bodies

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1 2

41

Cronenberg’s New Flesh Performance Capture’s Spectacle of Self

Part Two  Digital Bodies and Authenticity 3 4

The Body’s Digital (Dis)Honesty Digital Space’s Spectacle of Embodiment

65 85 87 119

Part Three  Machinic and Digital Spectacle

149

5 6

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Kubrick’s Machine Vision Planet Earth’s Spectacular HDTV

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Conclusion: A Drone Future203 Notes212 Bibliography225 Index240

Figures I.1 I.2 1.1 1.2 1.3 2.1 2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2

3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 5.1 5.2 5.3 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4

Clyde Beatty Miss Brayton’s Scarecrows Interchangeability and synchronization in Dead Ringers The enfolding of the Mantle twins The Fly’s human-animal-machine hybrid Full da Vinci Si HD Surgical System—Dual Console. ©2017 Intuitive Surgical, Inc Performance capture in L.A. Noire. Image from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL9wsEFohTw da Vinci Hand Instrument Articulation. ©2017 Intuitive Surgical, Inc Lena Headey/Rebecca Van Cleave composite body Four generations of Schwarzenegger. Top L to R: 1973, 1984 (recreation from the first film). Bottom L to R: 1984 (older T-800), 2017 Reanimating Paul Walker Jason Clarke as T-3000, human-machine hybrid 300’s synthetic blood Bodies and simulated space Leonidas and simulated architecture Hugo’s composite imagery Zombie swarms in World War Z Individual and network in Barry Lyndon 2001’s ouroboros of machine vision Violations of the axis of action in Eyes Wide Shut Great white shark, “Shallow Seas” Caribou migration, “Pole to Pole” Seabird colony, “Shallow Seas” Sunflower starfish and brittle stars, “Shallow Seas”

25 31 52 54 58 67 70 74 88

106 114 117 120 130 131 135 140 154 162 167 174 191 191 199

Acknowledgments Just as the objects in this book become innervated with their own lives, so too this book itself has taken on a life of its own. Spectacular Posthumanism has been gestating since my work in the Moving Image Studies program at Georgia State University (GSU). Since that time, it has added new appendages, swapped out some organs, and transformed itself through innumerable mutations. The core question that drives the book—“how do images become lively objects, endowed with the ability to modify our senses and teach us how to perceive the world?”— derives from my time at GSU and the conversations I had there with faculty and colleagues. Alessandra Raengo, my mentor and close friend, deserves particular recognition for her nurturing of this project from its early stages, her constant availability and willingness to share her theoretical acumen, and her tolerance and encouragement of my emerging identity as a scholar. Alessandra has always treated me as a peer and friend, and her influence on both my professional career and personal life cannot be adequately expressed within the confines of these acknowledgments. The Moving Image Studies faculty at GSU influenced many of the ideas that appear in this book. More than that, though, they taught me what it means to be a responsible member of the scholarly community. Special thanks go to Jennifer Barker, whose mentorship and advice taught me to ask different questions of my objects; Angelo Restivo, who intimidates me with his brilliance but also moves me with his sensitivity; Ted Friedman, who reminded me to keep ethical concerns at the forefront of my academic inquiries; and Alisa Perren, who, while working in an adjacent field, nevertheless volunteered her time, energy, and thoughtfulness to helping me achieve my professional goals. My cohort at GSU also deserves special recognition. Ideas are never truly one’s own, so much of what appears in this book has its foundations in my interactions and conversations with my colleagues. Karen Petruska, Kris Cannon, Steven Pustay, and Michele Beverly are, in a sense, the co-writers of this book, and I will forever value their friendship and intellect. (So much so that I ended up marrying one of them.)

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Early on in my academic career, I was lucky enough to find mentorship from faculty at other universities. Brian Price and Meghan Sutherland warmly welcomed me into their lives at the World Picture Conference, which was the first academic conference where I presented my own work. They provided me with a safe environment to nurture my ideas and present my work to a broader audience, which is invaluable to a young scholar. Brian and Meghan continue to offer me guidance to this day. I also want to give special thanks to Akira Lippit, who served as an incisive reader on my committee and has given me valuable career advice. It’s rare to meet such a gracious soul. The path to my current position at Eastern Washington University (EWU) was tortuous, as are most careers in academia these days, and I want to recognize some colleagues who have helped me along this journey. At Northeastern University, Joanne Morreale, Craig Robertson, Murray Forman, Nathan Blake, and Kris Cannon taught me what it means to be a colleague, and they welcomed Karen and me into their families. My current colleagues at EWU are perhaps the most generous, collegial, thoughtful, and kind people anyone could hope to work with. Pete Porter, Elisha Miranda, Chase Ogden, Sara Goff, Malcolm Pelles, Adam Boyd, Jeff Sanders, Shana Joslyn, Jessica Ray, and Vincas Green provided me with the energy and initiative to push this project over the finish line. Pete’s administrative genius, in particular, gave me the course releases necessary to finalize this book. I’d also be remiss not to mention Annie Hudson, our incomparable office manager, who has helped me mail out book proposals, book flights to conferences, and given me enough cookies to warrant a reprimand from my doctor. Tom Alderson also deserves special acknowledgment for keeping everything running behind the scenes. I’d also like to thank my family for their unwavering support throughout my entire life. Bob, Kathleen, and Anna Ayers have been constant cheerleaders, helping me push through the slumps of writing and academia. My extended family—Paul J., Marge, Paul E., Laura, and Brian Petruska, Julie James, Matt and MaryJo Nordmann, and Tash Neal—have provided me with wine, martinis, and music to take my mind off of writing. I’m also grateful to my editors at Bloomsbury, Katie Gallof, Mary Al-Sayed, and Erin Duffy for their advocacy of my project and their advice for a first-time author. This book would not be in print if not for their efforts. I must also acknowledge my wife, Karen Petruska, and my children, Henry and Margaret, as they are the three most important people in seeing this book

Acknowledgments

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come to press. Karen is a brilliant scholar, and her advice and encouragement are in the very DNA of this book. Almost every word and idea in this book passed in front of her eyes at some point, and she has been a gracious and thoughtful reader of every early draft I’ve written, from conference abstract to final chapter. “Thank you” is wildly insufficient for all of her contributions, but thank you for helping me to balance my personal and professional lives, for tolerating my frustrations, and for being a reliable source of inspiration. A version of Chapter 2 was first published as “The Multilocal Self: Performance Capture, Remote Surgery, and Persistent Materiality” in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9.2 (2014): 212–227. Portions of Chapter 3 will appear in the forthcoming book chapter “The Composite Body: Action Stars and Embodiment in the Digital Age” in A Companion to the Action Film, edited by James Kendrick for Wiley Blackwell. Chapter 4 includes revised material that first appeared in “Chimeras and Hybrids: The Digital Swarms of the Posthuman Image” in The Palgrave Handbook of Posthumanism in Film and Television, edited by Michael Hauskeller, Thomas D. Philbeck, and Curtis Carbonell, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 99–108; and “Bleeding Synthetic Blood: Flesh and Simulated Space in 300” in Special Effects: New Histories/Theories/Contexts, edited by Dan North, Bob Rehak, and Michael S. Duffy, London: BFI/Palgrave, 2015, 101–113. I thank the copyright holders of these previous publications for permitting me to reuse them for this book.

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Introduction: Vernacular Posthumanism and VFX

It might seem an idiosyncratic—if not downright odd—choice to begin a book with the title Spectacular Posthumanism: The Digital Vernacular of Visual Effects with an examination of a little-seen documentary that was not produced with digital filmmaking tools, features no digital visual effects, and isn’t particularly “spectacular” in its image construction. Errol Morris’s 1997 film, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (FCOoC), however, serves as a template for how to understand the unique image vernaculars of a film, and its status as a pre-digital film that nevertheless exhibits a logic of digitality functions as both a model and concrete demonstration of the kind of theoretical mode of analysis I employ in the remainder of this book. When I first encountered FCOoC during my graduate studies, it was the object that prompted my initial interest in image vernaculars and theories of the posthuman. The film now serves as the object that prompts the questions I address in this book—primarily regarding the ability of a media object to possess a unique posthuman vernacular, as well as the fantasies and anxieties concerning (dis)embodiment exhibited by these media objects—though it is not the object that ultimately resolves those questions. The subsequent case studies featured in this book will work toward answering these questions, but FCOoC provides a useful initiation into understanding the intonations of vernacular posthumanism exhibited in many contemporary media objects. My interpretation of FCOoC operates as a theoretical and pedagogical demonstration of this book’s primary thesis, namely that films and other media objects, through their unique image vernaculars, have the ability to produce fantasies about a posthuman, digital future, and they frequently do so through their deployment of innovative image technologies, which modulate perception and the sensorium. Digital visual effects (VFX) and computer-generated imagery (CGI), in the minds of many critics, viewers, and producers, have come to define the contemporary blockbuster film.1 In these popular films, it has become

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commonplace for profilmic2 bodies and spaces to be supplemented and “enhanced” by digital imagery in post-production. Now that most mainstream media production and exhibition have converted completely to digital workflows, digital manipulation of the image is no longer simply the province of spectacular scenes of technological exhibitionism. Digital manipulation also occupies the “invisible” and mundane aspects of the image (color, lighting, weather, etc.), qualities that, by design, are overlooked by most viewers.3 In Spectacular Posthumanism, I follow Lisa Purse in “mov[ing] away from thinking of digital imaging only in terms of ‘special effects’ practice, and towards a detailed attention to the range of ways digital imaging is used in contemporary mainstream cinema” (2013, 29). Within contemporary media, the range of digital expression—as well as the relationship between digital and profilmic elements—“occup[ies] a continuum between the exaggeratedly obvious and the utterly imperceptible” (Purse 2013, 29). Everything in the film and television image is now subject to modification and revision, from the early stages of previsualization to exhibition on 3D IMAX film screens and 4K television screens. Concurrent with this interest in the “digital turn” has been an explosion of speculation in popular press outlets concerning the future of the human species, what can broadly be categorized as the “posthuman,” a complex term that encompasses often divergent theorizations in both popular and academic discussions. (I focus on the popular perception of posthumanism here in order to provide a link to the popular image vernaculars of contemporary media. I will return in more detail to the issue of defining “posthuman” later in this introduction.) Explored in its more transcendental, “transhuman,” and Cartesian dimensions by authors such as Ray Kurzweil (1999, 2005, 2012), Francis Fukuyama (2002), and Sherry Turkle (1984, 1995), the posthuman functions as an (often utopian, sometimes dystopian) extension of the human body and consciousness into machines and other computing technologies. Here, the “post” in posthuman serves as a signifier for that which comes after the human, that which supplements and/or replaces the human. This is often a teleological perspective in which the posthuman replaces the human in the next stage of humanity’s evolution. This perspective is also adopted by innumerable newspaper, magazine, and online articles discussing issues such as prosthetic computer enhancements, augmented reality, biometrics, the future of the human species, the Anthropocene, artificial intelligence and the machine singularity, and genetic manipulation. All of this is to say that the idea of a posthuman self has thoroughly saturated mainstream culture as a kind of folk philosophy.

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Contrast this perspective with that of “critical posthumanism”—also termed “nonhumanism” by some authors (Grusin 2015)—which is the understanding of the posthuman most frequently found in academic literature (and the stance for which I advocate in this book). I will expand on this in much greater detail later in this introduction, but in short, critical posthumanism views the “post” in the posthuman as a response to humanism and/or the humanities. Unlike the transhumanist stance described earlier, critical posthumanism avoids teleological explanations. Rather than viewing the posthuman as a datable, inevitable future evolution of the human species, critical posthumanism frequently conceives of the posthuman condition as an ever-present co-traveler of the human species. It is an ethical, philosophical, ecocritical response to humanism and theories of humanity, and it focuses less on technological and biological progression of the human individual and more on the ways in which an anthropocentric worldview is—and always has been—untenable. Spectacular Posthumanism situates itself in the murky middle-ground between transhumanism and critical posthumanism (between popular and academic theory), examining how popular culture struggles to make sense of humanity’s place within the contemporary world. Expressions of vernacular posthumanism don’t share the clean, clearly delineated boundaries of scholarly vernacular, and the vernacular posthumanism expressed in popular media often fluctuates between transhumanist and critical posthumanist theory. One of the hallmarks of vernacular posthumanism—and a concept that structures each of the chapters in the book—is a simultaneous fantasy of disembodiment and deliberate reassertion of the body in the face of dematerialization. I have titled the book Spectacular POSTHUMANISM in order to identify the kind of vernacular theory produced by VFX films, one that fantasizes about a transhuman future while also subtly acknowledging the significant problems of that fantasy. At a time when humanity is grappling with such heady issues as catastrophic climate change, threats of anonymous cyber warfare, an increasing reliance on autonomous computing systems, genetic manipulation of both humans and nonhumans, and the promise of technologically enhanced bodies, the anxieties related to the effects of these problematics on humanity and human society register in popular culture. Spectacular Posthumanism examines the ways in which these anxieties manifest themselves in popular film and television products, specifically in these media object’s deployment of VFX. VFX images have become the playground on which popular culture works through these problematics, and they generate an ambivalent imaginary regarding our potential posthuman future.

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Through the process of compositing humans and nonhumans into a seemingly seamless whole, digital images imagine and visualize a utopian fantasy in which flesh and information might easily coexist and cohabitate with each other. These images, however, also exhibit the dystopic anxieties that develop around this fantasy. Relevant to our contemporary moment, Spectacular Posthumanism both diagnoses and offers a critique of this fantasy, arguing that this posthuman imagination struggles with making sense of embodiment and lived experience.4 In short, the argument of this book is that special and visual effects images produce a digital, posthuman vernacular, one which generates competing fantasies about the utopian and dystopian potential of a nonhuman future.

Image vernaculars So back to the question that began this introduction: What does FCOoC have to do with posthumanism, VFX, and digital culture? FCOoC weaves together these popular and academic discourses related to posthumanism, and it fashions its own unique take on the matter through its vernacular. The film also reveals the presence of a digital logic within an analog cinematic mode, which supports my contention that a posthuman image vernacular is not necessarily bound by the ontology of the image, though, as my case studies will demonstrate, ontology does facilitate different valences within posthuman image vernaculars. Nor are posthuman image vernaculars bound by their specific medium of expression. While scholars of media frequently draw clear lines between mediums (film vs. digital vs. video vs. TV vs. internet vs. video game), the images themselves refuse to respect those boundaries. Thus, we find vernacular expressions of posthumanism within celluloid films, digital cinema, television programs, and video games. While the production, exhibition, and reception of these media most certainly vary substantially—and I recognize the importance of not overlooking these differences through an ahistorical, context-free, reductive analysis—my focus is not on the differences between media but rather on what I see as a consistent production of a very specific vernacular among my case studies, which come from various types of media. All produce different intonations of vernacular posthumanism, dependent on their medium of expression, but they are linked by a common fantasy of (dis)embodiment. In other words, I take a promiscuous approach toward my analysis of images, one focused on the vernaculars produced by the images themselves.

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This approach also has the benefit of drawing attention to linkages between image vernaculars, recognizing continuities and emphasizing the evolution of expression. In Supercinema, William Brown constructs a philosophy of digital cinema, examining the unique strategies of expression facilitated by digital technologies. Similar to my own approach, Brown emphasizes evolution, not revolution, and he argues that “digital logic” has roots that go back to at least Charles Babbage’s “difference engine” in 1822. “What I am calling ‘digital logic’ of course preexists digital technology as we know it today, but I am using this term because digital technology seems to have allowed this logic to move from the margins and to take a more prominent role in contemporary thought and, by extension, cinema” (Brown 2013, 4). FCOoC is an example of an analog media object containing a digital logic. I will expand on this later, explicitly connecting posthuman image vernaculars to their expression with digital tools, but in short, a digital logic refers to a mode of thinking and seeing that emphasizes interconnected, rhizomatic structures of meaning and that fundamentally reduces humans and nonhumans within the image to the common equivalent of computer code. Space, within a digital logic, is often violated, with the virtual “camera” moving in, out, and between the borders of objects and bodies. Bodies themselves are also hybridized, supplemented and enhanced by the computer code of VFX. Digital logic, in other words, isn’t a concrete, specific thing, but rather a way of thinking about images (and the world). Here, again, I follow Brown (2013, 4): Since the “digital logic” that I wish to espouse here predates the widespread proliferation of the technology from which it takes its name, I will propose that “digital logic” is not necessarily a catalogue, or taxonomy, of image-types, but it is a way, or perhaps better, a mode of seeing. This mode takes as its inspiration the content of digital cinema, but it is applicable not just to digital cinema, but also to other phenomena, perhaps even to the world itself.5

Taking a Deleuzian approach to digital logic, Patricia Pisters conceives of the relationship between the analog and the digital in a similar fashion: “Film as film is indeed profoundly marked by digital culture, but the internal changes in film aesthetics (from database logic, to changed relations to time, to the cinema’s more illusionary and affective powers) were already present before the digital age and are thus not dependent on digital technology per se” (2012, 26). As I will later demonstrate with my analysis of FCOoC, vernacular posthumanism

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existed before VFX and digital cinema, but this vernacular has become more pronounced and intensified with the advent of digital cinema and digital image manipulation. Fundamental to the argument put forth in Spectacular Posthumanism is my adaptation of theories of image vernaculars to the subjects of visual effects and posthuman theory. More specifically, I draw on and extend film scholar Miriam Hansen’s provocative theory of “vernacular modernism” and visual rhetorician Cara Finnegan’s concept of “image vernaculars.” In her 1999 essay, “The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism,” Hansen begins her project of reconceptualizing the idea of modernism in order to reframe Classical Hollywood cinema—both historically and aesthetically—as a form of vernacular modernism. Hansen’s goal is to rethink how we do film history, and her essay targets two frameworks of film and media analysis. First, the idea of a vernacular modernism runs counter to notions of high modernism, which separates high art from mass art. In conceiving of cinema— the twentieth-century mass media par excellence—as a modernist art form, Hansen is offering an innovative way to think through the issues of modernism and modernity. Second, Hansen is proposing an alternate explanation for Classical Hollywood cinema’s global popularity, one that directly counters David Bordwell’s cognitive theory that Hollywood films were successful because their “invisible” narrative and aesthetic form satisfied innate viewer expectations (Bordwell 1985, 1989; Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson 1985; Morgan 2014). “If this vernacular had a transnational and translatable resonance, it was not just because of its optimal mobilization of biologically hardwired structures and universal narrative templates but, more important, because it played a key role in mediating competing cultural discourses on modernity and modernization, because it articulated, multiplied, and globalized a particular historical experience” (Hansen 1999, 68). Hansen mobilizes the term “vernacular” “because it combines the dimension of the quotidian, of everyday usage, with connotations of discourse, idiom, and dialect, with circulation, promiscuity, and translatability” (1999, 60). This is precisely the spirit in which I adopt Hansen’s terminology in my own “vernacular posthumanism,” as I am concerned (a) with the ways in which VFX and digital cinema generate a mass-produced, sensuous experience of images and (b) with examining how these images mediate the complex—and often contradictory—experience of posthumanity. For Hansen, Classical Hollywood cinema’s global popularity was due, in part “because it engaged the contradictions of modernity at the level of the senses,

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the level at which the impact of modern technology on human experience was most palpable and irreversible. In other words, the cinema not only traded in the mass production of the senses but also provided an aesthetic horizon for the experience of industrial mass society” (1999, 70). Both form and content matter for Hansen. On the level of content, many of the films Hansen discusses deal with issues such as adapting to life in an urban environment, navigating the crowds of the modern city, and coming to terms with transportation technologies such as the railroad. More relevant for this book, however, is Hansen’s attention to the formal aspects of vernacular modernism. On a formal level, Hansen identifies stylistic features (editing, close-ups, framing) that replicated a modern world that was increasingly defined by a bombardment of sensations, rapid shifting of attention, highly noticeable differences in scale (between skyscrapers and people—analogous to close-ups and long shots), and confusion and shock. Daniel Morgan, reading Hansen, posits that “the appeal of American cinema at the time was that it provided a compelling image of what it was like to be modern, to be up-to-date with the most advanced trends in the modernizing world. Hollywood cinema not only showed this; it was this” (2014, 68). In short, Hansen argues that this mode of Classical cinema not only reflects the modern world but also acts as a kind of instruction manual, a means of showing people how to see and experience the modern world through the vernacular of mass media. In my own conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism, I maintain this emphasis on sensation and experience, on the ways in which media objects can reveal the unthought and teach us to see the world in new ways. Following Hansen (who is following Walter Benjamin), I conceive of vernacular posthumanism as an aesthetic mode that can reorganize the senses, a means of showing people how to see and experience the posthuman world. Regarding Classical cinema’s ability to mass-produce sensations of modernism and modernity, Hansen contends (1999, 71–72): Hollywood did not just circulate images and sounds; it produced and globalized a new sensorium; it constituted, or tried to constitute, new subjectivities and subjects … It was not just what these films showed, what they brought into optical consciousness, as it were, but the way they opened up hitherto unperceived modes of sensory perception and experience, their ability to suggest a different organization of the daily world.

In other words, Hollywood films not only reflected modern experience; they also helped to construct that experience. Or, as Pamela Wojcik interprets

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Hansen: “Rather than a mere reflection of modernity, vernacular modernism must, in some way, reflect on modernity” (2014, 85). Adapting that to my own conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism: images not only reflect the posthuman condition; they also help to construct that condition. We viewers are thus intertwined with images in a feedback loop, learning how to be posthuman from the very objects we’ve designed to reflect our posthuman experience of the world. Vernaculars, in Hansen’s usage, are reflexive images that know themselves and are able to speak and theorize about a particular cultural experience. (It is important to note that vernaculars are always, and necessarily, culturally and historically embedded.) Hansen uses the term “vernacular” to indicate a common language of experience, a way of perceiving the world. Vernacular also has another valence in Hansen’s usage, namely that of a mass or popular language. Because Classical cinema was a mass cultural form, it presumably “spoke” to the masses in a language they could all understand, having shared the same urban and industrial experience: that of vernacular modernism. In a more global sense, Classical cinema translated the experience of modernity for those people in areas whose daily lives had yet to be affected by mass urbanization, finance capitalism, and industrialization. Therefore, not only did Classical cinema speak in the vernacular of modernism, but it also taught that vernacular to an uninitiated audience, summoning into existence and constituting a previously nonexistent mass culture based around a virtual experience of modernity (virtual, at least for some areas). It is in this sense that I adapt the concept to the vernacular of the posthuman condition, one that is unequally experienced by viewers and functions, in many cases, more as fantasy than actuality. The vernacular posthumanism found in many contemporary images functions as a rehearsal of the posthuman, a way of working through the problematics of living in a data-driven information age. It “constitute[s] … new subjectivities and subjects,” providing a common language with which to experience the posthuman condition. The ontology of the images I examine—frequently hybrids of profilmic and digital sources—speaks to a receding monopoly on humanistic agency, an agency that is now supplemented and influenced by digital technologies. John Cheney-Lippold, critiquing this kind of algorithmic identity, states: “Who we are … is also a declaration by our data as interpreted by algorithms. We are ourselves, plus layers upon additional layers of … algorithmic identities” (2017, 5). Though I am not examining internet technologies specifically, the algorithmic identities many of us experience

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might also be understood as part of a larger posthuman vernacular. In my own analyses, I look at the visualization of these algorithms (in digital VFX), and the materialization of algorithms on screen produces a consistent reorganization of the sensorium toward the experience of posthumanism. Cara Finnegan takes a slightly different approach to the notion of vernacular, and she conceives of an image vernacular more as a common reading strategy or interpretive community than as a language of sensorial experience (though the intersection of experience, sensation, and interpretation is crucial to her theory of image vernaculars). Using the case study of a photograph of a young Abraham Lincoln, and the letters written in response to that image, published in McClure’s magazine in 1895, Finnegan argues that the image vernacular of late nineteenthcentury US culture shared a widespread faith in the “truth” of photography. Photography, within this vernacular, had the power to reveal some “essence” of the person captured in the photograph, and viewers could identify personal and spiritual qualities of the person merely by examining their image. For Finnegan, image vernaculars rely on enthymematic reasoning— arguments in which one of the premises is left unstated or assumed—and the vernaculars fill in this interpretive gap. McClure’s readers who interpreted photographs of a young Lincoln as harboring the seeds of American greatness and idealism were relying on the unstated premise that photographs have the ability to reveal a deep truth about their subjects. This understanding of image vernaculars is also powerful in that it conceives of vernaculars as “context-bound and tied to the everyday experience of audiences” (Finnegan 2005, 34). The enthymematic nature of image vernaculars comes close to the definition of ideology in that enthymemes rely on unstated, “natural” premises. Applied to my notion of vernacular posthumanism, the enthymeme here would be the premise that we are (a) in the midst of, and quickly becoming, posthumans and (b) this evolution into the posthuman fantasy is inevitable. Only from a position in the early twenty-first century do these posthuman image vernaculars make sense. From a historical or future vantage, these vernaculars might not resonate as strongly. Finnegan addresses this with the example of Photoshop. Whereas readers of McClure’s placed a faith in the truth of the image, digital manipulation is an enthymeme of contemporary image consumption. “Describing something as ‘Photoshopped,’ for example, requires that audiences know of this readily available digital imaging software. The power of the enthymeme lies in the fiction that its unstated premise, at once invisible and transparent, is ‘natural’ rather than context-bound; it is simply

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something that ‘everybody knows’” (Finnegan 2005, 34). In the context of posthuman image vernaculars, “everybody knows” that the future of humanity lies in big data algorithms, computer prosthetics, wearable technology, virtual reality, and digitized existence. The images I examine in Spectacular Posthumanism rely on the enthymeme of the posthuman condition while also creating and reinforcing that enthymeme. Though I may be pushing Finnegan’s argument a bit through my idiosyncratic reading, I connect her concept of vernaculars-as-enthymematic forms of reasoning to Hansen’s notion that film has the power to mold sensation and experience, by understanding image vernaculars as nonhuman actants in the processes of meaning-making. They both teach us how to see and experience the world and they fill in the enthymematic gaps left between our actual experience of the world and the posthuman condition depicted on screen. Image vernaculars square the circle of the posthuman problematic, allowing us not only to embrace posthuman utopias but also to find comfort in the reality of the lived body. The unstated premise is that we are indeed posthuman, and image vernaculars reinforce and materialize this belief. Relatedly, Finnegan also conceives of vernaculars as the language of the image, and she shares this view with Hansen. In a sense, both authors do not merely posit vernaculars as a social language or common reading strategy; they go a step further and argue that vernaculars also refer to the language of the image itself. Here, I am not referring to a classical theorization of the “semiotics of the image.” Rather, I mean that the images actually speak with their own language, that they have lives and desires in the sense outlined by W. J. T. Mitchell (2005). The modernist vernacular of early cinema is itself modernist; it speaks in a modernist language. The photographs of Lincoln themselves believe in their vernacular, in their ability to speak the truth of their connection to Lincoln’s “soul.” The images and cinema of Finnegan and Hansen speak, and it is the job of the viewer to listen carefully in order to understand what they are saying. Finnegan, like Hansen, also deploys vernaculars to understand how popular, mass meaning is made, and she links this to the role of vernaculars in influencing our experience of the world. By “image” I mean both pictorial representation (i.e., a concrete image such as a photograph) as well as the broader understanding of image as mental picture, appearance, or product of the imagination. Hence the “image” in image vernacular refers to photographs themselves as well as to our mental images or beliefs about photography, or the ways we imagine photographs to function. “Vernacular”

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refers to a mode of common or localized expression used in particular places or during particular historical periods. Vernacular connotes not only the everyday, the common, or the colloquial (the word’s typical adjectival synonyms) but also, when used as a noun, their expression … Image vernaculars can be about many topics … but what makes them image vernaculars is that they are also arguments about our experiences of images. (Finnegan 2008, 97)

Finnegan continues: “We perform the social knowledge in image vernaculars implicitly through everyday experiences of life in our visual cultures. Such experiences not only give us things to look at, they also teach us how to see” (2008, 98). I quote Finnegan at length here to demonstrate that, while there are significant—and perhaps irreconcilable—differences between her conceptualization of vernaculars and Hansen’s, there is also substantial overlap. And this overlap is what I draw on in my theorization of a vernacular posthumanism. Specifically, I conceive of vernacular posthumanism as both relying on and constructing an experience of the posthuman condition for viewers, initiating viewers into a potential posthuman existence through their formal ontology and sensorial (re)organization. Other theorists attribute a similar quasi-agency and power to the image, granting films and other images the power to reflect on their own existence. W. J. T. Mitchell, notably, has developed the concept of a “metapicture,” which is a self-reflective image that “pictures theory” (1994, 48). For Mitchell, metapictures have the ability to visualize theory, initiating us into their perspective. As with Hansen’s and Finnegan’s conceptualization of image vernaculars, “metapictures are notoriously migratory, moving from popular culture to science, philosophy or art history, shifting from marginal positions as illustrations or ornaments to centrality and canonicity. They don’t just illustrate theories of picturing and vision: they show us what vision is, and picture theory” (Mitchell 1994, 57). Metapictures, like vernaculars, “make visible the impossibility of separating theory from practice, to give theory a body and visible shape that it often wants to deny, to reveal theory as representation” (Mitchell 1994, 418). While I don’t want to reduce the complexity of each author’s ideas—they are working in different fields and from diverse theoretical foundations—there is nonetheless some productive overlap in these ideas. Both metapictures and image vernaculars conceive of the image as possessing the power not simply to represent the world but to reflect on that representation. Once created, they exceed the confines of human control, circulating through culture and interacting with their human viewers in the spirit of reciprocity.

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It is also important to note that this interaction between viewer and image does not occur simply on the level of representation or interpretation (though it does include those variables). Rather, the power of these images derives from their ability to alter the senses. Or, as Scott Richmond posits, the cinema is “a technology for the modulation of perception,” and this modulation “is phenomenologically prior to representation and aesthetically distinct from it” (2016, 6, 12). Thus, while images of vernacular posthumanism might depict posthuman bodies, this literal representation is not a necessity. In the case studies that follow, I will examine things like camera movement and software algorithms, aspects of the image that aren’t purely representational but nonetheless convey a vernacular of posthumanism. Just as Hansen examines editing techniques, cinematography, and framing in her discussion of vernacular modernism—aspects of the image that are aesthetically motivated but not precisely representational—so too does my conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism rely on the ways in which the image fluctuates between representational and non-representational modes, each of which alters the sensorium in unique ways. Finally, in the more specific context of film theory and philosophy, William Brown and Daniel Frampton both conceive of the film image as possessing the power to make theory. Brown, for example, argues that “film should be conceived as a subject in its own right, and one that has its own role to play in film viewing” (2013, 7). Frampton, developing what he terms “filmosophy,” claims that “film cannot show us human thinking, it shows us ‘film-thinking.’ Film is not a humanlike mind, it is, uniquely, a ‘filmind’” (2006, 47). In Frampton’s view, films possess their own mode of thinking, one that exists outside of and apart from human thinking. It is called the “filmind” because, simply, it is not a human mind. It is another kind of mind, its own mind, a new mind. It is the next step on from the use of “mind” as a metaphor for film’s actions—those actions have their own mindfulness … The term also designates that the dramatic meaning of film comes from ‘within’ the film rather than from some outside force. (Frampton 2006, 74)

For both Brown and Frampton, the power of film emerges not simply from its representational power, ideological messaging, or viewer interpretation. Rather, film itself plays an active role in the processes of meaning-making; it is not merely a passive object but an active participant. All of these aforementioned interlocutors—though their theories of the image don’t exactly coincide—inform my conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism, which attributes power and agency to the image outside of the normal boundaries of interpretation.

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My conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism—the ability of images to modulate perception and initiate viewers into the posthuman condition—also differs slightly from other theories of digital and posthuman audiences, which tend to emphasize audience interpretation rather than the image’s own power to alter the sensorium. Lisa Purse, for example, develops the idea of the “digitally literate spectator,” which she deploys in order to understand the ways in which contemporary audiences make sense of digital and VFX images. Spectators are more digitally literate than they were, not least because of a sociocultural environment in which digital images are accessed, used, exchanged and manipulated in a range of everyday situations … They know that digital imaging is present onscreen even when they can’t tell what has been digitally generated, composited or manipulated and what has not, and they know something of the technological processes involved. (Purse 2013, 28)

While this view of the audience is crucial to my analysis of the reception of contemporary VFX images, it doesn’t explain the power of the images themselves to mold that audience through their vernacular posthumanism. In other words, while I acknowledge an audience that is broadly aware of digital trickery, I shift the focus from examining how digitally literate audiences interpret a film to how the film itself teaches that audience to experience the film. It is also important to note that this digitally literate audience is an abstraction, one that establishes an idealized viewer who has the access and time to become knowledgeable about VFX. My own framework de-emphasizes this speculative knowledge, looking instead at how the images themselves create that digital literacy for viewers The language of posthumanism spoken by these images is accessible to viewers and, following Stuart Hall’s (2006) classic formulation, can be accepted, rejected, or negotiated by individual viewers. The fantasies communicated within vernacular posthumanism can be embraced or thrown off, and while I do discuss the embodied experience of viewers, I recognize that this discussion is always speculative. My interest primarily lies in listening to the vernacular of these images, attempting to understand how they offer an initiation into the posthuman condition. Aaron Tucker builds on Purse’s conceptualization of contemporary viewers, and he develops the idea of the “machinic audience.” The machinic audience is “not only deeply attuned to the digital effects and the limits of these effects’ codes, but also craves them as part of a reflection of her/his own digitally created and maintained worlds” (Tucker 2014, 5). Tucker argues that this machinic audience is one immersed in digital and algorithmic culture, able to deftly navigate among

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various screens and networks as part of its habitus. The members of this audience can manage a constant flow of data, incorporating these flows into the rhythms of their daily, embodied lives. Crucially, Tucker also asserts that this machinic audience expects to see this kind of data-driven, networked, constantly online experience of life reflected back to them on screen (2014, 25–26). This analysis hews very closely to my own theorization of vernacular posthumanism, but as with Purse, Tucker focuses on an idealized audience, one that has the time, money, and access to experience life as constantly online. That said, I do follow Tucker in claiming that images reflect experience back to the viewer; however, I conceive of this relationship as a two-way, rather than a one-way, street. In my view, images help to create the machinic audience; they don’t simply reflect the desires and expectations of that audience.6 Just how posthumanism and vernaculars intersect is the subject of the next section.

Vernacular posthumanism Thus far, I have been using the term “posthuman” quite loosely, so a more incisive set of definitions is necessary, both to clarify my usage of the term as it relates to vernacular posthumanism and to provide a foundation for my analyses in the subsequent chapters. The definition of posthumanism varies widely depending on the term’s use and context, whether in popular or scholarly literature, so I offer a brief overview of approaches to posthumanism. The history of posthumanist thought has already been widely addressed within the scholarly literature (which I will cite throughout this section), so my goal is not simply to rehearse what has already been said about posthumanism, nor is my goal to create a taxonomy for what posthuman theory should be. Rather, my primary objective is to analyze how objects of visual culture create posthuman fantasies (both utopian and dystopian) and to demonstrate how visual culture is working through the contradictory theorizations of the posthuman condition I discuss below. While academic discourse relies on precise, careful definitions of concepts, images share no such rhetorical concern. The vernaculars they produce are messy, paradoxical, and tentative, though as my case studies will show, these vernaculars all tend to address the tension between embodiment and disembodiment. In other words, popular media flits between the careful philosophical positions of the authors outlined below, never settling on a coherent “answer” of what, exactly, the posthuman condition is. The heart of my project is to show

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how the vernaculars of visual culture manifest the anxieties that numerous other authors have pointed out, providing a practical demonstration of the posthuman imagination. I take up Rosi Braidotti’s claim that “theory today is about coming to terms with unprecedented changes and transformations of the basic unit of reference for what counts as human,” and the chapters in this book all try to make sense of how popular media itself is reckoning with these changes (2013, 104). Braidotti also identifies a primary challenge of critical posthuman theory, which is to “re-assemble a discursive community out of the different, fragmented contemporary strands of posthumanism” (2013, 42). I argue in this book that the vernacular posthumanism of contemporary visual culture is taking on precisely this task, constructing a (sometimes incoherent) model of the posthuman condition. As with all critical theory, my own path through this body of literature is idiosyncratic, tailored to my research questions and personal inclinations. My journey into posthuman theory began with the work of Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, and Katherine Hayles, and their ideas form the substrate of this entire book, even when I don’t explicitly cite their writings. Consider these authors as a kind of app that constantly runs in my intellectual background or as a tab that’s always open in my scholarly browser. In particular, I draw on Haraway’s (1991, 2003, 2008) theorization of hybrids—including cyborgs and companion species—Latour’s (1993, 2005) own discussions of hybrids and nonhuman actants, and Hayle’s (1999) influential work regarding (dis)embodiment in cyberculture. My precise usage of these concepts will be expanded on within the context of the case studies featured in subsequent chapters. For the purposes of this introduction, however, a delineation of the term “posthuman” is most relevant, and I’ve selected the authors cited below in order to provide a concise overview of the competing definitions of the posthuman. Four terms are in wide circulation in the popular and scholarly literature: posthuman, transhuman, nonhuman, and critical posthuman. “Posthuman” is the most broadly used term in both popular and scholarly texts, and it encompasses all of the myriad definitions of the concept—this is also why I’ve decided to use this term in both the title of this book and in the concept of vernacular posthumanism, as it is the most accessible, if not most clearly defined, term. In its current usage, posthuman is also quite slippery, referring both to the idea of posthumanism as a technological extension and/ or modification of the human, frequently in regard to theories of artificial

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intelligence, and to posthumanism as a response to humanism as an intellectual, philosophical, and moral endeavor. Within the scholarly literature, however, the posthuman has come to be associated with the transhuman, and most academic writers distance themselves from this position. A philosophy of transhumanism can be found in the writings of Kurzweil and Fukuyama, and typical to this kind of writing is either concern for or praise of emerging mechanical and biotechnological modifications to the human organism. This is also the strand of thinking found in numerous popular publications and cyberpunk fiction, which fantasize about things like virtual worlds, transferrable consciousness, cyborg proliferation, genetic modification, and artificial intelligence. (As I’ve noted before, this fantasy is both positive and negative; for example, machines can enhance us or machines can destroy us.) Notably, most transhumanist fantasies are color-blind and gender-blind, and they largely ignore aspects of identity such as race, gender, ability, class, and sexual orientation. This separation of identity from the body is a hallmark of much transhumanist theory, and it is what drives Hayle’s critique of this mode of thinking. According to Hayles, “a defining characteristic of the present cultural moment is the belief that information can circulate unchanged among different material substrates” (1999, 1). This theory of informationalism is also one of the most prominent features of vernacular posthumanism, and each of the objects I examine in this book works through the contradiction of material embodiment and informational disembodiment. A useful comparison to illustrate a key difference between transhumanism and critical posthumanism is their conceptualizations of cyborgs. For transhumanists, cyborgs offer an enhancement and modification of the human organism, and “this sense of posthumanism derives directly from ideals of human perfectibility, rationality, and agency inherited from Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment” (Wolfe 2010, xiii). The human, within this schema, is a singular subject, isolated and in control of its world and environment. Contrast this with a critical posthumanist like Haraway, who, in her seminal essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” defined a cyborg much more critically and ironically, using the concept in an activist sense and as a means to undermine dominant, identity-based, neoliberal ideologies. For Haraway, the cyborg is “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction,” both material being and metaphor (1991, 149). While Haraway acknowledges that the cyborg can be domesticated to serve the goals of capitalist, patriarchal culture, she also argues that the cyborg

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can function as a way out of “the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and tools to ourselves” (1991, 181). In the more resistant reading, cyborgs are hybrid, transgressive beings that refuse essentialist definitions of self and other. Cyborgs violate the boundaries not only among human identities but also between humans and nonhumans. This interpretation of cyborgs and posthumanism is central to later iterations of critical posthumanism. One final aspect of transhumanism is a collapse of biology and computer technology, a reduction of genetic “code” and computer “code” to a matter of programmability and software: just as programmable software runs on the hardware of the computer machine, so too is consciousness the software that runs on the hardware of the body. Within this framework, information is conceived as seamlessly transferable among different media. Wendy Chun, examining the history of software and the metaphor of programmability, notes: The history of computing and the history of biology are littered with moments of deliberate connection and astonished revelation, from computer storage as “memory” to regulatory genes as “switches,” from genetic to evolutionary “programs.” Through generative misreadings, biology and computer technology are constructed as complementary strands of a constantly unraveling and raveling stylized double helix. (2011, 101–102)

Reducing biology and technology to the universal equivalent of code creates a powerful metaphor, one that has insinuated its way into folk philosophy and generated countless media representations of clones, avatars, sentient machines, and digital immortality. The rational, individuated mind, here, is the locus of identity, and the body can be sloughed off like an outdated fashion accessory. An alternative to this theory of transhumanism has developed as “critical posthumanism” and “nonhumanism,” both of which, in general, speak to similar concerns. Again I turn to Hayles to point out the distinction between transhumanism and critical posthumanism: If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival. (1999, 5)

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Almost all works of critical posthumanism that I’ve encountered roughly adhere to the concerns outlined by Hayles in this short passage: a concern with embodied, lived materiality; a recognition of the imbrication of humans within larger material-semiotic networks; a disavowal of purely anthropocentric modes of theory; and an acknowledgment of the agency and perspective of nonhuman beings (animals, machines, ecosystems, etc.). Stefan Herbrechter, for example, defines critical posthumanism as “the task of analysing the process of technologization, based on the idea of a radical interdependence or mutual interpenetration between the human, the posthuman and the inhuman” (2013, 20). Cary Wolfe, who works through the various definitions of posthumanism and uses the term in the spirit of critical posthuman, defines posthumanism as “the opposite of transhumanism, and in this light, transhumanism should be seen as an intensification of humanism” (2010, xv). For Wolfe (again, using “posthuman” in the sense of “critical posthumanism”), posthumanism “isn’t posthuman at all—in the sense of being ‘after’ our embodiment has been transcended—but is only posthumanist, in the sense that it opposes the fantasies of disembodiment and autonomy, inherited from humanism itself, that Hayles rightly criticizes” (2010, xv).7 As a final example, Pramod Nayar echoes Herbrechter and Wolfe in claiming that “critical posthumanism sees the human as a congeries, whose origins are multispecies and whose very survival is founded on symbiotic relations with numerous forms of life on earth. Critical posthumanism thus favours co-evolution, symbiosis, feedback and responses as determining conditions rather than autonomy, competition and self-contained isolation of the human.” As should be clear by now, critical posthumanism opposes many of the claims of transhumanism, rejecting the model of human subjectivity established by Enlightenment humanism and advocating for a more comprehensive, non-anthropocentric alternative to humanist thinking.8 Finally, a note about “the nonhuman,” which functions in most regards as exchangeable with critical posthumanism. Richard Grusin, in his edited collection The Nonhuman Turn, identifies this movement toward nonhuman theory as “engaged in decentering the human in favor of a turn toward and concern for the nonhuman, understood variously in terms of animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality, or technologies” (2015, vii). Grusin identifies nine contemporary academic subfields that have actively engaged with issues of the nonhuman: actor-network theory (ANT), affect theory, animal studies, assemblage theory, brain sciences, new materialism,

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new media theory, speculative realism, and systems theory (2015, viii–ix). While these subfields diverge in often radical ways regarding their theoretical and methodological approaches—an exploration of which is outside of the scope of this project—they share the foundational principle that examining the nonhuman is crucial to understanding the twenty-first-century world. As I hope is now evident, the field of critical posthumanism is a rich, vibrant, and fruitful area of inquiry, and Spectacular Posthumanism carves out a small niche within this much larger body of work, adding the concept of vernacular posthumanism to the conversation. I use “posthumanism” in my book title and in “vernacular posthumanism” to encompass all of these varying approaches and to show how visual culture is working through this complexity of definitions and theoretical perspectives. Visual culture fantasizes about a transhuman future, the eventual transcendence of consciousness from the limitations of the human body. Simultaneously, this same visual culture offers a critique of this fantasy, warning viewers against disregarding the body and advocating for a broader, more non-anthropocentric view of the relationship between humans and nonhumans. Each of my case studies, to some extent, confronts this fantasy of disembodiment in conjunction with a reassertion of the body and lived experience. With that I turn (finally) to Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.

A Fast, Cheap & Out of Control approach to vernacular posthumanism FCOoC intertwines interviews from four idiosyncratic subjects—a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a mole-rat expert, and a robotics professor—and it visualizes the complexity with which contemporary material-semiotic networks are constructed.9 To the extent that the film confronts issues of form and aesthetics, the phenomenology of consciousness, the ontology of experience, encounters with the nonhuman, and the relationship between the visible and the knowable, FCOoC provides an initiation into posthumanist modes of thinking through its expression of vernacular posthumanism. Along with its interview subjects, FCOoC also examines four nonhumans connected to the interviewees: circus lions, topiary animals, naked mole-rats, and six-legged exploration robots. The four different groups of humans and nonhumans are not explicitly connected to each other within the film, and their interconnections are developed through editing practices, aesthetic associations, and ideological resonances:

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the mole-rats are mammals but live like insects; the robots are machines that look like and behave as insects; the topiary plants look like animals; the lion is understood and trained through a lens of anthropocentrism; Ray Mendez, the mole-rat expert, himself looks a little like a mole-rat, and he wears a bow tie that looks like a butterfly. Through its depiction of the complex—but implicit— imbrication of varied humans and nonhumans, FCOoC models the experience of the posthuman condition through its image vernaculars. Philosophically, the film presents each human encounter with the nonhuman in the spirit of what Donna Haraway refers to as “significant otherness,” which provides a means for understanding the nonhuman beyond the scope of anthropocentrism. A philosophy of significant otherness encourages a recognition of the radically other, but radically equal, identity of the nonhumans with whom we share the world (Haraway 2003, 2008). A thematic running through FCOoC is the idea that we should attempt to let nature speak for itself. Rodney Brooks, the robot designer, rather than programming his robots to perform particular tasks, instead programs them to interact with the world. Similarly, George Mendonça, the topiary gardener, describes trimming hedges as a process of letting the plant grow into a design. Dave Hoover, the lion tamer, prefers to react to a lion’s movements and behavior rather than control the lion. Finally, Ray Mendez describes the mole-rats as “life that exists irrelevant of yourself,” and he recalls a specific moment of contact (echoing Haraway’s conceptualization of “contact zones,” the spaces where human and nonhuman experiences overlap) where he looks into the eyes of a mole-rat and proclaims, “I know you are; you know I am.” This encounter between human and nonhuman, where each registers the simple existence of the other and acknowledges their shared network of existence, is a hallmark of vernacular posthumanism. FCOoC provides a signal example of how this vernacular is expressed in contemporary visual culture, and the interaction between nonhumans and humans within the film offers a glimpse of how a nonhumanist perspective might be made visual, on levels of both narrative and aesthetic style. The film opens with a decontextualized collage of images of insect-like robots, grainy video footage of a man trimming hedges, hairless rat-like creatures, various images of circus animals and performers, and footage from lion tamer and Hollywood performer Clyde Beatty’s 1936 fifteen-episode serial, Darkest Africa, all interspersed with the film’s opening credits. During this opening sequence, the music transitions from a synthesized musical score to a more lighthearted, “circus-style” soundtrack. Without any voice-over narration or contextual clues,

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FCOoC introduces the viewer to the primary concepts that will be explored by the film: networks of experience, the recursive circuits between past and present, and the illusion of control wielded by “subjects” within an informational and experiential system. The sequence that follows the opening montage elaborates on these concepts, and it introduces us to the four human subjects of the documentary: wild animal trainer Dave Hoover, topiary gardener George Mendonça, naked mole-rat specialist Ray Mendez, and robot scientist Rodney Brooks. The sequence begins with Hoover describing how, as a child, he “wanted to be a Clyde Beatty.” As Hoover is talking, the film cuts between footage of a circus being set up, Hoover performing with a lion, and various other circus performers. This initial scene establishes a theme of the past intruding on the present and the melancholy and nostalgia that accompanies remembrances of the past. Hoover, in particular, longs for a dead era, an era of matinee idols and traveling circuses. Though this era might be dead, it exists as a virtuality within the present, informing and creating the present reality experienced by the figures within the film. Hoover’s introduction concludes with an image of elephants circling a circus tent, which transitions with a match cut to an image of a man walking through a garden filled with topiary animals (including an elephant). This particular use of match cut editing is used throughout the film to create connections between the subjects, and it establishes a network of meaning that circulates within the film. This next sequence introduces George Mendonça, who was responsible for maintaining Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. During Mendonça’s voice-over in which he describes how he came to Green Animals garden, Morris cuts to images of the topiary giraffe. These images are filmed at a canted angle, in black and white, and with a grainy quality that creates a similarity to the Beatty footage shown in the previous sequence. (To my eye, it appears that Morris achieves these “grainy” images by filming content played on a CRT television screen.) Again, we find that the film, rather than make explicit connections between the human subjects, prefers instead to make a visual argument in order to create its network of meaning. Footage of the giraffe, strongly backlit and in a rainstorm, grants the plant an uncanny quality, which carries throughout the film. Following the rain-soaked giraffe is a cut to what looks like an esophageal endoscopy. As Ray Mendez’s voice-over begins, we learn that the image is from a naked mole-rat tunnel. Again, as with Hoover and Mendonça, Mendez is introduced to us through his past, as he describes how, as a child, he was friends

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with a group of other children who were interested in entomology and insect societies. During Mendez’s dialog, he describes how he was told that mammals could never live as insects. Then, twenty years later, a colleague informs him of the discovery of the naked mole-rat, which serves as Mendez’s “eureka moment” and sets the trajectory for the rest of his career. The joy on Mendez’s face as he describes this moment is palpable, as he recalls a dream of his childhood self being called into actuality. Again, Morris employs similar film techniques in order to render the mole-rat footage as uncanny, and the film form draws visual analogies to the Clyde Beatty footage. This sequence ends with a strobing image of a tiny mole-rat head peeking out of a tunnel, and it is followed by a clear, sharp image of a human hand working on a computer circuit board. This final introductory sequence presents us with former MIT robotics researcher, Rodney Brooks. During Brooks’s voice-over, Morris again intercuts crisp images of small robots with grainy video images of those same robots, which serves to render the images both foreign and familiar, past and present. Brooks, like the other three human participants, begins his story at childhood, and he describes how, as a child, he was always interested in tinkering with things and how he “liked to build electronic things in a little tin shed in the backyard.” Like Mendez, Brooks describes an epiphany when, for the first time, he built something and the “lights flashed and the machine came to life.” Brooks goes on to describe the “magic” he experiences whenever one of his robots begins to move. Brooks’s sequence concludes with an image of a small insect-like robot, walking over rough terrain, followed by a cut to footage from Darkest Africa, footage from a circus tent, footage of naked mole-rats, and footage of Mendonça walking through his garden. A hallmark of posthumanist modes of thinking is the dispersion of control over a network, and FCOoC visualizes this by presenting a series of disconnected, but intertwined, interviews. Meaning cannot be located in any one story told by the interview subject; rather, meaning only emerges from the interaction between subjects. In this way, the film answers the question of how visual culture might materialize contemporary digital and posthuman processes of meaning-making, and in doing so, the film displays its fluency in vernacular posthumanism. In my usage, vernacular posthumanism describes how contemporary media and visual culture both speak of and reflect on a condition of cultural posthumanism. Vernacular posthumanism provides a lens through which to theorize the experience of a crisis in humanistic and anthropocentric models of subjectobject interaction, and it provides a rehearsal of the posthuman, teaching us

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how we might become—and indeed, are already—posthuman. In our strongly networked world of global, data-driven capitalism, where flesh and information, actuality and virtuality, and past, present, and future can be freely and easily exchanged, subjectivity requires that we account for the intentionality not only of other humans but also of the nonhumans with whom we share our world. FCOoC exhibits these cultural tendencies both through the form of the film as well as through the material-semiotic networks established among the subjects— both human and nonhuman—in the film. Established here is the thesis of both FCOoC and this book, namely that images and other nonhuman actants share their processes of meaning-making with the traditional humanistic subject and that the networks formed by the interactions among these actants are strongly inflected by the posthuman, digital cultural logic that defines our current era. FCOoC constructs a virtual space that serves as a staging ground for envisioning how a nonhuman perspective might be made manifest. Within the film, the frenetic chaos of the circus functions as a visual analogy for the destabilizing effect of thinking through the nonhuman, and short montages of circus imagery serve as bridges between the various segments of the film. FCOoC speaks in a dialect of vernacular posthumanism, and through its “out of control” decentering of human perspective, the film facilitates encounters between human and nonhuman actants. The circus is perhaps the most prevalent theme throughout the film, and it is used on numerous occasions as a transitional device between segments. On a literal level, the circus imagery serves to visualize the memories of Dave Hoover, as Hoover continually references the inspiration he took from Clyde Beatty in the crafting of his own career and persona. However, on a less literal level, the circus imagery speaks to a nostalgia for an imagined past, a time of pretechnological innocence before the chaos and loss of control that accompanies our contemporary era. There is something uncanny about circuses, from their anachronistic displacement from a previous time to their seeming naivety to social (animal rights) and technological (nomadic lifestyle) changes. Circuses appear free from the cultural and technological constrictions of the twenty-first century, and they are depicted in FCOoC as if it were still the time of Clyde Beatty, Classical Hollywood, and the matinee idol. Circuses set up and dismantle, freely moving through a culture that has largely forgotten them. Part of this sense of loss of control is reinforced through the aesthetics and production value of the circus imagery presented in the film. The circus footage appears to have come from a variety of film and video stocks, and Morris

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emphasizes grain, flicker, and video lines in his presentation.10 Additionally, Morris films the circus in a dizzying cinematographic display: sometimes the circus is presented in standard continuity style, but more often than not, the footage is slowed down and presented in a variety of canted angles, reinforcing the uncanny nature of the circus. The circus footage is also often accompanied by a voice-over from one of the four interviewees in a manner seemingly disconnected from the content of the speaker’s words. The juxtaposition of the circus footage with other apparently unrelated footage of mole-rats, robots, and bushes furthers the associative chains of meaning established by the film. What this all adds up to, I contend, is a visualization of the dispersion and decentralization of agency and subjectivity as well as the “out of control” sensations produced by contemporary existence. By “out of control,” I am referring not only to the aesthetics of the film and the unforeseen connections established between the seemingly disconnected professions of topiary gardener, robotics professor, mole-rat expert, and lion tamer but also the unexpected ways in which the past intrudes on the present as well as the unexpected interminglings of human and nonhuman. On a formal level, the aesthetic of the film is itself “fast, cheap & out of control.” Deploying a range of imaging techniques—from 35 to 16 mm to video, from black and white to color, from live action to animation—and experimenting with camera angles, film speed, still images, historical and stock footage, and a variety of cameras (the Interrotron™ and Sewercam™ are the most notable11), FCOoC exhibits the dispersion of control and point of view that is fundamental to a posthuman vernacular.12 In juxtaposing past and present, fantasy and reality, the film critiques the illusion of control ascribed to actors within a network, and the constant conflict between the voice-over and screen image reinforces an inability to draw clear cause-and-effect chains between actants and outcomes. On a more thematic level, the content of the film allows us to trace various actants through their material-semiotic networks, examining how control and agency are spread throughout a rhizomatic web.13 An example of this is the temporal relationships established in the film and their connection to the theme of reproduction. Within studies of visual culture, the theme of reproduction has a rich tradition, ranging from Walter Benjamin’s (2008 [1936]) technological reproduction through W. J. T. Mitchell’s (2005) biocybernetic reproduction, and a hallmark of this work is the idea that images frequently seem to reproduce wildly out of the control of humans. The past intrudes on the present, often in unexpected ways, throughout FCOoC, and the most visible example of this is

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the incorporation of footage from the films of Clyde Beatty (see Figure I.1). This example has the most relevance to Dave Hoover, but this recursive circuit between past and present also bears on the other three major figures in the film. Hoover consistently cites Beatty as his primary influence and the reason he became a wild animal trainer, and even though Hoover eventually ended up working with Beatty, it is clear that Hoover was influenced more by the idea of Beatty rather than Beatty the man. As a Hollywood star, Beatty represents the potential glamor of animal training, a glamor that is difficult to achieve in a traveling circus, especially a traveling circus in the twenty-first century. This nostalgia for a lost era—in particular, the glamor of Classical Hollywood— infuses the film, and the incorporation of footage from Beatty’s films throughout FCOoC provides a connective tissue of loss among the interviewees. Toward the end of the film, when asked by Morris if he misses Beatty—the only time, significantly, where Morris physically inserts himself into the film14—Hoover responds: Yes. I miss him. I think I miss him just like I think we lost part of the industry. We lost part of the circus industry when we lost him. And I don’t know that there’ll ever be anyone of that stature left in this business. I don’t even know whether the situations would arise that we could even develop someone of that stature. He may have been at the right place at the right time, but he was … he was a great performer and a great trainer. And I don’t think there’ll ever be another one. Certainly not me.

Figure I.1  Clyde Beatty in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, 1997. Dir. Errol Morris.

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Here Hoover is speaking to the inability to reclaim what has been lost, even if that loss is a mere virtuality of what actually occurred, and this past functions as an object that operates within the networks of the present. The linking of past and present actants supports a reading of FCOoC that emphasizes the film’s reliance on a dispersion of control in its processes of visualizing the contemporary digital condition of networks and rhizomatic structures of meaning and subjectivity. Quite tellingly, the four subjects of Morris’s film never directly interact with each other, nor do they ever acknowledge the presence of the other interviewees in the film. Each “story” is completely self-contained—self-contained, but incomplete. Yes, each subject’s individual narrative makes sense on its own in a personal, autobiographical way, but without the montage interaction with the other three narratives, the single narrative abandons many of the larger cultural claims it makes in concert with the other subjects. The true effects of the film are felt only when the centrality of control of the personal narrative is dispersed among the four subjects of the film. Meaning arises through rhizomatic processes, and it becomes impossible to locate a primary node of control. Meaning within a network emerges through interactive feedback loops, and within FCOoC, this is achieved through Morris’s editing and aesthetic choices, as well as the thematic content of the film. FCOoC’s multiplicity of stylistic choices functions as a material embodiment of the film’s attitude toward chaos and illusions of control. Nothing in the film is stable, and the interview subjects, film aesthetic, and thematic content of the film are all moving targets, their “meaning” a constantly shifting and mercurial object that is in a perpetual state of becoming, and in this way, FCOoC visualizes a digital cultural logic. Though the film, released in 1997, was made before the mainstream film industry adopted digital filmmaking in earnest, and though it was shot on analog film and does not contain any computer-generated imagery, the film nevertheless inhabits a cultural logic of digitality, one that imagines the fundamental equivalence of all actants while at the same time reasserting the importance of the lived body. These themes of digitality and posthumanity are made manifest in FCOoC, particularly in its depiction of (loss of) control, (non)reproduction, individuality, and the power of nonhumans. Reproduction, in particular, is addressed in the film in a sustained manner, and though it is not an explicit theme of the film, reproduction undergirds much of what the interview subjects discuss. The theme of reproduction also has implications for my claims about the ways in which the film visualizes networks, especially in regard to temporality and the ways in

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which the past, present, and future intrude upon each other. Reproduction—both biological and nonbiological—thematizes many of these concerns. Each of the four interview subjects addresses reproduction during his individual segments within the film, and the inclusion of historical and stock footage creates a visual bridge that links past, present, and future. Ray Mendez discusses the peculiar (for mammals) reproductive strategies of mole-rats. Mole-rat colonies are structured like insect colonies, and their reproductive practices follow those of many insects. Mole-rat society divides individuals into three groups: a queen, a few breeding males, and male and female workers. Like many insects, the mole-rat queen is responsible for bearing all of the colony’s young. Part of the strangeness of naked mole-rats—aside from their hairlessness and blindness—is their social structure. While the mole-rat example is a very literal interpretation of biological reproduction, and therefore not particularly relevant to my discussion of networks, the other three interview subjects provide a more esoteric version of reproduction. Rodney Brooks and his robots model this type of nonbiological reproduction, and the film traces a kind of rhizome among the actants involved in the reproduction. The theme of reproduction can be seen in the Brooks segment from three perspectives: the relationship between the robots themselves, between Brooks and his students, and between Brooks and his robots. Brooks based his robot design on insects, noting that insects moved with a degree of instability. Instead of designing a robot with a pre-programmed sequence of movements, Brooks created a six-legged robot (named Genghis) that operated through a series of feedback loops. The robot “walked” through a process of stumbles and other instable movements, but the overall result was movement toward a particular destination. As Brooks describes it, he “switch[es] it on and it does what is in its nature.” Brooks also takes a rather phenomenological approach to robot design, accounting for the global system of which the robot is a part. His advice to robot designers: “Don’t try and control the robot but feel how the world is going to control the robot.” In other words, the robots don’t operate according to a hierarchical process of instructions; rather, they operate according to a dynamic system of interaction with the world.15 The title of the film comes from a paper that Brooks and Anita M. Flynn published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society entitled “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System” (1989). In this paper, Brooks advocates for space exploration to proceed via the deployment of thousands of little robots, rather than expending resources on

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a single unmanned mission that might be likely to fail. Turning again to the insect world (which resonates strongly with Mendez’s mole-rats), Brooks relays an anecdote of witnessing some ants attempting to move a piece of cereal. Even though the individual actions of the ants didn’t move the cereal forward, the global behavior of the ants accomplished the task. Brooks models his robots after this concept. His little robots don’t communicate with each other directly, but they sense the presence of other robots and react according to a predefined system of rules. The global behavior of the robots emerges out of the network established among each actant, much like consciousness and a phenomenological sense of being emerges out of an interaction with the world. For Brooks, the task is discovering and directing how and in what ways this global behavior manifests itself. In one non-interview segment of the film, we see Brooks, filmed in a grainy black and white, walk into what appears to be a “surprise” birthday party. Brooks is greeted by a dozen or so cheering students, who are all wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a screen print of Brooks’s face. The shots that follow show Brooks and his students smiling, laughing, eating cake, drinking coffee, and generally partaking of the birthday merriment. At other points in the film, Brooks is shown working with his students to build and program his robots, and these sequences establish a theme of intellectual collaboration. The process of mentoring and student advisement is itself a form of reproduction, as Brooks’s own ideas are passed on—with a few mutations, to be sure—to his students, who then continue to replicate these ideas in their own work. The film, in constructing these kinds of images, again reinforces its general thesis regarding the ways in which networks of actants constitute webs of experience. It isn’t that Brooks merely passes on his knowledge and working style to his students; it’s that Brooks and his students (and his robots, and his equipment, and the institution at which he conducted research [MIT], and his desk, and his pencils, etc.) create a system out of which a particular perspective of the world emerges. Brooks’s relationship to his robots shares a similar reproductive framework to that of his relationship to his students. In a more literal sense, Brooks has created his robots and set them forth in the world. However, as with his students, Brooks does not directly control what happens after he gives “life” to his robots. The robots are not directly programmed to accomplish a particular task; rather they are programmed to react in specific ways to their environment. Out of this attitude emerges a practical theory of phenomenology. Brooks sees many parallels between human consciousness and the activities of robots, though he

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repeatedly reiterates the fact that all intelligence is embodied, and therefore the consciousness that might emerge out of a robot would be fundamentally different from that of a human. Reflected in his robots, Brooks sees his own consciousness as the process of “thousands and thousands of little agents, doing stuff almost independently.” Drawing on an evolutionary model, Brooks views his network of robots as the potential first step in robot intelligence, as evolution proceeds by building on previous systems in a series of increasing complexity. Brooks disavows his relationship to his robots as that of father to child. Opposing the idea that building robots “is something that men do because men can’t have babies themselves,” Brooks instead views his project as an attempt to understand life and the system out of which life emerges. His goal is to gain an “understanding [of] life by building something that is lifelike.” What emerge out of Brooks’s interviews are ideas of radical alterity, networked consciousness, and a phenomenological theory of life, all of which are significant theoretical interlopers in my conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism. As previously discussed, animal trainer Dave Hoover’s interviews establish a material-semiotic circuit between past and present, virtual and actual. The Hoover segments of the film, continuing this trajectory, also explore the themes of reproduction present in Brooks’s portions of the film. As with Rodney Brooks, FCOoC shows Dave Hoover training a student/replacement. Like any good teacher, Hoover is simultaneously excited and fearful for how his protégé, Kathleen Umstead, will carry on his legacy. This is especially true in the field of animal training, as inadequate preparation carries serious consequences. For Hoover, “It’s a lot easier … to do it than to watch it.” Relinquishing control, a major theme of the film, is difficult for Hoover, and the film includes a scene of Hoover nervously watching Umstead perform in order to reinforce this fact. Hoover himself is a protégé of Clyde Beatty, which establishes a lineage from Beatty, through Hoover, to Umstead, with all of the Hollywood nostalgia that tags along with Beatty. In fact, John-John, one of Hoover’s lions, is the son of Beatty’s lion, Pharaoh. John-John appears to be an old lion, blind in one cloudy eye, which gives him the uncanny, slightly creepy presence that accompanies many contemporary narratives of circuses and carnivals. John-John—and, by extension, Hoover—are relics of a bygone era, their presence in contemporary Western life an anachronism. As a topiary gardener at Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, George Mendonça has produced a living garden that reproduces,

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in a visual and visceral manner, his approach to nature and his aesthetics of horticulture. However, unlike Brooks and Hoover, Mendonça has been unable to train his replacement, finding that any apprentices he takes on quickly lose interest in the job. FCOoC seems to be presenting Mendonça as a sui generis being, a man whose work and approach can never be replicated. In fact, Mendonça relates in an anecdote that “several professors from the different schools” told him that “nobody can come in with all of the book knowledge they’ve got—nobody can come in and do what you’re doing.” Furthermore, Mendonça doesn’t expect anyone to be able to replicate his work, since they would not possess the same set of personal experiences. Here we see echoes of Brooks’s statements on embodied consciousness—consciousness arises out of a network of experiences, so it is impossible to replicate consciousness across different mediums. No one can completely replace Mendonça because their network must necessarily be different. Quite tellingly, Mendonça’s story of searching for an apprentice unfolds right before Hoover’s own sequence with his apprentice, toward the end of the film. Both are reluctant to hand over their responsibilities, and both seem rather unconfident that they will be able to find adequate replacements. To conclude my discussion of reproduction and material-semiotic networks of experience, I turn to a small bit about Alice Brayton, the owner of Green Animals from 1939 to her death in 1972.16 Miss Brayton remained unmarried throughout her life, having once met a man that she wanted and then abandoning the idea of marriage after the relationship didn’t work out (according to Mendonça). At one point, Miss Brayton instructed Mendonça to build two “scarecrows,” a man and a woman for whom she bought fancy clothes, including a $44 hat for the woman (see Figure I.2). While these sterile, artificial people might seem to function as non-reproductive entities in the film—especially positioned, as they are, within the fertility of the garden—they nevertheless watch over their horticultural “offspring” as nonhuman mother and father. The garden mannequins and their liminal subjectivities are precisely the kinds of hybrid objects and concepts with which this book is concerned. FCOoC, and its visualization of nonhuman agency, provides a template for how we might study film and media in the digital/posthuman age, and it serves as an example of how we, as humans, might encounter the nonhuman perspective of hybrid objects. The film poses some of the most pressing theoretical questions for the study of film and media in the twenty-first century, among them the interaction between humans and machines, the digitality of form and aesthetics,

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Figure I.2  Miss Brayton’s Scarecrows in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, 1997. Dir. Errol Morris.

the materialization of a digital cultural logic, and the role of technology and networks in the constitution of the human. Finally, FCOoC also offers a commentary on the relationship between humans and nonhumans and the role that contact zones and radical alterity play in these relationships. As previously discussed, Rodney Brooks makes a sustained argument for the need to account for differences in embodiment when confronting a mechanical other. His experiments with robotics and movement—in that movement is not preprogrammed but arises from feedback within a global system—rely on nonhuman actants (other robots, stones on the ground, “the world,” etc.) in order to operate. This framework is essentially a template for the kind of theoretical work Spectacular Posthumanism conducts. Ray Mendez, the mole-rat expert, also offers some thoughts regarding the interaction between human and nonhuman. Mendez defines “the Other” as being “in the presence of life that exists irrelevant to yourself,” and he identifies a moment of contact between species as the mutual recognition that “I know you are, you know I am.” This mutual respect of exchanging looks—Donna Haraway terms it respecere—describes how I conceptualize the encounters between human, nonhuman, and visual culture, and it frames my discussions of other visual texts in the chapters that follow (2008, 19). We encounter objects of visual culture as actants within a shared material-semiotic network, and our subjectivities exist in the spaces and folds between these encounters.

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Chapter descriptions Each of the chapters in Spectacular Posthumanism offers case studies that examine a unique valence of vernacular posthumanism, demonstrating the ways in which visual culture, specifically through its use of VFX and other image technologies, can modulate perception and sensation. Images are a particularly apt site to explore the posthuman condition, as Hauskeller, Philbeck, and Carbonell argue in the introduction to their anthology on posthumanism in film and television: “The medium of moving pictures is particularly well suited to reflect this transformation, not only by providing thought experiments for possible transformations of the human, but also by creating concrete, visual representations” (2015, 3–4). The power of contemporary visual culture’s vernacular posthumanism arises partially through its aesthetic modeling of posthuman experience, a literalization of posthumanism through the medium of moving images. Though he is writing in a different context (video games), Jonathan Boulter argues that this material manifestation of posthuman theory in images grants them considerable power: Games realize a practical, material demonstration—instantiation is the stronger term—of the philosophical notion of the posthuman. The game locates the player within a complex network of exchanges, all mediated by technology: player-console/ computer, player-avatar, player-narrative. This economy of technological exchange initiates a practical experience of what I term the “posthuman”: the game enacts the fantasy of extending past the limits and limitations of the human. (2015, 2)

It is this “practical experience” of posthumanism that each of my case studies engages with, and my analyses demonstrate the ways in which their vernaculars communicate a particular sensation of the posthuman condition. All of the case studies in Spectacular Posthumanism are also marked by a contradictory attitude toward posthumanism, namely a depiction of disembodiment and a simultaneous reassertion of the body. Here again my approach overlaps with Boulter’s (2015, 3): The game is not consistent in either its fetishization of the posthuman fantasy or its critique of this same fantasy. This is to say that some canonical games about the entry into the posthuman condition do not tell their stories straight: we need to attend carefully to how the game, as narrative, and as a confluence of player and console/machine, is, perhaps, at odds with itself, unable fully to come to terms with the lineaments of its own fetishistic desire.

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My goal in analyzing specific films and television shows is not to provide a conclusive, final answer regarding their depiction of posthumanism. Rather, my intent is to analyze how, like many of us humans, their attitudes toward the posthuman condition are paradoxical and rhetorically unstable. Their vernacular is able to hold two competing thoughts simultaneously, and I try to maintain this nuance in my analyses. In using a framework of image vernaculars to understand the relationship between VFX and posthumanity, I must necessarily embrace the messy, contradictory, and ambivalent vernacular of the media objects I analyze. The media objects I examine in Spectacular Posthumanism are drawn from popular—and often quite conservative (formally, narratively, politically)— genres, and this fact might seemingly undercut my claims that these films speak to utopian fantasies. However, as scholars of science fiction cinema (notably Scott Bukatman [2003] and Julie Turnock [2015b], who both focus on special and visual effects) attest, these kinds of popular genre films are frequently the places where mass fantasies play out, and they often feature liberatory moments of experience. To this end, my analyses of popular media objects rely on innovative interpretation, deliberately reading against the grain in order to expose the pockets of resistance hidden within the nooks and crannies of the films. Spectacular Posthumanism is divided into three parts, each of which examines a unique aspect of vernacular posthumanism. Part One, “Hybrid Bodies,” addresses the ways in which the interaction between profilmic and digital forces produces hybrid bodies. These hybrid bodies straddle the analog and digital, keeping a foot in the world of practical effects while exploiting the advantages of digital effects. At times threatening, these bodies are eventually domesticated as they transition from practical to digital realization. Chapter 1, “Cronenberg’s New Flesh,” examines the hybrid bodies of Shivers (1975), The Brood (1979), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), and eXistenZ (1999). As a master of body horror and unsettling practical effects, Cronenberg provides an apt beginning to Spectacular Posthumanism. Cronenberg’s films reveal deep anxieties about the violation of the human body and psyche, and in general, they present a dystopian view of the posthuman condition. This chapter draws on the work of film phenomenologists (including Vivian Sobchack, Laura Marks, and Jennifer Barker) to theorize the relationship between the bodies of Cronenberg’s characters and the bodies of the films themselves. Chapter 2, “Performance Capture’s Spectacle of Self,” focuses on a discussion of technologies of performance capture, which take the movements and

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“performance” of an actor, combine these with software interpellation and animator input, and produce a virtual performance. Whereas the Cronenberg films discussed in Chapter 1 view the posthuman body as threatening, performance capture largely hides its apparatus of production, producing bodies that, for all of their technical wizardry, present a mundane, banal form of posthumanism, an everyday, vernacular vision of posthuman being. The digital images that performance capture produces present a utopian merging of human and machine wherein the apparatus of production becomes “invisible,” and the human is seamlessly augmented and improved through its collaboration with technology. Chapter 2 also builds on my analysis of the visual “splicing” used by Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers to double actor Jeremy Irons, and it connects both onscreen representations of surgery and the technology required to split the screen to the physical practice of remote robotic surgery. Split screens, performance capture, and robotic surgery all instantiate a “multilocal self,” a mode of being where subjectivity is spread throughout a network, and these technologies all visualize spectacular fantasies of (dis)embodiment. Part Two, “Digital Bodies and Authenticity,” also consists of two chapters, each of which builds on the concept of “hybrid bodies” developed in Part One in order to address fantasies of digital disembodiment and the ultimate reassertion of the lived body within the posthuman vernacular of VFX films. Chapter 3, “The Body’s Digital (Dis)Honesty,” examines the digital augmentation of profilmic bodies and the ways in which this augmentation challenges notions of physical realism and authenticity. This chapter begins with an analysis of digital nudity, specifically the use of digital body replacement in the “Mother’s Mercy” episode of Game of Thrones (Nutter 2015) in which actor Lena Headey’s body was digitally replaced with the nude body of another actor. Drawing on porn studies literature, I argue that the use of CGI nudity fundamentally alters viewer’s relationship to the authenticity of screen bodies. The question of bodily authenticity and integrity is further addressed in a discussion of the digital de-aging technologies used on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body in Terminator Genisys (Taylor 2015) and the technologies used to reanimate Paul Walker’s body in Furious 7 (Wan 2015) after his death in a car crash during the production of the film. I situate my analysis within the context of American action cinema and that genre’s fetishization of the profilmic body, arguing that digital manipulation of the action body fantasizes about digital disembodiment while simultaneously reasserting the importance of the white, masculine, profilmic body.

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Chapter 4, “Digital Space’s Spectacle of Embodiment,” examines two manifestations of the interaction between profilmic and digital bodies. The first concerns the use of digital space, green screens, and virtual backlots. At issue here is the interaction between physical bodies and simulated space as discussed through the case study of 300 (Snyder 2006). Here I argue that 300’s use of VFX normalizes the presence of physical bodies in digital space, educating viewers on how they might inhabit the digital realms of cyberspace. The second concern of this chapter is an inverse of the first. Whereas the first section analyzes profilmic bodies in digital space, the second section examines digital bodies in profilmic space. More specifically, this second section uses crowd simulation as a case study to explore how VFX films imagine encounters between humans and nonhumans, and examples include The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson 2001–2003), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt 2011), and Hugo (Scorsese 2001). Supplementing the work of Kristen Whissel with a focus on embodiment, I argue that the vernacular posthumanism exhibited in these films imagines the semiautonomous digital horde as a threat to the profilmic self while also domesticating that threat within the hybrid ontology of the VFX image (2014). Part Three, “Machinic and Digital Spectacle,” addresses the ways in which film and television produce spectacles of the posthuman through their technological apparatuses. Completing the book’s trajectory from profilmic bodies to hybrid bodies to digital bodies and, finally, to machine embodiment, this section resituates the book’s concern with human embodiment to focus on how image technology constructs a unique mode of nonhuman embodiment and machine vision. Part Three returns to the rhetorical strategy employed in Part One, which uses an analog, celluloid precursor of vernacular posthumanism to draw connections to its later expression within digital image production. Inspired by the work of Scott Bukatman, Chapter 5, “Kubrick’s Machine Vision,” examines the ways in which the films of Stanley Kubrick construct a spectacle of nonhuman vision (2003). This chapter discusses in detail the use of the reverse zoom in Barry Lyndon (1975), the Steadicam in The Shining (1980), the machine point-of-view in 2001 (1968), and the violation of the axis of action in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Here I argue that the camera in Kubrick’s films possesses its own intentionality, and it functions as a nonhuman actant and coconspirator within the process of meaning-making. The technological apparatus of the camera also encourages its human viewers to adopt a machine mode of seeing, providing a vernacular experience of posthuman being.

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Chapter 6, “Planet Earth’s Spectacular HDTV,” continues my theorization of machine vision begun in Chapter 5, and it focuses on both the marketing surrounding HDTV and the aesthetic composition of the HDTV images in the television nature documentary, Planet Earth (2006). This chapter draws on research I conducted at the Peabody archives in order to situate the promotion of Planet Earth within a larger context of the emergence and adoption of HDTV technology in the mid-2000s. As with the films of Kubrick, Planet Earth fetishizes its technology of production, and it initiates viewers into posthuman, machinic modes of seeing and knowing the natural world. The vernacular posthumanism exhibited in Planet Earth is one that decenters the human and encourages the viewer (following Gilles Deleuze) to adopt the energies and intensities of the animals and natural spaces displayed in the series. Using the BBC’s nature documentary Planet Earth II (2016) as a case study and starting point, the final chapter, “A Drone Future,” examines drone photography as a means to look forward to the future of vernacular posthumanism and nonhuman vision. Planet Earth II’s use of drones—and other emerging camera technologies—serves as an example of the vernacularization of once-spectacular image technologies. As these technologies migrate to amateur photographers, consumers become the producers of images of vernacular posthumanism. This chapter discusses the extent to which the spectacle of posthumanism has been fully incorporated into the vernacular of user-based image production.

Part One

Hybrid Bodies In the lead-up to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams 2015), the publicity surrounding the film took pains to distance this entry in the franchise from the previous—and widely despised—prequel films (Episodes I– III, Lucas, 1999–2005). At the heart of this extra-textual promotional rhetoric was an anxiety regarding the interplay of practical special effects and digital visual effects. Hailed as “the year of Hollywood’s practical effects comeback” by theverge.com, 2015 witnessed the release of a few notable blockbuster action films that emphasized their skillful negotiation between practical and digital effects (Opam 2015). Among these were Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation (McQuarrie 2015)—Tom Cruise really hangs from an Airbus A400!; Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller 2015)—Miller really shot in the Namibian desert with a real flame-throwing guitar!; and Furious 7 (Wan 2015)—they “really freaking did drop cars from a C-130 airplane!” (Chan 2015). The production and marketing teams of these films seem to have internalized an anxiety over the phenomenological authenticity of their films, and as evidenced by behind-thescenes “making of ” featurettes, the promotional rhetoric highlights the profilmic aspects of the films while downplaying the digital components of the composite image. In other words, what is emphasized isn’t the novelty of CGI spectacle but rather the seamless and “invisible” combination of practical and digital effects. It’s so good, these promotional materials argue, that audiences won’t be able to tell the difference. (Or, using Dan North’s [2008] terminology, audiences won’t be able to “spot the joins.”) Material promoting The Force Awakens, for example, attempts to counter the widespread fan dissatisfaction with the heavy use of CGI and VFX in the three Star Wars prequels. The discourse surrounding the film took pains to emphasize its practical special effects and the fact that it was shot on “real” 35 mm film. A

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promotional video from Comic-Con 2015 exemplifies this anxiety. The video begins with narration by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), speaking to the analog desires and digital anxiety of the film: Real sets, practical effects; you’ve been here, but you don’t know this story. Nothing’s changed, really. I mean everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. That’s the way you want it to be, really. To see the way the technology has evolved, and yet, keeping one foot in the pre-digital world. (Star Wars 2015)

Accompanying this narration are images of miniature models, location-based sets, rubber costumes, and film moving through the gates of a real, live film camera. The goal of this promo reel is to link old and new, analog and digital worlds. It embraces our digital present (and future) while paying homage to our analog past. While this merging of analog and digital, at least superficially, appears to be harmonious, there is a deeper anxiety at work here, one that fears the loss of profilmic authenticity at the expense of the digital. What we find in much of contemporary blockbuster action, science fiction, and fantasy cinema is an ambivalence toward embodiment and authenticity, an ambivalence that is typical of vernacular posthumanism. On the one hand, the film industry and its audiences, in a general sense, have accepted the widespread practice of digital tinkering in every part of the production workflow. Ranging from spectacular uses of VFX such as performance capture, massive crowd scenes, and epic battles, to more mundane uses like color correction, lighting, and environmental tweaks, digital trickery has become a core component of contemporary image production, from image acquisition, to post-production, to exhibition. On the other hand, cinema displays an anxiety about its authenticity, and action and sci-fi cinema—genres long preoccupied with the physicality of the body—makes it a point to reassert the importance of the profilmic body amid digital environments, crowds, and agents. Lisa Purse, for example, in her analysis of “virtual action bodies” like Spider-Man (Spider-Man 2, Raimi 2004) and the Hulk (Hulk, Lee 2003), argues that the “inherent visual instability” of these virtual bodies creates an “unease” in the reception of these films (2007, 13). Purse later states that the virtual body’s “inherent malleability generates anxieties that are rooted in primal cultural fears about metamorphosis and its characterization of the human body as mutable” (2007, 15). In contemporary cinema, the body, like the digital image, has become a composite, a layered construction that can be altered and manipulated. Just as

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the digital image is malleable and moldable, so too is the body. Both the image and the bodies within the image are subject to the logic of the digital information age, which requires that all things be reduced to the common equivalent of code, equally exchangeable and transferable with each other. Within this context, bodies become simply another expression of code, something that can be layered and composited within the digital image. What the two chapters in this section are concerned with are the ways in which this logic of the image, with its attendant concerns of the interaction between profilmic and digital forces, produces hybrid bodies. These hybrid bodies straddle the analog and digital, keeping a foot in the world of practical effects while exploiting the advantages of digital effects. The images of these hybrid bodies also speak in a unique vernacular, one that models a particular kind of posthuman existence and initiates viewers into a posthuman mode of being. At times threatening, these bodies are eventually domesticated as they transition from practical to digital realization. Beginning with a discussion of the films of David Cronenberg and concluding with an analysis of the technology of performance capture, this section draws connections and continuities between expressions of posthuman modes of being as imagined by both practical special effects and digital visual effects. Each technology and practice of vision offers unique ways of imagining the posthuman, and each is concerned with producing methods of augmenting the form of images for visual consumption. As my analysis will demonstrate, the transition from practical augmentation of the body to digital augmentation of the body was more an evolution than a revolution. One method has not replaced the other, and practical and digital effects are almost always used in combination with each other. In fact, the case studies featured throughout this book will highlight how the two are ontologically quite similar. The examples I discuss do, however, produce quite different fantasies and reveal quite different anxieties about the state of the lived body. As a master of body horror and unsettling practical effects, Cronenberg provides an apt beginning to this journey in Chapter 1. Cronenberg’s films reveal deep anxieties about the violation of the human body and psyche, and in general, they present a dystopian view of the posthuman condition. Chapter 2 continues the theme of hybrid bodies with a discussion of technologies of performance capture, which take the movements and “performance” of an actor, combine these with software interpellation and animator input, and produce a virtual performance. Rather than focus on the images produced by

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performance capture, my analysis examines the technology that produces the images, and I view performance capture as a posthuman assemblage of human and nonhuman forces. Whereas the Cronenberg films discussed in Chapter 1 view the posthuman body as threatening, performance capture largely hides its apparatus of production, producing bodies that, for all of their technical wizardry, present a mundane, banal form of posthumanism, an everyday, vernacular vision of posthuman being. The digital images that performance capture produces present a utopian merging of human and machine wherein the apparatus of production becomes “invisible” and the human is seamlessly augmented and improved through its collaboration with technology.

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Cronenberg’s New Flesh

David Cronenberg’s films violate not only the bodies of their characters but also their own bodies, the bodies of the films themselves. The technologies— both analog and digital—that produce Cronenberg’s images rupture both the profilmic bodies depicted on screen and the visual space established within the screen. In her seminal work on the topic of film phenomenology, The Address of the Eye, Vivian Sobchack argues that a film’s body—including the screen, the image, the recording apparatus, and projection equipment—is not merely something to be observed and experienced by the viewer. Rather, the film’s body itself possesses intentionality and sensuous existence. In other words, “the film is not … merely an object for perception and expression; it is also the subject of perceptions and expression” (Sobchack 1992, 167). Sobchack elaborates further: If we allow that we are our bodies and their visibly intentional conduct in the world, if we reflect upon our existence and understand that we are the subjects of our visual experience as well as visual objects for other visual subjects, then we cannot but recognize that the film’s body and its visibly intentional conduct enjoy the same existential privilege. (1992, 248)

The body of film, according to Sobchack, should be viewed as an experiencing body on the same existential plane as all other bodies. Though the film’s body might not possess the same faculties of perception and cognition as the viewer’s body, the body of film is nevertheless a body with intention, a body that can return the looks of the viewer. Here, Sobchack is, in her own way, predicting recent work in the fields associated with the “nonhuman turn,” which Richard Grusin defines as scholarship “engaged in decentering the human in favor of a turn toward and concern for the nonhuman, understood variously in terms of animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality, or technologies” (2015, vii). Including such subfields as actor-network theory (ANT), affect theory, animal studies, assemblage theory, brain sciences, new materialism, new media theory, speculative realism,

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and systems theory, the nonhuman turn, to borrow Ian Bogost’s pithy phrase, posits that “all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally” (2012, 11). Rather than viewing nonhuman entities simply as products of human discourse or as creations of human perceptions and experiences of the world, work confronting the nonhuman views humans and nonhumans as entangled and implicated with each other. It denies hierarchies of being and advocates for a recognition of the unique modes of agency and subjectivity of all entities. As Bogost’s adage indicates, however, recognizing the equality of existence of all things does not require a denial of uneven relationships of power among humans and nonhumans. Returning to Sobchack’s theory of film phenomenology, she views the film’s body as occupying an equal existential plane to that of the human viewer. Just as the viewer’s body inhabits the world in a very particular way with all of the attendant sensations, experiences, and perceptions produced by its encounter with the world, so too does the film’s body inhabit the world in its own unique way. Moreover, as with the viewer’s body, the film’s body both acts on and is acted upon by the world. The film’s body is not a neutral, inactive entity in the world. It both alters and is altered by that which it encounters. Other scholars, notably Laura Marks (2000, 2002) and Jennifer Barker (2009), have followed Sobchack in exploring, respectively, the “skin” of the film’s body and the living corporeality of the film’s body (including the film’s viscera and musculature). Elena del Rio has extended Sobchack’s film phenomenology and applied it to a Deleuzian theory of sensation and performance (2008). My own analysis of the body of Cronenberg’s films will follow the lines of flight of these scholars, noting in particular the extent to which the bodies on screen interact with the visual technologies and apparatuses used to produce those bodies. Most of the protagonists in Cronenberg’s films experience some sort of physical transformation, evisceration of the flesh, or rending of the body—for example, Rose’s growth of a fleshy stinger in Rabid (1977); the various tumors, lesions, and placental sacs of characters in The Brood (1979); Max Renn’s abdominal VCR in Videodrome (1983); Seth Brundle’s grotesque transformation into an insect in The Fly (1986); the mechanized and sexualized wounds of Crash (1996); and the spinal bioports of eXistenZ (1999). These fleshy transformations don’t only take place at the level of profilmic representation, however. Like a surgeon cutting into the flesh of the body, so too does the technological apparatus of image production slice into the film’s body, and this is most evident in Dead Ringers, a film whose vernacular posthumanism adeptly models the sensations of the posthuman experience.

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Dead Ringers tells the story of identical twins, Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both masterfully played by Jeremy Irons), who are highly successful and wellrespected gynecologists. From a young age, the twins have been interested in matters of fertility and the female body, though they are notably disinterested in human reproduction itself, as well as its attendant emotional components. In the opening scene of the film, the young Mantle twins (they are probably around 12 years old) are discussing their newfound knowledge about sex. Sex, in their discussion, is not something erotic but rather something to be investigated scientifically and examined rationally. They’re curious about why humans need to have sex, and they conclude that, unlike fish, humans don’t live in water, so they must “internalize the water” for the sperm to reach the egg. Imagining an aquatic human and the type of sex they’d have, the twins decide: Mantle Twin #1 (the twins aren’t named at this point):  They’d have a kind of sex, but the kind where you wouldn’t have to touch each other. Mantle Twin #2:  I like that idea.

This scene is immediately followed by a short scene of the young twins performing “play” surgery on a small model of the body. These opening moments of the film establish the distant, de-eroticized attitude  toward sex shared by the Mantle twins. After a brief sequence establishing the twins’ success at Harvard medical school—due, in part, to their invention of a new surgical retractor—the film proceeds to show us the daily rhythms of the Mantle twins’ adult lives. The twins operate a successful and highly regarded fertility clinic, and they share all aspects of their lives. They frequently trade places at social events (though the film makes clear that Elliot is the more outgoing brother, while Beverly is the more reserved, bookish brother), they share an apartment, and they share lovers. Prior to the inciting incident of the film, the Mantle brothers appear to view sex as a simple biological need. Elliot woos the women, sleeps with them, and Beverly then swaps places with Elliot as the women’s lover. There is no indication that either twin views these relationships romantically, and they both seem to avoid emotional entanglements. Instead, the goal of the twins is to share one life between the two of them, each experiencing exactly what the other experiences. Part of their strategy for achieving this shared existence is keeping a distance from the emotional messiness of romantic relationships and reproduction. Drawing on their youthful interest in seeing and knowing the female body, the Mantle twins’ medical practice is focused solely on female fertility. Their

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goal is not reproduction per se but rather manipulating the female body so that its potential to bear children might be realized. The Mantles are more concerned with controlling and modifying the female body than with seeing bodies proliferate out of their control through reproduction.1 An exchange from the film illustrates this point. During a consultation, a patient asks Beverly to examine her husband to see if he’s the problem with their inability to conceive a child. To which Beverly responds: “We don’t do husbands. We don’t deliver babies either. We make women fertile, and that’s all we do. To achieve anything in life, one has to keep life simple … don’t you think?” This simplicity is exactly what the Mantle twins abandon when they take on actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) as a patient. In his examination of Claire, Beverly discovers that she has a “trifurcated cervix,” which, while “fabulously rare,” renders Claire infertile. The twins each become fascinated with Claire, due in no small part to her physiological curiosity. Claire’s infertility renders her the ideal mate for the twins, as there is no potential for reproduction. The twins’ dual relationship with Claire, however, eventually causes a rupture in their relationship, and Beverly begins to show signs of wanting to keep her for himself, while Elliot sees Claire as simply another conquest for the brothers (he is attracted to her celebrity as an actress). Beverly’s desire to live a separate life from his brother is what motivates the rest of the film and its tragic ending. In the scenes during their time at Harvard Medical School, the twins are presented with an award for their design of the Mantle Retractor. The gregarious Elliot accepts the award on behalf of both twins, as the shy Beverly prefers to stay in their room studying. Upon returning from the ceremony, Elliot comments to Beverly that he “should have been there,” to which Beverly responds, “I was.” Later in the film, when fractures in the twins’ relationship begin to form over Beverly’s relationship with Claire, Beverly expresses his desire to keep his romantic feelings and sexual experiences with Claire to himself, to which Elliot responds: “You haven’t had any experience until I’ve had it too.” As the film proceeds, Beverly becomes increasingly withdrawn from Elliot, entering into a romantic relationship with Claire and sharing her penchant for drug abuse. With Beverly’s career on the decline, Elliot attempts an intervention only to take up Beverly’s drug abuse himself (something I’ll discuss in detail later). The film concludes with Beverly and Elliot returning to their state of shared experience, though now this experience is one of dereliction and drug addiction. In an attempt to “separate the Siamese twins” and break them of their

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dependence both on drugs and on each other, Beverly kills Elliot (with Elliot’s consent).2 The ending of the film is ambiguous, though the film strongly suggests that Beverly, too, dies. The way in which the film depicts the twins’ sharing of consciousness across multiple bodies is of most concern to my discussion of the film’s posthuman vernacular, but before exploring this networking of consciousness, I’d first like to touch on the technology that produces this posthuman image vernacular. Dead Ringers approaches the transformation of the body in a less literal and visual way than many of Cronenberg’s other films. Rather than functioning as grotesque displays of spectacle, Dead Ringers’ primary visual effect—the twinning of Jeremy Irons—powers the film itself.3 This effect is meant to be invisible, but it nevertheless calls attention to itself. As with my discussion of the technology of performance capture in Chapter 2, the visual apparatus driving Dead Ringers establishes a posthuman vernacular in the sense that the film produces a sensuous fantasy of the experience of networked subjectivity. A useful metaphor to understand the VFX technology of Dead Ringers— and, later, performance capture—is that of the surgeon. Walter Benjamin, in his seminal “Work of Art” essay, briefly, but provocatively, draws parallels between the work of the camera and that of the surgeon, highlighting the ways in which humans and nonhumans collaborate in the construction of perception and experience: Magician is to surgeon as painter is to cinematographer. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, whereas the cinematographer penetrates deeply into its tissue. The images obtained by each differ enormously. The painter’s is a total image, whereas that of the cinematographer is piecemeal, its manifold parts being assembled according to a new law. Hence, the presentation of reality in film is incomparably the more significant for people of today, since it provides the equipment-free aspect of reality they are entitled to demand from a work of art, and does so precisely on the basis of the most intensive interpenetration of reality with equipment. (2008 [1936], 35)

On the level of narrative, Dead Ringers seems a particularly apt example for illustrating Benjamin’s metaphor. The film focuses on two gynecologists who are obsessed with “penetrat[ing] deeply” into the body in order to understand (and control) its secrets. The Mantle twins view the body as a collection of “manifold parts,” and they isolate their fragment of interest—the female reproductive system—from a holistic view of the body and the patient. They are concerned purely with restoring fertility, not with husbands, babies, or reproduction itself.

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The narrative and themes of Dead Ringers link a desire to see and control with a surgical investigation of the body. My own interest, however, lies with the film’s use of visual effects and how these effects fragment and suture the “tissue” of the film itself. Dead Ringers was produced before the digital revolution had overtaken the film industry, and as such, its special effects were produced optically. The centerpiece effect of the film is the doubling of actor Jeremy Irons, who plays both Mantle twins. Dead Ringers expands on previous techniques of using mattes to stitch together separate halves of the screen, famously used in Disney’s The Parent Trap (Swift 1961). In this process, the frame is split into two matted images and later recombined using an optical printer. In early examples of this process, the camera needed to be securely fixed in one position so as to provide a seamless join between the two halves of the image. Objects in the background—such as poles, lines in the wall, and door frames—were also used to help conceal the seam between the images. Using a computer-controlled motion control camera rig, which precisely replicates camera movements for multiple takes, Dead Ringers was able to add a moving camera to its double matte shots (Ohanian and Phillips 2013, 100–101). According to cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, this setup was quite “primitive” when compared to contemporary digital systems, and there are only eight “twinning shots” in the entire film (TIFF 2016). The bulk of the shots that appear to double Irons are achieved using old-fashioned visual tricks, such as using stand-ins for over-the-shoulder and three-quarter shots, and using conventional shot-reverse shot editing to make it appear that Irons is speaking with himself. While a spectacular special effect, this optical doubling is almost invisible in the film, especially when compared to the spectacularly visible makeup and prosthetic effects normally seen in a Cronenberg film. The optical special effects of Dead Ringers quite literally split the film in two, rending the image much like the Mantle twins cut into their patients’ bodies. As Benjamin describes, the cinematographer and special effects team penetrate the image, splitting it into manifold parts and then reassembling these fragments into a composite image that presents a new, technologically enhanced, “interpenetration of reality with equipment.” Marcie Frank insightfully notes this overlap between technological apparatus and thematic material of the film, and she posits that Dead Ringers “raises questions about the relation between the camera as a gynecological instrument and the camera as a speculum in the sense of a mirror” (1991, 459). Frank argues that the film engages with the theme of separation on multiple levels, both ontological and narrative: just as the Mantle

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twins are obsessed with separating themselves from each other, so too do “the film’s technical innovations, by calling attention to the camera’s complicity in the separation of the twins, [force] the viewer to separate from the film” (1991, 461). As with Benjamin, Frank draws an analogy between the technology of production— the optical splitting of the image—and the creation of a new reality that separates viewers from the film. And the way in which this technological interpenetration of reality reorganizes the sensorium is a hallmark of vernacular posthumanism. JaneMaree Maher takes up this train of thought and emphasizes how the special effects techniques of the film share a goal with the Mantle twins themselves; namely, to expose and open the visual sphere in order to control and possess the body/object. Maher echoes Benjamin: “Visual technologies and the surgeon’s knife share the same desire to incise and bound the edges of the material body” (2002, 124). Maher argues that the primary objective of the Mantle twins is to distance themselves from the fleshiness of the body and the messiness of reproduction by positioning themselves as rational, scientific observers of the human organism. This rational distance is achieved not only through medical instrumentation and its ability to produce knowledge through vision but also through the twins’ own attempts to master vision by means of their identical appearance. The twins’ reliance on scientific—and visual—knowledge is, however, undermined by Claire, who is eventually able to differentiate between the twins, not through sight but rather through her touch upon their flesh. Subverting purely visual modes of knowing—the mode of understanding the world advocated by the Mantle twins—Claire disrupts the twins’ tenuous suturing of their subjectivities, which sends their relationship into a tailspin. Upon losing a grasp on his understanding of the flesh—and abetted by a quickly developing drug dependency—Beverly descends into madness, becoming obsessed with taming what he perceives as the uncooperative flesh of his patients. Encountering one such patient, whose body has become incomprehensible to him, Beverly attempts to use a surgical retractor on the patient during her gynecological exam. (Retractors are used during surgery to hold open the flesh so that the surgeons can access the internal body unencumbered. Using a retractor on an unsedated patient’s vagina during an exam would no doubt be incredibly painful.) After the patient rightfully complains about the agonizing exam, Elliot confronts Beverly about his use of the retractor during an internal exam, to which Beverly responds: “There’s nothing the matter with the instrument. It’s the body. The woman’s body was all wrong.” This perception that a body can be “all wrong” is what eventually

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leads to the brothers’ demise, as they attempt first to “synchronize” their flesh to restore the balance to their relationship that was destroyed by their encounter with Claire and then as they attempt to separate their flesh in order to reestablish their unique subjectivities. The ultimate impenetrability and unknowability of the flesh is something that structures many of Cronenberg’s films, and the irrationality of the flesh and its foundation to the posthuman vernacular of Cronenberg’s films is the subject of the remainder of this chapter.

Getting Synchronized with Dead Ringers As I continue my discussion of Dead Ringers, I’d like to reframe my analysis of the film’s posthuman vernacular slightly in order to account for how theories of digital culture intersect with my argument concerning Cronenberg’s hybrid bodies.4 In the case of David Cronenberg’s films (in particular his films made before 2000), a particular logic of digitality pervades their imagery, and theoretical gains can be made by examining this mode of digitality in tandem with theories of the posthuman. A filmmaker like David Cronenberg, who has been working since the late 1960s, has inhabited a digital mode of thinking long before digital filmmaking was a technical reality. Cronenberg’s approach to embodiment and the flesh is reflective of a digital attitude, in that he conceives of subjectivity (both human and nonhuman) as something that is exchangeable, as something that exists within and between the interactions of agents. For Cronenberg, the digital exists as a virtuality between the fantasies of informational disembodiment and the physical realities of materialism. (We also see this tension in comparisons between practical special effects and digital visual effects.) Matter, in Cronenberg’s world, is the flesh, and his films visualize the tension between the utopian ideals of digital information transfer and the materiality of the lived body. Cronenberg’s films display a fundamental contradiction that is symptomatic of the digital turn. On the one hand, digitality is commonly associated with a technological utopia in which all things—human and nonhuman—are reduced to a common code and seen (like money) as a general equivalent.5 On the other hand, digitality must also recognize the importance of materiality, and Cronenberg’s films struggle to reconcile these two poles. The folding of inside and outside, subject and object, allows Cronenberg to maintain the tension of the digital virtualities that he visualizes in his films, and this tension is a key component of the film’s posthuman vernacular.

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It can be productive to think of the digital from within the theoretical framework of the posthuman. Like the digital, the posthuman is a virtuality existing within a complex network of social and material relationships. They can be regarded as the recto and verso of the same cultural logic, and they find a common expression in their approach to visuality. The films of David Cronenberg can serve as a case study through which to explore the extent to which a virtual digitality is simultaneously a virtual posthumanity. In that they both function, to an extent, as virtualities, digitality and posthumanity are closely linked. And here is a crucial point: both should be conceived of in the plural—digitalities and posthumanities—as each has expressed itself at different times throughout history.6 As such, digitality and posthumanity are not concrete, datable functions of history (though they are dependent on a historical context, and as I discuss in this book’s introduction, these forces have been intensified in recent years). They are particular attitudes toward the image, and they emphasize interchangeability and exchangeability within a complex, embodied network of interaction. In short, posthuman images and digital images are travel companions, and they are complexly intertwined. Discussing Cronenberg in terms of a digital turn might, at first, seem an anachronism. However, if the digital is thought in terms of the posthuman, then the digital can more easily be conceptualized as existing as a virtuality within Cronenberg’s films. Cronenberg expresses this digital virtuality in the language of posthumanism, and his concerns are similar to that of a digital cultural logic: both call into question the stability, production, and authenticity of images, and both demand that we radically rethink the traditional humanistic conceptions of the boundaries between subject and object, human and nonhuman. Dead Ringers provides a useful entry point for examining the ways in which a film, speaking in a vernacular posthumanism, can enact the relationship between digitality, posthumanity, virtuality, and materiality. Dead Ringers speculates about twin brothers who try to overcome the physical split that separates their virtually united subjectivities, and this film speaks to the idea that subjectivity always arises in a particular space and within an embodied network of interaction. The human is something created and defined by what surrounds it, and it is in a constant state of contingency and flux. Following Donna Haraway (2003, 2008) and Bruno Latour (1993), the relationship between the Mantle twins can be made sense of by looking through the lenses of “radical alterity” and “significant otherness.” As opposed to models of interaction that emphasize the fundamental similarity of actants—for example, frameworks of biological  essentialism and genetic

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determinism—a schema of significant otherness uses a recognition of difference as itself the grounds for alliances. Within Haraway’s terms, significant otherness relies on mutual respect, and it is founded on a recognition of difference and an agreement to live together (2008, 7). The strength of this framework is that it recognizes the impossibility (and undesirability) of overcoming the materiality of the lived body while at the same time offering a means for theorizing the assemblages of physical entities.7 For Haraway, this kind of “becoming” is not something that takes place in the virtual; rather, the assemblages created through a recognition of significant otherness are very real, very physical alliances akin to the types of symbiosis achieved in the natural world. Two distinct actants can function as one “organism” while maintaining their separate bodies, and this can only be achieved through the sharing of mutual respect. In a sense, what happens in this kind of relationship is that consciousness extends outside of the boundaries of the physical body, and it comes to exist in the space between the bodies, each actant affecting the other in a process of continual de- and re-forming. Because this process is largely hidden from the realm of the visual, inhabiting instead the realm of the experiential and phenomenological, it becomes difficult to render visible this posthuman self—a self that is by its very nature transitional and transitory, whose conglomerate body is formed with porous boundaries. Dead Ringers offers us an example of how this process of visualization might be achieved, and it does this largely through speaking in the language of vernacular posthumanism. Dead Ringers shows the Mantle brothers as different iterations of the same being, alternate expressions of the same genetic code. The brothers are virtually identical—though Elliot is the slightly older (he refers to Beverly as “baby brother”), more outgoing, and dominant of the two—and they attempt to live their lives as one entity, going so far as to swap sexual partners without the women’s knowledge. The Mantle twins want to share every experience, and they attempt to construct a kind of subjectivity that exists beyond the boundaries of the singular, discrete body. As the film progresses, Claire upsets the careful balance established between the brothers. Beverly wants Claire to himself, and when Claire eventually travels out of town for work on a film, Beverly descends into a state of severe depression and drug addiction (his position as a doctor provides him access to all the drugs necessary to form a nice, stable drug habit). When Elliot finally discovers Beverly’s sorry state, he decides that the only way to save Beverly is to “get synchronized,” to return to their previous state of sharing all experiences. From this point of the film on, the Mantle twins have returned

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to their project of demonstrating that subjectivity is not confined to the body; rather, it is something that is enacted within the world. Beverly has become addicted to drugs, and in order to maintain their symbiotic relationship, Elliot also decides to addict himself. Elliot puts himself on a strict regimen of pills, taking them at appointed times according to a precise schedule, positing that in order to understand his brother, Elliot must first become addicted to drugs. This, of course, creates problems in Elliot’s personal and professional lives, which leads to a fight with his girlfriend, Cary (Heidi von Palleske), over Elliot’s plan to get synchronized with his brother. The dialogue from the scene proceeds thusly: Elliot: The truth is, nobody can tell us apart. We are perceived as one person. If Bev goes down the tubes, I go down with him. Cary:  You’ve got to cut yourself loose. Elliot: It wouldn’t work. Cary:  Why? Elliot: Now look. Don’t you get it yet? Whatever’s in his bloodstream goes directly into mine. Cary:  You can’t be serious. Elliot: That is an objective medical observation. (Elliot begins taking pills.) Cary:  No, no, no! It’s not true. You’re making it true, but it’s not true. Look, you don’t put these in your mouth, they don’t end up in your bloodstream. (Cary knocks the pills from Elliot’s hand, and Elliot begins picking up the pills.) Elliot: Beverly and I just have to get synchronized. Once we’re synchronized it’ll be easy.

Following this exchange, Elliot moves in with Beverly, and both enter into a downward spiral of drug abuse and addiction, continually vowing that the next day will be the day they kick their habit. By this point in the film, it is virtually impossible to tell the twins apart. Previously, each had his own particular idiosyncrasies, but by now the twins are completely visually interchangeable within the film (see Figure 1.1). The Mantle twins are enacting a central tenet of theories of the nonhuman: the actual arises in the world through its instrumentality, through the ways in which it is used and deployed in a particular environment. Consciousness and subjectivity are activities; they are something we do within the world. The film visualizes this process in a particular dialect of vernacular posthumanism that deploys an image of physical connection to indicate a connection in consciousness.8 The surface similarities between the twins—in appearance,

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Figure 1.1  Interchangeability and synchronization in Dead Ringers, 1988. Dir. David Cronenberg.

in movement, in manner—indicate a similarity of depth—of character, of subjectivity, of personality.9 Consciousness, within this vernacular, exceeds the boundaries of the body and spreads itself across multiple actants inhabiting the world—Beverly, Elliot, the pills, the apartment, the surgical tools, etc. Synchronization, as demonstrated in Dead Ringers, is not a passive process but rather an activity that takes place in a material world. What comes to mind here is another hallmark of the digital age: the widespread desire to have all devices “synced” so that information in the cloud can mingle freely on all devices. However, as much as we might desire the simultaneous and synchronized existence of all information across multiple platforms, bodies, materiality, and hardware—as the Mantle twins so vividly illustrate—matter. This theme of synchronization—both in terms of synchronization between characters and environments within the films and in terms of synchronization between film and viewer—runs throughout much of Cronenberg’s work, and his films are structured so as to stage encounters between humans and nonhumans, making visible a philosophy of human-nonhuman interaction. Both a Deleuzian framework and a phenomenological framework can help us navigate this terrain. In his writing on Francis Bacon, Deleuze outlines a theory of the “logic of sensation,” which articulates a figural relationship to painting and other works of art. Here, Deleuze is concerned with exploring how the energies and intensities of sensation might bypass the “rational” processes of cognition and

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act directly on the body and nervous system. In “extract[ing] the Figure from the figurative,” art can create a “zone of indiscernibility” between viewer and viewed, allowing humans and nonhumans to enter into a mutually constitutive process of becoming through the sharing and synchronization of affect and energy (Deleuze 2003, 10). From a phenomenological perspective, this idea of synchronization relates to what Jennifer Barker discusses in terms of our visceral relationship to stop motion animation. Barker argues that the unique rhythms of stop-motion animation act upon our musculature and viscera, “mak[ing] sensible to the viewing body, in cinematic form, a temporality that is not ordinarily sensible” (2009, 143). Later she claims that “the intense attraction to these films, the experience of getting caught up in their rhythm, may well invoke a feeling of sensual harmony” (Barker 2009, 143). My invocation of issues of synchronization in Cronenberg’s films shares much with Barker’s “sensual harmony,” in that each is claiming a visceral, embodied connection between the film’s body and the viewer’s body. Dead Ringers takes up this issue of synchronization directly, though the film explores it in a subtler way than many other Cronenberg films. Here, it is not human-nonhuman synchronization at issue but the synchronization between two people. What is particularly provocative about the film is the argument it makes about how embodiment and consciousness must be enacted in the world. Subjectivity and experience don’t simply happen; they are active processes of engagement with the world and other entities within the world. Consciousness exists as a part of the world and can be shared among beings. Bodies aren’t boundaries or borders; they are doors and gateways. The relationship between the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers provides an example of the digital and posthuman attitudes, expressed sensorially through the film’s posthuman image vernacular. Materially, their bodies are separate entities. However, through the ways in which they enact their subjectivities in the world, they create a virtual system in which their subjectivities can exist across material boundaries. As the film demonstrates at several points, the Mantle twins desire to become completely interchangeable, and their actions strive to make this virtuality an actuality. It is here, however, that we find the contradiction that vernacular posthumanism provokes: fantasies of informational disembodiment must eventually reckon with the realities of the body. The Mantle twins share a virtual subjectivity, but they cannot overcome the materiality of their bodies, no matter how hard they try. In true Cronenbergian fashion, this desire to transcend the human is punished in the end through the evisceration of one Mantle twin

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Figure 1.2  The enfolding of the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers, 1988. Dir. David Cronenberg.

and the suicide of the other. At the conclusion of the film, Beverly has killed Elliot, and Beverly has seemingly committed suicide or died of a drug overdose (Beverly’s fate is left ambiguous, and it’s quite possible he is still alive at the end of the film). The final shot of the film is Beverly lying across Elliot’s lap, whose midsection is covered in the folds of a sheet. This posture and composition of the image enacts the virtual folding of the twins’ subjectivities. At their end, the twins  enfold their bodies in an attempt to reflect the enfolding of their subjectivities. They enact this virtual folding but at the cost of their actual flesh. According to Cronenbergian logic, once things are aligned or synchronized, they can be combined. In this final shot, once the Mantle brothers have completed their synchronization, they are able to combine and enfold their energies into each other, becoming one united being in death (see Figure 1.2).

“The Poetry of the Steak:” Mediation and The Fly The process of synchronization in Dead Ringers is, essentially, the meeting of two different entities, which, through processes of translation and mediation, come to resemble and understand each other. The concept of mediation is foundational to the work of philosopher and sociologist of science, Bruno Latour (2005), and he uses mediators to explore how social realities are materialized through

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his formulation of ANT. Within Latour’s framework, actants exist completely separated from each other, each actant a material entity that can only relate to other actants through third-party mediators. However, while an actant might enjoy a unique and material existence, it comes to be defined purely through its relationships with other actants (Harman 2009, 156). In other words, an actant exists in its own strong realism, but it can only be perceived within a network through the sensations it creates by means of its interaction with other actants. What is most relevant to my reading of Cronenberg’s 1986 film, The Fly, are the ways in which processes of translation function to create associations among actants, finding ways of establishing equivalency among completely individuated actants. “Code”—both biological and computing—in the contemporary world operates as a twenty-first-century universal equivalent that purports to be able to translate among humans, nonhumans, and machines, and it acts as a mediator among actants. In The Fly, scientist Seth Brundle, his teleportation pods, and the housefly that accidentally fuses with Brundle’s DNA are each discreet entities, unable to relate to each other without a mediator. As philosopher Graham Harman puts it, “Latour sees entities as basically cut off in their current relations, unable to enter into new ones without a third actor mediating on their behalf ” (2009, 228). Eventually, by developing an understanding of what connects human, animal, and machine, Brundle is able to fuse the three actants together into a hybrid body. Brundle soon discovers, however, that translations always change that which is being translated, and the importance of medium and materiality is echoed by Latour: “For Latour, translation is ubiquitous: any relation is a mediation, never some pristine transmission of data across a noiseless vacuum” (Harman 2009, 77). An actant is not durable, and it changes constantly depending on its relationships with the other actants in its network. Latour is careful to distinguish between an intermediary—something that is perceived as translating without changing—and a mediator—something that “is an original event and creates what it translates as well as the entities between which it plays the mediating role” (1993, 78). For Latour, an intermediary “is what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs” (2005, 39). Mediators, conversely, “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning of the elements they are supposed to carry” (Latour 2005, 39). Cultural processes of translation—the concept of code, for example—are often perceived as seamlessly translating among diverse actants, allowing for a perfect exchange between humans and machines, and this is an ideology of popular theories of transhumanism. The reality, however,

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is much more complex and, as Latour argues, translation creates the things it translates, deforming and reforming the actants with which it is involved. This theorization of mediators is also the premise of The Fly, and through his utilization of spectacular special effects, Cronenberg offers a vision of just how deforming the process of translation can be. Like so many of Cronenberg’s films, The Fly tells the story of a brilliant scientist whose explorations of the body prove tragic, on both a personal and public level. The Fly focuses on the exploits of scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), who is working on developing a teleportation technology that can instantaneously transmit matter from one telepod to another. Brundle enlists science journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) to document his process of invention, and the two eventually begin a romantic relationship with each other. Brundle’s initial attempts at teleportation are successful, with the caveat that he can only transport inorganic matter. Attempts at teleporting organic matter result in the graphic death of whatever is being transported. Brundle—via the sexual awakening engendered by his relationship with Veronica—is eventually able to solve “the riddle of the flesh,” and he successfully transports organic matter. However, as with many Cronenbergian “heroes,” Brundle quickly becomes the agent of his own demise. Angry at what he perceives to be Veronica’s infidelity, a drunken Brundle sends himself through the telepods. The teleportation initially appears to have proceeded smoothly, and Brundle begins to experience what he views as positive effects from the teleportation process: increased vitality, strength, and libido. Brundle soon discovers, however, that an errant housefly was in the telepod with him during his first trip through the teleporter. Rather than dematerialize and rematerialize both Brundle and fly as separate entities, the “teleporter turned into a gene splicer.” Brundle becomes Brundlefly, and the rest of the film charts his slow progression into monstrosity and death. Brundle’s evolution to Brundlefly is graphically visualized through the makeup and prosthetic work of Chris Walas, which constructs a grotesque human-animal (and, eventually, human-animal-machine) hybrid body. In one important sequence from the film, Brundle is trying to solve the aforementioned “riddle of the flesh.” His telepods have thus far only been able to teleport non-organic matter. Any attempt to teleport living or organic matter results in the organism being wildly deformed or destroyed. In order to test the ability of the telepods to transport dead organic matter, Brundle takes a piece of steak, cuts it in half, and teleports one half of the steak while leaving the other half in its “natural” state. After the teleported steak has been “decoded,”

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transmitted to the partner pod, and then “re-encoded,” Brundle cooks each steak and gives them to Veronica to taste. Veronica tastes the first steak—the untransported steak—and replies that “it could use some finesse, but it tastes like a steak.” However, after tasting the transported steak, Veronica spits it out, claiming that “it tastes synthetic.” The quandary for Brundle is making sense of how the computer can effectively translate inorganic matter but fail to successfully translate organic matter. The underlying premise of this dilemma is that inorganic matter, which is closer in form to the machine nature of the computer, is easier for the computer to understand. Organic matter, conversely, is foreign to the computer’s sensibilities so it needs a more effective method of translation. Brundle, as a genius scientist, believes he can teach the computer about the flesh (himself only having become educated in the intricacies of the flesh as a result of his sexual relationship with Veronica). Brundle describes his assessment of the problem as such: The computer is giving us its interpretation of a steak. It’s translating it for us. It’s rethinking it rather than reproducing it, and something’s getting lost in the translation … The Flesh. It should make the computer crazy, like those old ladies pinching babies. But it doesn’t, not yet. I haven’t taught the computer to be made crazy by the flesh. The poetry of the steak. So I’m going to start teaching it now.

The telepod’s inability to translate the flesh accurately has exposed the “black box” that is the construct of code. For Latour, “a black box is any actant so firmly established that we are able to take its interior for granted” (Harman 2009, 33). Black boxes are those entities whose operation, origin, and ontology are so taken for granted that they are no longer even recognized. Part of Latour’s project is to blast open these black boxes, exposing the forces and networks that constitute the particular actant. In the context of The Fly, the film opens the black box of translation and code, only to seemingly shut it again when Brundle successfully inducts the computer into the mysteries of the flesh. However, as Cronenberg’s films so often do, the film ends with the black box being torn asunder again, when Brundlefly and the telepods are fused into a monstrous human-flymachine assemblage (see Figure 1.3). Taking note of his ability to teach the telepods to translate the flesh, Brundle decides to become a translator himself. Toward the end of the film, when his transformation to a fly is almost complete, Brundle meditates on what it means to be between worlds, to be a hybrid, to be something existing in the space between human and insect:

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Figure 1.3  The Fly’s human-animal-machine hybrid, 1986. Dir. David Cronenberg.

Brundle: Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects don’t have politics. They’re very brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first insect politician. You see, I’d like to, but I’m afraid … Veronica:  I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Brundle: I’m saying … I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake.

By invoking politics and the ability to compromise, Brundle is positioning himself as a figure who could translate information between the human and insect worlds. Himself a hybrid, Brundle could speak to each world without fully inhabiting either. Brundle, however, realizes the folly of this dream, and he acknowledges that the process of translation isn’t so simple. A digital logic is one that wishes to view information, as reduced to code, as an intermediary rather than a mediator. Vital to digital thinking is the idea that information should be able to pass through multiple mediums with no alteration in the content of the information. Translation only matters when glitches expose the machinery behind the flow of information. These momentary hang-ups are the signs of a black box being opened, and they indicate the complex mechanisms that enable information processing and synchronization. The Fly offers a vision of digitality that fantasizes about the easy exchange of information. All entities— human, animal, and machine—are reduced to a common code that can be

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understood and translated by a computer (after, of course, some tutoring by Seth Brundle). While the film may not have been produced within an actual digital mode of filmmaking, it was made within a cultural logic that fantasizes about an informationalist utopia. And this is another example of where posthumanity and digitality overlap: both contain strands of thinking that celebrate code over the material instantiations of that code. The film also provides a vernacular posthumanist materialization of the processes of translation through its utilization of practical special effects to visualize Brundle’s slow transformation into Brundlefly. While The Fly is decidedly schizophrenic in its attitude toward posthumanity, espousing both transhumanist fantasy and a more subtle critique of that fantasy, it does have something to say about the interface between humans and other entities. On the one hand, The Fly adheres to the idea that if we build a good enough translator—Brundle’s computer—we will be able to reduce everything to its building blocks of code. Notably, it is not the computer that fails; it is Brundle. The computer accurately does its job, decoding the bodies and objects in one telepod, breaking them down into pieces of code, and transmitting them to another telepod where they are reconstructed. Brundle, however, makes the mistake of hubris, and he fails to account for the foreign body of the housefly that accompanies him during his first journey through the telepod. The technology is flawless, but the scientist is flawed. Given sufficient precautionary measures, humans and other organic matter could be safely and efficiently teleported from one location to another. The primary thesis espoused by The Fly is that the theory of informational disembodiment, one that adheres to strong belief in biological reductionism, is fundamentally sound. On the other hand, The Fly warns of the dangers of informational reductionism. While technology might enable Brundle to teleport himself, the film criticizes Brundle for scientific overreach (as do many of Cronenberg’s other early films).10 So, while the film might support a theory of passive translation, in practice, translation is a very active process. The Fly calls attention to the difficulties of translation, positioning both Brundle and the computer as important mediators, actants who reshape and reform interpretations of the flesh. In particular, The Fly recognizes the necessity of a translator in order for entities to “speak” to each other. The film attempts to address this issue of translation in a sustained manner, but it tends to get caught up in its own technological fantasy. Brundle, the scientist, most certainly fails in his quest, but it is due to his own personal overreach rather than a failure of technology. Even though the film acknowledges

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the craziness of flesh and “the poetry of steak,” a machine is ultimately able to provide an accurate translation of the flesh, a “synchronization” of flesh and machine. What this fails to acknowledge is both entities—flesh and machine— are not, in fact, purely exchangeable, and as Latour asserts, mediators change that which they are translating. The scientist is elided here, and his role as translator takes a backseat to the technological power of the teleportation device.

Cronenberg’s Spectacular Posthumanism While this chapter hasn’t explored the entirety of Cronenberg’s work in detail, I hope to have outlined some of the key connections between Cronenberg’s construction of special effects-enhanced hybrid bodies and the ways in which they communicate, through their posthuman image vernaculars, some central tenets of posthumanist thought. Chief among these are issues of the relationship between mind and body, material synchronization between divergent entities, and human-animal-machine hybrids. In many of Cronenberg’s films, while the process of hybridization and synchronization with the nonhuman other might, at first, be generative, the end result is often the destruction of one or more of the constituent elements of the new hybrid being. This destruction, however, is itself often generative of a new mode of being. Animality and technology are positioned as both other to and constitutive of the human body, so a true synchronization between these elements must result in radically altered form of existence. As depicted by the sex zombies of Shivers, the nonhuman other is both prosthetic and parasite, and its relationship to the human is both productive and antagonistic. The “combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease” parasites of Shivers turn their victims into sex zombies, but those victims also experience the freedom of a hedonistic, libidinal release of energy. The tumors of Videodrome both destroy the victim and usher in the “new flesh.” In Scanners, the ability of an individual to sync up with the nervous systems of humans and machine networks (the film problematically claims that the two are identical) can offer liberatory potential, but the film concludes with the fusion of two bodies and minds and the destruction of individual identity (1981). The human-fly merger in The Fly begins as a productive encounter between beings but concludes with the death and destruction of each entity. In Crash, the desire to merge the human and machine body results in a quest for an erotic death that destroys both human and machine. Finally, in eXistenZ, the interfacing of human and

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wetware machine results in an inability to distinguish virtual existence from real existence while at the same time liberating the new hybrid beings from the confines of a “cage formed out of their own limited expectations.” What this brief litany of examples demonstrates is that Cronenberg’s films are ambivalent about the outcomes of synchronization between humans and nonhumans. On the one hand, interfacing with nonhuman animals and machines displays a (dangerous) desire to escape cultural and biological boundaries of the body. On the other hand, this escape, while destroying the figurative bodies, results in a transcendence into the energies of the figural. In many ways, this ambivalence connects to a larger cultural ambivalence about theories of the post- and transhuman and the technological singularity. There is much popular theorization concerning the desire to erase and transcend the human body, concomitant with powerful discourses that reinforce the human and warn of the dangers of interfacing with the nonhuman. The vernacular posthumanism of Cronenberg’s films visualizes this paradox—the simultaneous deprivileging and emphasizing of the flesh—through spectacular special effects, and they offer a murky theorization of both the liberatory and destructive potential of encounters between the human and the nonhuman. To conclude this chapter, I’d like to offer a few thoughts regarding a Cronenbergian theory of openness to the world. Underlying the films I’ve been discussing throughout this chapter is the idea that, in order for humans and nonhumans to make productive encounters, the flesh must be open both to the world and to other beings, and this openness is often visualized through the modification of the profilmic body with special effects. Beginning with his earliest films, Cronenberg has consistently made the argument that the human body makes sense only when it is opened toward both mechanical and nonhuman animal forces. Whether it is an emotional openness as in Stereo (1969) and The Brood, a mental openness as in Scanners and The Dead Zone (1983), or a fleshy openness as in Crimes of the Future (1970), Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash, and eXistenZ, Cronenberg’s films articulate a theory of the body and subjectivity that posits that the self can be realized only through its encounters and interactions with the world and its other inhabitants. A brief sequence from eXistenZ clearly articulates this attitude. In many ways, eXistenZ is an update of Videodrome for the digital gaming age, as it confronts the relationship between mediation and perceptions of reality. In the film, game designer Alegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her companion Ted Pikul (Jude Law) journey through various virtual game worlds in an attempt to escape

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their adversaries. The narrative of the film itself is a game/puzzle, and at the film’s conclusion, it is impossible to distinguish reality from illusion. Key for my point here is how players enter the game world, which is through a “bioport” installed at the base of their spine. The biological gamepod links to the nervous system of the player through an umbilical cord that connects to the bioport. Ted, who at the beginning of the film is not equipped with a bioport, must have one installed in order to play the game. Worried about having an open wound in the small of his back, he shares his concerns with Allegra: Ted:  

How come bioports don’t get infected? I mean, they open right into your body. Allegra:  Listen to what you’re saying, Pikul. Don’t be ludicrous.

Allegra then opens her mouth wide to demonstrate to Ted that our bodies are already open to the world. Our bodies are porous, and the external world constantly flows in and out of the various “ports” in our bodies—both physical and those created with special effects. This sequence from the film provides a concise summary of how Cronenberg’s films work through issues of fleshy openness and bodily boundaries, and it demonstrates that individuals are, by definition, intertwined with the world. The self is necessarily realized through its encounters with that which exists outside of its fleshy borders, visualizing the embodied nature of consciousness. In interviews, Cronenberg has stated his desire to understand and speculate about the perspective of the nonhumans that populate his films. One of the goals of his films is to present a nonhuman point of view: A virus is only doing its job. It’s trying to live its life. The fact that it’s destroying you by doing so is not its fault. It’s about trying to understand interrelationships among organisms, even those we perceive as disease. To understand it from the disease’s point of view, it’s just a matter of life. It has nothing to do with disease. I think most diseases would be very shocked to be considered diseases at all. It’s a very negative connotation. For them, it’s very positive when they take over your body and destroy you. It’s a triumph. (Rodley 1992, 82)

Cronenberg also communicates a desire to extend this nonhuman perspective to the aesthetics of his films and his use of disturbing practical effects: Why not look at the process of ageing and dying, for example, as a transformation? This is what I did in The Fly. It’s necessary to be tough though. You look at it and it’s ugly, it’s nasty, it’s not pretty. It’s very hard to alter our aesthetic sense to accommodate ageing, never mind disease. (Rodley 1992, 82–83)

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As these passages indicate, Cronenberg is very conscious of how he presents the nonhuman, and the hybrid bodies he creates are designed to rework how we think through the relationship between the human and the nonhuman, altering our perception of the posthuman condition they present. The Fly, as with other Cronenberg films, stages an encounter between the techno-organic triad of the human, the animal, and the machine, and it argues that an openness to the world and a willingness to synchronize oneself with the rhythms and energies of the world can provide a means of interfacing with the nonhuman other. While this process ends disastrously for Brundle (and the teleporter and the fly), it nevertheless offers a vision of how we humans might interface not only with animals and machines but also with the technology of cinema itself.

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Performance Capture’s Spectacle of Self

In my discussion of David Cronenberg’s films in Chapter 1, I used Walter Benjamin’s brief commentary on the relationship between the cinematographer and the surgeon to frame my analysis of the VFX used in Dead Ringers (specifically the film’s use of split-screen optical doubling). In this chapter, I take up Benjamin’s comparison between surgery and film more explicitly, and I apply it to the technologies of performance capture (the process by which an actor’s movement and performance are recorded, translated, and then recoded into a digital avatar) and robotic surgery. Following my discussion of Cronenberg, the key issue here is the relationship between technology and embodiment and the ways in which this relationship produces hybrid bodies. What links Cronenberg’s films, performance capture, and robotic surgery as case studies is their approach to visuality and the technological apparatus, which highlights the penetration of technology into the image. This chapter also draws connections between these hybrid bodies and their unique expression of vernacular posthumanism. In particular, this chapter focuses on the ways in which the body is translated across digital networks and how embodiment is transformed though this process, creating new models of perceiving and inhabiting the world. Before continuing, however, it will be useful to restate the passage from Benjamin that has inspired my analysis: Magician is to surgeon as painter is to cinematographer. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, whereas the cinematographer penetrates deeply into its tissue. The images obtained by each differ enormously. The painter’s is a total image, whereas that of the cinematographer is piecemeal, its manifold parts being assembled according to a new law. Hence, the presentation of reality in film is incomparably the more significant for people of today, since it provides the equipment-free aspect of reality they are entitled to demand from a work of art, and does so precisely on the basis of the most intensive interpenetration of reality with equipment. (2008 [1936], 35)

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When I initially began drawing connections between performance capture and my theorization of vernacular posthumanism during the completion of my graduate work, I included a few last-minute paragraphs of analysis of the technology just before my dissertation was sent off to the committee. The commentary I provided there was quite superficial, and I included it to support an argument I was making in an entirely different context. However, what I found in my very preliminary research has proven to be quite fortuitous, and it supports the larger claims of this book regarding human-nonhuman assemblages and the ways in which their posthuman image vernaculars provide an initiation into the posthuman condition. During an initial exploratory search for images of performance capture, I entered a series of terms into a Google image search, which produced results that have led directly to the subject of this chapter. In my search for content related to performance capture, I encountered a productive juxtaposition of images: that of performance capture technology and the technology of remote robotic surgery (a technology that allows a surgeon to perform a procedure on a patient in a different location to that of the surgeon). The results churned out by the Google algorithm led me to question what the relationship between these seemingly unrelated technologies might be and whether analyzing them in conjunction might yield fruitful conclusions. The first question that came to mind was a variation on “Where’s the beef?” Or, in Cronenbergian terms, “Where’s the meat?” I wondered, where does the body go in these technologies? It’s neither entirely here nor there, so where is it located? This led to other questions: in what ways are the technology and experience of performance capture similar to the technology and experience of remote robotic surgery? How does each technological assemblage, through its dispersion of the human throughout a network, reconfigure the experience of movement, time, and space? How does each alter the scale at which the “performer”—as well as the “viewer/patient”—senses and perceives the world, enacting a sensual, proprioceptive experience of technology? In what ways does each think through—and visualize—the relationship between the analog and the digital, crystallizing and animating contemporary fantasies of disembodiment and informationalism? Google, unfortunately, was unable to answer these questions satisfactorily, but it did provide a necessary nudge. Just as this chapter is a product of a complex network of human-machine assemblages (myself and the Google image search), so too are performance capture and robotic surgery embodiments of contemporary technological and cultural assemblages. While robotic surgery

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might at first appear far removed from traditional studies of media, it is, in fact, quite indicative of contemporary media practices, and it demands the inquisitive and interdisciplinary approaches that media and screen studies can provide. Robotic surgery employs many of the strategies of mainstream media (in particular, blockbuster film and video game) production, namely an emphasis on sensory immersion through visual, sonic, and haptic interfaces (see Figure 2.1). Its technological apparatus thus mimics many of the goals of contemporary media trends such as IMAX, 3D computer imaging, Dolby Atmos, haptic interfaces, virtual reality, and motion control systems (e.g., Microsoft’s Kinect). More broadly, both performance capture and robotic surgery provide an illustration of our relationship to contemporary media technologies, as well as how media technologies can rework not only our experience of media but also the ways in which we perceive and interact with the world around us.1 Through their extension of the body into multiple locations, both technologies construct hybrid bodies that imagine a posthuman, digital future of alternate modes of embodiment. Performance capture has featured prominently in mainstream special effects cinema and video games, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson 2001– 2003), The Polar Express (Zemeckis 2004), King Kong (Jackson 2005), Beowulf (Zemeckis 2007), Avatar (Cameron 2009), The Adventures of Tintin (Spielberg 2011), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson 2012), the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy (Wyatt 2011; Reeves 2014/2017), Heavy Rain (Cage 2010), L.A. Noire (McNamara 2011), Beyond: Two Souls (Cage 2013), and The Last of Us (Straley and Druckmann 2013), to name some of the early and/or most notable examples.2 While performance capture and remote surgery might be employed

Figure 2.1  Full da Vinci Si HD Surgical System—Dual Console. ©2017 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.

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for different reasons in divergent contexts—that of the media industries and the medical-military industries, respectively—they each produce a human-machine assemblage that enacts itself across different scales. Each technology “captures” a performance, translates that performance into digital information, recodes that performance into another body—be it robotic or digital synthespian— which can then be experienced in the physical body of the patient or viewer. Each “performer” is, in many ways, acting as a puppeteer, manipulating an extension of their body through space and time.3 The shift in scale produced by each technology—in terms of movement, perception, experience, and sensation—demonstrates the extent to which the vernacular posthumanism of these technologies of telepresence fosters a multilocal experience of the body, the dispersion of authorial control across the human-machine assemblage, and a reinforcement of embodied experience despite an embrace of cultural fantasies of informational disembodiment. Over the last twenty years, “vactors” (virtual actors), synthespians, cyberstars, and performance capture have received growing attention in film, media, and screen scholarship. Examples of work in the area include contextualization of performance capture through discussions of the history of animation, rotoscoping, and embodiment (Bouldin 2004; Gunning 2006); analyses of performance capture’s technological history, apparatus, and spectator engagement (North 2005; 2008); explorations of realism and special effects (Allison 2011; Prince 1996, 2012); examinations of the production cultures of animation and digital visual effects (Freedman 2012; Mihailova 2016; Telotte 2010); a psychoanalytic investigation of digital actors (Creed 2000); and interrogations of the hybrid/monstrous ontology of performance capture and the uncanniness of the image (Aldred 2011; Bestor 2016; Bode 2006; Brown 2009a; Mihailova 2013; Monnet 2004). While almost all of these works touch on issues of phenomenology and the body, none takes the embodied relationship between performer and digital visualization as its primary concern. In this chapter, I take an explicitly phenomenological position, examining the connective tissue that binds actor and avatar, surgeon and robot. The ligaments that connect human and nonhuman both separate and draw the entities close together, and the resultant shifts in scale, perception, and experience—and their construction of a posthuman image vernacular—will be explored in the remainder of this chapter. I expand on the analogy Benjamin makes between the camera and the surgeon, providing a phenomenological reading of this passage and arguing that both performance capture and remote surgery penetrate the materiality of the

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body and reconstitute that materiality elsewhere, as a human’s bodily movements are captured, transmitted, translated, and finally recoded into that of another body, be it a profilmic/physical or digital form of embodiment.4 This “elsewhere” is of a fundamentally different scale than the originary body, having undergone a translation from a profilmic/physical body into a digital presence and then back into an analog sensation.5 The multilocal body thus operates on a multitude of scales: the translation of the actor/surgeon’s movement into smaller or larger actions, the increase or decrease of the speed of movement, the time and place of perception, and the distance from which the multilocal body is experienced by both practitioner and viewer. The multilocal body is fundamentally a hybrid body, to the extent that the profilmic/physical body is altered (both actually and virtually) and reconstituted as a new entity. Both remote surgery and performance capture offer a meditation on the complexity of subjectivity and embodiment within a network while at the same time providing a snapshot of the tension between embodiment and disembodiment in contemporary posthuman and digital culture.

Performance capture and the multilocal body In the performance capture process, an actor must navigate both profilmic/ physical and digital terrains to achieve a haptic verisimilitude in the digital rendering of their movement and presence. Actors don a combination of body markers and facial cameras, which are then translated into a digital environment to be animated. The movements of the actor’s body are captured and uploaded into a computer where an animator adds various textures and “skins” to bring the digital character to life.6 Frequently, this digital creation is coupled with the voice of the actor, adding a phenomenological persistence of the human voice to an otherwise digital character. The 2011 video game L.A. Noire, for example, utilizes facial performance capture as a fundamental component of its gameplay. In the game, players are tasked with examining the facial movements and expressions of the game characters in order to assess whether a character is lying or telling the truth. While the game was ultimately unsuccessful in fully realizing its ambitions—after all, it’s very difficult to determine if someone is lying in real life—its technology was successful in capturing the detailed movements (if not emotions) of the actors who played the characters.

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A production video for the game demonstrates the technology utilized by the game’s designers and programmers. The process consists of two parts. In the first part, actors wear a motion capture suit, which records their movement and eyelines. In the second part of the process, dozens of cameras surround and record the actor’s face, and this information is fed into a computer, which processes the data from the cameras and compiles the information into a 3D rendering of the actor’s face (see Figure 2.2). Because the system utilizes such a high amount of visual data, it produces a remarkable fidelity to the subtle facial movements of the actors. As one designer puts it—no doubt interested in promoting his product by incorporating an industrial rhetoric of photorealism—“The level of detail is just so high that they’re just like a real person in real life” (IGN 2010). An actor’s facial performance is captured by a cocoon of cameras (the producers refer to this technology as “MotionScan”), translated into a digital avatar, and then transplanted onto a digital body, and this process actualizes Benjamin’s “manifold parts.” The body of the actor is fragmented by the multi-camera setup and then, as Benjamin writes, “assembled according to a new law.” These fragments produce a new whole, which is then attached to the digital body, which is itself the product of performance capture. The resulting interactive image thus translates and extends the movements and material “weight” and presence of the actor into a different space, allowing for the multilocality—in both time and space—of the actor’s body.7

Figure 2.2  Performance capture in L.A. Noire. Image from http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=aL9wsEFohTw.

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Writing about Beowulf, media scholar William Brown describes the fundamental shifts in scale that a performance must pass through in its transformation from human body to digital avatar, noting the potentially innumerable alterations that can be made to the digital image. In addition to the spatial transformations of scale discussed by Brown, the performance must also pass through ontological and temporal dimensions of scale (2009a, 162). The movements of the actor must be captured and coded by a combination of data point and video recording, translated into digital video information, modified by animators, composited into the live action segments of the shot (if any are featured in the film), and finally translated back into analog consumption through the viewer. In terms of its temporal component, the performance, like all recorded performances, can be manipulated both in terms of speed (e.g., slow motion) and, necessarily, in terms of consumption: the performance is consumed at a time subsequent to its recording.8 This mutation of the scale and ontology of the actor’s body functions as a translation and manipulation, altering the materiality of the body as the process of performance capture extends it into its digital avatar. Gabriela Galati, relating the materiality of new media technologies to the bilocality of religious relics, explores the relationship between the lived body and the projected body. In the history of religion, Galati notes, the cult of relics conceptualized each part of the deceased holy body as equally possessing the spirit of the whole: The physical contact with the “sacred” was considered of great importance, and each part of the holy person was considered to have exactly the same value, the same sacred characteristics as the ensemble; all the remains were said to have power derived from the saint. (2011, 130)

Popular understandings of new media technologies—for example, avatar identities in video games like Second Life and World of Warcraft, or in the ubiquitous social network profiles consuming the internet—conceive of presence in a similar manner. Just as Galati’s theory of bilocation allows for the presence of one individual in two or more places, so too do new media technologies facilitate the extension of the self into multiple locations. Galati, however, complicates this understanding, and she resists the simple conflation of analog and digital presence, arguing instead that, while digital technologies do indeed extend the self, the multilocal presences are of a differing ontological status. Galati is also careful not to create a dichotomy between profilmic/ physical embodiment and digital disembodiment, positing that the extension of

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presence through new media technologies reworks ideas of the body rather than dismantles embodiment.9 Though the profilmic/physical and digital body might in many ways inhabit different ontological realms, it is the connective tissue binding them together that proves most illuminating in exploring the relationship between actor and avatar. While the question of the ontology of the digital image/being is vitally important—and it has been a topic of much concern in contemporary film, media, and screen studies10—I want to emphasize the connection between bodies as they travel across and through networks, the ways in which embodiment experiences a shift in spatial, temporal, and experiential scale. In other words, rather than delineating the ontological differences in analog and digital-being, I’m more interested in exploring the phenomenological “umbilical cord” that connects the body of actor and avatar, surgeon and robot. Roland Barthes, discussing his experience of photography, argues not only that viewers share a carnal link with the photographic image but also that the photographic image shares a phenomenological connection with that which it depicts: “In short, the referent adheres” (1981, 6). And while processes of creating analog photographs differ ontologically from those of creating digital avatars, there still exists an affective and phenomenological connection between body and image (Gunning 2004; Raengo 2013). Delineating profilmic/physical and digital bodies along purely ontological trajectories rehearses many of the philosophical pitfalls of classical theorizations of a fundamental mind-body split. One of the biggest challenges of analyzing digital imagery and embodiment stems from a reliance on Cartesian theories of the mind, which conceive of subjectivity as housed within the prosthetic of the body, rather than as a process emerging out of an embodied interaction with the world. Those who take a Deleuzian approach to understanding digitality, such as Brian Massumi (2002, 2010), Anna Munster (2006), and Jussi Parikka (2010), offer a way around the limitations of Cartesian thinking. The approach of these writers highlights the role of technology in refiguring the body, rather than standing apart from it. Subjectivity is viewed as dispersed throughout a network, the result of the modulations of sensation emerging from an interaction with the affects, intensities, and foldings of an environment and its human and nonhuman inhabitants. Thus, rather than conceiving of digitality as a technological apparatus distinct from the body, the digital is instead viewed as an assemblage that realizes itself through the interaction of human and (nonhuman) technology.

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Embodiment persists within such a schema, though we must take care to remember that embodiment here is not a static phenomenon but rather an ongoing and perpetually emerging process, and it is thus subject to modulations depending on our point of contact with the body (i.e., the actor or the avatar, the surgeon or the robot). The intensive flows of the profilmic/physical body interact and combine with the flows of the digital body, creating new and divergent forms of embodiment. Bodies, within such a framework, become more than simple meat upon which the “software” of consciousness can run.11 Embodiment becomes crucial to subjectivity, and this extends beyond the profilmic/physical world into the digital. Bob Rehak (2003, 123), writing about digital avatars, reinforces this perspective on embodiment, arguing that we “take the body with us in the form of codes and assumptions about what does and does not constitute a legitimate interface with reality—virtual or otherwise.” The relationship between human and avatar is not one of either simple projection or straightforward extension of presence. It is, instead, a complex and ever-changing reconfiguration of human and nonhuman elements, one that expresses itself visually through posthuman image vernaculars.

The camera and the surgeon A promotional image from Intuitive Surgical functions as a pictorial summation of this chapter’s argument (see Figure 2.3). In the image, a robotic “hand” is superimposed over the gloved hand(s) of a surgeon, encouraging a comparison of movement and utility between the human and nonhuman beings. The image also uses a repetition of the hands in order to convey a sense of motion and to draw parallels between the physiognomy—fingers and wrist—of the surgeon and the robot. Occupying the foreground of the image, the robotic hand is given subtle priority over the surgeon’s hand, but at the same time, the size and scale of the human hand dwarfs the robotic implement, implying a sense of command over the tool. My dual reading of the image highlights the ambivalent nature of authorship not only in regard to robotic surgery but also in regard to performance capture. Neither surgeon nor robot is in control; rather, control emerges from the human-nonhuman assemblage. The image also calls attention to issues of scale, accentuating the discrepancy in size between the two figures as well as the smaller, more precise movements of the robotic hand.

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Figure 2.3  da Vinci Hand Instrument Articulation. ©2017 Intuitive Surgical, Inc.

This image, however, also traffics in transhuman fantasies of disembodiment and the easy exchange of information between mediums. Elided here is the intervening mechanical and computing apparatus that connects the surgeon and the robot. Depicted instead is a seamless interaction between bodies, neglecting the processes of translation and transformation that accompany any change in medium. The technologies of both remote surgery and performance capture can also tell us something about the role of animation in translating analog human sensations and movements into a digital environment. In each case, a human’s bodily movements are captured and translated into digital computing environment. In performance capture, an animator’s computing algorithms transform a profilmic/physical body into a digitally animated avatar. In remote surgery, the role of animation is less visible, but the surgeon’s movements nevertheless “animate” the robotic tools. I conceive of both the actor-avatar and the surgeon-robot assemblages as signal examples of the intertwining of profilmic/physical and digital embodiment, and

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it is out of these assemblages that a hybrid form of embodiment emerges. The body, in this scenario, is not simply a matter of profilmic/physical embodiment and digital disembodiment. Rather, as is also the case in the relationship of actor to avatar, the relationship between surgeon and robot produces a new kind of embodiment, one that consists of the human body of the surgeon, the algorithms that translate this body into a specific kind of code, and the robotic apparatus that interprets and realizes this embodiment in its mechanical form. In the case of robotic surgery, the computer algorithms that link the profilmic/physical and digital bodies together function as a central process that unites each body under a new regime of hybrid embodiment. The algorithm interacts with the surgeon (in terms of both vision and haptics), produces a magnified and manipulable image of the body, and acts on the patient’s body. The hybrid body resulting from such a reconfiguration exemplifies what Mark Hansen calls a “body-in-code” and what Beth Coleman terms “X-Reality.” For Hansen, all reality is experienced as a mixed reality—an imbrication of digital and analog experience—and the body-in-code is the kind of being that inhabits this reality. Describing the bodyin-code, Hansen writes: By this I do not mean a purely informational body or a digital disembodiment of the everyday body. I mean a body submitted to and constituted by an unavoidable and empowering technical deterritorialization—a body whose embodiment is realized, and can only be realized, in conjunction with technics. (2006, 20)

Following this line of thought, Coleman emphasizes the everyday nature of our interactions with digital visual technologies. For Coleman, X-Reality is “an engagement of networked media integrated into daily life, perceived as part of a continuum of actual events” (2011, 20). Both performance capture and robotic surgery produce multiple body-incode “segments” as well as a larger human-nonhuman assemblage that can itself be considered a body-in-code. Examples of the body-in-code segments are the surgeon interacting with their console, the patient on the table with an endoscope in their body, the actor wearing facial markers, and the animator manipulating the captured performance. The larger body-in-code assemblages would be the entire robotic surgical system (including broadband infrastructure and attending nurses) and the whole system of performance capture (including the apparatuses of capture and exhibition). Embodiment thus extends past the boundaries of the actual bodies of the robot and surgeon, actor and avatar, and it emerges from the cooperation and interaction of a particular technological

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assemblage. As these examples make clear, traditional concepts like “mind” and “body” make little sense once subjectivity and embodiment extend past the boundaries of the molar body. (And, as discussed in Chapter 1, this is the philosophy of subjectivity and embodiment expressed in Dead Ringers.) What these bodies-in-code share is a notable fragmentation of experience, and in her essay on cybersurgery and (dis)embodiment, Julie Doyle uses Benjamin’s thoughts on the camera and the surgeon to offer a critique of the ways in which cybersurgery and its processes of visualization function to fragment the body, presenting it as a collection of small pieces rather than a holistic organism. For Doyle, “digital imaging and (computer manipulated) surgical technologies penetrate and mediate the body, presenting an image of the fragmented body to the surgeon through which the material practice of surgery is remotely performed,” and these surgical “technologies fragment the body and prioritize its image over an embodied reality” (2007, para. 3; para. 5). Just as a film is the product of piecing together image fragments, so too is cybersurgery when it breaks down and reconstitutes fragments of the body, obscuring a perception of the unified totality of the interaction of those pieces. Two of the major researchers and developers of robotic surgery are Intuitive Surgical, which produces the da Vinci and ZEUS Surgical Systems, and Stanford Research Institute (SRI) International, which manufactures the M7 Surgical Robot. Each developer produces a similar product, which shares much with the design of an interactive arcade gaming rig: a robotic apparatus that utilizes haptic feedback interfaces, high-definition stereoscopic video, and immersive sound technology in order to allow the surgeon to extend their body into multiple locations.12 These remote surgical technologies function as a mechanical prosthetic for the surgeon, allowing them to translate, modulate, and transmit bodily movements over great distances. The technology functions to improve and refine the motions of the surgeon, facilitating, for example, operations on a beating heart, which obviates the need for the heart-lung machines used in cardiopulmonary bypass surgeries. The robot syncs the surgeon’s movements with the motion of the beating heart, creating a human-machine assemblage that utilizes the skillset of both surgeon and robot. As media scholars Timothy Lenoir and Sha Xin Wei argue, robot-assisted surgery, through its dispersion of control and subjectivity, deconstructs the notion of the “surgeon-author,” replacing the surgeon-as-expert with the surgeon-as-data manager (2002). At issue here are questions of control: is it the robot or the surgeon who performs the surgery? This question of control

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may soon become more pressing as the Becnel Law Firm, LLC and Riley & Jackson, Attorneys at Law have established a website (http://badrobotsurgery. com/) to bring lawsuits on behalf of patients who have suffered from “bad robot surgery.” While the justice system will need to sort out liability and fault—the hospitals, doctor, software designer, hardware engineer, IT supervisor, etc.— from my purview, the question of robot-surgeon control is misguided. Control emerges not from either/or but rather from the effects of this human-nonhuman technological assemblage. A closer examination of the operating room procedures of robotically mediated surgeries reinforces this view that cybersurgery, through its technologies of vision, serves to fragment and reassemble the body. In the da Vinci surgical system, the arrangement of the operating room consists of three primary equipment carts: the patient cart, the vision cart, and the surgeon’s console. The surgeon’s console is the master of this system, and it is connected to and controls both the patient cart and the vision cart. The patient cart is stationary, and it is positioned next to the operating table on which the patient undergoing the procedure lies. This cart contains all of the cameras, tools, and robotic implements that will be acting on the actual body of the patient, and it is overseen by a surgical assistant, standing near the patient and patient cart, who watches to confirm that the surgery is proceeding as planned. The robotic implements on the patient cart enter the patient’s body through small (1–2 cm) incisions (Intuitive Surgical 2016d). The vision cart, which is essentially a hightech TV stand, is positioned near the patient cart, and it provides a 2D view of what the surgeon sees in their console. The images on the vision cart are available to the entire operating room team, allowing the surgeon’s view to be shared with the entire surgical staff. This double vision—between the surgeon’s console and the vision cart—is the first method by which the body of the patient becomes fragmented. The surgeon’s view from their console is the second way in which the robotic surgical apparatus fragments the body. Rather than providing a holistic view of the body, the da Vinci system focuses the surgeon’s attention on a particular site of the patient’s body, providing an enhanced, but limited, view of the small area. A small camera captures the relevant area, and according to promotional materials from Intuitive Surgical, “the vision system is equipped with a highdefinition, 3D endoscope (flexible tube with a camera and light at the tip) and image processing equipment that provides true-to-life images of the patient’s anatomy” (2016e). This endoscope is viewed through the surgeon’s console,

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which, through the use of stereoscopic lenses, provides the surgeon with a highresolution, 3D image of the surgical site. This endoscope also incorporates a digital zoom functionality, which produces up to 10x magnification (Intuitive Surgical 2016c). Additionally, both the surgeon’s console and the vision cart incorporate a head-up display (HUD), which overlays information about the tool being used, the magnification level, and the screen size onto the image of the patient’s body. In this way, the computer mediates the surgeon’s access to the patient’s body—both in terms of visibility and information overlay—and it reassembles the body as a robot-computer-human hybrid. A final example of fragmentation and reassembly is worth noting. As a training and observation tool, the da Vinci system also allows for the use of dual surgeon’s consoles (Intuitive Surgical 2016b). Within this arrangement, two surgeons on two different consoles can see the same image. If this setup is being used as a training tool, control over the system can be transferred easily between student and teacher. If this setup is being used for collaborative surgery, the surgeons can operate in concert, each controlling a different aspect of the robotic implement. Within this scenario, access to the patient’s body—as well as control over the robotic surgical system—is further fragmented, with control dispersed among two surgeons and the robot. Whereas Doyle’s critique highlights this fragmentation while making an important intervention in our understanding of the processes of visualizing the patient’s body, my own interests lie more with the relationship between the surgeon’s body and the body of the robotic apparatus (as well as the relationship between actor and avatar). Doyle does, however, share my concern with the embodied experience of technology, a concern also articulated by Benjamin. Much of the rhetoric surrounding both robotic surgery and performance capture technologies emphasizes the immersive nature of the technological apparatus, the extent to which the technology “disappears” during use, presenting the human-machine assemblage as a seamless merger of flesh, hardware, and digital processing. As Benjamin asserts, the technology is understood as working through bodies, offering an “intensive interpenetration of reality with equipment.” It is important to note, however, that this interpenetration of reality only produces the appearance of being an “equipment-free aspect of reality.” Because of the extent to which humans and technological apparatuses become intertwined with each other, merging their bodies and reworking their mutual techniques of perception, this equipment is frequently positioned as a nonactant, a passive conduit through which human experience flows.

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Within the rhetoric of the industry, humans maintain complete agency, and the technologies are subservient to the desires of their human users. As Intuitive Surgical describes it, “the da Vinci Xi® Surgical System provides a natural extension of the surgeon’s eyes and hands into the patient” (2016a). Here we can see the way in which the technology, through its immersive visual and haptic systems, is understood as providing a seamless extension of the surgeon’s body, through the computer and robot, into the patient’s body. Describing his team’s M7 robotic surgical apparatus, Thomas Low, director of the medical systems and telerobotics program at SRI International, reinforces this idealization of a technological prosthesis: The combination of the audio field, the 3D visuals, the force feedback, and everything aligned properly … quickly you become so immersed in the environment that, as I said before, the technology disappears, and you’re just doing the job. But you may be 10,000 miles away. (Scoble 2011, emphasis added)13

Overlooked within this understanding of the relationship between technology and user are the intervening processes of image rendering and kinesthetic mediation. Also ignored is the complexity of the human-nonhuman assemblage, as well as the processes of translation through which perception must pass on its way to becoming sensation and experience. Moreover, and as has been implicit in my discussion of robotic surgery thus far, this conceptualization of technology as extending one body into another functions as a means for the surgeon to see and be at a distance. The surgical technology allows for perception at a distance: the extension of the senses, through technological mediation, into a proxy body (that of the cameras and robotic arms). While this kind of rhetoric is quite appealing from a technological fetishist point of view, it overlooks both the processes of mediation at play and the different modes of embodiment engendered through this mediation and translation.

Mimesis and the body’s transformative travels The resultant bodies-in-code of both the robot and the digital avatar share a persistent link to their parent bodies, and their linkage—and reflection of each other—embodies both what Benjamin (1978) called humankind’s “mimetic faculty” and what philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962) understood as the reversibility of subject/object relationships. As Jennifer Barker interprets

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it, “[f]or Merleau-Ponty this double sensation provoked by one hand touching the other is the archetype for the subject/object relations in the world: irreducible one to the other, but embedded in a constantly mutual experience, constituted by the same ‘stuff.’” (2009, 19). In performance capture, the actor’s body both touches and is touched by their digital avatar in a recursive feedback loop. Through the process of viewing the digital avatar in real time, the actor can adjust their movements based on the screen image, and the screen image itself adjusts to the actor’s movements. Neither is reducible to the other, and neither actor nor avatar “loses itself ” in the image of the other. Rather, the subjectivity and presence of both actor and avatar emerge in their interaction, partly due to the fact that the digital performance is invested with human emotions while at the same time, the human performance is invested with the technological apparatus of the capture equipment. In other words, the “actor” and the “avatar,” as categories of being, emerge only out of their interaction as an assemblage, and their relationship constitutes their unique subjectivity and embodied presence. Actor/director Andy Serkis, renowned for his pioneering performance capture work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Adventures of Tintin, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, echoes this reading of the relationship between actor and avatar. While it is important to keep in mind that Serkis and the relevant production studios have vested personal, professional, and economic interests in promoting Serkis’s acting skills—James Franco (2012) has famously campaigned for an Oscar nomination recognizing Serkis’s work in Apes—this kind of rhetoric, as demonstrated by Yacov Freedman (2012), is useful in examining how performance capture is understood and defined by practitioners in the industry. Serkis, in a behind-the-scenes production video for Apes, describes the performance capture process thusly: “The basic usage of performance capture is, to see it on the screen, you will see the apes, but they are apes which are infused with the heart and soul of an actor’s performance” (movieclipsTRAILERS 2011). Serkis describes his process in many of the same terms as Method actors—he uses his emotional background in order to give life to his characters—and this, as Dan North indicates, is perhaps constitutive of the captured performance (2008, 162). Invested in each other, the human actor and digital avatar share a similarity of movement and presence, though they are separated by the translation of code over distance and, ultimately, through time.

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This temporal dimension is where performance capture and remote surgery most notably diverge from each other. The temporal gap between the production and consumption of the performance capture avatar displaces the haptic and material connection between the human actor and the digital synthespian over a wide scale of time, from the almost simultaneous experience of an actor watching their digital “puppet” perform in real time to a consumption that could potentially take place decades or centuries after the actor’s death. In this way, the consumption of performance capture shares much with Barthes’s “umbilical cord” previously discussed. The production and consumption of remote surgery, conversely, tends to take place simultaneously, though it is not difficult to imagine a future scenario in which routine operations could be completed by an autonomous, preprogrammed robot.14 Regardless of these spatial gaps and shifts in temporal scale, the human body, in a very real and material way, phenomenologically persists within its digital avatar, and the digital avatar persists within the human actor. Through its presentation of a vernacular experience of posthumanism, this process is symptomatic of our contemporary participation in human and technological assemblages, what W. J. T. Mitchell describes as a logic of “biocybernetic reproduction,” which he articulates as a twenty-first-century update of Benjamin’s “mechanical reproduction”: In the age of biocybernetic reproduction, two new figures have appeared on the scene. The cameraman is replaced by the designer of virtual spaces and electronic architectures, and the surgeon adopts the new techniques of remote, virtual surgery. The surgeon operates at an unnatural distance from the patient’s body, performing his gestures in a remote location—another room, perhaps even another country. He moves his hands inside data gloves like a shaman, making passes over a virtual body and removing a virtual tumor with sleight of hand. He is able to rehearse his movements on a virtual body many times before the actual operation takes place. The digital miniaturization of his movements allows him to cut deeper and finer than any operation conceivable in traditional manual surgery. (2005, 321)

In biocybernetic reproduction, Mitchell is diagnosing a powerful fantasy of genetic and cybernetic technologies that appear almost as magic. Because of the radical shifts in scale and the “invisibility” of the complex processes of translation that connect the surgeon and robot, actor and avatar, the technological apparatus seems to disappear, leaving only an unmediated mimetic behavior that seemingly allows a person to extend their presence into multiple locations.

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While I find this rhetoric of technological disappearance interesting as a symptom of cultural fantasies of informational disembodiment, it does not adequately unpack the complexity of the phenomenological and material interaction of human and nonhuman machine. In other words, rather than viewing remote surgery as a utopian form of transhuman transfer of consciousness between mediums, I view the human-machine assemblage in Hansen’s and Coleman’s terms, as a material experience of a mixed reality. This view is articulated, with variations, by Marshall McLuhan (1994 [1964]), who understands media as an extension of the senses; Merleau-Ponty (1962, 165–166), who, through his example of the blind man’s stick, understands technology as incorporated into one’s bodily schema; and Benjamin, who, as previously discussed, understands the relationship between surgical penetration, filmic mediation, and perception as an “intensive interpenetration of reality with equipment.” Within each framework, technology becomes incorporated into the experience of daily life, and the extension of perception and subjectivity of an actant through a network appears as a naturalized form of embodiment. Both remote surgery and performance capture technologies rely on the extension of the human subject, through technology and digital translation, into a robotic or digital avatar. At the same time, these avatars provide feedback to their human counterparts, creating a recursive loop of perception and experience. Each technology fits into a much larger context of the experience of media as “perception at a distance.” While outside of the scope of this chapter, the links between performance capture, remote surgery, and media in general, which allows information to travel beyond the limitations of human speed and movement, would add much to the discussion of the links between embodiment and information. This concept of perception at a distance has been discussed, with different valences to be sure, in McKenzie Wark’s (2012) conceptualization of “telesthesia,” Lisa Parks’s (2005) theorization of “remote sensing” and the televisual, and Timothy Lenoir’s (2002) discussion of “medialization,” the process by which the medical body is transformed into the digital body. What each theorization shares is an emphasis on the embodied and intersensorial experience of telepresence, and each accounts not only for the ways in which the human subject is extended across time and space but also for the ways in which this extension itself alters the nature of perception and experience.

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As the Google image search that inspired this chapter attests, Benjamin’s links between the camera and the surgeon speak to a fragmentation of experience facilitated by the “new law” of human-machine assemblages within digital visual technologies. In this chapter, I have tried to maintain this emphasis on embodiment and materiality, exploring the phenomenological implications of the vernacular posthumanism of “technologies of presence” and the ways in which they actualize a persistent cultural fantasy that imagines a fundamental translatability of flesh and information and the dispersion of body and mind throughout an informational network. Our experience of contemporary visual and material culture is one marked by a powerful mediation of embodiment and subjectivity, from the experience of social networks to multiplatform media consumption to ubiquitous image capture and exhibition technologies. The experience of the self in such a media environment is one of multilocality, wherein our material and virtual presence becomes dispersed throughout a network, subject to the modulations and translations of visual and computing technologies. While it is very easy to slide into transhumanist fantasies of informational disembodiment, we must always be mindful of the ways in which embodiment, perception, and sensation persist within—and are altered by—the forces and channels through which the self is extended through these networks of communication and vision. The multilocal self, rather than simply extending the body and subjectivity into new digital and material terrains, both produces new beings and alters the originary self. As the examples of performance capture and robotic surgery demonstrate, the relationship between “subject” and “object,” actor and avatar, and surgeon and robot is one of reciprocation, and it is vital to understand not only how digital technologies of vision produce new hybrid beings but also how these technologies reconfigure both our sense of self and our ideologies of control. The multilocal, techno-embodied self is constitutive of the experience of digital, networked environments, and this condition defines the ways in which we inhabit and experience the world. The various modes of perception facilitated by these technologies rework our embodied perception, allowing us to travel through these digital spaces while also generating new actants and modes of existence. The materiality of perception is fundamental to a sense of self, and the position of digital actors and robot surgeons within the world not only calls attention to the complexity of the relationships between actants in material-semiotic networks but also reinforces the extent to which humans and nonhumans become imbricated in such networks, each completing the other in a reciprocal, mutually constitutive relationship.

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A return to Cronenberg While a Canadian auteur of body horror, robot surgeons, and performance capture technologies might seem radically unrelated, this section of Spectacular Posthumanism has strived to demonstrate how these objects of visual culture can be understood as producing hybrid bodies that fantasize about both a utopian and dystopian posthuman future. These objects also share an approach to modifying human vision through practical special effects and digital visual effects. The throughline that connects these objects is a concern with embodiment, technology, and strategies of visualization. Cronenberg’s films (The Fly, in particular, as I discuss in Chapter 1), performance capture, and robot surgery all, in whole or in part, confront issues of translation and mediation. Their representational strategies and/or technologies of vision take the material world and transform it into a different kind of matter. While performance capture and robot surgery tend to efface this process of mediation, Cronenberg highlights it, and it forms the foundation of his films. Synchronization is also a key issue for all three objects (especially for Dead Ringers, as I also discuss in Chapter 1), as all strive to keep the body and its avatar closely linked to each other. Foundational to this approach is the idea that consciousness can be dispersed throughout a network of multiple bodies and that subjectivity emerges out of an active engagement with the world. Consciousness can be doubled (or tripled, quadrupled, etc.) and the self can extend into multiple locations and inhabit multiple bodies. As a whole, though, what Cronenberg, performance capture, and robot surgery share in common is a philosophy that the body can be made hybrid and that it is malleable and open to the world. While their fantasies might not be perfectly consistent, they share a vernacular approach to posthumanism, one that makes common and mundane the idea that the self is not bounded by the flesh of the body.

Part Two

Digital Bodies and Authenticity Part One of this book confronted the vernacular posthumanism of hybrid screen bodies, bodies that are formed from a combination of profilmic and digital elements. These bodies are marked by their commitment to both practical special effects and digital visual effects. Part Two of Spectacular Posthumanism uses this foundation of hybrid bodies in order to explore the contradictory stances of profilmic embodiment and digital disembodiment within vernacular posthumanism. In particular, both chapters in this section discuss how VFX rework notions of bodily integrity, modulating the perception of what counts as a “real body.” Chapter 3 consists of three case studies: the digitally altered nude body of Lena Headey in Game of Thrones, the digitally de-aged body of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Genisys (Taylor 2015), and the digitally enabled, posthumous performance of Paul Walker in Furious 7 (Wan 2015). In my examination of the digital manipulation of each actor’s screen body, I argue that the widespread use of VFX to supplement and enhance screen bodies results in an alteration of visual culture’s presentation of bodily authenticity. The posthuman vernacular of these images straddles the competing fantasies of digital, transhuman malleability and immortality and the omnipotence of the pure, physical human body. This contradiction of posthuman fantasies is particularly evident in genres dominated by the perceived authenticity of embodied screen performance— pornography/screen nudity and action cinema—and digital tinkering with these bodies creates an image vernacular in which “authenticity” both heralds a new mode of digital embodiment and warns of the dangers associated with composite bodies. Chapter 4 contains two primary objects of analysis: the film 300 and the technologies of crowd simulation. Whereas the primary concern in Chapter 3 is

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with the competing claims of authenticity of the profilmic and digitally enhanced screen body, Chapter 4 examines the interaction between profilmic bodies and digital spaces/digital bodies in the screen image. Using the relationship between hyperphysical bodies and (almost) completely simulated space in 300 as a case study, the first part of this chapter argues that the vernacular posthumanism of the film initiates viewers into a transhuman experience of digital spaces while at the same time reasserting the importance of the lived body. At issue here are the ways in which 300—and the rhetoric surrounding its release—negotiates the integrity of the muscular, sculpted bodies of the film’s actors, bodies that are surrounded by digital spaces. The second part of this chapter is an inverse of the first, and it examines digital bodies in profilmic space. Of particular concern are the digital agents created by crowd simulation software, agents that possess a unique form of digital subjectivity. As with my other examples of vernacular posthumanism, the vernacular expressed by images containing crowd simulation produces a fantasy of seamless interaction between humans and (digital) nonhumans while at the same time warning of the threat of autonomous digital subjects to human dominance.

3

The Body’s Digital (Dis)Honesty

REDDIT-IS-TRP: this is scary my celeb nudity friends… the dark times are upon us… what if this becomes a thing? D: what if we never get to see celebrities nude because of this shitty technology D= (reddit.com 2015)

In the final episode of the fifth season of HBO’s massively popular television series Game of Thrones (“Mother’s Mercy,” Nutter 2015), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is forced to walk nude through the city of King’s Landing as atonement for sins against the Seven Gods. A major event in the book, this moment was eagerly awaited by fans, as it showed the haughty and vicious Cersei thoroughly humiliated by the jeering crowd surrounding her walk, a crowd that threw human excrement and rotting fruit at Cersei as she completed her walk of atonement. Many viewers, however, noticed something odd about Headey’s body in this scene. Her head and body didn’t seem to “fit” quite right, and viewers familiar with Headey’s nude scenes in other movies noted that her body looked quite different (see Figure 3.1). A Reddit “subreddit” dedicated to discussing celebrity nudity (from which the epigraph to this chapter is taken) quickly pounced on this scene, attempting to discern whether or not Headey employed a body double. As is typical of much of Reddit commentary, most of the discussion about Headey’s (non)body is vulgar, sexist, and explicitly misogynistic. This commentary does, however, illustrate a point about our understanding of the authenticity of the body in contemporary moving images. Much of the discussion of this scene in the subreddit focused on evaluating the authenticity of Headey’s body, whether she employed a body double, and the effect of this body double on the commenters’ appreciation of the scene. As Dan North persuasively argues, much of the pleasure of consuming special and visual effects derives from the viewer buying into the illusion, consenting to be tricked in order to appreciate the artistry of the spectacle. North claims that special and visual effects produce in some viewers a kind of connoisseurship, wherein

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Figure 3.1  Lena Headey/Rebecca Van Cleave composite body in Game of Thrones, “Mother’s Mercy,” 2015. Dir. David Nutter.

a special relationship develops between viewer and special effect. On the one hand, special effects invite us to acquiesce to illusion, becoming enraptured by their incorporation into the narrative of the film/TV show. On the other hand, special effects also invite us “to marvel at a complex technical achievement” and challenge us “to locate discrepancies in the illusion” (North 2008, 2). Spectators have a double relationship to special effects, simultaneously being complicit with the illusion while also being critical of how the illusion is achieved. Or, in North’s terminology, we are constantly trying to “spot the joins” in the illusion. Illusionism, for North (2008, 13), is an interplay between the practitioner and the recipient, the former testing out the latter’s knowledge of other deceptions, adapting each trick to circumvent the viewer’s ever-expanding awareness of the means and mechanisms behind the illusion.

What is established here is a tacit relationship between creator and viewer. One is a magician on stage, inviting the audience to participate in the illusion, and the other is a member of that audience, hoping to see the value of their ticket reflected in the spectacle. This relationship between creator and viewer, however, was evidently ruptured by Cersei’s walk of atonement in “Mother’s Mercy.” The viewers of the subreddit didn’t want to be tricked. They didn’t want the illusion. They wanted the real

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deal—the authentic nude body of actor Lena Headey—and Game of Thrones didn’t deliver. The visual spectacle of Headey’s nude body was apparently undermined by the spectacle of the digital visual effect, which kept Headey’s head but replaced her body with that of actor Rebecca Van Cleave (Hibberd 2015). Before proceeding to a larger discussion of the relationship between bodily authenticity and digital visual effects, however, I would first like to use the conversation in the subreddit as a case study upon which to build. Though the evidence from the subreddit is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of most viewers’ reactions, it does illustrate an example of how certain viewers work through and make sense of their encounters with visual effects. As I hope to show with the other examples in this chapter, we can draw some broader conclusions regarding the ways in which digital bodies and expectations of bodily authenticity relate to the larger context of what I’ve been discussing as vernacular posthumanism. In these images of digital bodies—and the ways in which these digital bodies interact with their profilmic counterparts—we find one of the hallmarks of vernacular posthumanism: a simultaneous fantasy of disembodiment and reassertion of the body. In staging an encounter between digital and profilmic bodies, visual effects films both reveal and elide larger cultural anxieties regarding the loss of the body and the body’s dominance in the digital age. Much of the early discussion on the subreddit was dedicated to sussing out the authenticity—or non-authenticity—of Headey’s body. Below is a selection of comments illustrating how these redditors are attempting to “spot the joins” between Headey’s head and Van Cleave’s body. (I have reproduced the comment threads at length in order to give a full sense of how these viewers negotiate the image and how their criteria of judgment emerge from the discussion. I have replicated the words, punctuation, etc., so any typos and mistakes are from the original text [reddit.com 2015]): ●● ●●

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siamthailand: Yeah, way too round. symbiotics: yup, the chest pretty much confirms it ❍ obzelite2point0: belly button for me, her photo shoots and the body double have completely different ones. RustyDetective: Essential when the boobs got bigger, it was the body double. Lena doesn’t have much assets. yousedditreddit: collar bones are very different too

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cflubbs2: Yeah as I was watching that I just assumed it was a body double. They did not clearly show her face and body at all and when they did something looked very off and it was brief. Every cut just screamed body double edit. SchottGun: Yeah. Unless she got breast enhancement surgery, those aren’t her boobs. Here she is nude in 300. [link to image] With that said, the body double’s body is hot nonetheless. EDIT: Added NSFW tag unless it wasn’t obvious. ❍ RogueEyebrow: She was pregnant recently, and they grow then. I’m not saying it’s definitely her, just that it’s possible. Keep in mind 300 was a decade ago, and she’s 41 now. ■ wannnn: Also she has an abnormally large neck. Perhaps it’s just me but she looks ridiculously weird in this scene. The side angles look OK but any of her looking forward are just strange. ■ khante: The head looks perched on to the neck. It looks like a body double. ■ Dent18: She was pregnant while shooting, which is why they used a double ■ Miroxas: Not even close. She’s dark haired and has dark nipples. Smaller areolas too. The body double is obviously blonde with paler areolas that are much larger. They hired a body double with a blonde fro down below to match the blonde haired character. ❍ saintshing: Doesn’t matter, still fapped. [“Fap” is Reddit slang for masturbation.] ❍ badsingularity: So weird. You can even see the head bobble from digital edit. ❍ kingeryck: Yea if you look really closely at like her jaw line you can see it’s probably not real. Quite impressive work though. arsierBoy: That ass is too bubbly to be hers though right? Heard there was a body double by don’t know how much of it was that Christ_on_a_Crakker: Is that a merkin? wolverstreets: Lena Headey has large nips. Those are not her tits. lebeardnekk: Full-body shots looked all weird. I was pretty sure they had photoshopped it. Not too well, I must add. Quite disappointing, but thanks for confirming, guys. [deleted]: is that her ass at least?

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What these comments reveal (aside from rampant misogyny, objectification, and reduction of Lena Headey to a set of body parts at which to ogle) is the process of connoisseurship described by North. These viewers, upon seeing a visual effect, are working to determine (a) if the image is indeed a visual effect and (b) if so, how the effect was accomplished. They accomplish this by comparing the image in “Mother’s Mercy” to other images of Headey’s body, a type of visual effect that North categorizes as an “intertextual/comparative spectacle” (2008, 6). This scene of nudity activated these viewers’ prior knowledge of Headey’s body, and they applied this to the doctored scene that appeared in Game of Thrones. Also at issue here is the matter of authenticity, and many commentators were disappointed in the scene’s trickery. Nude bodies carry a particular burden of authenticity, as they are expected to reveal something intimate or hidden about the person. Nudity, in many ways, verifies the reality of the person, as it exposes what cannot normally be seen. The relationship between vision and knowledge (which I discuss in detail in Chapter 6) is key to understanding this phenomenon, and witnessing nudity (both on screen and in “private” photos) is a way for fans and viewers to seemingly gain a deeper knowledge of celebrities and public figures. Nudity adds a private dimension to a star’s public image, and it reveals— through its fetishization of the visual—an additional, normally hidden layer to a star’s image. These issues also connect explicitly to the iCloud photo hack of 2014, when the iCloud accounts of numerous celebrities (mostly women) were hacked. Hundreds of nude photos were discovered as part of this hack, and the person/people responsible for the hack released the photos on the 4chan.org website. Many of these photos were reproduced on Reddit, and commentators nicknamed the photo hack “The Fappening.” Reddit banned the subreddits containing the images, but not before the photos had widely circulated. While it’s outside the scope of my argument to discuss the phenomenon of celebrity nudity and websites/magazines dedicated to celebrity nudity, I do wish to make a brief nod to Linda Williams’s discussion of pornography’s “money shot,” as it directly links to my claims regarding the relationship between nudity, authenticity, and the body. In her now-classic book Hard Core, Williams examines what she terms “the frenzy of the visible,” pornography’s (predominantly masculine) desire to make pleasure visible through cinematic means. Key to depicting this desire is pornography’s strategy of linking male ejaculation to a verification of pleasure. The image of pleasure becomes an index of its authenticity. Williams describes the “money shot” (the image of the male performer ejaculating) as

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For Williams, the money shot functions in a dualistic, contradictory way. On the one hand, it verifies the authenticity of action on screen: the money shot shows, in fetishized visual detail, the male performer’s orgasm. On the other hand, the money shot reveals the limits of collapsing vision and knowledge, as it depicts only male pleasure, and it reduces that pleasure to a purely physical response. Williams also acknowledges the performativity of pornography and the ways in which the money shot is utilized to add realism to a scene. Like almost all narrative films, most pornography is a staged exhibition, employing actors, choreography, and all the other trappings of film production. “Sex as a spontaneous event enacted for its own sake stands in perpetual opposition to sex as an elaborately engineered and choreographed show enacted by professional performers for a camera” (Williams 1999, 147). While pornography makes different claims to authenticity than most narrative films, it is still a fictional product. Pornography does, however, attempt to elide that fiction through its “utopian project of offering visual proof of authentic and involuntary spasms of pleasure” (Williams 1999, 147). While screen nudity is of a different category and operates in a different manner than hard core pornography, it is still, in the minds of many viewers, a marker of authenticity, despite the fact that body doubles and stand-ins have been used throughout the history of Hollywood (not to mention the fact that makeup and strategic lighting and editing have always been used to present actors at their most appealing). Digital visual effects disrupt this relationship between the body, the image, and authenticity. As evidenced by the subreddit, some viewers found this digital trickery to be a deal breaker. While “saintshing” (quoted above) had no trouble taking gratification from the duplicitous image, other redditors found that the digital manipulation destroyed their experience of pleasure. ●●

[deleted]: Damn I waited so long for this fap and it’s a fucking fake. ❍ themanifoldcuriosity: I’m sure you’ll find some way to carry on. ❍ Aimless_Drifter: Umm no? I mean it’s not Lena Heady but a real pair of tits nonetheless.

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[deleted]: Lena Heady is who I was waiting to see in this scene. ●● adez23: Watch 300 ❍ [deleted]: Seen it. Was just looking forward to a new naked Lena scene. ■ [deleted]: She’s nude in Zipper, only festival screenings so far though. ●● [deleted]: I shall patiently await … ●● kutwijf: “Body Double.” [quoting earlier comment] Ugh, but why? It kinda ruins it knowing its not her. ❍ TchaikovskyPandora: How so? ■ DundonianStalin: It’s because it’s noticeable. So basically some people are really tuned to how CGI works and can spot crappy effects and it’s like there being a huge sign post in the front of the scene that says “THIS IS A TV SHOW.” ■ kutwijf: Because for some, it might break the immersion. ●● stanley_twobrick: That’s fucking dumb as shit. ●● TchaikovskyPandora: I don’t see how. It’s not like it looks bad on screen. Does knowing that the direwolves are digitally manipulated, i.e. not actually that fucking huge, break your immersion? Does knowing the dragons are CG break your immersion? Who cares if Lena Headey wasn’t actually naked? It doesn’t really affect anything. ❍ davanillagorilla: It looked pretty damn bad.. Did you not see this? [link to image] This thread illustrates how certain viewers come to terms with the body replacement in “Mother’s Mercy.” For some, the illusion of Headey’s nudity— even though they were seeing a different actor’s “real” nudity—completely undermined any sexual pleasure they might derive from the scene. Only the real thing would suffice. Others, like “kutwijf,” attempted to pass off their disappointment as a rupture of “immersion” rather than a loss of sexual pleasure (though one assumes this is rhetorical cover for being denied an image of Headey’s nude body). Still other redditors appreciated the new form of embodiment established in this scene, and they praised the technologically produced amalgamation of Headey and Van Cleave’s bodies. Even though they were disappointed by the missed opportunity to see Headey’s nude body, they were still appreciative of the fact that the scene included Van Cleave’s “real” body. ■

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nbxx: Yep. I was like “waaaait, those are definitely not her tits” when I watched it. Oh well, great tits nonetheless. GirIsKing: even though that is a body double they are very impressive, makes me what to know who the double is and give her credit where it is needed! slimj091: All hail the royal fake tits.

One other redditor in the subreddit ignored the discussions of nudity and (lost) sexual pleasure in the scene and instead commented on the inaccuracy of the body double as compared to the depiction of the scene in the book: ●●

aakaakaak: I’ll be that guy … Okay, so this is shit compared to the book. She’s supposed to be starting to get saggy from having babies and stuff. This is clearly not the shame body it’s supposed to be. Couldn’t they have found a less attractive body double? I am disappoint.

“aakaakaak,” rather than focus on the fact of Headey’s (non)nudity, instead provides a commentary on Hollywood’s penchant for providing very limited depictions of female nudity. For this commentator, the digital trickery was objectionable precisely because it was too sexually appealing (Headey was 41 at the time of filming, while Van Cleave was 27). Thus, in this subreddit, we have all the primary elements of a discussion of embodiment and authenticity in digital visual effects: a concern to identify where, exactly, the trick occurs; a disappointment in a loss of immersion; a critique that this new form of embodiment doesn’t match expectations; and a recuperation of the illusion through an acknowledgment of a new, technologically mediated form of embodiment. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Headey discussed some of these reactions (Hibberd 2016): Entertainment Weekly: What were some of the reactions you received after last year’s finale? Lena Headey: Really great ones. But some people thought I was less of an actress because I didn’t get my tits out. EW: That had to be annoying. LH: You know what? It was really a bit shocking. I’ve done nudity. I’m not averse to it. But I know I’m a very emotional actor and I get really driven by that. In order to do my job, I allow myself to be really vulnerable. I don’t know any other way to do my job. Things really affect me. And the thought of being naked for three days and trying to contain her in the way

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she would be I think I would feel very angry. I didn’t want to be angry. I don’t think Cersei would be angry. I did what I thought she would do, emotionally. And wonderful Rebecca [Van Cleave, Headey’s stand-in] was able to contain herself and be naked. She found it very difficult, obviously. It’s not a natural thing to do. I film every year and I have kids and they know me now and [being naked in the scene] was just too much on top of that. So yeah, people that get it thought it was great. I didn’t phone it in; I was actually there for three days with Rebecca.

Here, Headey seems concerned to defend her acting choices, noting that she helped Van Cleave perform and that she declined to film the scene by herself so as to better focus on her depiction of the character’s emotional state. The fact that Entertainment Weekly and Headey were aware of and felt the need to respond to the use of a body double indicates a larger anxiety concerning both the authenticity of performance in the digital age and the authenticity of the body. I do not, however, want to claim that there was a clean rupture between embodiment in analog cinema and embodiment in digital cinema. As Mark J. P. Wolf points out, film performance has been fractured and fragmented at least since Kuleshov “discovered” that film editing could construct the illusion of a single body out of the strategic stitching together of fragments of multiple bodies (2003, 49). What we find in digital cinema is an intensification of this tendency, attendant with the ease with which digital images can be manipulated. Rather than making multiple passes with a motion control camera and compositing the images together in an optical printer, visual effects artists in digital cinema can alter the image in its native format, which speeds up the process considerably. Wolf also notes the extent to which digital technologies violate the integrity of the body, producing performances that are composites of multiple sources (something I discuss in detail in Chapter 2). When technologies of dubbing, face replacement, image scanning and remapping, and motion-capture are combined together, the result are computer-generated characters that can be used as digital doubles for their human counterparts, or collaborative constructions made from multiple actors. (2003, 53)

Digital combinations of actors and tweaks to performance have become quite standard in the industry, so much so that it’s rare to find a film or TV show (or even private home videos!) where a performance has not been doctored (Alptraum 2015; Dickey 2014; Hill 2016). So, while audiences might have an expectation of bodily authenticity in film and TV performances, this expectation

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is now (and has long been) more the product of industry PR than the product of actual industry practice. Examples like the Lena Headey/Rebecca Van Cleave composite performance in Game of Thrones, however, reveal an instance where this illusion is broken, where the tacit relationship of consented-upon trickery between creator and viewer is ruptured. In the specific case of “digital nudity,” the popular press seems to have taken an interest in the issue, probably in part due to the mantra that “sex sells,” but also, as my later discussion of embodiment in action cinema will demonstrate, perhaps in part due to a cultural anxiety regarding the potential loss of embodiment and authenticity in an age of Photoshop. A couple of brief examples will complement my discussion of Lena Headey and round out this section of the chapter. In a 2011 interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, actor Olivia Wilde discussed her “nude” scene in The Change-Up (Dobkin 2011). What is telling here is the frankness with which Wilde discusses the digital tinkering, as this practice is largely kept hidden through nondisclosure agreements (Hill 2016). I have another movie coming out called The Change-Up that I wasn’t actually naked but now appear to be naked because they CGIed me naked … You wear pasties when you’re naked on set so that people don’t actually see your nipples. It’s a thing … In that scene, in that movie, Ryan Reynolds is supposed to be covering them, and he moved. And so the pasties were in the movie, and so they had to paint in nipples in CGI. And I got to approve the nipples … They sent me an email, and they’re like, “Please review nipple cover shot 1–7, and decide which one is most like the original” … I don’t know what he was using as source material … but I think it’s pretty close. (MsHousefan 2011)

As Wilde points out, the process of selecting “digital nipples” has become as simple as choosing stationery for wedding invitations. Along with designing digital nipples, VFX artists have also been asked to create digital merkins. Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer for Fifty Shades of Grey (Taylor-Johnson 2015), comments on the process of simulating nudity in films: We were protecting the actors. Jamie [Dornan] had a cover over his penis. Dakota [Johnson] had kind of a patch that went over her pubic area, and right round her whole body. We were in the curious situation, in postproduction, of adding [pubic hair]. I wouldn’t say it was one of the highlights of my career, but it certainly was one of the most surreal scenarios. We did have a butt double for Dakota. I had the pleasure of casting a non-tattooed bottom—Surreal Scenario No. 2. (Ryzik 2015)

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All of this is to say: in contemporary moving images, the body has become as fluid as the image itself, and many of the markers of bodily authenticity are now simulated. As I mentioned before, however, this practice is nothing new, and body doubles, stand-ins, and selective editing have long modified the body. Digital image production simply intensifies and facilitates the process. What accumulates in this process is also intensified, namely the ease with which the integrity of the body can be broken and remolded, which connects to many discourses of the posthuman that view the body as a simple prosthetic of the mind, something that can be endlessly made and remade. In contrast, as other theories of the nonhuman point out, the context of embodiment is crucial to the manifestation of any information, and matter and information are inextricably intertwined. The posthuman vernacular of many images, however, tends to elide this fact, and this vernacular presents utopian depictions of flexible disembodiment while at the same time reasserting the importance of the lived body. The remainder of this chapter will examine this ambivalence in detail, using the bodies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Walker as case studies.

The composite body: Action stars and embodiment in the digital image In an early scene from Terminator Genisys (Taylor 2015), viewers are treated to a recreation of the scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic character was first introduced to audiences in The Terminator (Cameron 1984). Genisys provides a shot-for-shot retelling of the arrival of the T-800 (Schwarzenegger) from 2029 to the Los Angeles of 1984, including the T-800’s appearance in a lightning-filled crater in the pavement and his subsequent confrontation with a group of punks. At the moment when the naked T-800 attempts to steal some clothing from these punks, Genisys branches off from the story of the 1984 film. Behind the T-800, a hooded figure emerges from the darkness, carrying a sawedoff shotgun. As the hooded figure approaches, he removes his hood, revealing an older, middle-aged Schwarzenegger. (This character is later revealed to be “Pops,” another T-800, reprogrammed and sent back to 1973 by an unknown entity in order to protect and raise Sarah Connor.) As this older T-800 reveals himself and locks eyes with his younger version, he declares in his distinctive Schwarzenegger accent, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

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Because the producers of Genisys didn’t own the rights to the first film in the franchise, the VFX artists were required to remake this scene by employing a digital recreation of Schwarzenegger’s 1984 performance (Acuna 2015). Using the facial casts of Schwarzenegger created for the production of the first film, a video library of body and facial movements from Schwarzenegger’s welldocumented film and political career, and the motion data of stand-in Brett Azar (an Australian bodybuilder), Genisys’s VFX team completely reimagined this iconic scene by building a body from scratch (Sperling 2015). The meeting between the two T-800s, therefore, is not only about rebooting a franchise but also about the relationship between analog and digital forces in contemporary action cinema. This confrontation of old and young, profilmic and digital bodies, establishes the formal, narrative, and ideological themes of the film, and it serves as a case study for understanding the embodiment of the action hero in the digital age. A film like Genisys encapsulates the interaction between action cinema, embodiment, and VFX, and it reveals the extent to which action cinema and its stars are grappling with the complex interplay between the profilmic authenticity of action bodies and their digital substitutes and supplements. Through its commentary on the relationship between profilmic and digital bodies, Genisys also visualizes a specific intonation of vernacular posthumanism, one that embraces the conflicts between lived embodiment and digital disembodiment. The film makes this conflict spectacular, and it uses VFX technology both to imagine a potential form of posthuman embodiment and to reassert the importance of the white, masculine, physical body. Before continuing, however, I’d like to address the specificity and limitations of my analysis. The argument I’m presenting here is specific to the American action film genre and that genre’s history of attention to the body. Particularly in the action films of the 1980s—where Schwarzenegger rose to superstardom— the genre exhibits an extreme preoccupation with the integrity of the body, and in the case of The Terminator films, complex cultural traumas are reduced to trauma against Schwarzenegger’s white, male body. An analysis of embodiment in other genres or an analysis that accounts for a more global perspective of the action body would almost certainly yield different results. I also acknowledge the tenuous connection between a film’s historical context of production and the assumption that a film condenses a particular cultural logic. That said, media objects are inextricably intertwined with their culture of production, and I follow Paul Willemen’s argument in his essay, “Fantasy in Action,” in understanding

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that there is an indexical “inscription of labor power in films,” and this labor registers in the bodies of action stars (2010, 274). As I stated in the introduction to Part One of this book, contemporary action, science fiction, and fantasy cinema display an ambivalence toward embodiment and authenticity, and this ambivalence connects to larger discourses of the posthuman and the transcendence of the body. As such, the fetishization of the body within action cinema serves as a useful case study for examining visualizations of embodiment within the context of broader discussions of the posthuman. Within the history of action cinema, the body of the performer has been vital to authenticating the truth of the performance. From the stunts of Buster Keaton, to the action-comedy of Jackie Chan, the body-in-motion has verified the authenticity of the screen action. This trend continued within the hardbody action cinema of the 1980s, which cast beefy actors like Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, figures whose muscular physiques index both the truth of their embodiment and the labor required to craft such bodies. In a dominant strain of contemporary VFX-driven action cinema, however, the body of the performer, while inheriting the gymobsessed appearance of its 1980s forebears, doesn’t possess their same truth value. These are bodies situated within and supplemented by digital effects. The phenomenological authenticity of these composite, informational bodies is called into question through their location within a completely malleable screen image. At various points in Genisys, Pops claims that he is “old, not obsolete.” More broadly, this is fundamentally the stance of the profilmic action body in relation to its digital doubles, and in Genisys specifically, the profilmic body attempts to reassert itself and counter the danger of its obsolescence in the face of its digital replacements. The profilmic body, in other words, has “been waiting for” its chance to denigrate and destroy its younger, sleeker, digital doppelgänger. Schwarzenegger’s presence in Genisys is important, as his long career has seen him transform from champion bodybuilder, to 1980s hardbody action star, to 1990s comedic actor, to governor of California, and finally returned to his action cinema roots in films such as The Expendables trilogy (2010–2014, the brainchild of Sylvester Stallone), The Last Stand (Kim 2013), Escape Plan (Håfström 2013), Sabotage (Ayer 2014), and Genisys. Schwarzenegger’s body—both profilmic and digital—thus serves as a condensation of changes in action cinema’s approach to embodiment, and it encapsulates the vernacular posthumanism of many contemporary action films.

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In particular, The Terminator franchise functions as a metonym of these changes, and its evolving depictions of the relationship between humans and machines serve as a useful template for understanding the relationship between analog and digital forces within action cinema. From the 1980s industrial logic of the T-800, to the 1990s postmodern logic of the liquid metal T-1000, to the early twenty-first-century informational logic of the T-3000 (Genisys’s humanmachine hybrid), The Terminator franchise works through cultural anxieties regarding embodiment, disembodiment, and the digital mutability of the body. If the hardbody action films of the 1980s were marked by an excessive attention to the body, the VFX-driven action films of today are marked by the seamless integration of the body into virtual spaces. After first exploring the instability of the action body in Genisys, this chapter will conclude with a discussion of the posthumous performance (to borrow a term from Lisa Bode [2010]) of Paul Walker in Furious 7. Walker died in a car crash before filming of Furious 7 was finished, and Weta Digital’s VFX artists completed his performance using a combination of CGI and stand-ins. Filmmakers have long had to grapple with the death of lead actors, and they have completed their films in a number of ways, utilizing both profilmic and digital techniques. To complete Bruce Lee’s performance in Game of Death (Lee/Clouse 1978), the filmmakers used body doubles, footage from Lee’s funeral, voice-overs,  and famously, cardboard cutouts of Lee’s face. For Heath Ledger’s performance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), director Terry Gilliam cast new actors to play Ledger’s character in the “magical mirror” portions of the film. After the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Parts 1 and 2 (Lawrence 2014/2015) films were completed through creative editing and swapping of lines of dialogue. Other actor’s performances have been completed using a combination of CGI facial replacement and profilmic stand-ins, including Brandon Lee in The Crow (Proyas 1994) and Oliver Reed in Gladiator (Scott 2000). Still other performances have been repurposed for commercial ends—including Audrey Hepburn (Dove Chocolate), Marilyn Monroe (Dior, Snickers), Fred Astaire (Dirt Devil), and Orville Redenbacher (popcorn)—as well as for musical performances—holograms of Tupac and Michael Jackson. Walker’s posthumous performance in Furious 7 extends the logic of these antecedent reanimations, and the location of his composite body within a VFXheavy action film adds a new valence to the ontology of embodiment within the screen image. The “truth” of the contemporary action body lies not only in its

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muscular appearance but also in its ability to merge into the digital image, one component among many in the final composite. Today’s action heroes are heroic because their bodies can move seamlessly between the analog and the digital.

From hardbodies to hybrids The trajectory of the action body—and its relationship to dominant cultural logics—from the 1980s to today has been much discussed in action film scholarship.1 In her now-canonical book on 1980s action cinema, Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, Susan Jeffords links the “hard bodies” of 1980s American action cinema (e.g., Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis) to an ideological hardening of the American body politic. For Jeffords, “these hard bodies came to stand not only for a type of national character—heroic, aggressive, and determined—but for the nation itself ” (1994, 25). Jeffords also draws connections between the fading industrial culture of 1980s America and Hollywood’s depiction of masculinity: The masculine characters that populated some of the decades’ most popular Hollywood films offered narratives against which American men and women could test, revise, affirm, or negate images of their own conceptions of masculinity, which, because of a changing economy, altering gender relations, increasingly tense race relations, reconfigurations of U.S. geographic distributions, a technologized militarism, and a reconfigured work force, were themselves in flux throughout this period. (1994, 11–12)

At issue here is an attempt to reclaim a “lost” imaginary past of American exceptionalism—a time when men were men, racial hierarchies preserved social order, and the US dominated global manufacturing—through images of white, hard-bodied masculinity. The bodies of these heroes came to represent the last gasp of an industrial cultural logic, one that faded during the Carter years and was reclaimed in the cultural imaginary of the Reagan years. The hardness of the characters played by Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme was achieved, in a metonym of the industrial sector, through the literal pumping of iron. Bearing a musculature honed by the movement of metal, these hardbody heroes embodied the logic of factory manufacturing: they are tangible products of commerce, formed by a surplus of human labor, whose hardness is solidified through repetition of movement.

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As the 1980s transitioned into the 1990s, the industrial action body gave way to the postmodern action body.2 Much of the scholarship confronting this shift utilizes Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron 1991) as a case study exemplifying this transition. In the film, Schwarzenegger’s T-8003 is sent back in time to 1995 in order to protect John Connor from a new model of Terminator, the T-1000, which is composed of liquid metal and has the ability to shape-shift. Whereas the T-800 is easily comprehended as an industrial, machinic object, the T-1000 is a more amorphous, phenomenologically unstable object, one that resists easy comprehension. The T-800 has visible inner workings, a tangible skeleton underneath flesh, and is clearly identifiable as performing a white masculinity. The T-1000, conversely, is unstable, with no visible inner mechanics. It is pure surface, able to inhabit any identity, which, according to Thomas B. Byers, situates it within a larger postmodern cultural logic: The contrast between the Terminator model T-101 [also referred to as a T-800] and the newer T-1000 embodies the opposition between classical and late capitalism, between a production-based industrial and a consumption-based informational economy, between modern and postmodern culture, between paranoia and schizophrenia. (1995, 8)

Within this schema, the action body loses its material grounding in manufacturing and becomes emblematic of a postindustrial economy. In contrast to Schwarzenegger’s hardbody, the body of Robert Patrick (who plays the T-1000) is much leaner and more slight, his ability to inhabit any identity echoing the flexibility of manufacturing in a postindustrial information economy. At the conclusion of the film, however, an industrial cultural logic reasserts itself. Set in a strangely empty steel mill—an icon of industrial production—the T-800 casts its adversary into a vat of molten metal, obliterating the T-1000. American industrial production has defeated—if only within the imaginary of the film— the postmodern information economy. The special and visual effects animating the T-800 and T-1000 also connect to their different expressions of a cultural logic. In both the first and second films in the series, the T-800 is primarily a profilmic object, materially present before the camera. Achieved through a combination of practical special effects—including makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, and stop-motion—the T-800 is the product of a pre-digital era of filmmaking. The T-1000, conversely, is an example of early digital visual effects, in particular, the technique of computer-aided image morphing. The T-1000 is a product of postproduction,

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an object that never existed before the camera. The visualization of the T-1000 also intones a vernacular posthumanism, signaling a hybridity and ontological instability of the image that has come to define digital production and postproduction. Before moving onto a discussion of this hybrid digital image, however, it is also important to point out how the characterization of the action hero changes from the 1980s to the 1990s, and in particular, how the hardbody films work through different iterations of masculinity. Jeffords again links shifts in action hero representation to changes in presidential politics, in this case to the election of George H. W. Bush. Jeffords identifies a “schizophrenia” in Bush’s presidential identity—one she connects to the changing representations of masculinity in American cinema—as Bush tried to negotiate between the “hard-bodied presidency” of Reagan with his own “kinder, gentler” approach (1994, 91, 95). After the end of the Cold War, as political focus moved from the foreign to the domestic, action heroes became interested in family matters. Philippa Gates echoes these claims, and she argues that “while the 1980s were dominated by the hard-bodied heroes, the 1990s saw a shift to more vulnerable heroes in a retrospective apology for the ‘masculinity’ of the preceding decade” (2010, 276). A shift in tone from action to action-comedy films facilitated this shift. As the 1990s began, action stars—with varying levels of success—took on comedic roles, often paired with a comedic sidekick, and their films made romantic subplots more central to their narratives (Ayers 2008). Schwarzenegger made this transition to comedic family man more successfully  than most, and in her discussion of Kindergarten Cop (Reitman 1990), Jeffords (1994, 142–143) claims that “the emotionally and physically whole man of the eighties would rather be a father than a warrior.” T2 again serves as a valuable case study in relation to Jeffords’s analysis of shifting representations of masculinity. In The Terminator, Schwarzenegger played a single-minded killer, untouched by emotion. In T2, his role changes. Schwarzenegger’s T-800, its “emotion chip” newly activated, learns to value life, care deeply about relationships, and experience love (or at least a simulation of this emotion).4 The T-800, as T2 makes quite clear, is a surrogate father figure for John Connor (Edward Furlong). The unattached, emotionally distant hardbody of the Reagan era thus gives way to a more emotionally vulnerable masculinity of the Bush era. The postmodern action body, in addition to its increasing emotional vulnerability and decreasing phenomenological stability, also becomes more self-conscious of its status as spectacle. In her analysis of action films from the

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late 1980s and early 1990s, Yvonne Tasker observes “a tendency of the Hollywood action cinema toward the construction of the male body as spectacle, together with an awareness of masculinity as performance,” which she links to postmodernity (1993, 230). For Tasker, the “work” required to craft the hardbodies relies on a labor that is no longer required in a postindustrial economy (1993, 239). The muscles of the hardbodies are “dysfunctional” to the extent that they are “decoration” and serve no purpose other than spectacle, which is a traditionally “unmanly designation.” Elsewhere, I’ve commented on this spectacular display of male bodies, noting that, in films like Universal Soldier (Emmerich, 1992), which features a lingering tilt shot of Van Damme’s nude backside, “the male hard body is coded as a location for erotic desire” (Ayers 2008, 52). The status of the male body-as-spectacle continues from these self-conscious displays of the physical body to the spectacle of the male body enhanced by digital visual effects, and action bodies in the digital age possess a unique attitude toward their own materiality and phenomenology. As a symptom of a broader digital logic and discourses of posthuman embodiment, action bodies must now be comfortable with seamlessly merging not only into digital environments but also with digital “prosthetics” and “make-up.” Gone is the excessive attention to the materiality and labor of the hardbody,5 replaced by an emphasis on the ability of the body to merge into its digital surroundings. If the 1980s action hardbody evinced a commitment to a clear phenomenology, one marked by excessive profilmic physicality, then the contemporary action body possesses a hybrid ontology, one marked by both a profilmic physicality and postproduction mutability. This informational action body calls into question the ontology and phenomenological truth of the image, and the rhetoric surrounding a film like 300 (Snyder 2006)—discussed in further detail in Chapter 4—exemplifies the anxiety produced by these bodies. 300 is notable both for its cast of highly muscled actors and for its use of completely simulated digital settings. In the lead-up to the film’s release, much of the promotional material focused on the “300 Workout,” the diet and exercise regimen used by the actors to develop their physiques (Ayers 2015, 106). Despite these accounts of the actor’s manual labor, however, commentary in the popular press questioned whether or not the bodies were “real” or the product of “CGI magic.” An article from CBS News, for example, takes a negative view of 300’s heavy use of CGI, casting doubt on the physicality of the actors’ bodies:

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Critics have called the new Spartan war picture 300 “groundbreaking,” which is funny because no ground was broken! It has real actors, but computers added the scenery. They might have added the muscles, too. (Johnson 2007)

In a more recent story about lead 300 actor Gerard Butler, the Daily Mail (2011) notes that “Butler once again has a six pack, but this time without a hint of computer-generated imagery.” The simulated, digital nature of the film’s environments infected the reception of the film’s profilmic bodies. The sharp contrast between the digital environments and the hyperphysical bodies created confusion as to the ontology of each. This kind of commentary on the authenticity of the action body is notably absent in discussions of the Schwarzenegger or Stallone movies of the 1980s, where the truth of the actors’ labor appears to be widely accepted and verified by the profilmic presence of the body on screen.

Schwarzenegger vs. Schwarzenegger: The rise of the composite action body Through its unique intonation of vernacular posthumanism, Genisys works through these issues of the authenticity and ontology of the action body in the digital age, and it does so by forcing an interaction between profilmic and digital bodies, past and present, young and old. Visualized here are both a fantasy of posthuman disembodied subjectivity and a reassertion of the vitality of the lived body. Contained all within the same film is the entire life cycle of the hardbody, from its “pure” hardbody form (though digitally recreated), through its liquid metal malleability, to its culmination as a soft, nostalgic artifact, one more concerned with fatherhood than with fighting (and, importantly, formed by a combination of profilmic and digital sources). In a sense, Genisys is a selfcontained journey of the hardbody, from its 1980s industrial logic, through its 1990s postmodern logic, to its contemporary informational and networked logic. Marking Schwarzenegger’s first return to the franchise since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Mostow 2003)—not including the digital Schwarzenegger constructed for Terminator Salvation (McG 2009)—Genisys offers a complete reimagining of the Terminator mythos established in the previous four films. The film upends the previously established timeline, and it offers a tongue-incheek portrayal of the franchise’s aging star. The Schwarzenegger of Genisys has clearly aged since his appearance in the first film thirty-one years earlier, and,

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rather than gloss over or attempt to hide the effects of aging on a 67-year-old human actor, Genisys makes this aging process central to the narrative. As a T-800 model Terminator, the flesh of Schwarzenegger’s character, Pops, ages as a human would, while his metal innards remain (mostly) operational. The film thus offers a narrative explanation for the older appearance of its leading actor. Aging plays a central role in the film, as the labyrinthine, time-jumping narrative of Genisys takes place in six different time periods and multiple iterations of the timelines established in the previous films. Since Schwarzenegger’s role in the film spans from 1973 to 2017, he was also required to play both older and younger versions of himself. There are four different “generations” of Schwarzenegger in the film: the 1973 version; the version sent back in time to 1984 from the first film; the now-middle-aged version from 1973 that meets his younger self in 1984; and an even older version in 2017 (see Figure 3.2). (Confused yet? The timelines in the film are as complicated as the VFX used to bring 1984 Schwarzenegger back to life.) While the 1984 version was created digitally, and the 1973 version is seen only briefly in medium shots (and appears to be the same digital recreation as the 1984 version), the alternate 1984 version and the 2017 version were created using old-fashioned makeup. The middleaged alternate 1984 version of Schwarzenegger was de-aged using makeup, and the 2017 version—which appears to approximate Schwarzenegger’s real-life age—was made to look older by stripping the actor’s hair of color (Tucker 2015). Thus, not only do we witness the hardbody progress from youth to old age, but we also see both profilmic and digital iterations of the body. Gone is the simple

Figure 3.2  Four generations of Schwarzenegger. Top L to R: 1973, 1984 (recreation from the first film). Bottom L to R: 1984 (older T-800), 2017. Terminator Genisys, 2015. Dir. Alan Taylor.

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profilmic physicality of the 1980s hardbody, replaced by a complex embodiment of ages and ontology. In an era of digital workflows, profilmic bodies must necessarily adapt to their digital surroundings and counterparts. These bodies are informational bodies, motivated by a logic of digitality and supplemented, enhanced, and replaced by digital information and imagery. The composite nature not only of the screen image but also of the screen body has become so widespread as to become unremarkable. Lisa Purse comments that The presence of digital artifacts within the frame renders the protagonist’s body as just one element of an often complexly digitally composited image, so that the body’s relationship to the space of action is controlled by the vision and skill of digital compositors, visual effects supervisors and other digital imaging specialists as well as by the director, cinematographer and editor. (2013, 53)

Hye Jean Chung also remarks on the production of screen bodies from multiple interacting forces, noting that All animated bodies (hand-drawn and CG) contain both visible and invisible traces of various human bodies: people used as visual reference, voice actors, animators, and so on. It is even more so with digital bodies, because they are layered nodes of multiple stages of work, such as modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, compositing, and an actor’s vocal, facial, and physical performances. (2015, 57)

The composite body is formed from an assemblage of forces—both human and nonhuman—and contemporary action bodies are marked by their ability to navigate this terrain. The industrial labor required to create and authenticate the unique, individuated, profilmic hardbody has been replaced by the body’s ability to absorb the hybridity of competing production forces, and the authenticity of the body is measured by its success in withstanding the scrutiny of viewers accustomed to consuming digitally composited images. As skillful as today’s visual effects artists are at compositing a diversity of elements of varying provenance into a single, cohesive image, the “joins” between the elements are far from invisible. While VFX are getting closer and closer to  the holy grail of photorealism, one VFX technology—facial deaging—reveals the fractures in the composite body. These images are often quite uncanny, especially since the films in which de-aging VFX are employed tend to have older actors performing next to their younger digital selves, inviting a direct comparison between the aged profilmic body and the de-aged digital body. Facial de-aging has been employed in a number of contemporary films with

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varying levels of success. Two recent examples include (less successfully) Jeff Bridges’s face in TRON: Legacy (Kosinski 2010) and (more successfully) Michael Douglas’s face in Ant-Man (Reed 2015), but the technology has also been used in films including X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner 2006) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher 2008).6 In TRON: Legacy, Bridges’s de-aged face7 was grafted onto a stand-in’s body, a practice also employed to create the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) in The Social Network (Fincher 2010) and, as mentioned previously in this chapter, to create Cersei Lannister’s nude “walk of atonement” in the “Mother’s Mercy” episode of Game of Thrones. In most of these cases, the face of one actor was grafted onto the body of a different actor, forming a vivid example of the composite body and the ways in which it accumulates input from different sources. The technology used to de-age Schwarzenegger in both Salvation and Genisys is a bit different from the facial de-aging used in the films previously referenced, in that the bodies in both films were completely computer generated. In other examples of de-aging, a digital face or the face of another actor is grafted onto a different profilmic body. In Salvation and Genisys, the entire body and face are digital animations, rather than being formed from a composite of profilmic and digital sources. The digital Schwarzeneggers in both films did, however, rely on face and body scans and performance capture data to compile the final image, creating a composite of profilmic and digital sources. Schwarzenegger didn’t have any direct involvement in Salvation, and his younger, digital double was modeled from a life mask created for the first Terminator film (Sofge 2009). Along with the data gathered from this facial cast—an interesting amalgam of practical and digital effects—the digital recreation of a younger Schwarzenegger was mapped in postproduction onto a profilmic stand-in (Sperb 2012, 384). As with most VFX, the digital image of Schwarzenegger in Salvation was the result of compositing profilmic sources with digital data, though as in Genisys, the profilmic stand-in body was only used for reference and eventually erased and digitally reanimated. The complexity of this kind of composite body is a hallmark of contemporary VFX images, and accompanying the interplay between profilmic and digital bodies is an anxiety regarding the loss of the body’s physicality. This phenomenological anxiety relates directly to the mode of vernacular posthumanism expressed by the film, and it speaks to broader social concerns related to embodiment in the digital age. Commenting on the collapsing distinction between analog and digital filmmaking, Lisa Purse argues that

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As the categorical specificity of animation and live-action film becomes more unworkable than ever through the increasingly prevalent use of CGI, anxieties about the ontological and phenomenological status of digital images and composites sit alongside equally disturbing anxieties about the physical integrity of the human body …. The pro-filmic body is the most effective embodiment of such visual integrity: it appears perceptually real in almost all circumstances and operates to “guarantee” that the physical exertions displayed on screen have at least a correlative in the real world. As such, the profilmic body and its evident materiality can serve to close down the anxieties around virtual, mutable beings that might have been triggered elsewhere in such films through the explicit use of digital animation. (2007, 15–16)

Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character serves as balm for this cultural anxiety. At the conclusion of Genisys, Pops is seemingly killed, his left arm torn from his torso and his body thrown from an exploding time machine into a vat of liquid metal. Unsurprisingly for fans of the series, Pops has indeed survived, resurrected by the liquid metal alloy introduced—and villainized—in T2. Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), holed up in a bunker in order to survive the explosion, both presume Pops has perished in the destruction of the time machine. Upon seeing a metal blade pierce the door of the bunker, Sarah and Kyle are accordingly horrified, as thus far in the film (and the franchise as a whole), liquid metal has only been associated with villains (and, for fans of the series, this shot echoes a similar shot of the T-1000 piercing elevator doors in T2). When the door opens, however, the film reveals that Pops has been resurrected and enhanced by the liquid metal technology. Running to embrace her surrogate father, Sarah exclaims, “Pops! I thought you were dead.” To which Pops responds, “No, just upgraded.” Pops, the most recent iteration of the T-800 in the Terminator franchise, has indeed been upgraded from his original 1984 model. Not only has he intensified the paternal instincts developed in T2, he has also incorporated and tamed the threat of mutability posed by the T-1000 model. The character of Pops is thus a transitional figure, bridging the mechanical, industrial, and profilmic physicality of the 1980s hardbody and the mutable, informational, and VFX-supplemented body of the digital age. The figure of the mechanical T-800 skeleton also functions as a bridge. Historically animated by practical effects (notably animatronics and stop-motion animation), the contemporary T-800 is now a digital simulation of its mechanical predecessor. The fact that the 67-year-old body of Schwarzenegger bears the weight of this cultural transition is notable, in that his body has served

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the purposes of various cultural logics: hardbody; sensitive, comedic father; and aging patriarch of the action cinema, now supplemented by VFX. Genisys also functions as a kind of reverse Oedipal drama, with the aging father destroying his younger counterpart. As recounted earlier in this chapter, the film opens with Pops killing his digital doppelgänger. This scene serves to reestablish the physicality of the body through the murder of its digital double. The uncanniness of digital reanimation—akin to the uncanniness of the T-1000’s amorphous nature—is quashed by the return of the repressed, but now aged, hardbody. Older and wiser, Schwarzenegger has returned (importantly, from a political career) to the franchise that helped make him a household name, only to destroy the very image that made him famous. In a metaphorical move, Genisys represents the putting to bed of a profilmic hardbody physicality (ironically, a digital simulation of that physicality, which gives this scene a dual valence). In its place, Genisys installs a digitally composited body, one that achieves the posthuman dream of ageless immortality, through its ability to incorporate digital visual effects. Ever adaptable, Schwarzenegger’s body represents the tenacity of white masculinity to survive profound cultural and economic changes, even if only in fantasy. The 1984 scene, which features an older profilmic Schwarzenegger facing off against a younger digital Schwarzenegger, also raises important questions regarding the material properties and aging of the action hardbody. Some films, such as the three entries in The Expendables series, attempt to ignore the effects of aging on the action body, and these films are saturated with nostalgia for the 1980s hardbody films. The casts of these films are a who’s who of 1980s action stars, and while their bodies are older than they were thirty years ago, they are no less potent. They behave as though no time has passed, and aside from a few one-liners referencing it, the age of the characters doesn’t really impact their ability to achieve their goals. Other aging action stars, however, have found success in making the aging process thematic to their films. Philippa Gates notes that Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and Harrison Ford have experienced late-career resurgences precisely because their films make a point to acknowledge their aging bodies. She also points out that Stallone’s Rocky Balboa (Stallone 2006) succeeded with audiences and critics, in part, because it “thematiz[ed] age rather than resist[ed] it” (Gates 2010, 280). The same is also true of Creed (Coogler 2015). In this film, Rocky not only uses his age and experience to train the up-and-coming Adonis Creed (son of Apollo Creed), but he also engages in his own battle with cancer. Stallone’s

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performance in Creed was widely praised, earning him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar nomination in the same category. Genisys follows this same template in making the aging body of Schwarzenegger central to its narrative. In fact, as discussed previously, the 1984 scene demonstrates the triumph of the aging body over its younger counterpart. Throughout the film, Pops makes reference to his aging body, calling it “old, not obsolete” and, at the end of the film, noting that his body has been “upgraded” with liquid metal technology (and also upgraded by digital visual effects). Returning to the idea of the composite, informational body, part of the strength of Schwarzenegger’s body in Genisys is its ability to exist simultaneously in a multitude of ages and in both profilmic and digital forms. At a meta-filmic level, Schwarzenegger’s body maintains its power through its ability to channel, through digital visual effects, its younger self. Schwarzenegger thus benefits from both his youthful hardness and his mature softness. His body’s ability to navigate both profilmic and digital terrains gives it a phenomenological presence that recalls the memory of his hardbody while also acknowledging the wisdom of age. The digital recreation of the 1984 Schwarzenegger body grants the 2015 Schwarzenegger body a material, hardbody authenticity that isn’t apparent on the surface of his 67-year-old body. The memory of 1984 Schwarzenegger—reanimated through digital technology—saturates the reception of 2015 Schwarzenegger, sharing some of its phenomenological presence and material weight. And the strength of this body is precisely its ability to move between ontological positions of profilmic and digital, navigating the information economy like any other line of code. However, it is not only the Terminator’s body that has aged; he has also gained an emotional maturity not present in the previous films. This trajectory began in T2, with the Terminator functioning as John Connor’s surrogate father, and the journey is completed with the Pops character in Genisys. We find in Pops a fully-fledged father figure, one who raised Sarah Connor from a young age and reminisces over pictures, mementos, and drawings of Sarah during her absences. Pops also possesses the clichéd behavior of a father distrustful of his daughter’s new boyfriend. Finally, then, the performance of Schwarzenegger in Genisys completes the circuit of the informational composite body, and it indexes a posthuman shift in cultural ideologies concerning the body, identity, and networked technologies. Bodies within this informational logic are malleable and transient, able to travel along the lines of network communication. Biological “code” and computer “code” collapse into exchangeable concepts, and as Hye Jean Chung argues,

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“with various technologies working to translate human bodies into digital data, perceptions of the human body are accordingly modified to reflect this digital saturation” (2015, 62). Chung goes on to state that our bodies are now “radically hybrid,” but rather than producing a “sense of dread” at the loss of our unique individuation, this hybridity is now “associated with idealistic notions of liberation, reinvigoration, and regeneration” (2015, 62). The hybrid body is precisely the kind of action body found in Genisys, and the film argues for the viability of this kind of body in the twenty-first century. Existing in both profilmic and digital forms across a number of different ages, Schwarzenegger’s body in Genisys exhibits the ability to merge into the screen image, and its phenomenological power emerges, paradoxically, from its malleability and mutability, from its skillful exploitation of both analog hardbodies and digital informational bodies. Schwarzenegger’s older, profilmic character might have “been waiting for” his younger, digital double in order to defeat and dominate it, but this meeting ends up being more about integrating the digital action body into the profilmic action body. What Schwarzenegger was really “waiting for” was the opportunity to reintegrate his younger self into his older body in an attempt to achieve posthuman, action film immortality.

“The legacy of that angel”: Reanimating the action body VFX technologies are used not only to de-age and recreate living action stars; they are also used to reanimate the bodies of actors who have passed away.8 As with digital de-aging, digital resurrection both challenges and reworks the relationship between embodiment and authenticity in action cinema, and it speaks to a posthuman concern with achieving digital immortality. The images these technologies produce create a circuit of exchange between actual and virtual embodiment, which fundamentally transforms the historical authenticity of hardbody action stars. The death of actor Paul Walker in a car crash in Southern California in November 2013, during a break in filming Furious 7, created significant hurdles for the film’s completion. His character, Brian O’Conner, was one of the mainstays of the Fast & Furious franchise, serving as a central character in all but one of the franchise’s first seven films (Walker did not star in Tokyo Drift [Lin 2006], the third film in the series). For a time, the filming of Furious 7 was put on hiatus, as the producers considered whether to complete the film

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and if so, how they would do so without Walker to finish filming his scenes. After deliberating, Universal Pictures announced on Facebook that they would complete production of the film, combining the scenes Walker had completed, footage of stand-ins (including Walker’s brothers), and VFX animation of Walker (Fast and Furious 2014). When viewed in the context of the preceding discussion of the digital bodies of Genisys, Paul Walker’s reanimation in Furious 7 raises similar questions regarding the materiality, authenticity, and phenomenological (in)stability of the action body in the digital information age, as well as posthuman cultural anxieties that might arise in relationship to digital (dis)embodiment. In Furious 7 we find the apotheosis of the composite body. Constructed from profilmic footage, facial replacement, and digital animation, the posthumous performance of Walker in Furious 7 serves as a vivid case study of the mutability of the action body and the potential for posthuman, digital immortality. The ontological instability of Walker’s image within Furious 7 is precisely the kind of performance suited for the information age. For Jason Sperb, this kind of digital reanimation speaks directly to issues of life and death: With the endlessly reproductive and malleable potential of digital imaging technologies, the ontological distinction between life and death becomes increasingly arbitrary, since there is no longer a finite collection of (past) performances to preserve. (2012, 389)

He also claims that this kind of “post-human labor” offers the “illusion of immortality” that the medium of film has long promised (Sperb 2012, 388). Whereas the version of immortality offered in Genisys was a circular one, with younger and older selves existing in the same image, the immortality offered in Furious 7 is more timeless in nature, visualizing a kind of perpetual present that could be recreated ad infinitum. With Furious 7, Walker attained a kind of digital immortality, his body translated into code, stored on a hard drive, and reanimated and reintegrated into the screen image. The code of Walker’s digital body has merged with the apparatus of digital cinema and digital visual effects, able to navigate the digital terrain with ease. The (re)animation of Walker’s body was achieved in a similar manner to the recreation of 1984 Schwarzenegger, though the VFX artists didn’t have a previous body scan to work with, so they were forced to employ a suite of different techniques. Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was responsible for completing Walker’s performance in the film, and their most difficult task was recreating

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close-ups and still frames of Walker (see Figure 3.3). Since Weta did not have a scan of Walker to work from, they built a reference library of Walker-asO’Connor’s facial expressions and movements from past films in the franchise. Weta also used performance capture data from Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, as well as another actor, John Brotherton, to fill in the gaps in O’Conner’s movement (Gray 2015). As this VFX process reveals, Weta’s goal was to create a photorealistic composite human, one combining profilmic and digital data, as well as contributions from (at least) three other people. The character of O’Conner originated by Walker has transformed into an amalgamation, what Lisa Bode (2010, 48) terms a “disintegrated technologized performance.” While acting has long been created through a synthesis of different sources—stand-ins, body doubles, shot selection from different takes, different labor streams, etc.— what we find with the incorporation of digital visual effects is an intensification of this practice—an attempt to present a unified subject and body where none exists.

Figure 3.3  Reanimating Paul Walker in Furious 7, 2015. Dir. James Wan.

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The danger with this kind of posthumous resurrection of actors is an uncanniness of performance. Especially with audiences who are aware of the digital trickery, a kind of macabre fascination with a “zombie performance” might accompany reception of the film.9 Using examples of digital resurrection including Nancy Marchand in The Sopranos (Chase 1999–2007), Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Conran 2004), and Marlon Brando in Superman Returns (Singer 2006), Bode outlines this uncanniness, and she argues that posthumous performance calls into question cultural notions of personhood. Bode (2010, 60) states that posthumous performance challenges or disorientates familiar, taken-for-granted ideas about screen acting as an effect produced by an intentional, present human being. Posthumous performances remind us of our uncertainty about the degree to which we are organic or artificial, and raise questions about the nature of personhood.

Popular understandings of acting—especially acting within the parameters of the Method—frequently rely on notions of the unified, emotive subject, one with clear intentionality and personal expression. Posthumous, composite performances, such as that of Walker in Furious 7, call into question this humanistic view of acting, revealing that screen acting has been formed from a composite not just in the digital age but throughout the history of analog film (through editing, shot selection, etc.). Bode also notes that audiences frequently view posthumous performances as exploitative and “creepy.” To counter this perspective, the producers and cast of Furious 7 rhetorically situated the completion of the film as honoring Walker’s legacy. In numerous interviews and articles, the digital resurrection of Walker is shifted away from the rhetoric of exploitation surrounding the use of posthumous performances of Fred Astaire (in a Dirt Devil commercial), Orville Redenbacher, and Audrey Hepburn (in a Dove chocolate commercial) to sell commodities, toward a rhetoric of homage, respect, and honor. Universal’s Facebook post announcing the plans to continue with the production of Furious 7 noted that they had the blessing of Walker’s family to finish the film (Fast and Furious 2014). Franchise star Vin Diesel stated that completing Furious 7 was about celebrating “the legacy that was Paul, the legacy of that angel” (Nessif 2015). Cast member Christopher Bridges echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that they completed the film “in Paul Walker’s honor” (Malec 2015). Before the premiere of the film at South by Southwest, producer Neal H. Moritz stated that everyone involved was “determined to honor [Walker’s] legacy and our love for him forever,” and co-

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star Tyrese Gibson chimed in as well, claiming that they finished the film “on behalf of our brother Paul Walker” (Rosen 2015). At a preview screening, Diesel reiterated the common refrain that the cast and crew felt an obligation to complete the film for Walker’s fans, saying that it “is our gift to you [the fans], and more importantly, it’s for my brother there [pointing at a picture of Walker]” (Romano 2015). Even the VFX crew at Weta Digital stated their pure intentions in digitally resurrecting Walker, with VFX supervisor Martin Hill saying, “We knew we were doing something special for the filmmakers, the fans, the family—and for Paul’s legacy. We wanted to give him the sendoff that he deserved” (Gray 2015). What all of this rhetorical labor adds up to—aside from a genuine, deep mourning for a close friend and colleague—is an attempt to counter any claims that the digital posthumous performance of Walker was completed for purely commercial reasons. As Bode articulates in her essay, these kinds of performances are often greeted with skepticism and cynicism, viewed as an attempt by Hollywood to cash in on the image of a deceased star. The outpouring of sentiment from the cast, crew, and producers of Furious 7 allays these fears and instead situates the digital resurrection of Walker as honoring his final film in the franchise for which he was best known. Furious 7 thus serves both as Walker’s swan song and a clear example of the power and malleability of posthuman performance in the digital informational age.

Embodiment and vernacular posthumanism As the examples of both Schwarzenegger and Walker demonstrate, the contemporary action body is defined as much by its ability to merge into simulated environments and VFX as by its material hardness. The body becomes just one more element in the swirling vortex of digital manipulation, and its materiality and phenomenology are as malleable as everything else on the screen. With the pervasive use of digital VFX in all aspects of moving image media, the body is forced to keep pace, lest it become a relic of the analog era—a T-800 in a time of liquid metal. To push the Terminator analogy even further, we are now in a time of the T-3000, the Terminator model introduced in Genisys that is created by a machine intelligence using nanotechnology to replace human DNA with “phase matter” (see Figure 3.4). The result is a human-machine hybrid that uses the human form as the basis for a mechanical expression, and this being is a succinct embodiment of the kind of posthuman bodies imagined within the film’s vernacular.

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Figure 3.4  Jason Clarke as T-3000, human-machine hybrid in Terminator Genisys, 2015. Dir. Alan Taylor.

The T-3000 also functions as an exemplar of contemporary relationships between VFX and the human body, as well as a broader informational and posthuman cultural logic. In terms of both narrative and form, the T-3000 is constructed of human and machine parts. Narratively, the T-3000 is the result of a machine infection of a human body. On a formal level, the T-3000 is a combination of the profilmic body of actor Jason Clarke and digital visual effects technologies. As with many action bodies in the digital age, the T-3000 is a composite body, a combination of practical effects/profilmic bodies and digital effects/digital bodies. The governing logic of these types of composite bodies is a negotiation between the two forces—analog and digital—the amalgamation of which has been praised in a number of recent films, including Furious 7, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As discussed in Part One of this book, the hybrid nature of these films is particularly valued, and the rhetoric surrounding them praises their skillful combination of profilmic and digital effects.

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This kind of negotiation can be understood as countering anxieties of complete digital simulation through the recognition and incorporation of material profilmic bodies, and it resituates much of the discussion of fears of digital malleability recounted throughout this chapter. Hye Jean Chung acknowledges this shift, arguing that there has been a recalibration in the representation of bodily regeneration. Rather than being “framed in codes of horror or technophobic nightmare,” the reanimation of (digital) bodies “is indicative of the concepts and practices of renewal (e.g., rebooting, copying, pasting, converting, and downloading) in digital platforms and virtual gaming environments, as well as evolving practices of digital production in media industries” (Chung 2015, 55). What is happening here is a shift from a dystopian view of posthuman embodiment to a more utopian view, one which embraces the malleability of the posthuman body. In the context of Genisys and Furious 7, the de-aging and digital resurrections are not fearful or anxious but rather optimistic expressions of the logic of a digital, posthuman age. Within this environment, the materiality and authenticity of the action body comes to be defined by its ability to reboot itself, to merge and interact with its digital surroundings. As opposed to the spectacular profilmic muscularity of the 1980s hardbody and the superficiality of the 1990s postmodern action body, the informational, composite body of the 2010s tries to have its cake and eat it, too. It negotiates between profilmic and digital materiality, incorporating each into its identity. Embracing the paradoxes of posthumanism, its phenomenology is one of a transition between states, and its authenticity is connected as much to its materiality as it is to its digital photorealism. What is valued here is not ontological purity but rather ontological negotiation: the ability to exist in multiple states at once. If the action body can be taken as a measure of a prevailing cultural logic, then the blockbuster action bodies of the twenty-first century indicate a commitment to posthuman malleability, a remembrance of their profilmic heritage, and a nostalgia for an analog past.

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Digital Space’s Spectacle of Embodiment

In the previous chapter, I examined digital modification of the body and the ways in which these composite bodies, through their expression of vernacular posthumanism, illustrate the tension between (dis)embodiment and authenticity in VFX imagery. In this chapter, I discuss the interaction between human bodies, nonhuman digital agents, and simulated space. At issue here are the moments of contact between profilmic and digital forces and how the networks established among these forces articulate anxieties related to the posthuman condition (specifically regarding the “materiality” of digital spaces and beings). In the first part of this chapter, I analyze the presence of hyperphysical bodies in digital space. The second part of this chapter flips this relationship, examining digital bodies in physical space.

Bleeding synthetic blood Blood does not merely flow in Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006). It sprays, spurts, and spatters, gushing forth from severed limbs and eviscerated torsos. Blood reminds us of the physicality of the body and the ease with which the boundaries of the flesh might be breached. Blood offers evidence of life, and its seeping from the body offers evidence of death. Blood is a material thing, and it contains the stuff from which we are made: the biological “code” of DNA. Blood is life. In 300, however, blood is also something else. Here, blood is lifeless. It is synthetic and simulated, an expression of a very different kind of code. 300’s blood is the expression of binary computing code. It flows not from the biological body but from a particular interpretation and visualization of numerical information, and this reduction of biological and computing code to a common metaphor is a hallmark of vernacular posthumanism. In the process of visualizing code through bloody VFX, a particular anxiety related to posthuman embodiment is

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revealed. Just as the previous chapter discussed issues of bodily integrity related to VFX-enhanced action bodies, this chapter examines the ways in which visual culture compensates for this anxiety, reinforcing and highlighting the profilmic physicality of screen bodies. The blood in 300, like almost all blood in mainstream narrative film, is a special effect, an enhancement and approximation of biological blood (see Figure 4.1). The simple fact of this blood’s provenance, however, makes it no less visceral than that of its biological counterpart. In much the same way as a false alarm nevertheless stimulates and calls the body into action, so too does the synthetic blood of 300 index the viscerality of the living body. In his reading of C. S. Peirce, Brian Massumi argues that an indexical relationship exists not only between an object or event and the signs it produces—the fire and the alarm— but also between the sign and its effect on the perceiving body—the alarm and the body’s jolt into action (2010, 64–65). Thus, even if there is no fire and the alarm has sounded in error, the result is the same: the body perceives the alarm and experiences a jolt. The sign has produced its event. Regardless of whether or not there is actually a fire, the effect of the alarm on the body remains real and produces real effects. The same applies to 300’s blood. Whether or not the blood exudes from a biological body, its visualization within the film registers in our perception, indexing the tangled relationship between physical bodies, computer simulations, and visual perception. The visceral simulation of 300’s blood functions as a test case for the interaction between living flesh and computergenerated imagery in the film as a whole. 300 is a confused—and confusing—

Figure 4.1  300’s synthetic blood, 2006. Dir. Zack Snyder.

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visual object, both in terms of its own hybrid analog/digital ontology and in terms of our perception of its aesthetic appearance. On the one hand, the film confidently espouses a transhumanist fantasy of the easy merging of flesh and informational patterns: the fleshy bodies and simulated spaces they inhabit are almost indistinguishable from each other. On the other hand, the film fetishizes the hardbodies of the Spartans, which creates a disconnect between their hyperphysicalized presentation and the glossy, simulated environment in which they reside. This mismatch is simultaneously foregrounded and elided, made uncanny and mundane.1 300 is a film that wants it both ways: it desires the affective impact of profilmic bodies while at the same time presenting an image whose digital components undermine the physicality that the bodies represent. 300’s deployment of visual effects—most notably the almost exclusive use of simulated space—aims to fold the analog into the digital and the digital into the analog, and this collapse of biological and computing code reveals a utopian, transhumanist intonation of vernacular posthumanism. In his analysis of digital processes of image compositing, wherein photochemically based and computer-generated components are combined in a single image, Lev Manovich writes that the fundamental challenge of digital realism is “no longer how to generate convincing individual images but how to blend them together (2001, 155). Consequently, what is important now is what happens on the edges where different images are joined. The borders where different realities come together is [sic] the new arena where the Potemkins of our era try to outdo one another.” Elsewhere Manovich argues that digital compositing, which relies on an image composed of discrete units that can be easily exchanged and combined in myriad permutations, draws on the logic of our contemporary remix culture. This remix culture is itself founded in an “information aesthetics” that is indicative of the flexibility and portability of data in the information age (Manovich 2006, 39–40).2 The intermingling of flesh and simulated space in 300 is symptomatic of this mode of transhumanist informationalism, and the translation of flesh and blood into informational patterns—as well as the translation of informational patterns into material images of space—reflects a transhumanist desire to attribute a fundamental flexibility and exchangeability to both flesh and computer code. At the same time, however, there is something too perfect about the images in 300, something too mannered about the interaction between the bodies and the space they inhabit. 300, therefore, becomes less about producing a photorealistic image (though, as I will later discuss, realism is a concern of the filmmakers)

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and more about the effects of the interaction between its digital and analog components. Or, to put it another way, 300 is worried about the indexicality of synthetic blood. To the extent that 300 simultaneously fetishizes the physical and the simulated, the analog and the digital, it serves as an exemplar of the relationship between indexicality, photography, and the digital image. As Michele Pierson argues, the reception of special effects, at least among connoisseurs and active fans, has always occupied a liminal space, and viewers take pleasure both in assessing the quality of the effects and in discovering how the filmmakers achieved the effects. The primary mode of viewing for effects connoisseurs is not one of passive belief in the image but rather one of active critique of the film’s techniques of visualization. In discussing the period from 1989 to 1995, a time she calls the “wonder years” of digital special effects, Pierson identifies two aesthetic strategies deployed by digital effects: simulationist and technofuturist. The former describes the attempt to render digital effects as an unnoticeable simulation of the physical world while the latter describes the development of a unique and specific digital aesthetic (Pierson 2002, 101). In these years, audiences developed a relationship of wonderment to digital effects, which was accompanied by a burst of paratextual material discussing the production history and context of the effects. This relationship, claims Pierson, has conditioned both our reception of contemporary digital effects and the skepticism and speculation with which audiences approach the interaction between the digital and the analog. 300’s synthetic blood aims to mimic biological blood (simulationist) while at the same time possessing a computerized glossiness and digital aesthetic (technofuturist). Like the use of corn syrup, red paint, chocolate, or ketchup to imitate biological blood, the digital blood of 300 is an effect aimed at simulating an indexical relationship with the body. This indexicality is largely affective, and it is achieved, in part, by relying on the presence of hyperphysicalized bodies, which ground the simulation through their affective ties to the profilmic. Tom Gunning (2004) posits that much of what has been theorized as photographic indexicality is better understood not in terms of photography’s relationship to a particular object in the world but rather in terms of our affective and phenomenological investment with the photographic image and the discourses that establish the photographic process as having the ability to put us in the presence of something absent. Similarly, Alessandra Raengo (2013, 11), in her affective reading of Barthes’s notion of the reality effect, argues that it is a sustained “photochemical imagination” that produces “an effect and affect

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of reality, a reality a(e)ffect.” Lev Manovich, explaining how photographic and photochemical attitudes persist in digital images, writes that “at present our visual culture is characterized by a new computer ‘base’ and an old photographic ‘superstructure,’” indicating that while filmmaking production practices may now be largely digital, their expression is framed within a photographic understanding of aesthetics (2006, 28). Echoing this idea, Deborah Tudor, in her analysis of the nostalgia embedded in digital simulations of photographic processes, terms the imbrication of digital and photochemical processes as “‘looking for Bazin’ in that the certainty of an image’s indexical relationship to actuality slips into the symbolic space of the real when photochemical images are placed in dialectic with digitized images produced solely within the computer” (2008, 92). Finally, Stephen Prince (2012, 32, 51) relates the indexicality of digital images to their “perceptual realism,” and he argues that digital tools “have created new sources of indexical meaning that were never possible with analog photography. And notions of a break with cinema’s analog heritage rest on a devotion to characteristics that the medium never truly possessed as dominant features of its style or structure.” The synthetic blood of 300 is the point at which the film pivots between the affective registers of analog and digital indexicality, and its allegiances are both to the physical bodies from which it flows and to the processes of simulation from which it emerges. As a result of 300’s desire to have its indexicality both ways, connoisseurship of the film’s special effects becomes difficult, as the analog and the digital infect and bleed into each other, rendering their production difficult to assess without significant paratextual information. This confusion is also reflected in popular coverage of the film, which seems similarly mystified as to which elements are analog and which are digital. In particular, commentators were concerned with establishing just how fleshy the bodies of the actors really were, whether their muscular physiques were a product of gym labor, digital touch-ups, oldfashioned movie magic, or a composite of all of these techniques. The uncertainty surrounding the profilmic and simulated components of the film—as well as their interaction with each other—points to a larger concern of vernacular posthumanism: the desire to conceptualize all entities— human, animal, machine—as fundamentally translatable in terms of code or information. Digital visual effects function as one method by which we imagine, visualize, and make material the possibility of this utopic transhumanism. In the remainder of this section, I will explore how fleshy bodies might bleed synthetic blood—and how they might inhabit a simulated space—by thinking through

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the interaction between flesh and information in terms of their material basis in the abstraction of labor. The physical bodies of 300 are folded into the virtual spaces of the film, providing a visualization of the materiality of information and the ways in which the virtual and actual become enfolded into each other.3 The conflicted perspective of 300, which refuses to relinquish the physicality of the body while simultaneously imagining an environment in which flesh becomes part of a larger informational pattern, is not only symptomatic of contemporary approaches to image production but also indicative of the increasingly networked, informationalized, and digital cultural logic expressed through vernacular posthumanism.

Creating the synthetic fleshiness of 300 300 recounts the events of the Battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 480 BC when the Persian forces, led by Xerxes I, battled 300 Spartan warriors, led by King Leonidas. Originally recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus in his Histories, the story of the 300 Spartans has been retold in several contemporary incarnations, the most recent of which is the film 300. 300 is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (1999), which in turn is based on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans (Rudolph Maté). The basic narrative of the graphic novel and film versions of 300 is as follows. In 480 BC the Persians (following their unsuccessful invasion of Marathon, led by Xerxes’s father Darius, ten years earlier) make a second attempt to invade the Greek mainland, this time diverting the bulk of their forces to the Peloponnese. In response to this impending invasion, Leonidas, the king of Sparta, asks permission of the Ephors, the Spartan council of elders, to declare war against the Persians. As Sparta is in the middle of a religious festival, the Ephors deny Leonidas his request and refuse to provide him with access to the Spartan army. In response, Leonidas musters 300 of his finest troops and leads them against the invading Persian hordes. Vastly outnumbered, the 300 Spartans choose to make their stand at Thermopylae, a narrow pass near the sea. Using this strategic location, the Spartans are able to hold off the Persians until they are betrayed by an outcast (and wildly deformed) Spartan, Ephialtes. Ephialtes informs Xerxes of the location of a hidden goat trail, which allows the Persians to flank the Spartans. Facing certain defeat, Leonidas and his 300 troops make a last stand against the Persian forces, and they are all killed in the final battle. Their sacrifice, however,

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rallies the city-states of Greece to join together and ultimately drive the Persian army out of Greece. Snyder’s 2006 retelling of this story strives to maintain much of the visual style of Miller and Varley’s book, and according to one interview, Snyder set out to make the book into a movie rather than make a movie of the book.4 As a consequence of Snyder’s commitment to staying faithful to the book’s style, much of the 300 film had to be created digitally. Except for a single shot of a rider on horseback, the film was shot exclusively against bluescreen sets in a Montreal studio (Robertson 2007, 20), and the guiding directive of shooting, according to Snyder, was that “whatever actors touched, or walked on, we should build. Everything else was going to be CG” (Williams 2007, 55). In other words, aside from the actors and props, almost everything seen on screen is a digital simulation of space and material objects. With such an effects-heavy production, it is easy to lose the tether to the materiality of live-action filmmaking—the sense that things are happening on a scale of human size and vision. A simple statistic will put things in perspective: out of 1,500 shots in the film, 1,306 of them involve digital effects (Magid 2007, 28), and four different studios were tapped to handle each of the four battles that comprise the central action pieces of the film: Animal Logic, Hybride Technologies, Hydraulx, and Pixel Magic (Robertson 2007, 21). According to Lisa Purse, a film like 300, which is composed of almost completely digitally created environments, arouses materialist-based anxieties surrounding the compositing of digital effects and live-action. For Purse, the presence of the profilmic body in films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Kerry Conran 2004) and Sin City (Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller 2005) bestows upon the image a material verisimilitude, even when those bodies are surrounded by digital visual effects and environments: The pro-filmic body is the most effective embodiment of such visual integrity: it appears perceptually real in almost all circumstances and operates to “guarantee” that the physical exertions displayed on screen have at least a correlative in the real world. As such, the pro-filmic body and its evident materiality can serve to close down the anxieties around virtual, mutable beings that might have been triggered elsewhere in such films through the explicit use of digital animation. (2007, 16)

J. P. Telotte echoes Purse’s claims, and he argues that hybrid films like 300 are in the process of working out the visual cultural problematic of the “relationship between the real and the animated, the live action and the digitally fashioned, which inevitably has implications for our own natures” (2010, 241). The

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physical bodies in 300 thus serve to link the film both to the material basis of its production  and filming and to larger, posthumanist anxieties about the informationalization of the self and the body. As a result, establishing the live-action and digital elements of the film became a preoccupation of popular coverage of the film, especially in the context of the muscular physiques of the film’s actors. As Lev Grossman, writing in Time Magazine, claims: With so much computer-generated make-believe going on, the actors’ physicality is the movie’s only link to the real world. To turn Hollywood pretty boys into Spartans took eight weeks of intense dieting, exercise and martial-arts training. Onscreen their ripped abs look as if they’re trying to bulge their way out of their stomachs. (2007)

However, because of the placement of material bodies into a digital space, the physicality of the actors’ bodies is called into question. Michael Williams writes: Although the taut musculature of Gerard Butler and the rest of the male cast were the product of an uncompromising exercise regime, the torso-sculpting overhead studio lighting as well as the judicious application of make-up to enhance tone, their awareness of the potential for digital trickery created further doubt among audiences. (2009, 46)

Creating additional confusion is the fact that for the battle scenes requiring multitudes of soldiers, the filmmakers used Massive software to fill out the ranks with computer-generated crowds, further blurring the line between live-action and simulated bodies (Robertson 2007, 26).5 To combat this confusion, press coverage and promotional materials made much of the physical transformation and muscularity of the actors in the film, specifically highlighting the fact that the bodies were indeed real and not the product of digital visual effects. Because so much of the film was created through the labor of computer coding and animation, the physical labor required to sculpt the bodies of the actors was thrown into doubt. In response to allegations that the actors’ physiques were the product of computer trickery, Mark Twight (“300 Opinions”), proprietor of Gym Jones6 and lead trainer of the 300 cast, responded on his blog: It appears everyone has an opinion about 300 and how the actors and stunt crew achieved the level of fitness—and consequentially, appearance—for the movie. I have read that it was all CGI, make-up, steroids, etc. However, no one has come

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right out and said, “those guys worked really hard and had the self-discipline to control what they put into their mouths.” Which is what I suggest: have the self-discipline to control what comes out of your mouth, especially if you are ignorant about the topic being discussed.

Twight, of course, has a personal stake in maintaining the perception of authenticity of his trainees’ bodies, but other accounts of the actor’s training confirm Twight’s claims, though they admit that the use of those traditional aspects of Hollywood magic—makeup and lighting—highlighted the appearance of the actors’ bodies. More specifically, lighting, shadows, and makeup—achieved both through digital and traditional means—emphasized what the actors “already had,” rather than adding any muscle mass to the actors’ bodies (Foggo 2007). Prosthetic attachments were only used for scars and injuries, not to enhance the Spartans’ physiques, and resin-based paints were applied directly to the actors’ bodies to create shadowing effects and make the muscles “pop” (Fordham 2007, 68). Gerard Butler denies taking any steroids but admits that his body was enhanced with makeup: “I had spray-on abs as well … but I could also stick my finger up to almost the second knuckle—that’s how deep in my hands could go. You use make-up on your face. That doesn’t mean you’re an ugly fucker” (Rapkin 2010). Popular press accounts of the film fetishized both the muscular physiques of the actors in 300 and the brutal training regimen they endured to achieve those bodies. These accounts stress the labor of the actors—in particular the labor of lead actor, Gerard Butler (King Leonidas)—and they take pains to emphasize that the sculpting of the actors’ bodies was the product of hard work and weeks in the gym, rather than CGI magic. As Mark Twight (“300”) puts it: “The typical interviewer wants to know about the ‘magic’ workout the cast did to make them look so good. Some were disappointed to learn that hard work is magic, while others marveled—as did we some days—that the actors would work so hard.” According to coverage in publications such as Men’s Health, GQ, and WebMD, the actors trained ninety minutes to two hours a day, five days a week—plus an additional ninety minutes to two hours of fight training—for eight weeks (The stunt crew trained the same way, with an additional two to four hours of fight training per day) (Doheny “The 300 Workout”). Additionally, everyone was put on a calorie-restricted diet, consisting of “30 percent protein, 40 percent complex carbohydrates, [and] 30 percent fat” (Miller 2007). The centerpiece of the training regime was the “300 Workout,” which was a one-time, invitationonly challenge for those actors and stunt crew who felt up to the task.7 The

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challenge proceeded as follows: twenty-five pull-ups, fifty deadlifts at 135 pounds, fifty push-ups, fifty 24-inch box jumps, fifty floor wipers, fifty singlearm clean-and-presses with a 36-pound kettlebell, and twenty-five more pullups—all completed without resting between exercises (O’Connell 2010). I have recounted the workout and diet regimes of the actors and stunt crew in detail in order to illustrate the extent to which these popular discussions work to reinforce the distinction between CGI and gym magic, virtuality and actuality, digitality and materiality. The excessiveness of this rhetoric functions as an overcompensation, stressing how much “sweat” went into the production in order to alleviate any anxieties that might be attached to the idea of a fully digital body, as well as serving to differentiate further the physical and simulated elements of the film image. The fervor of the coverage of the 300 Workout also functions as a corrective to the vernacular posthumanism of the film, which fantasizes about the seamless interaction of flesh and digital space. That journalists and figures associated with the film felt the need to offer the “truth” of the bodies on display serves to reinforce the ubiquity of this fantasy, communicated through the pervasive vernacular posthumanism of visual culture. The fact that 300 was shot on traditional film stock provides an additional example of the oscillation between the worlds of digital visual effects and profilmic bodies within the film. According to visual effects supervisor Chris Watts, 300 was filmed the old-fashioned way—most of the footage was shot either handheld or on a dolly, then we did a lot of element shooting where we tracked in Persians, Spartans and other people. We shot entirely on Kodak 5229 film because we wanted to shoot high-speed with at least two cameras, generally three cameras. Digital video wasn’t an option—the fastest you can get out of any digital camera is 60 frames per second at half-res, but we shot considerable portions of this movie at 120–150 fps, and almost everything else we shot at 50 fps, except dialog, which we shot at 24 fps. We discussed shooting DV for the 24-frame stuff, but we agreed that it was already going to be a movie full of challenges in terms of keeping a consistent look, so we didn’t want to introduce one more by having different acquisition mediums. (Magid 2007, 29)

The use of such high-speed cinematography was necessitated by Snyder’s penchant for extreme slow motion and nested zooms. An example of the use of both can be found in the first major battle scene, during which Leonidas, in a seventy-second tracking shot, charges the field first with a spear and then with a sword. During this sequence, the film alternates between extreme slow

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motion, standard speed, and fast-motion photography. Additionally, the camera seemingly zooms between three levels of the action: long, medium, and closeup shots. These effects were created through a combination of high-speed photography, technological ingenuity, and digital trickery: “The telescoping effect was achieved with a multi-camera rig that simultaneously photographed the action with three different focal length lenses; in post, the specific ‘zoom’ points were chosen, and the filmmakers could digitally shift between the perspectives” (Williams 2007, 63). Despite the reliance on “old-fashioned” filmmaking techniques (or the digitally assisted emulation thereof)—as well as the rhetorical work of commentators in the press to delineate clearly the analog and digital elements of the film—the special effects and almost completely simulated space of 300 create an image that attempts to upset easy distinctions between live-action and digital filmmaking. The hyperphysicality of the actors serves to offset this tension and provide a material grounding for the images created by the film. What all of these production stories, anecdotes, and interviews add up to is a sense that the boundaries between the analog and the digital, as established within the context of 300, are perceived as being quite porous, and each side requires advocates in order to establish its ontology. The contradiction between physical bodies and simulated space—between flesh and information—as pictured in 300, rather than illustrating the failure of the film’s visual regime to visualize adequately the relationship between digitality and materiality, instead provides a metapicture of the tension in contemporary visual culture’s vernacular posthumanism.

A metapicture of fleshy information Two key images from 300 serve as guides through the thorny terrain between flesh,  synthetic blood, and simulated space. These images function as metapictures—visual illustrations of a concept—and they picture the theory of the relationship between flesh and information posited by 300. According to W. J. T. Mitchell, metapictures are “pictures about pictures,” pictures that theorize their own existence (1994, 35).8 They are material objects that claim to “show themselves in order to know themselves” (Mitchell 1994, 48). To the extent that 300 pictures a kind of informationalist, transhumanist utopia, where flesh and information can freely intermingle regardless of medium, the film functions as a metapicture of the cultural technofantasies of exchangeability between

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the physical body and informational networks. Within this fantasy, all that is required for translation is a general equivalent—in this case code—and I trace this fantasy through a lineage of theories of labor and materialism. Figure 4.2 provides a thesis for the operating logic of visuality presented in 300. In this image we see Leonidas, accompanied by his wife and son, inspecting his 300 troops before heading out to the Hot Gates. This image is particularly striking for the way in which it creates a dialog between the physicality of the bodies and the simulated space in which those bodies reside. If we follow the rule of thumb established by Snyder, that everything except what the actors touch is CGI, then only the ground, the actors, and perhaps the stalks of wheat closest to the actors are profilmic within this image. Despite the differing production methods of the elements of the image, the resulting composite image presents itself as a unified whole, the flesh and information interacting with each other without disrupting the visual integrity of the image. Through the tableau vivant composition and posing of the image, the digital and analog elements find a way to dialog with each other without losing their pictorial verisimilitude. Figure 4.3 continues the visual logic of the previous image, and it adds the element of simulated architecture. The close-up of Leonidas’s upper torso and face, directly juxtaposed with the simulation of Sparta in the background, highlights the way in which the vernacular of the film conceives of the digital and the analog as exchangeable and conversant with each other. Along with their exchangeability within the visual regime of the film itself, Leonidas and Sparta share a similar foundation in their expression of human labor. Both digital and analog images in 300 occupy the position of abstract human labor, though they differ in the ways in which they foreground their embodiment of that labor. As

Figure 4.2  Bodies and simulated space in 300, 2006. Dir. Zack Snyder.

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Figure 4.3  Leonidas and simulated architecture in 300, 2006. Dir. Zack Snyder.

Karl Marx argues, “The body of the commodity, which serves as the equivalent, always figures as the embodiment of abstract human labor, and is always the product of some specific useful and concrete labor” (1990, 150). While they are visual equivalents within the diegesis of the film, the abstract labor congealed in the “bodies” of the digital and analog images is founded on different forms of concrete labor. The bodies of the Spartan warriors depicted in film can be conceptualized as a form of abstract human labor rooted in the concrete labor of physical/bodily exertion. Each Spartan body represents not only the work, suffering, sacrifice, and dedication needed to create it but also, by proxy, the work, suffering, sacrifice, and dedication of the entire Spartan army. The Spartan army is a single unit, fighting together in a phalanx and relying on each other to survive a battle. As such, the strength of the individual becomes the strength of the group, obscuring the singular labor required to form each physical body. The Spartan bodies thus come to represent labor in the abstract. Within the film, the men are not seen training (except as children), nor are they seen engaging in any sort of physical activity except waging war. Like the commodity in capitalism, these bodies arise in fully formed perfection, denying the labor needed for their creation and serving as a sign of abstract human labor. These bodies function as complex sign systems, fetishizing the affect of indexicality associated with the physicality of the analog image.9 The actors playing the Spartans really had to submit themselves to the pain, toil, and dedication of sculpting their physiques. They really had to train themselves to perform the stunts and other physical feats of the film. They really had to engage in mock fighting. The hyperphysicality of the actors’ bodies creates their

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hyperpresence in the film, and in comparison to the simulated environments that surround these bodies, the bodies of the Spartans are truly, emphatically there. The fictional filmic images of the Spartan warriors serve as indexes to the real bodies of the actors playing the Spartans, “proving” that the representation of those bodies reflects a real body behind that representation. The simulated images in 300, on the other hand, are grounded in a seemingly less physical form of concrete labor, namely that of mental and technological labor.10 Just as the physical images in 300 serve as forms of abstract labor, hiding the concrete labor behind their existence, so too do the simulated images in the film obscure their foundations in the concrete labor of mental exertion.11 Unlike the overdetermined indexicality of the bodies in 300, the simulated environments exist within a virtuality. That is, they have no concrete referent in reality and exist only as the result of the mental exertions of their human creators, giving them an ephemeral quality that the ostentatiously physical bodies of the film strive to offset. However, like their analog counterparts, the simulated images of 300 strive to embody a kind of visual perfection. Both types of image are presented in a highly stylized manner, and both are depicted as “perfections” of their respective ontological positions. As such, both images are subject to the same kind of commodity fetishism that occludes the concrete labor that goes into their production, resulting in their integration into the cinematic whole of 300. The general equivalency between the digital and analog modes of representation in 300—the equivalency between information and flesh—results from an abstraction of their forms of materiality into the equivalent of code, and this abstraction also expresses itself as an aesthetic equivalency of form. While the fantasies of translation, abstraction, and equivalence I have thus far been discussing happen beneath the surface, as a kind of transhumanist cultural imaginary, this fantasy is also visible on the surface, within the vernacular of the images. Between the flesh and simulated space of 300, there exists a sensorial equivalence, a sameness of form and expression. The digital and the analog infect each other, and their ontological reciprocity within the image results in a certain affective stickiness that bleeds between the analog and digital components of the image. As a result, the simulated images of space attract some of the phenomenological weightiness of the fleshy bodies, and the fleshy bodies attract some of the smoothness, glossiness, and “perfection” of the simulated environments. The sensorial circuit established between flesh and information creates an aesthetic and sensorial equivalency of digital and analog forms. In

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other words, the digital and analog pieces of the film look and feel like each other, which reinforces the transhumanist fantasy that flesh and information can be unproblematically exchanged. The materiality of the digital image has been one of the more pressing concerns of contemporary media studies, and I follow Deleuzian scholars in thinking through the “digital turn” in terms of the ways in which the digital visualizes a particular attitude toward the relationship between the actual and the virtual. In his Cinema books (specifically in Cinema 2), Deleuze theorizes the relationship between the virtual and the actual and how a particular mode of cinema—the time-image—visualizes this relationship.12 What is most relevant to my own discussion concerning the ways in which the relationship between the actual and the virtual can be applied to the relationship between the analog and the digital is Deleuze’s formulation of how the actual and the virtual interact. Rather than acting dialectically, as opposing sides of the same coin, the actual and the virtual appear as reflections of each other, one inhabiting the image of the other (Deleuze 1989, 68). Deleuze mobilizes another set of metaphors—the crystal and the baroque fold—to make more vivid the confusion of inside and outside, which are in continual exchange, occurring within images that open up into the space between the actual and the virtual (1989, 70). While Deleuze probably did not have VFX (or 300) in mind, his discussion of the relationship between the actual and the virtual can fruitfully be applied to issues of CGI and the relationship between analog and digital modes of filmmaking. For Deleuze, the actual and the virtual are co-constitutive of each other, and they form a circuit of sensation within the image. In the context of 300, we can see the interaction between the actual and the virtual as well as the folding of flesh into the code of the digital environments. However, rather than opening up a new form of perception à la the time-image film, the image vernacular of 300 strives to elide the crystalline structure of the actual and the virtual, presenting instead a flat movement-image that imagines a utopia of transhumanism. The bodies of the actors merge into the simulated environments that surround them, producing a whole that emphasizes continuity rather than discontinuity, harmony rather than tension. Despite its insistence on presenting a cinematic world that refuses to differentiate between the analog and the digital, 300 nevertheless acts as a metapicture of a particular kind of pervasive, transhumanist thinking about the relationship between flesh and information, one that reduces physical materiality to a kind of signifier of presence rather than something that is grounded in ontological difference.

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The synthetic blood of 300 crystallizes the relationship between the analog and the digital, and it offers a location where we might see the actualization of the affects of indexicality that influence the film. Sensation, for Massumi (as well as for Deleuze), is crucial for understanding the ways in which images might open up new forms of perception, and this sensation is able to travel across different mediums (2002, 135). 300’s synthetic blood is an object that allows us to see how sensation might be translated between the physical and simulated components of the film. This idea of translation can also be applied to the relationship between the analog and the digital, since both are expressions of similar sensational and representational desires. The act of sensation is fundamentally analog—the example Massumi uses is the transformation of one medium (e.g., words) into another (e.g., thought)—and thus the digital must always first pass through the analog at the moment of production and back through the analog at the point of consumption. Thus, if we follow Massumi, every piece of digital media is also intrinsically analog in that in order to produce and consume that media, the world must first be translated, coded, and then sensed by an observer. In the context of 300, Massumi’s formulation allows us to reconcile some of the seeming contradictions in the film’s approach to its analog and digital pieces (though I would maintain that the contradictory nature of the film’s imagery is what makes it such a valuable specimen for studying the role of actors, CGI, and VFX in today’s media industries, and it is indicative of most intonations of vernacular posthumanism). Following a Deleuzian framework, the actual and the virtual must be thought of as pieces of the same crystal, folded into each other in a perpetual recursive circuit. The flesh of the bodies in 300 is folded into the digital environments of which they are a part, while at the same time, the digitality of the environments is folded into the flesh of the bodies. Each is granted some of the qualities and sensations of the other, and they share an aesthetic equivalency of form and appearance. Much of the difficulty in delineating the profilmic from the simulated in the film can be attributed to this exchange between digital and analog. The film’s synthetic blood, flowing digitally from the characters’ profilmic bodies, evokes the sensations of real blood and violence. Regardless of its digital provenance and its ephemeral, stylized appearance, the potential effects this synthetic blood produces act on the viewer’s physical body, creating stubbornly analog sensations. The blood is of two worlds, much like the film itself. It is impossible to separate the virtual and the actual, the digital and the analog, since they are pieces of the same whole.

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With a foot placed firmly in both camps of analog and digital filmmaking, 300 stands on the precipice of a shift in mainstream forms of media production, and it is representative of contemporary media in that it leans heavily on digital technologies while not quite willing to completely forgo its ties to physical reality. My goal in describing the dual (and often contradictory) nature of these hybrid, composite digital/analog images is not to argue that there will ever be a “pure” media of either completely analog or completely digital production. Rather, my intent has been to argue that the analog and the digital will always be present together, whether it be during production or consumption, and as such the digital and the analog will be travel companions through various states of actuality and virtuality for as long as bodies engage with media. This dual, contradictory engagement with the sensorium is also a hallmark of vernacular posthumanism, and in the next section of this chapter, I will explore how the interaction of digital agents with profilmic bodies and space constructs a complementary valence of this vernacular.

The digital swarms of vernacular posthumanism In a dream sequence from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) discovers a mysterious key lodged in the tracks at the train station

Figure 4.4  Hugo’s composite imagery, 2011. Dir. Martin Scorsese.

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in which he makes his home. Hugo jumps onto the tracks in order to retrieve the key, only to be run over by an approaching train (see Figure 4.4). While this scene is notable for its fast-paced action, kinetic editing and cinematography, and suspense, the environment in which the scene takes place is, at least superficially, rather unremarkable. The train station and its inhabitants, while quite stylish and evocative of the time period, appear as photorealistic, seamless components of the mise-en-scène. In reality, however, much of this environment is a digital simulation, from the setting to the props to the characters, and in this regard, this scene from Hugo is indicative of much of contemporary mainstream filmmaking. To the extent that the modus operandi of contemporary image production is to composite analog and digital elements in the same frame, these images become chimeras of human and nonhuman forces, imagining a hybrid space in which profilmic and digital agents might seamlessly coexist in a transhumanist utopia. This particular scene from Hugo utilizes Massive crowd simulation software, which is an application that animates individual digital agents through the use of fuzzy logic. These agents have a form of agency, whereby they react actively to their environment, rather than being individually animated to perform particular routines. What the use of Massive software creates is an ecosystem in which human actors appear to interact and share space with self-motivated digital agents, and this seemingly seamless interaction of humans and nonhumans in visual space is a primary component of vernacular posthumanism. These digital agents, however, don’t always abide by the desire of their “creators.” As one of the VFX artists on Hugo testifies regarding the use of Massive in this scene: I will say though—it didn’t work 100% of the time. Occasionally the agents stopped behaving and went into a “zombie mode.” They fell out of their actions, hunched their shoulders and stood swaying on the spot like they just had a bad concussion. Drove me nuts trying to fix it but it was damn funny when it came up in dailies. (Massive Software 2012)

As with my discussion of the interaction of profilmic bodies and simulated space in 300, the hybrid images produced by the compositing of humans and digital agents create a visualization of an imagined posthuman future, one in which analog and digital forces can be easily and unproblematically transferred and exchanged.

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Diagnosing an assumed interchangeability between “computational biology and biological computing,” Eugene Thacker (2004a, 5) argues that much of popular culture’s attitude toward genomics rests on a common assumption that “there exists some fundamental equivalency between genetic ‘codes’ and computer ‘codes,’ or between the biological and digital domains, such that they can be rendered interchangeable in terms of materials and functions.” This equivalency between biological and computing code undergirds much of the presentational vernacular of digital effects images as well as the figural affect associated with the reception of these images. Vernacular posthumanist thinking, in other words, informs the imagination of these hybrid images (to the extent that they visualize the digitization of the human), and these images also act in concert with popular cultural imaginings of a transhumanist utopia. At the same time, however, the vernacular posthumanism of contemporary visual culture also presents the dark side of this mode of transhumanism, articulating the potential apocalyptic effects of digital simulation and machine agency. Crucial to my examination of the vernacular of VFX images is an embrace of the tension between the poles of transhumanism and critical posthumanism, one that accounts for the embodied encounters between human and nonhuman. Theoretically and philosophically, it is quite valuable to set the two viewpoints as opposed to each other: an informational, disembodied transhumanism on one side and an embodied, ecocritical posthumanism on the other. Yet, within popular visual culture, we find an ambivalence between these two philosophical positions. On the one hand, cultural narratives and imagery fantasize about a utopian transcendence of the body; on the other hand, these narratives and imagery frequently depict this transcendence as leading to an apocalyptic destruction of the body, humanity, and human civilization. We can see this ambivalence nowhere clearer than in popular visual cultural objects like cinema and television, specifically in these forms’ use and deployment of VFX. Digital effects serve as a signal example where humans imagine themselves in dialog with nonhuman digital spaces and agents. These spaces of visual culture allow us to imagine and visualize our posthuman future, one in which flesh and information might seamlessly and easily coexist and cohabitate with each other. One of the primary goals of mainstream VFX is to composite humans and digital code into a photorealistic, cohesive whole, one in which viewers are unable to distinguish analog from digital elements. The image itself becomes a posthuman hybrid, and it renders visible a cultural logic of informationalism, one that domesticates the threat of dissolution of the

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human and fantasizes about a digital utopia. The image stages an encounter between human and nonhuman, and the deployment of VFX presents this encounter as a seamless merging of analog and digital, actual and virtual, flesh and computer data. This hybrid image presents the problem of the interaction and synchronization of biological and computer code as already solved, masking the reality of the cultural, moral, and philosophical growing pains experienced as we humans and nonhumans come to terms with our continually evolving relationship to, and dependence on, each other. In staging an encounter between human and nonhuman, these hybrid constructions of digital and analog forces push the image from the figurative into the realm of the figural, revealing the virtual exchange of energies, intensities, and affect between human and nonhuman elements. In his book on Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze differentiates figurations from Figures (2003). Figurations, for Deleuze, are representational and narrativized, and they are understood through the cognitive capabilities of the viewer. Figures, conversely, are related to sensation and instinct, and they act directly on the nervous system of the viewer, pushing the image away from convention and cliché (Pisters 2003, 148–149). In his description of figurations and Figures, Deleuze echoes the claims made by Jean-François Lyotard in Discourse, Figure. Lyotard differentiates linguistic and textual discourse from the phenomenon of sensual experience (notably vision), arguing that, though discourse and sensual experience might be mutually dependent, there exists “an ontological rift” between textual space and figural space (2011, 205). For Lyotard, the figural disrupts the representational fixity of the figurative, introducing discord into the system of signification. Taking Deleuze and Lyotard together, what emerges is a sense of the figural as enabling an interaction between image and viewer, one which stages an encounter between each entity’s energies, affects, and intensities, and we can see this encounter quite vividly in VFX images. The encounter between human and nonhuman as staged within VFX images is symptomatic of the vernacular posthumanism of contemporary visual culture, and their interaction establishes a kind of primal scene of digital posthumanism. The hybrid VFX image is a staging ground for cultural work that thinks through issues of the posthuman, and it provides a space for interrogating the troubled boundaries between the human and nonhuman. While these images typically present a utopian solution to these problems—in that they depict a seamless interaction between humans, digital space, and digital agents—they nevertheless offer a point of contact for exploring how contemporary popular visual culture

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imagines the ways in which humans and (digital) nonhumans might someday interface with each other. The posthuman vernacular of these images offers us an opportunity to rethink how we might approach the cultural ambivalence toward the posthuman, and the hybridity of the image provides a template for examining the contemporary hybridity of the human. In particular, we see this interaction between human and nonhuman quite clearly in VFX that create semiautonomous digital agents and simulated crowds. As a component of a much larger industrial trend of incorporating VFX into every aspect of the pre-production, production, and postproduction of visual media, crowd simulation is indicative of the extent to which the screen image has become hybrid, malleable, and composite, an image in which the lines between “captured” and “created” data have been irrevocably blurred. This is an image in which “spotting the joins” between analog and digital imaging has become virtually impossible, as subtle, non-spectacular visual effects like color correction and set extensions have become the norm in mainstream commercial image production. While many mainstream deployments of visual effects are meant to go unnoticed by audiences, scenes of massive crowds and swarms are still, both narratively and aesthetically, positioned as moments of spectacle and awe. These images of crowds and swarms provide a break from the narrative trajectory and aesthetic composition of the primarily figurative images, and they offer moments of figural force within the otherwise typical popcorn genres of blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films in which most of these visual effects scenes are found. Crowd simulation is frequently used to animate hordes of nonhuman agents (e.g., zombies, orcs, apes, monsters). In films and television shows such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson 2001–2003); I, Robot (Proyas 2004); 300 (Snyder 2006); the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy (Wyatt 2011; Reeves 2014/2017); World War Z (Forster 2013); and Game of Thrones (Benioff and Weiss, 2011–present), digital crowds are, both narratively and visually, constructed as a threat to their human counterparts (see Figure 4.5). The images of digital crowds and swarms pose a threat both to the profilmic human bodies with whom they share visual space and to the visual system of the media objects themselves. Their energies, intensities, and vectors introduce discord into the image, threatening to burst out of the frame, and they challenge the systems of signification established within the media object. From the early cinema of Griffith and De Mille to the historical epics of the 1950s–1960s, crowd scenes have featured prominently in Hollywood

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Figure 4.5  Zombie swarms in World War Z, 2013. Dir. Marc Forster.

films.13 These scenes of hundreds and thousands of extras not only display the economic power and grandeur of Classical Hollywood, but they also provide a commentary on the scope of human agency in the formation and shepherding of history. While a full discussion of the history of crowds in Hollywood cinema is beyond the scope of this analysis, as a general observation, in many Classical Hollywood films featuring spectacular crowds (e.g. Birth of a Nation [Griffith 1915], Intolerance [Griffith 1916], The Crowd [Vidor 1928], Ben-Hur [Wyler 1959], Cleopatra [1963, Mankiewicz]), human crowds provide a commentary on civilization, urbanization, mass culture and consumption, and the mass crowds of modernity (Whissel 2010, 92–93). Humans, within this schema, are the guiding forces of history and culture, and it is the actions of mass humanity that usher in change and progress. Contrast this with digitally simulated crowds, what Kristen Whissel terms “the digital multitude” (2010, 2014). These hordes of digital agents function as a threat to human omnipotence, wresting control from humanity and displacing it onto a semiautonomous mass of computer-generated figures. The human crowds of Classical Hollywood have been largely replaced with digital crowds, evincing a shift from an industrial, Fordist mode of production to an information-age mode of globalized, outsourced production. Rather than visualize the economic power of Hollywood, contemporary digital crowds make visible the imbrication of the culture industries into larger structures of global information and network flows. In contrast to human crowds, digital crowds don’t so much indicate the ability of the industry to manage labor as they indicate the industry’s ability to manage information.14

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In examining the visualization of digital crowds, it’s also important to account for the role of the software packages in the aesthetic deployment of the digital multitude. Originally, digital characters were designed to replace anonymous human actors, most notably stunt actors and extras. As technology has evolved, digital characters have assumed roles traditionally reserved for human actors (though these characters frequently rely on motion data derived from performance capture technologies), for example, Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson 2012) and Caesar in The Planet of the Apes reboot films (both played by Andy Serkis). However, rather than focus on these individuated, psychologically coherent digital characters, in this analysis, I’m more concerned with the replacement of anonymous human masses with similarly anonymous digital masses and the ways in which these digital masses interact with human characters, creating an image of vernacular posthumanism. Two of the major software packages are Massive (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment) and Alice (Artificial LIfe Crowd Engine). Massive is the more popular and widely used, and it was developed by Stephen Regelous for use by Weta Digital in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.15 The wide-ranging use of Massive helps explain the consistent look that these crowd scenes share, and the similar behavior of the crowds is due, in part, to the algorithms within the Massive software package (algorithms that themselves are nonhuman subjects). What is innovative about Massive is how it programs its digital agents to behave. Or, rather, how it doesn’t program its agents to behave. A problem in the history of artificial intelligence and crowd simulation has been the time, labor, and processing power necessary to program thousands of individual agents to perform specific actions. Individually animating each agent by hand to perform a set number of tasks results in unnatural crowd behavior, one that appears excessively computerized and rigid. Massive software avoids this issue by following what Jussi Parikka describes as an insect logic of media. Parikka (2010, xii) argues that much of our communications technology has been modeled after—and is understood within the terms of—the behavior of insect swarms in which each insect is “individually dumb, but highly efficient when coupled with their environment.”16 Massive operates in much the same manner. Each individual digital agent is programmed not simply to perform certain pre-programmed routines but rather to react actively to its environment. In other words, much like the Rodney Brooks robots discussed in the introduction, each agent has

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a catalog of movements, actions, and behaviors that it deploys depending on its position within its environment and in relation to the other digital agents. At the individual level, an agent’s behavior might appear chaotic, but at the global level, the crowd behaves in a cohesive way, much like swarms of insects, birds, and fish. Discussing the relationship between animal studies, network theory, and political theory, Eugene Thacker describes swarm behavior as such: Organisms are never just individuals, and never just groups; the “behavior” of an organism is at the intersection of individual, group, and environment. In ethological studies of particular species (such as insects, birds, or predatorprey relationships), the locale of agency is never clear-cut. Rather, it emerges out of the interactions within groups, between individuals, and in response to environmental constraints. (2004b)

The Massive architecture is modeled after this theory of interaction between individual and group behavior, and the digital agents it creates and brings to life develop a mode of agency that is uniquely suited to the hybrid environment of the posthuman digital image. From a narrative perspective, the nascent agency of digital swarms and simulated crowds generally functions as a force that threatens to end civilization and, with it, humanity. This, for example, is the plot of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is a rebooting of the Planet of the Apes franchise of the late 1960s and 1970s. This film traces the rise of an intelligent ape civilization—led by ape revolutionary Caesar—and the subsequent decline of human civilization. The typical reasons for the downfall of humans are at play here: hubris, faith in technology, ignorance of the natural world, and a devotion to profit above all else. While the narrative of the film might be standard Hollywood fare, it is in the visualization of the ape swarm where we see the image move into the figural. In a climactic scene toward the end of the film, we see how the energies and intensities of the swarm might undermine human modes of perception and existence, and this is typical to the crowd scenes that appear in the films I’ve previously mentioned. In this sequence, the apes, having recently been exposed to a drug that radically increases their intelligence and cognitive abilities, assault the lab where the drug was developed. The lab conducts tests on apes, so part of the ape swarm’s goal is to free its imprisoned brethren. During its assault on the lab, the ape swarm overwhelms the space and the humans occupying

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the space, destroying the technology in the lab and adding more apes to the digital multitude. Later, the apes move into the city, claiming buildings, streets, and streetcars as their territory. The force of the ape swarm is overwhelming, and, despite their technological superiority, the human inhabitants are unable to resist. Because of both the surprising, sudden nature of the attack and the humans’ anthropological hubris (the apes are simply “stupid animals”), the individual humans cannot withstand the energy of the apes’ collective action, and they are swallowed up by the advancing horde, powerless in the face of such a force. The apes, through their embrace of nature and destruction of technology, infest the spheres of human progress like a virus, taking over these spaces and repurposing them for their own ends. The bars of metal gates become spears, manholes become projectiles, and zoo cages become incubators of the end of humanity. Furthermore, the algorithms that animate and energize these digital agents function according to their own logic, navigating the space of the image as if it were a digital playground, subverting the analog desires of their human counterparts.17 In Look at the Bunny, Dominic Pettman recounts an example from the DVD extras of the Lord of the Rings, wherein the animators provide an amusing anecdote regarding the agency of Massive-animated agents (2013, 66–67). Roughly 80,000 digital orcs were required for the films, and they were notably deployed in the grandiose Battle of Helm’s Deep in the second film of the trilogy, The Two Towers (2002). In this sequence, the orcs storm the keep, attempting to wrest it from the control of their human and elven adversaries. During the preliminary animation of this scene, a few of the orcs “decided” that they’d rather not engage in battle, and they fled from the fight, despite their directions from the script. Because they were programmed to react to their environment and situation, rather than programmed to carry out specific actions, these orcs made the unpredictable decision to flee from battle. While this footage didn’t end up in the final cut of the film, this example illustrates the extent to which notions of human and nonhuman “agency” become complicated and fuzzy within posthuman image vernaculars. As Pettman articulates it, “We have now reached the historical threshold where all creatures—whether created in a womb, lab, or computer—contain their own virtual potential to unfold into existence according to their own whims or dictates, beyond the codes which guide their day-to-day behavior” (2013, 86). The behavior and agency of digital agents often exceed the intentions of their human creators and programmers. “Glitches” function not as a bug but as a feature of digital creatures’ behavior.

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What results from this semiautonomous behavior of the digital multitude is a challenge to both the figurative strategies of the film and the human characters within the film. The software packages and computing technology used to animate these digital agents function in a figural manner, creating, by design, an intelligent and unpredictable crowd that captures the energies, intensities, and malleability of the swarm, rather than producing a fixed representation of individual agents. These swarms embody the energies and perceived dangers of the anonymous networked self, and they function as a self-organizing, decentralized, rhizomatic intelligence, one that threatens the boundaries of the image. They introduce discord into the image, threatening to burst out of the frame and release their kinetic energy into the world. The digital multitude cannot be contained, and it creates a sublime and terrifying sensation of threat through the overwhelming of the individual. This loss of human control, writes Thacker, creates “an equal and more anxious interest in the unpredictability, the instability, and the uncontrollable nature of networks, swarms, and multitudes (2004b, para. 45). They seem to fascinate because their distributed modes of organization foster both an absence of centralized control, and an anxiety about that loss of control.” These digital crowds behave like computer viruses, traveling along digital vectors and infecting the image. They threaten to continue their digital trajectory, seeping out of the frame and infiltrating the entirety of networked technology and culture. By contrast, the profilmic human bodies appear stuck within the frame, unable to spread along the digital vectors of the swarms. They appear rooted in their figurative logic, their energies and intensities directed toward individuation and melodramatic characterization rather than collective action. In many ways, the digital swarm poses a similar threat to the human as do the practices of “big data” and data mining, to the extent that each conflicts with romantic notions of individual action and reduces the individual to a data point in a much larger set. Each also emphasizes patterns and global behavior at the expense of the individual. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the relationship between digital hordes and the end of human civilization is made explicit through the film’s posthuman vernacular. In the Lord of the Rings, Saruman (Christopher Lee), an agent of Sauron, deploys swarms of orcs in order to bring all of Middle Earth under the rule of his master. As with many of the swarms in this kind of apocalyptic film, the orcs in the Lord of the Rings threaten to bring about the end of the world, and they do so by overwhelming the humans (and elves, dwarves, and hobbits)

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with sheer numbers and collective action. A key part of the narrative of the films is the quest to unite the fractured tribes of Middle Earth so that they might withstand this horde. As such, the sundry and divided groups of Middle Earth are encouraged to work together in their opposition to Sauron’s forces, adopting the energies and intensities of the digital orc hordes. There is power in numbers, and in order to avoid the erasure of the individual, the humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits must cast aside their individual concerns and mimic the collective action of the horde, if only temporarily. Much narrative time is spent on overcoming the political differences between the elves, dwarves, and tribes of men in order to assemble a force strong enough to overcome the orc hordes. In one notable sequence from The Return of the King, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) recruits an army of ghostly (and digitally animated) Dead Men of Dunharrow in order to defeat Sauron’s army of orcs and corsairs. In this instance, a human is able to control the digital multitude but only temporarily. After the battle is won, Aragorn releases the dead men from their bondage, and they dissipate into the ether. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the digital multitude functions, narratively, to create a human/elf/ dwarf multitude, one that sublimates the desires of its individual members in favor of the interests of the collective. Thus, the digital multitude, “rather than destroy entirely the heterogeneous and fragmented community … forces into existence an ideal form of collective action able to usher in a new historical era” (Whissel 2010, 108). It is important to note, however, that this activity occurs on a narrative level, and it functions to provide closure to the story. Formally, the figural force of the digital multitude remains, and this force provides resistance to the tidy solution of collective action that the film presents. Narratively, the film depicts a utopian solution to the problem of social heterogeneity; formally, the film leaves open the question of the relationship between the individual and the horde. The tension here is indicative of vernacular posthumanism, to the extent that this vernacular wavers between the hope of transcending the body and the anxiety of abandoning embodiment, and this tension is visualized in the relationship between the profilmic and digital, human and nonhuman, within the image. In a related sequence from The Two Towers, the wizard Saruman, who is working at the behest of Sauron, unveils his massive army of orcs to his lackey, Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Before the army is shown, however, Saruman and Grima have a conversation regarding the size of the force necessary to storm Helm’s Deep. Grima, skeptical of Saruman’s ability to muster a force of “tens

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of thousands,” claims that “there is no such force.” Immediately following this comment, the camera tracks behind Saruman and Grima as they walk to the tower’s balcony, revealing a field completely occupied by highly regimented battalions of the Uruk-Hai orcs that Saruman had been breeding for Sauron. This digitally animated horde inspires awe, both on the part of the characters (Grima sheds a lone tear at the spectacle) and on the part of the viewer, who marvels not only at the sheer display of filmic spectacle but also at the visual effects technology that enables such a spectacle. The aesthetic presentation of these kinds of scenes also follows a similar logic, one which emphasizes both awe and fear at the sheer size and organization of the horde. Whissel reads this scene in the terms of character and spectator fluctuation I described previously, noting that scenes of digital swarms emphasize their overwhelming and spectacular nature. The editing of the scene, which cuts between a high-angle wide shot and the tearful face of the human observer, “foregrounds the multitude’s dramatic and even sublime impact” (Whissel 2010, 99). Within the history of special and visual effects, this kind of spectacular presentation is quite common, and these scenes thematize the spectacle within the narrative as a means to offer up the spectacle for viewers.18 Key to this spectacle is the presentation of the crowd as an overwhelming mass of indistinguishable individuals. The crowd is a unified and anonymous force, threatening the humans with assimilation into the horde. However, to facilitate this assimilation of the humans, the crowds usually feature what Deleuze and Guattari term the “anomalous,” a border-being or border-force that serves as a catalyst for processes of becoming. Members of the swarm are usually undifferentiated from each other, but most feature one identifiable lead character who is more human-like than the rest of the horde in that it possesses a seemingly coherent psychology, recognizable motivation, and individuated desire (for example, Lurtz the Uruk-Hai from the Lord of the Rings, Apes’ Caesar, and Azog the Pale Orc from The Hobbit). In speaking of packs and swarms, Deleuze and Guattari claim that “wherever there is multiplicity, you will also find an exceptional individual, and it is with that individual that an alliance must be made in order to becomeanimal” (1987, 243). Later, however, Deleuze and Guattari also claim that the anomalous “is neither an individual nor a species” but rather “a phenomenon of bordering” (1987, 245). In the context of digital swarms—and because of the need to make an intangible force visible—the anomalous beings take the form of an individual character but they function as a disfiguring force, one

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whose energies and intensities come into conflict with the humans within the films. We can also understand this border-being as facilitating an identification with the swarm to the extent that it tames the intensity of the swarm’s forces. The embodiment and characterization of the border-being makes the figural forces of the swarm figurative, and it serves as a gateway into the digital swarm (though the films generally present this kind of identification as threatening, rather than hopeful). In a way, the becoming-swarm of the human attempts to digitize the profilmic human characters, absorbing them into the digital networks of anonymous crowd simulation and creating a hybrid of human and nonhuman forces. Regardless of whatever moments of resistance to figurative modes of representation are presented by these films, in the end, the figural forces of the swarm are depicted as hostile to humanistic modes of being, and they are (usually) eventually domesticated both on a narrative and visual level. However, on a purely formal level, the co-presence of profilmic humans and digital nonhumans within the frame nevertheless presents moments of figural force that encourage the viewer to imagine a reality in which humans and digital agents might share space, affect, and energies. This hybrid, composite image stages an encounter between humans and nonhumans, one which speaks to a vernacular experience of posthumanism. The image has realized its posthuman fantasy more quickly than we humans, but it shares both our hopes and anxieties about this future. On the one hand, the hybrid image imagines a potential future in which the human and digital nonhuman might seamlessly coexist in a kind of technological utopia. On the other hand, this image also visualizes a potential future in which the human is assimilated into the digital horde, losing a sense of individual self to the desires of the collective. All of the examples discussed in this chapter envision and enact the potentiality of a posthuman future through their image vernaculars. This posthuman future isn’t one of apocalyptic cyborgs, technological singularity, or the disembodiment of consciousness. Rather, these images imagine posthumanism in terms of potentiality and figural forces, and they produce visualizations that encourage us humans to think of ourselves as embedded in larger material-semiotic networks, networks in which both humans and nonhumans possess forms of agency and intentionality. Such images are less about envisioning the transcendence of the human body and more about staging encounters and interactions between the forces of human and nonhuman, analog and digital, flesh and information. In doing so, these images communicate in a vernacular of posthumanism, one

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which speaks to our contemporary experience of the richness and wonder of the nonhuman beings and technologies with whom we share our world. The examples I’ve explored in this chapter, like all objects of vernacular posthumanism, are messy, and they resist easy classification. On a number of levels—narrative, aesthetic, technological, affective, and figural—they visualize the joining of incongruity, the temporary arresting of tension. In some ways, these images are hopeful about our posthuman future. On an aesthetic, formal, and technological level, they depict humans and digital nonhumans as coexisting peacefully in the frame, one indistinguishable from the other. In other ways, these images are anxious about our posthuman future. Narratively and affectively, they present images of humans being overwhelmed by the digital multitude, lost in the chaos of the anonymous collective. Figurally, these images offer a way to sample the tension inherent in prognostications regarding the posthuman. Viewers can become-digital through simulations of the digital horde while remaining safely embodied in the human. This posthuman vernacular is teaching us to become posthuman, but its lessons are often opaque. It warns of discarding embodiment while encouraging us to adopt some of the forces of the digital and nonhuman. As we proceed into this uncharted territory, we would be wise to listen to and translate carefully the voices of these nonhuman images and objects with whom we share this world.

Part Three

Machinic and Digital Spectacle Completing the journey of Parts One and Two through issues of human (dis)embodiment, hybrid embodiment, and digital nonhuman embodiment, Part Three of Spectacular Posthumanism shifts focus to the machine apparatus itself and how this apparatus aids in the production of vernacular posthumanism through its nonhuman, machine vision. Using the films of Stanley Kubrick as a case study, Chapter 5 is structured similarly to Chapter 1, which focused on the films of David Cronenberg. As with the introduction and first chapter of this book, Chapter 5 uses pre-digital examples of vernacular posthumanism in order to draw connections to their later expression and intensification in digital visual effects. In particular, this chapter examines the cinematographic technology and its formal expression in Kubrick’s films— specifically the use of the reverse zoom in Barry Lyndon, the Steadicam in The Shining, the machine point of view in 2001, and the violation of the axis of action in Eyes Wide Shut—and I argue that these imaging technologies and techniques construct a spectacle of nonhuman vision, one that articulates the kind of posthuman vernacular explored in the first two-thirds of the book. This vernacular expression modulates the sensorium, producing a unique mode of machine perception. Moving to an extended analysis of the 2006 BBC nature documentary, Planet Earth, Chapter 6 completes Spectacular Posthumanism’s consideration of visual culture’s vernacular posthumanism. Specifically, this chapter investigates the series’ adoption of HDTV and other imaging technologies, examining the marketing, aesthetic deployment, and ideological strategy of these (then emerging) visual apparatuses. Planet Earth—through its numerous top-down, God’s eye shots; aerial depictions of animal swarms; and stunning HD imagery—

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constructs a nonhuman model of vision while maintaining human dominance over that mode of perception. The competing forces of posthumanism— nonhuman agency and a reassertion of anthropocentric omnipotence—are visible in Planet Earth, and the series’ embrace of this contradiction serves as a fitting final example of the ambivalent attitude of vernacular posthumanism.

5

Kubrick’s Machine Vision

It might seem strange to begin my discussion of digital spectacle with some examples from Stanley Kubrick, that most modernist of directors1 who passed away before the digital revolution had really taken hold within Hollywood and who never used digital VFX in any of his films.2 Kubrick and special effects maestro Douglas Trumbull, however, are acclaimed for their use of optical special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which set the standard for special effects at least until the release of Star Wars (Lucas 1977). Aside from his work in special effects, though, Kubrick used the medium of film to explore humanity’s relationship both to the natural world and to the intricacies of human culture. In a manner similar to my understanding of Cronenberg in Chapter 1, Kubrick inhabited a posthuman cultural logic well before this logic became established in its twenty-first-century digital incarnation within visual culture. As I’ve been arguing throughout this book, posthumanism is a vernacular that has been spoken in various intonations at different times throughout history. My focus has been on twentieth- and twenty-first-century popular film and media—and, specifically, how film and media use imaging and special/visual effects technology to produce a particular mode of vernacular posthumanism— but examinations of a posthuman imagination at different periods of time and in different cultural contexts would produce different results. Kubrick’s films, as one specific intonation of vernacular posthumanism at a particular time and place, address many of the issues taken up in this book, and they do so through their spectacular aesthetic and narrative expressions. The spectacle of these films has direct connections to the kinds of digital spectacle we see within contemporary media, though the vernacular posthumanism expressed in these films is not quite as coherent as that of their descendants. What we find in Kubrick’s films is the germline for a later expression of vernacular posthumanism achieved through machine vision. The techniques of vision I discuss in this chapter aren’t quite fully formed as

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pure machine perspective, but they do offer a starting point for discussing how a technological apparatus can rework, deform, and mutate human sensation through a form of vernacular posthumanism. As with most examples of vernacular posthumanism, Kubrick’s films are working through a process of negotiation between human and nonhuman embodiment, perspective, and sensation. While the films, through their bravura cinematographic techniques, open up the possibility of machine vision, this vision is highly mediated by human concerns. In other words, the films I discuss frequently close down their disruptive reorganization of perspective at the same time they offer the potential to move outside of anthropocentric vision. In this sense, the films are symptomatic of much of popular posthuman philosophy in that they want it both ways: they desire to transcend human embodiment and perspective while at the same time reestablishing the importance of human agency and subjectivity. I should also note that my readings of Kubrick’s films are deliberately pushing them toward pathways along which they are reluctant to travel. The moments of liberation from human vision that they offer up quickly recede, so my interpretations require that I cautiously tease from these moments their commentary on machine perspective. With all of that said, and fully acknowledging that I am perhaps “reading into” these films an inchoate vernacular posthumanism, I do maintain that Kubrick’s films offer us something strange, something not quite human. Scott Richmond, in his reading of 2001’s proprioceptive power, claims that the film refuses representational fixity in favor of a presentation of pure movement and sensation. “In 2001 … the cinema organizes a perceptual encounter attuned neither to consciousness nor to objects, but to the screen and that which appears on it. We attune ourselves to a world unfolding before us onscreen that is neither representational nor populated by objects” (Richmond 2016, 66). It is the nonhuman strangeness of these nonrepresentational, unfolding worlds that I’m trying to extract from Kubrick’s films, and my framework of vernacular posthumanism provides one avenue for understanding the uniqueness of their nascent machine vision.

Barry Lyndon’s image vernaculars Roughly three-quarters of the way into his 1975 film, Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick repeats a cinematographic move that subtly and deftly indicates the extent to which his cinema speaks in the language of vernacular posthumanism.

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The shot, which takes place immediately following a brawl between Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) and his stepson Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), positions Barry in such a way as to highlight his insignificance in the face of nature, society, and history. Barry is the antiheroic rake around whom the narrative of Barry Lyndon centers. Having exploited a series of opportunistic social positions—as a soldier, diplomat, gambler, and lover—Barry has found himself married to Lady Lyndon (with all the social and economic advantages offered by this position), the stepfather of her petulant son, and a proud new father of his firstborn, Bryan. Bullingdon, fed up with his perceived mistreatment at the hands of his stepfather, the “insolent Irish upstart” Barry, rudely interrupts a small chamber concert in his family’s drawing room. Here, Bullingdon publicly calls Barry out for the “lowness of his birth and the general brutality of his manners,” and he chastises Barry for his distasteful and vulgar treatment of Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) and her finances. What ensues only validates Bullingdon’s claims, as Barry violently attacks and beats Bullingdon on the floor of the drawing room. Contrary to the aesthetic style of much of the film, which is generally controlled and methodical, this fight scene is filmed with a highly mobile handheld camera.3 The effect of this change in cinematographic style is one of visceral kineticism, especially when placed within the context of the static composition of much of the rest of the film. The stillness of the shot that follows this scene, then, is even more striking when juxtaposed with the frenzied activity of the drawing room brawl. While the brawl is still in full swing, Kubrick cuts to a middle close-up of Barry leaning against the stone railing of a bridge. This shot is typical of the film in that it lingers a moment on the human figure within the frame before slowly zooming out (see Figure 5.1). This reverse zoom, used repeatedly by Kubrick throughout Barry Lyndon, is a signal example of the ways in which Kubrick’s cinematographic technique speaks in a language of vernacular posthumanism. By beginning the shot with a human figure as the focus—both literally and metaphorically—of the setting and then zooming out to the point where the human figure disappears within the landscape, Kubrick highlights the inadequacy of anthropocentric modes of thinking in accounting for the complexity of the relationships between humans and nonhumans embedded in rhizomatic sociocultural networks (Pliatska 2007). The reverse zoom effectively decentralizes the human within the visual poetics of the film, and it positions the human as merely one more object to behold within a landscape portrait. When viewed this way, it becomes clear that the film conceives of Barry’s “humanity” as something fundamentally

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nonhuman, as something projected onto Barry by the complex networks of history and society. Barry, in effect, has no subjectivity other than that provided by what surrounds him. He is an empty vessel waiting to be made human. The representation of the human, within the posthumanist framework established by the reverse zoom, takes on a prismatic form. As the boundaries between human and nonhuman become increasingly porous, so too must our

Figure 5.1  Individual and network in Barry Lyndon, 1975. Dir. Stanley Kubrick.

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understandings of representation become increasingly multifaceted. Here, representation is understood not merely as a human-centered process but rather as a terrain on which various subjectivities—both human and nonhuman— encounter each other. Central to this framework of representation, at least as it is deployed in Barry Lyndon, is the idea of machine vision. The slow and controlled nature of the reverse zoom—some might call it a “cold” aesthetic—speaks to a virtual automation of vision.4 In her classic essay on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Annette Michelson describes the bodily effects that Kubrick’s camerawork produces and the ways in which her body interacts with the images on the screen (1968). Discussing the mode of perception produced by 2001’s unique framing of vision, Michelson writes, “Viewing becomes, as always but as never before, the discovery, through the acknowledgment of disorientation, of what it is to see, to learn, to know, and of what it is to be, seeing” (1969, 58). In many ways, Michelson is reacting to her encounter with a distinctly nonhuman mode of vision, a kind of machine vision. As both Manuel De Landa (1991) and Paul Virilio (1994) discuss, with the advent of mass visual technologies, vision has become more and more automated. Virilio argues that the rise of surveillance technologies has led to an automation of perception, what he diagnoses as a cultural “vision machine.” Virilio ties the vision machine to the development of technological means of reproducing and representing the world, technology that “removes” the artist from the mode of representation (i.e., the move from painting to photography).5 Technology, within this framework, is viewed as automating representation, placing it within the realm of machinic quasi-subjectivity. As Virilio (1994, 22) argues about photography and the automation of perception: Photography … in fulfillment of Descartes’ hopes, had been largely an art in which the “mind” dominating the machine interpreted the results in the fine tradition of instrumental reason … But, conversely, because the technical progress of photography brought daily proof of its advance, it became gradually more and more impossible to avoid the conclusion that, since every object is for us merely the sum of the qualities we attribute to it, the sum of information we derive from it at any given moment, the objective world could only exist as what we represent it to be and as a more or less enduring mental construct. (1994, 22)

When placed into a historical context that traditionally privileges humancentered modes of vision, the automation of perception radically affects what it means to represent the human, and the machinic visuality of Barry Lyndon’s reverse zoom provides a posthuman rendering of the materially embedded and socially networked quality of (human) subjectivity.

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As Virilio indicates, photography “fulfills” the Cartesian desire to functionally separate perceiver and perceived, subject and object. I would, however, push this concept a bit and decenter the human to an even larger extent than Virilio. Virilio discusses the photographic process as facilitating the objectification of the natural world into something that can be dominated by the mind of the perceiving subject, largely through the mastery of the camera’s machinery of representation. As photographic technology becomes more culturally embedded,  the camera appears to remove the interpretive powers of the perceiver  from the circuit of representation, resulting in an image vernacular that  views the  photographic camera as recording the “truth” of the world, a “truth” that is self-evident and mechanically objective.6 Within this schema, however, the world remains a mental construct of the perceiving human, a collection of qualities and perceptions, and this follows an Enlightenment line of thinking established by Descartes and illustrated by his encounter with a ball of wax.7 What Kubrick accomplishes is something different. His use of the reverse zoom, rather than producing a picture of the world from the perspective of the perceiving human, instead visualizes an attitude toward the world in which the machine of representation has sloughed off the chains of human perspective and established its own regime of vision.8 Through the reverse zoom, Kubrick denies an anthropocentric monopoly on vision and acknowledges the perspective of the camera machine. Here, the camera isn’t merely a tool of world-creating employed by humans; instead, the camera creates its own world, and what it produces cannot be accounted for by theories of auteur control of filmmaking nor humanistic frameworks of intention. I want to be clear about my claims here. I am not claiming that, like the dancing camera in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Kubrick’s camera somehow filmed the scenes itself and “decided” to employ a reverse zoom. Kubrick’s intentions obviously constitute a strong influence on the film’s final form. However, to completely remove the technology and intentionality of the camera from the equation is quite limiting. The camera itself must be approached in all of its significant otherness, as an entity that possesses a unique experience of the world.9 Neither Kubrick, nor the camera, nor the actors, nor the Blu-Ray player on which I watch Barry Lyndon acts individually. The final form of the film must be theorized and understood from within the material-semiotic web of interactions in which the film exists. In discussing the role of the camera in processes of visualization, De Landa echoes much of what Virilio argues, and he relates technologies of surveillance

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to an increasing reliance on machine vision and the consequent decentering of human perception and subjectivity within technonatural networks:10 The central surveillance tower of the Panopticon had already placed the human eye at the center of the machine, while at the same time devaluing any specific set of eyes: any pair would do, as long as the Panopticon worked as designed. Machine vision promises to remove humans even from this secondary position, to get them completely out of the loop. (1991, 204)

De Landa’s commentary resonates with much of what I have previously discussed in this book, namely that the increasing mechanization of representation ultimately leads to getting humans “completely out of the loop” of certain systems of visuality. What is most important to my conceptualization of vernacular posthumanism is the idea that the quasi-subjectivity of the camera has become a coconspirator in the production of visual culture and, in the particular case of Barry Lyndon, imaginings of the human. One of Kubrick’s greatest achievements as a filmmaker was to produce films that allowed the camera more than a modicum of agency and self-expressivity. In doing so, Kubrick stepped outside of a framework of vision that emphasizes a distance between perceiver and perceived. His films also distance themselves from image vernaculars whose faith resides in human control over the machines of vision. Stanley Cavell interprets this condition of viewing, which privileges the romantic, authorial control of automatisms and artistic tropes as such: “We do not so much look at the world as look out at it, from behind the self ” (1979, 102). What Kubrick does with films like Barry Lyndon is to allow the camera to get out from behind the self and express its own intentionality on the screen. A few more examples of the use of the reverse zoom in Barry Lyndon will help illustrate the extent to which this camera movement functions as a microcosm of Kubrick’s deployment of vernacular posthumanism. Soon after Barry and Lady Lyndon experience the birth of their first child, Bryan, Kubrick presents us with a montage of three separate reverse zooms. The first of the triptych focuses on the Lyndons with their new child, the second on Barry in a brothel, and the last on Lady Lyndon and her two children. As opposed to the reverse zoom I discussed previously, which placed Barry within the frame of an overwhelming natural context, the repeated use of the reverse zoom here serves to situate the Lyndons within an overwhelming social context, and the montage indicates the parallels among each member of the Lyndon family and the extent to which they are products of their sociohistorical situation.

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The first reverse zoom begins with a close-up of baby Bryan on his father’s lap, his little hand gripping his father’s finger. At the beginning of the zoom, the baby occupies the entirety of the scene, but as the zoom pulls back, the context of the scene is established: Lady Lyndon and Barry are lying next to each other on a bed, cradling Bryan on their merged laps. It is a classic scene of familial tenderness, harmony, and love. Without pausing the reverse zoom, Kubrick cuts to a radically different scene, already in reverse zoom motion, of Barry in a brothel, sitting on a chair, kissing one topless woman while another topless woman caresses his leg. The zoom-out continues, slowly revealing a scene of aristocratic male revelry. A group of men behind Barry are singing a lively drinking song, while another man lounges in a chair beside Barry, sleeping off his drunkenness. As with the previous example, the reverse zoom begins on an image of Barry and then slowly reveals the social network of which he is a part. In the last example, Barry was fulfilling the role of a doting father and caring husband. In this example, Barry is acting out the role of a philandering, caddish gentleman. The next role revealed is that of Lady Lyndon, reclining on a chaise longue with her son, Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage).11 This reverse zoom begins with a close-up on Lady Lyndon’s and Bullingdon’s faces and pulls back to reveal baby Bryan in a crib next to the chaise longue. This final piece of the triptych is notable for its stillness, as the only movement in the scene comes from Bryan. Bullingdon and Lady Lyndon remain perfectly still, which creates a stronger association between the image and the paintings on which Kubrick reportedly based much of the film’s imagery (King 2008). Throughout the film, Barry, in particular, is presented as a tabula rasa subject, completely defined by the network in which he is embedded—be that network natural or cultural—and he displays very few signs of agency or emotion.12 Each tableau vivant, in employing a reverse zoom, effectively draws primacy away from the human subjects depicted within the scene. Beginning with a close-up, which foregrounds the human subject, the reverse zoom slowly pulls back, revealing the network of which each human is a part. The human subject becomes static and small within the frame, and it is the embeddedness of the subject that is emphasized rather than a monadic individuality. To the extent that this creates a material-semiotic network of both human and nonhuman actants, the reverse zoom can be read here as performing a fundamentally posthumanist function. The reverse zoom displays an ability to emphasize interconnectedness and networks rather than hierarchy and linearity, and the cinematographic move is repeated throughout the film: in a pastoral scene of a young Redmond Barry

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chopping wood; a melancholy scene of a lonely Lady Lyndon lying in a bath tub, surrounded by her French tutor and maid; a scene of a teenage Lord Bullingdon in the audience at Bryan’s birthday celebration; and a scene with Barry discussing his entrance into the peerage. The repeated motif of the reverse zoom serves to reinforce the idea that subjectivity and consciousness arise within a network, effectively removing subjectivity from the individual and conceiving of consciousness as something we do within the world rather than something that arises in the individual. A final scene from the end of Barry Lyndon illustrates how Kubrick’s camera envisions the role of an actant within a network. After having been shot and maimed during a duel with Lord Bullingdon, which resulted in his leg being amputated, Barry is offered a deal by Bullingdon and Lady Lyndon, which stipulates that, in exchange for an annuity, Barry must leave England and never return. The scene shows Barry leaving his place of convalescence with his mother and entering a carriage. As Barry enters the carriage, Kubrick, in a breathtaking move, freezes the image, and Barry along with it. Viewed within the vernacular posthumanism of the reverse zoom, this still frame effectively freezes Barry within his network, stifling further movement of his subjectivity. Barry’s network is dead, and as the epilogue to the film states: “It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages live and quarrelled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now.” As Barry Lyndon demonstrates, the human is something that lives on only within its network. History flattens the subject and reveals the interdependence and co-constitutive nature of all human and nonhuman subjects, and this is echoed in the aesthetic effects of the reverse zoom, which serve to flatten the apparent depth of the image. It may appear that my claims regarding subjectivity and agency can be fully accounted for and understood by theories of culture and ideology, as well as psychoanalysis, in that I am arguing that Kubrick is commenting on the power of society to mold the individual. It is a textbook example of structure/agent dialectic from Marxist ideological criticism. However, as the remainder of this chapter will argue, theories of the nonhuman can reformulate and extend our understandings of the complex relationship between individual and context, subject and object, human and nonhuman. Also important to this chapter’s conceptualization of Kubrick’s cinematic language of vernacular posthumanism is the importance of visuality and of pictures as theory. In this context, I am envisioning this chapter itself as a reverse zoom: I begin with small, concrete examples of vernacular posthumanism within

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a particular film from a specific director, and I “zoom out” from this example to expose the complex cultural networks of which the image is a part. My goal in beginning with a “close-up” and moving out into a “long shot” is to illustrate the ways in which the various nodes of visual culture rhizomatically connect to form the web of visual expression I have termed “vernacular posthumanism.” Through an examination of 2001, The Shining (1980), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), the remainder of this chapter will demonstrate the extent to which Kubrick’s films establish a vernacular posthumanism, one which traffics in a kind of popular understanding of the breakdown between subject and object, human and nonhuman, within popular visual culture.

Kubrick’s machine vision Among other things, The Shining is remembered for its innovative use of the Steadicam, which was, at that time, a relatively new filmmaking technology. Kubrick deployed the camera in order to facilitate the filming of narrow, mazelike hallways and corridors, spaces that cannot be adequately mapped and filmed with traditional camera-and-dolly setups. Perhaps the most famous examples of the use of the Steadicam in the film are the scenes in which the camera follows Danny (Danny Lloyd) as he rides around the Overlook Hotel on his “Big Wheels” tricycle. Kubrick shoots these scenes with the Steadicam a few feet directly behind Danny, and the camera is positioned about two feet from the floor, around the height of Danny’s head as he sits on the tricycle. The Shining presents a supernatural horror story, and the disembodied, otherworldly feel of the Steadicam matches the content of the film.13 The image produced by the Steadicam functions within the film as a ghostly watcher, silently observing and following the characters within the film without their notice or acknowledgment.14 The images created by the camera are emphatically not invisible, which produces a phenomenological feel and tactility to Kubrick’s cinematography within The Shining. The camera itself becomes the arbiter of vision within the film. Contrast this with the ways in which the camerawork in 2001 enacts a machine mode of vision. Within this film, the camera frequently functions as a dispassionate and static viewer, one that distantly observes the humans in the film from afar. For example, the point of view (POV) of the HAL 9000 computer—which oversees and runs all of the operations of the Discovery One

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spacecraft—pervades both the mise-en-scène and the cinematography of the film.15 HAL’s red eyes are ubiquitous throughout the ship, and they serve as both an interface with which the humans onboard the vessel can communicate with HAL and as a mechanical embodiment of Bentham and Foucault’s Panopticon (1995). Kubrick also frequently uses POV shots to facilitate a shared experience with HAL’s mode of vision. Frequently, these shots are distorted in some way— usually through the use of an extreme wide angle or “fish eye” lens—which attempts to approximate the way in which HAL “sees” the world. These types of cinematographic techniques, however, are standard practice in mainstream narrative filmmaking, and on this surface level, 2001 follows the trend of using POV and “subjective” shots in order to alienate and cause discomfort in the viewer through an alignment with a mechanical or monstrous other. Opposing the POV shots of film with the “first person” viewpoints of video games, Alexander Galloway writes: “In film, the subjective perspective is marginalized and used primarily to effect a sense of alienation, detachment, fear, or violence, while in games the subjective perspective is quite common and used to achieve an intuitive sense of motion and action in gameplay” (2006, 40). Later, he continues: Where film uses the subjective shot to represent a problem with identification, games use the subjective shot to create identification. While film has thus far used the subjective shot as a corrective to break through and destroy certain stabilizing elements in the film apparatus, games use the subjective shot to facilitate an active subject position that enables and facilitates the gamic apparatus. (Galloway 2006, 40)

While I do not wish to discuss 2001 in terms of video game aesthetics and phenomenology at this juncture, Galloway’s descriptions are instructive. 2001 surely uses many of the Classical film techniques Galloway discusses. However, 2001, like Barry Lyndon, also employs the camera itself as a third, independent seeing body, and this mechanical body shares much in common with the video game experience described by Galloway. 2001 features many iconic shots of HAL watching the crewmembers of Discovery One. In the final scene of the first act, where Drs. Bowman and Poole (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood) relocate to a soundproof space pod in order to discuss a malfunctioning HAL, Kubrick positions the camera so that Bowman and Poole occupy the left and right foreground of the frame while the red eye of HAL occupies the exact center of the background (see Figure 5.2). The effect creates a scene of the film camera watching HAL watching, in a kind of ouroboros

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of machine vision. This also creates the effect of an alienating machine vision, apart from that of HAL, occupying the space of the film. The aesthetic of 2001 as a whole, which consists of many static camera shots, evokes the “mechanical objectivity” prized by early theorists and practitioners of photography (Daston and Galison 1992). Within this schema, the camera acts almost independently of the human user, simply and objectively capturing the world without human intervention or interpretation. 2001 echoes this attitude toward photography, positioning the camera as a dispassionate observer, free from human meddling.16 This detached, objective cinematography changes, however, once we enter the Stargate sequence, and this portion of the film offers 2001’s clearest articulation of machine vision. The sequence, comprised of Douglas Trumbull’s slit-scan photography and other optical effects, is concerned not with representation but with transcending human modes of vision. This goal is reinforced through the sequence’s consistent incorporation of close-ups of Bowman’s eyes, which cannot seem to bear what they are witnessing. Shot through color filters and other distorting effects, these images of Bowman’s eyes indicate that Bowman is going through a posthuman transformation, and as part of this transformation, his perception of the universe is being radically de- and reformed. Discussing 2001, Richmond argues that this modulation of perception is one of the fundamental, but oft overlooked, aspects of cinema. “The cinema is not in the first instance a technology for representing objects but rather for modulating perceptual resonance, and the difference between cinematic and ordinary perception is always manifest proprioceptively in this resonance with the cinema” (Richmond 2016, 53). This reformation of vision continues into the next scene in which

Figure 5.2  2001: A Space Odyssey’s ouroboros of machine vision, 1968. Dir. Stanley Kubrick.

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Bowman witnesses his human body aging while at the same time remaining embodied in his human form. 2001 is using the technological apparatus of film to reach toward a nonhuman perspective of experience, one which establishes alternate forms of vision and embodiment. Eventually, Bowman sloughs off his fragile, aged body, evolving into a new form of celestial consciousness. The vernacular posthumanism of these final scenes of 2001 is quite remarkable, but these scenes are not the only moments of the film that establish a nonhuman mode of being in the world. 2001’s mise-en-scène is also posthuman in the sense that humans and our prehuman ancestors are presented as fragile in comparison to the vastness of nature and space. Near the beginning of the film, the early hominids are positioned in the frame as small within the context of the natural world, and they are under constant threat from marauding predators. Even when these hominids evolve into space-faring humans, the humans remain small within the infinity that is outer space. In 2001, humans are merely one piece of the network of existence, and we are a small piece at that. Thematically, 2001 also decenters human agency and perception. The narrative of the film— which addresses large existential questions such as technological and species “progress,” the existence of nonhuman intelligence, and the nature of the soul, among others—could broadly be termed “posthuman” in that it envisions a world in which human subjectivity and intelligence is only one of many, and the film ends in a literally posthuman fashion with Dr. Bowman transcending his human form and becoming the sublime image of the “star child” floating in space. In his discussion of the relationship between special effects and the sublime, Scott Bukatman links the experience of the sublime in science fiction cinema (specifically in the FX sequences of Douglas Trumbull) to the rapid growth of technology in the industrial and informational eras: It is technology that inspires the sensations characteristic of sublimity; therefore, it is technology that alludes to the limits of human definition and comprehension. The special effect unfolds before the human gaze and becomes susceptible to an encompassing control that inheres in the very act of seeing. (2003, 82)

Bukatman is here alluding to a particular mode of vision established by special effects sequences, one that privileges the mechanical vision of the camera over the human-controlled vision of the viewer. These special effects sequences create new modes of seeing for the viewer, and they visualize an alternate experience of the self and the world, what Julie Turnock terms an “optimistic futurism” (2015a).

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It is in these special effects sequences where 2001 moves past a narrative-based mode of vernacular posthumanism and creates an intonation of vernacular posthumanism that is expressed through the formal building blocks of the film. In many ways, Bukatman’s argument mirrors my own claims regarding vernacular posthumanism in that the image itself initiates viewers into a particular mode of thinking and seeing the world. Akin to Walter Benjamin’s “modernity thesis”—which argues that the cultural and technological changes within modernity (mass production of commodities, industrialization, the growth of the crowd) have created a fundamental change in the ways in which we perceive and experience the world—the special effects sublime, for Bukatman, urges viewers to reconsider their anthropocentric view of the world in order to experience phenomenologically the limits of the human body and human consciousness. Speaking of the invocation of the sublime in nineteenth-century American art, Bukatman (2003, 91–92) posits: The field of the sublime was comprised of the majestic, the awe inspiring, and the literally overpowering: it spoke the languages of excess and hyperbole to suggest realms beyond human articulation and comprehension. The sublime was constituted through the combined sensations of astonishment, terror, and awe that occur through the revelation of a power greater, by far, than the human. Those commingled sensations result from the rhetorical construction of grandeur (either grandly large or small) and the infinite.

This theory of the sublime connects to the special effects sequences in 2001— in particular, the Stargate sequence, which transports Bowman “beyond the infinite”—to the extent that these sequences encourage in the viewer “a movement beyond anthropocentric experience and understanding” (Bukatman 2003, 99). Bukatman’s analysis of the experience of the sublime in science fiction FX does not contradict my own claims of 2001’s use of a posthuman vernacular. Rather, the two theories of the image run parallel to each other, different approaches to the issue of how special effects generate a deeper meditation on the connection between humans and larger networks of phenomenological experience. I also follow Bukatman in diagnosing an ambivalence in special effects films’ approach to issues of the posthuman in that these films seem to simultaneously rupture human illusions of rationality and control while also assuaging any anxiety created through a presentation of a posthuman utopia. Spectacular FX sequences, themselves a product of bleeding edge technology, reveal the power of technology while also domesticating that technology for the purposes of

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narrative entertainment. “The might of technology, supposedly our own creation, is mastered through a powerful display that acknowledges anxiety but recontains it within the field of spectatorial power” (Bukatman 2003, 101). Much like my understanding of vernacular posthuman, Bukatman (2003, 101) theorizes that the sublime spectacles in science fiction cinema emerge as “an idealist response to significant and continuing alterations in lived experience.” This, perhaps, is where my own argument and Bukatman’s argument dovetail the closest. In our theorizations of the phenomenology of the relationship between human and image, we both posit that special and visual effects produce a visualization that confronts the ever-evolving position of humans within a broader context. These visualizations imagine a confrontation between human and nonhuman, and while the films themselves may ultimately assuage any anxiety produced, they still fracture any anthropocentric view of the world. And the ambivalence of the films’ approach to the nonhuman is constitutive of a posthuman vernacular. Kubrick continues speaking the language of vernacular posthumanism in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, which, though it deals with the conventional humanistic concerns of dreams, psychoanalysis, sex, and love, deploys a machine vision that subtly undercuts and contradicts the presentation of the narrative on screen, mostly through violations of the 180-degree rule.17 Though this particular example of vernacular posthumanism stretches the definition of vernacular as I have previously employed it, I believe a bit of adventurous interpretation can push Eyes Wide Shut to reveal new things about itself. While my reading of the film is highly idiosyncratic—and perhaps deliberately oppositional—understanding it through the lens of vernacular posthumanism can be generative of alternate perspectives on the work of a thoroughly studied auteur. Kubrick’s deployment of vernacular posthumanism—in both his filmic style and thematic concerns—pictures a nonhuman imagining of the relationship between human and nonhuman, culture and nature. And in the particular case of the 180-degree rule in Eyes Wide Shut, even though viewers may not consciously register the violation, the violation “feels” wrong, and it impresses itself on a visceral, sensorial level. The vernacular posthumanism exhibited in Eyes Wide Shut speaks to a discomfort in decentering human modes of perception, and the violations of the axis of action within the film serve to jolt the perception of the viewer, confounding “invisible” modes of traditional film vision. The apparatus of the film itself is generating alternate registers of perception, subverting the humanism of continuity editing.18

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Eyes Wide Shut confronts the difficulties of sustaining a marriage and the role that fantasy plays in constructing reality. The film’s motivating premise begins when Alice (Nicole Kidman) tells her husband, Bill (Tom Cruise), about a moment where she contemplated cheating on—and ultimately leaving—Bill and their daughter, Helena (Madison Eginton). In Alice’s story, she details a fantasy she constructed about a naval officer, whom she merely espied across a dining room, in which they have a passionate affair and run away together. As Alice states, she “was ready to give up everything” for one night with the officer. This interplay between fantasy and reality structures the entirety of the film, and Kubrick constructs the film in such a way as to make it difficult to ascertain whether what we are seeing on the screen is “actually” happening or only happening in the mind of a character (usually Bill).19 One way the film signals a shift between the registers of fantasy and reality is by means of a violation of the 180-degree rule. This deployment of cinematic form lends a materiality to the fantasies being portrayed on screen and calls to attention the apparatus of the film camera and its mode of machine vision. Eyes Wide Shut begins with Alice and Bill preparing for a party at the home of their friend, Victor Zeigler (Sydney Pollack). Once they arrive at the party, Bill discovers that his old friend, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), is playing piano in the party band. Alice and Bill then split up, leaving each to become entrenched in their own fantastic scenarios.20 Alice, who is by this point a little tipsy, heads to the bar where she begins a conversation with a wealthy Hungarian man, Sandor Szavost (Sky du Mont). Sandor oozes gentlemanly charm, and he promptly begins hitting on Alice. Kubrick frames the scene with a static camera placed directly behind Alice and Sandor. Their backs are to the camera—Alice on the left and Sandor on the right—and it is at this point that Sandor picks up Alice’s champagne glass and proceeds to drink the entirety of its contents. After Sandor drains the glass, introduces himself, and kisses Alice’s hand, Kubrick abruptly cuts to the opposite side of the characters (see Figure 5.3). The camera is now a little tighter, but it is still static and at roughly the same level, framing the characters from the waist up. Alice and Sandor, however, now occupy different sides of the screen—Alice is on the right, Sandor on the left. The cut is quite abrupt and noticeable, if only at an unconscious level, for even those viewers unaware of the conventions of filmmaking and the 180-degree rule. The cut also signals the shift into a register of fantasy, a realm that we can only experience through the “magic” of the machine apparatus of filmmaking. In this sequence, Alice and Sandor openly flirt, discussing the poet Ovid and

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then dancing together while Sandor questions Alice’s choice to remain married, asking: “Don’t you think that one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties?” While Alice and Sandor are dancing, the scene is repeatedly intercut with images of Bill flirting with two models. These two sequences convey the respective fantasies of Alice and Bill, and they are all signaled with a violation of the 180-degree rule. This violation happens again toward the middle of the film when Bill is in a costume shop, hunting for an outfit to wear to a secret, invitation-only masked orgy. In this scene, Kubrick positions the camera similarly to that of the previous scene: the camera is static, waist high, and in a medium close-up, and Mr. Milich is on the left, while Bill is on the right. The owner of the shop Mr. Milich (Rade Serbedzija) is discussing his hair loss with Bill when Kubrick abruptly cuts, violating the 180-degree rule—Bill is now on the left of the screen while Mr. Milich is on the right (see Figure 5.3). This, again, signals a shift into Bill’s fantasy, and the two characters are framed by a large neon sign reading “Rainbow.” Mr. Milich thinks he hears something in the “Rainbow Room,” and Bill and Milich enter the room where they discover Milich’s teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski),

Figure 5.3  Violations of the axis of action in Eyes Wide Shut, 1999. Dir. Stanley Kubrick.

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in her bra and panties, fooling around with two older men wearing women’s wigs. Milich, screaming, drives the men out of the room, and his daughter runs to Bill for protection. They provocatively exchange some glances while the daughter whispers in Bill’s ear and seductively walks away. Comically, Mr. Milich apologizes to Bill and continues trying to find a costume. The ridiculousness of this scene, combined with the shift in tones from comedy to a scene of child prostitution, indicates that we have entered into Bill’s fantasy. A final violation of the 180-degree rule occurs while Bill is at the orgiastic ritual party. He is being led through the mansion by a topless, masked woman, and during the course of the “tour,” the model stops Bill to warn him about his intrusion into the secret ritual. As with the previous scenes I have described, Kubrick frames this scene in a similar fashion: static camera, middle close-up, the model on the left and Bill on the right. After the model says to Bill, “you are in great danger,” Kubrick cuts to the opposite side of the screen, framing Bill on the left and the model on the right. After this occurs, Bill begins to walk unaccompanied through the mansion, witnessing a plethora of sex acts taking place in different rooms. As indicated by the violation of the 180-degree rule, Bill has entered into a space of fantasy, and while the orgy might actually be taking place, Bill’s perception of danger is a part of the fantasy. Ultimately, the separation of fantasy and reality becomes impossible, as they are intertwined to the point where the effects of the fantasy begin to bleed out into the reality experienced by the characters. In this way, the film functions explicitly like a waking, lucid dream, and neither the characters nor the viewer of the film can really ascertain what is taking place in reality and what is taking place in the realm of fantasy. The agency of the camera, however, offers a clue as to the shift in registers, and its positioning as a dispassionate, “objective” viewer provides a different vantage through which to view the film. The camera itself motivates the transition into fantasy, and in a sense, the abrupt break in vision is controlled by the camera’s desire to offer an alternate perspective on the film world. As I will discuss in Chapter 6, machine vision is frequently constructed as a means to leave the confines of the human body, and the camera in Kubrick’s films plants one of the many seeds that will later grow into a more fully expressed mode of machine vision. While Kubrick’s films may not be an obvious place to locate machine agency, their camerawork is uncanny, creating images that seem to exceed the boundaries of human perspective. The images in Kubrick’s films are excessive, reworking the sensorium through their ostentatious technological mediation.

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To the extent that these films utilize their technological apparatuses to offer a machine spectacle of vision, they operate as nonhuman interlocutors in human processes of apprehending the world. Their images encourage human viewers to adopt a machine mode of seeing, one that subtly displaces anthropocentric understandings of the world and that provides a vernacular experience of posthuman being. While these films might not fully realize an independent machine vision, they do offer a starting point for theorizing how technological mediation facilitates nonhuman experiences of the world.

The strange case of A.I.: Steven Spielberg’s trenchant humanism In 2001, two years after Stanley Kubrick’s death, Steven Spielberg directed A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. A.I. was a project initially conceived by Kubrick, based on the Brian Aldiss short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, but like other Kubrick projects, it was never realized by Kubrick himself.21 Kubrick and Spielberg had discussed the project beginning in the 1980s, but Kubrick never began production on the film in earnest, claiming that special effects technology had not yet reached a point where he could believably render a world of robots. However, after seeing Spielberg’s deployment of special effects in Jurassic Park (Spielberg 1993), Kubrick felt confident that technology had finally caught up with his vision for A.I. It was at this time that Kubrick also decided to abandon the project, and in 1995, he handed the project over to Spielberg, claiming that the film was closer to Spielberg’s sensibilities than his own (Corliss 2001). Spielberg then took over the project, but it languished until Kubrick’s death in 1999. After Kubrick’s death, Spielberg began production on the film, and A.I. was released in 1999 as “An Amblin/Stanley Kubrick Production,” with long-time Kubrick producer Jan Harlan serving as an executive producer and including a dedication at the end of the film reading, “For Stanley Kubrick.” While A.I. was written and directed by Spielberg, and thus bears all of his “auteur” marks, the form of the film also makes it clear that Spielberg was channeling Kubrick, attempting to form a Kubrick/Spielberg hybrid film. This bifurcated form displays itself within the film, mostly through Spielberg’s attempts to channel Kubrick’s vernacular posthumanism while at the same time maintaining his own humanistic tendencies. A.I. is a Frankenstein’s monster, an attempt to reanimate the body of Kubrick’s film oeuvre by innervating it

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with Spielberg’s sensibilities. It is in the conflict of dialects—humanism and posthumanism—that Kubrick’s vernacular posthumanism is revealed, and Spielberg’s attempt to render visible Kubrick’s posthumanism exposes the machinery behind the vernacular. The narrative of A.I. incorporates many of the themes with which Kubrick concerned himself throughout his career: the relationship between human and nature; the dialectic between individual and society (agency and structure); the insignificance of the human in relation to society, nature, and history; the contingency of the universe; and the role of fate and chance in our experience of the world. The form of the film also indicates the extent to which Spielberg attempts to channel Kubrick’s aesthetic sensibilities. A.I. is shot in the cold, mechanical hues of blue and white; the film uses a variety of long tracking shots, often distorted through the use of a wide-angle lens; and the sets employ the kind of sexed-up garishness found in films like A Clockwork Orange (1971) (Sobchack 1981). While the aesthetics and thematic overtones might be pure Kubrick, the plot of the film is pure Spielberg. A.I. is the story of a boy robot who, through an experience of love, seeks to become a real boy.22 David (Haley Joel Osment) is a boy robot, part of a series produced for families who have either lost children or who are unable to have children of their own. Programmed to love—via an imprinting process with his parents/owners—David provides an Oedipal replacement for parents who desire unconditional, compulsory affection. While David’s love might be unconditional, however, his parents’ love is not. When his parents’ original son (who was placed in a kind of stasis in order to halt the progression of his disease) recovers, David is abandoned and left to fend for himself. What ensues in the remainder of the film is classic Spielberg: having lost his parents, David embarks on a quest to find his “real” father, the man who created him. Motivated by love and a desire to become a “real boy,” David overcomes impossible odds to finally meet his maker. This meeting, however, is less than fulfilling, as David discovers that he—and his love—is utterly unoriginal: David sees an assembly line of other Davids (and Darlenes, the female equivalent), each programmed with the potential to “love” his owner. Faced with this revelation, David throws himself from the top of a building into the roiling ocean below. Contrary to much of the rhetoric surrounding Kubrick’s films, they often conclude on optimistic notes: Paths of Glory ends with a song, which allows the French soldiers to recognize the humanity of the German singing girl; 2001 concludes with a shot of the star-child, the next phase of human evolution; at

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the end of A Clockwork Orange, Alex regains his free will (however destructive that might be); the final word of Eyes Wide Shut—“fuck”—indicates that Alice and Bill’s relationship might still be saved through a return to the physical. These “happy” endings, however, are always tempered with a bit of sadness, and it is easy to see where Kubrick might have taken the conclusion to A.I.: David realizes that his love is “real,” but since he has lost the object of that love (his mother), he chooses to die with her memory rather than live with her absence. In the hands of Spielberg, however, A.I. resolves itself in much more Oedipal terms. After throwing himself into the ocean, David is frozen for an unspecified period of time. At the beginning of Act 3 (which takes place directly after David’s apparent suicide), the film presents us with an image of David being broken out of a block of ice by a group of advanced robotic creatures. These robots are curious about David, since he is one of the first examples of a robot who could think and feel. After harvesting his memories, the robots offer to use a strand of hair from David’s mother in order to clone her for David. The catch, however, is that she will only live for twenty-four hours, after which time David will lose her forever. The film concludes with David and his mother, snuggling in bed, and David finally achieves his goal of becoming a real boy through an expression of love. The film strongly suggests that David “dies” along with his mother at the end of the twenty-four hours, thus completing the Oedipal circle. Many critics and fans find A.I.’s ending troubling, and they blame Spielberg for “ruining” Kubrick’s movie. Spielberg, however, claims that he was simply following Kubrick’s wishes, and Kubrick’s script and plans for the film end exactly how Spielberg himself has chosen to conclude the film (Jagernauth 2012). This, to me, is beside the point, and this kind of discussion gets bogged down in authorial agency and intention. There certainly exists a widespread understanding of Kubrick as a cold, detached director and Spielberg as a sappy sentimentalist, and these understandings are, to a certain extent, accurate. Kubrick, however, could be quite warm—look at his handling of comedy in Lolita (1962) or the moments of Barry’s emotion in Barry Lyndon—and it is reductive to consider his work through such a confining lens. What is interesting to me about A.I. is how the film simultaneously brings out the sentimentality of Kubrick while it exposes the darker sides to Spielberg. Ultimately, though, Spielberg made the decisions on how to film the ending, and I strongly suspect that Kubrick’s version would be quite different, even though they would be following the same script. All of this is to say: A.I. presents a fascinating conflict of sensibilities, and I’m using “Kubrick” and “Spielberg” as signifiers for a particular approach to film.

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The ending to A.I. is, ultimately, very strange, and it almost seems as if it were tacked on as an afterthought (regardless of who is “responsible” for the script). Rather than offer a transcendence of the human condition—which is the modus operandi of many of Kubrick’s films, whether this transcendence is physical, sexual, or social—the film instead reinscribes a framework of humanism. The film, which is ostensibly a commentary on the nature of human emotion and free will, implodes precisely because we, the audience, love David. In much the same way as David is programmed to love, the film, through its structure, “programs” us to love David. We have no choice but to feel affection for this lost and abandoned boy, and Spielberg’s ending speaks to this emotion. David’s resurrected mother is a stand-in for the audience, being granted one final opportunity to embrace this lonely child onto which we have projected all of our humanist emotion. In this way, A.I. demonstrates a contradictory and paradoxical dialect of vernacular posthumanism: it fantasizes about a posthuman existence but can only understand this existence through modes of humanism. The film does not allow the object/machine to love on its own terms; it only allows the object/ machine to serve as the receptacle for love. In other words, David’s emotional state can be conceptualized only from an anthropocentric perspective. His love is our love, and the film is trapped in an ouroboros of its own design. Its attempt to present the radical alterity of machine emotion is first filtered through human love and then returned to the viewer as David’s preprogrammed love. Thus, the film opens up an exploration of machine “subjectivity” only to close in on itself by returning to a fundamentally anthropocentric framework of knowledge. This oscillation between the human and the nonhuman, embodiment and disembodiment, and flesh and information, rather than being an exception to vernacular posthumanism, is instead one of its primary features. The tension in Kubrick’s films between humanism and posthumanism is thus quite indicative of the instability of the hybrid images of vernacular posthumanism I have thus far examined in this book. In the next and final chapter, I will complete this exploration of machine vision and vernacular posthumanism through an analysis of the nonhuman technologies of vision employed in the BBC documentary Planet Earth.

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About thirty-five minutes into the “Shallow Seas” episode of The Discovery Channel’s (TDC) groundbreaking nature documentary series Planet Earth (2006), viewers are treated to the kind of visual spectacle that has become the primary selling point of the series. In this scene, captured with a high frame rate high-definition (HD) camera (which has the ability to create images of extreme slow motion), a great white shark is shown fully breaching the surface of the water, its entire body suspended in mid-air (see Figure 6.1). The one-ton great white shark, the largest predatory fish on the planet, is hunting cape fur seals who are making their daily journey to the open sea on a quest for fertile hunting grounds. As the seal surfaces, the image slows, and the great white’s mouth breaks the surface of the water. In a frenzy of splashing water—a frenzy, that is, in stillness—the shark’s mouth engulfs the seal’s body, and the shark’s body, twisting and thrashing, eventually exits the sea entirely, its body hovering over the surface of the water. This spectacle, which is typical to the style of Planet Earth, unfolds in ultraslow motion HD, allowing every drop of water, every twitching fin, to be recorded in stunning HD quality. To capture this image, the filmmakers used a modified studio camera that is normally used to analyze car crash safety tests, and, according to Planet Earth Diaries (the ten-minute “making of ” vignette at the end of each episode of Planet Earth), the action of the scene took only one second of real time but was slowed down to forty seconds of screen time. This emphasis on technology, visuality, and style forms the primary aesthetic organizing principle of Planet Earth. This technological fetishism also invokes a vernacular posthumanist mode of thinking that imagines the replacement of the organic human body with that of a mechanically and informationally altered body. In the case of Planet Earth, what is imagined is a kind of all-seeing mechanical eye, a form of vision that augments and surpasses human perception in order to render visible new mechanical ways of seeing.

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Figure 6.1  Great white shark in Planet Earth, “The Shallow Seas,” 2006. Dir. Alastair Fothergill.

Planet Earth was released in 2006 in the UK and included narration by renowned British naturalist and documentarian David Attenborough. The series was released in the United States in 2007 and included redubbed narration by actor Sigourney Weaver. Planet Earth consists of eleven episodes, and each hourlong episode focuses on a specific habitat. The first episode, “Pole to Pole,” ties all of the habitats together. The other episodes have the titles of: “Mountains,” “Deep Ocean,” “Deserts,” “Ice Worlds,” “Shallow Seas,” “Great Plains,” “Jungles,” “Fresh Water,” “Forests,” and “Caves.” The entire series took five years to film, and each episode cost an estimated $1–2 million, a substantial investment for the BBC and DCI (Dickson 2007, 26). To capture the footage, forty different film crews visited over 200 locations worldwide, often waiting months before they were able to film their elusive subjects (Smith 2007, 54). Planet Earth was also a huge success with both critics and audiences. According to the entry form submitted to the Peabody Awards (2007), Planet Earth was the highest rated natural history program of all time and, excluding sports and other “special events,” the series was the most watched cable program of all time, netting a total of 65 million viewers over the run of the series and averaging 5.1 million viewers for each episode premiere. Additionally, Planet Earth won four Emmys, was nominated for another three, and was honored with a Peabody Award. And, perhaps most significant and important of all, Planet Earth earned the support and adoration of Oprah Winfrey, who dedicated an entire episode of her show to discussing the importance of the series (Graham 2007).

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As with the films of Stanley Kubrick, Planet Earth’s vernacular posthumanism takes the form of machine vision. Planet Earth modulates human perception by decentering the human and emphasizing the role of technology and the machine in processes of vision. The apparatus of filmmaking—here, the camera technology and HD video acquisition—becomes fetishized, and through this process, it surpasses its role as simple tool and becomes an almost equal actant in the material-semiotic network that coalesces around the object of Planet Earth. As image vernaculars result from the imbrication of a cultural logic and a particular set of media objects, the promotional rhetoric surrounding Planet Earth can teach us how the series’ image vernacular becomes posthuman. Shot completely in HD, Planet Earth ambitiously set out to capture the natural world in way that was (implicitly) intended to transform the relationship between humans and mediated representations of the natural world. As Katherine Nelson, Vice President of Communications for Discovery Channel, stated in her letter of submission to the Peabody Awards (2007): PLANET EARTH is natural history for the 21st century. The goal of the epic HD series reached beyond the benchmark of great television to inspire viewers to appreciate and care for their world. Developed from founder John Hendricks’ vision, the series presents our world as it has never been seen before, and considering current climate data, may never be seen again. It wasn’t enough simply to construct a beautiful series; Discovery and the BBC knew they were capturing a moment in Earth’s history that would be preserved forever. Producers were careful to include endangered species and habitats that are on the verge of extinction.

As this statement demonstrates, TDC views Planet Earth as groundbreaking not only in terms of the technologies of its production but also in terms of the ways in which it reconfigures the relationship between viewer and image, human and nature. Primary to both of these claims is the technology of HD, which, within the marketing and publicity rhetoric surrounding Planet Earth, serves to differentiate the documentary from its forebears, provide a new and improved means of capturing the world with imaging technology, and bring the viewer into a closer relationship with both the image and with the animals, plants, and environments depicted within the series. Image quality and filming technology were Planet Earth’s selling points, and both the marketing rhetoric of TDC and the journalistic discourse surrounding the series support this claim. As an adoring commentator from Home Theater states about the series:

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The 1.78:1 anamorphic image reminds us of the often staggering beauty of our diverse world. It’s mildly compromised by a bit of compression artifacting upon a patch of foliage in the distance or a rainbow in the mist. The colors and textures of beasts both strange and familiar are a revelation at such clarity, while the almost throbbing greens of grass and trees fairly scream to save them from the relentless ravages of man. The more intimate underwater segments, meanwhile, can sometimes play like you’re looking through the glass of an aquarium and not the TV screen. And what could be purer than high definition from outer space? Some of the more demanding scenes were not recorded at true HD quality, and you can sometimes tell the difference between the high and standard def, but it’s usually nothing too jarring. (Chiarella 2007, 102)

HD technology, as conceived of in this quotation, almost literally brings the images to life—the quality of the image is almost good enough to stand in for the real thing, and the HD image attains an almost transcendental, cosmic purity. And though the representations of the natural world are sometimes not perfect replicas, whether through the menace of artifacting or the sin of standard def, the overall picture of the planet that Planet Earth constructs is close enough to substitute for physically experiencing the habitats documented by the series. The statement above is emblematic of much of the discourse surrounding the series, and it implicitly points to a very specific conceptualization of the relationship between technology and the experience of the natural world. Visual technologies, like that of HD, have the ability to (re)construct the ways in which the world, through mediated representations, is experienced. The framework established by this kind of rhetoric relies on a Cartesian perspective of the world, one which separates perceiver from perceived, subject from object, human from nonhuman. What this ignores is the network of actants upon which any experience is predicated, and it relies on an idea of visual mastery—and the mastery of vision—in order to separate subject from object (Merleau-Ponty 1964). The dialect of vernacular posthumanism spoken by Planet Earth is thus one closer to that of transhumanism than that of critical posthumanism in that it happily relinquishes human vision to that of machine vision without accounting for the complexity of the cultural logic and networks of which both are a part. The shift from analog, standard definition (SD) televisions and television broadcasts to digital, high-definition televisions (HDTV) and television broadcasts has produced scholarly discussion regarding issues of televisual “quality” as well as the relationship between spectacle, television, and technology. Helen Wheatley (2011, 234) argues that British nature documentaries of the

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early to mid-2000s emphasize expansive landscape technology, and these documentary series were “made specifically with these new [HD] television sets and their viewers in mind.” Associated with this new HDTV technology is a new kind of viewer and viewing experience. It is not only the images contained within the television screen that have changed. The presence of the television set within the home has also changed, from a bulky, deep, squarish device to a flat, thin, widescreen device that is often hung on the wall in a fashion similar to a painting. These images and new technologies also produce a different type of viewer, and these kinds of nature documentaries presume a contemplative mode of viewing more traditionally associated with the spectacular in fine art and photography, and at odds both with theories of the distracted viewer identified by early theorists of television and with countertheories of “sit forward” viewer engagement or enthrallment (developed particularly in relation to describing the viewing of recent “quality drama”) (Wheatley 2011, 237). Wheatley continues, arguing that the positioning of the HDTV on the wall (as with a painting) and the reorganizing of spatial relations in the home has generated a situation in which landscape programming is particularly welcome. Viewed as an object of fine art on the wall, HDTV and its sharp and detailed views of vistas would seem well suited to the TV’s placement within the home. Wheatley’s claims here resonate with Scott Bukatman’s discussion of special effects and the sublime, particularly in terms of how both Wheatley and Bukatman leverage nineteenth-century landscape paintings to make a point about the operation of spectacle within contemporary imaging technologies and the ways in which these technologies invite the viewer to pause and contemplate their relationship to the natural world (2003). Michael Newman and Elana Levine also discuss the HDTV transition at length, and they link the shift from analog, SD, 4:3 television images to digital, HD, 16:9 images to a larger context of television’s legitimation within broader popular culture. For Newman and Levine, the shift to HD provided an opportunity for a more general cultural reevaluation of televisual quality: While historically TV has been seen as a medium associated both with the feminine and the underclass, the discourses surrounding HDTV challenge these constructions. In such discourses, television becomes technologically sophisticated, masculinized, and both economically and aesthetically valued. (2012, 104)

Newman and Levine also link this masculinization of television to the kinds of programming that broadcasters first made available in HD and that retailers

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used to sell HDTVs to the general public, arguing that “the order in which programming genres went HD signals their cultural valuation” (2012, 124). Appealing to the male early adopter, movies and sports were the first to go HD: HBO and Monday Night Football in 1999, the Olympics in 2002, ESPN in 2003, and Fox Sports in 2004. Fictional programming followed this trend with HD broadcasts of “quality” prime time programming preceding daytime programming, dramas preceding sitcoms, and network content preceding local content. The Sopranos and The West Wing went HD in 2001; Crossing Jordan and The Practice in 2002; HGTV and the Food Network in 2006; Survivor, Entertainment Tonight, and The Price Is Right in 2008; and General Hospital in 2009 (Newman and Levine 2012, 123–127). Planet Earth falls somewhere in the middle of this timeline, and it straddles Newman and Levine’s trajectory of the masculinization—and legitimation—of television through its appeals to technology and gadget geekery. As a stalwart of television programming, nature documentaries like Planet Earth have long filled TV broadcast schedules. As such, at least in their televisual form, nature documentaries could be argued to occupy a domestic, feminized position within the media landscape. This view is reinforced by daytime TV juggernaut Oprah Winfrey’s strong advocacy of the series, as well as the fact that, in the American broadcast of Planet Earth, David Attenborough’s original voice-over narration was replaced by that of Sigourney Weaver. (Winfrey would go on to replace Attenborough’s narration in the follow-up to Planet Earth, Life [2009].) However, the breathless marketing surrounding the production, broadcast, and Blu-Ray release of Planet Earth makes appeals to the kind of masculinized television landscape described by Newman and Levine. Much of the marketing for HDTV programming “often seized on the television set’s newfound ability to picture previously unrepresented imagery, such as the stitches on a baseball or the pores and lines on a face,” and the same is true for the promotion of Planet Earth (Newman and Levine 2012, 103). As I will soon discuss, much of the advertising for the series emphasized the new technologies developed for image acquisition, exactly the kind of tech-geek discourse that Newman and Levine describe as utilizing discourses of masculinity to legitimate television. Planet Earth—and HDTV more generally—also makes appeals to cinema for its legitimation, both in terms of aspect ratio and in terms of image quality. Finally, the home consumption of Planet Earth—which traditionally has been associated with the femininity of the domestic space—was offset by more technological fetishism.

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In order to watch the HD broadcast, viewers would have to make a point to subscribe to an HD cable package. Alternately, viewers could watch the series on Blu-Ray for the full HD experience, but in 2007 when the Blu-Ray set was released, Blu-Ray players were expensive and generally only owned by early adopters. Gamers, here, had an advantage, as Sony’s PS3 video game console (released in 2006) had the ability to play Blu-Ray discs. HDTV is thus also an exemplar of digital media convergence, which disrupts any straightforward categorization of the medium as feminine or masculine. As a nature documentary series narrated by Sigourney Weaver, broadcast on Discovery HD (in the United States), and perhaps viewed at home on a gaming system, Planet Earth reveals the ruptures in a simple delineation of technological fetishism and its relationship to theories of the medium as masculine or feminine. What Planet Earth also reveals, however, is how this process of media convergence is far from totalizing in its uniformity. HDTV also produces a singular approach to the image, one that differs from the cinematic image and produces its own unique phenomenology. The almost complete transition to digital workflows, in particular, has reworked the relationship between cinema and television. Historically, television has tended to follow cinema’s lead in adopting imaging technologies (including special and visual effects), from the introduction of color to the implementation of widescreen aspect ratios to the integration of CGI. Beginning in the late 1970s, cinema production began to incorporate digital technologies in the form of computer motion-control camera systems and digital audio, and in the 1980s, film editors began to use videotape-based nonlinear editing systems (Thompson and Bordwell 2010, 714, 719). During the 1980s, visual effects artists began to experiment with computer-generated imagery, as in the “Genesis Sequence” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer 1982). Throughout the 1990s, digital visual effects became increasingly commonplace in film, and editors and cinematographers began to make use of “digital intermediates,” a process by which the film print is scanned into a digital format for manipulation and then printed back onto film for exhibition. In its early stages, this process was often used to facilitate the process of color grading and color manipulation, as seen in Pleasantville (Ross 1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coen Brothers 2000). In 1999, George Lucas spearheaded the transition to digital projection when the first Star Wars prequel, Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Lucas 1999), was exhibited digitally on four screens. Lucas continued this push for digital filmmaking when he shot Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (Lucas 2002) using an HD video camera, the first mainstream Hollywood film

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to do so (Thompson and Bordwell 2010, 713). While other innovators followed closely behind Lucas (including Robert Rodriguez, David Fincher, and Steven Soderbergh), HD digital projection/exhibition and HD digital image acquisition lagged behind in the digital transition, and it wasn’t until around 2011 that the industry adopted digital filming and projection as a production and exhibition norm, driven, in part, by the success of digital 3D films produced in 2009 and 2010, including Avatar (Cameron 2009), How to Train Your Dragon (Sanders and DeBlois 2010), Alice in Wonderland (Burton 2010), and Toy Story 3 (Unkrich 2010). Digital 3D systems, according to John Belton (2012), provided digital exhibition with the “novelty” necessary for theaters to pay the steep costs to install digital projectors in that theater owners could recoup those costs through 3D ticket surcharges. Once this tipping point was reached, the industry reacted quickly. In 2011, the major manufacturers of film cameras—including ARRI, Panavision, and Aaton—ceased production of new film cameras (Kaufman 2011). In 2014, Kodak began phasing out production of film stock, only to be saved at the last minute by a group of film directors (Martin Scorsese, J. J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Christopher Nolan, and Quentin Tarantino) who facilitated a deal between the major Hollywood studios and Kodak to produce a limited amount of film stock each year (Lieberman 2014). As of 2015, almost 90 percent of the world’s movie screens are digital (Vivarelli 2015). As this very brief history of the digital transition demonstrates, cinema quickly adopted some technologies—digital sound, nonlinear editing—but struggled with the adoption of others—digital image capture, digital projection (and many filmmakers and film fans vociferously defend analog film as a superior technology, both in terms of image quality and for archival purposes). Television, meanwhile, experienced the digital transition differently, and it developed its own unique approach to HD video technologies, constructing its own norms and values of “image quality.” Ranging from live broadcasts, to kinescope recordings, to transmissions of content filmed in 35 mm, to videotape transmissions, the quality of television transmission and the quality and size of the television screen have historically been viewed as poor substitutes for their 35 mm cinematic counterparts. While creators exploited the unique qualities of videotape in the 1980s, the video aesthetic remained mostly confined to the televisual domain and, for the most part, wasn’t deemed suitable for cinematic exhibition. (Independent films of the late 1990s and early 2000s—for example, the Dogme 95 films, Celebration [Vinterberg 1998], Bamboozled [Lee 2000], 28 Days Later [Boyle 2002], Tadpole [Winick 2002], Full Frontal [Soderbergh 2002],

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Inland Empire [Lynch 2006]—are a notable exception in their use of SD video. The exhibition of these films in theaters was controversial at the time, though, and many critics deemed the use of digital video as inappropriate for theatrical exhibition.) However, with the transition to HD digital transmission, the consumer adoption of HDTVs in the early 2000s, and the introduction of Blu-Ray (and the now defunct HD-DVD) into the home video market, television developed a unique approach to image quality. While cinema struggled with the digital transition, television came to embrace this shift, and the television industry and TV manufacturers used HDTV as a way to market a form of quality specific to the home viewing experience. In fact, television jumped on board the digital movement a decade before cinema. This is partly due to FCC policy changes related to the digital transition outlined in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Also at issue is the notable increase in televisual image quality versus the perceived decrease in cinematic image quality with the shift to digital production and exhibition. Whatever the case, television exploited the digital transition to produce images unique to the televisual landscape. Live sports, long the purview of TV, got a significant upgrade with HDTV, and sports were used to move HDTV sets and HD cable subscriptions. Nature documentaries, another stalwart of TV programming, also benefited from the introduction of HDTV, as evidenced by the marketing surrounding the production, broadcast, and BluRay release of Planet Earth. HDTV thus serves as a contemporary example of television adopting its own norms of image quality, taking the lead over cinema during the digital transition. Planet Earth, in particular, also functions as a valuable case study for examining the ways in which the technology of HDTV becomes fetishized during this transitional period. The technological discourses surrounding the production of Planet Earth reveal the popular conception of HD as a technology that extends vision, and this discourse exhibits a fetishism regarding the ability of technology to reconfigure structures of perception and sensation. According to the Peabody submission materials, the producers of Planet Earth either invented or redesigned numerous forms of filmmaking technology in order to capture the mysterious and hidden wildlife featured in the series. Among the technological innovations are such filming devices as the Cineflex heligimbal (a stabilizing system with a powerful zoom lens mounted to a helicopter), low-light HD cameras, ultra-high-speed HD cameras, tracking systems, and deep-sea timelapse photography (Peabody 2007). These visual technologies, at least within

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the rhetoric of Planet Earth’s marketers, were the selling point for the series, and Planet Earth became as much about the wildlife captured in the series as it was about the technologies used to film that wildlife. In fact, at the end of each episode, there is a ten-minute vignette called Planet Earth Diaries, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the difficulties of filming that particular episode. The surface narrative of Planet Earth—the “story” of the wildlife—is thus accompanied by another sub-narrative—that of the technology and trials of filming the series. Katherine Nelson describes the series within a similar framework: “A technological marvel, the series employs new filmmaking techniques to put wildlife into context with the epic landscape where it lives, for the first time” (Peabody 2007). In this way, HD and other visual technologies become the costars of the wildlife presented in the series, and the technology allows viewers to see wildlife in its “context,” a context largely constructed by the technology itself. It is important to note that technological fetishism, particularly in the realm of visual communications technologies, is nothing new, and as Brian Winston points out in Technologies of Seeing, film and television producers, for various economic, industrial, and social reasons, have used visual technologies as a means of selling their product (1996). John Caldwell, speaking of television aesthetics, terms this emphasis on technology and style “televisuality,” and in his study of 1980s and early 1990s televisual aesthetics, he argues that a unique televisual style has become one of the major organizing principles of both television networks and television programming (1995, 4–5). Discussing what many critics deem the “golden age” of 2000s television, Jason Mittell (2015) argues that programming in this era became increasingly complex, both aesthetically and narratively. Thus, my argument concerning HD and Planet Earth does not claim to be revealing anything radically new about media technologies or the utopian discourses that tend to surround such technologies. Rather, my goal is to employ one contemporary use of HD technology as a means of illuminating the ways in which it supports historical understandings of film and television technology in fundamentally visual (and implicitly Cartesian) ways. And in doing so, this case study highlights the ways in which vernacular posthumanism is often founded on a particular (fetishistic and utopian) view of technological progress and innovation. Planet Earth serves as a signal example of contemporary usages of HD not only because of its innovative utilization of the technology but also because of its claims to be remapping (and therefore remaking) the relationship between human and nature.

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As Donna Haraway writes, “map-making is world-making … Cartographic practice inherently is learning to make projections that shape worlds in particular ways for various purposes. Each projection produces and implies specific sorts of perspective” (1997, 132). The map of the world created by the filmmaking machinery of Planet Earth relies on a Euclidean model of subjectivity, which conceptualizes vision as a colonizing force, able to tame and domesticate that which it sees (Massumi 2002, 184–186). From this perspective, Planet Earth positions the human as the hunter, using HD technology to reveal that which was previously unseen. One of the most utilized cinematographic techniques in Planet Earth is the long tracking shot, and within the diegesis of the series, this is the colonizing shot par excellence. A particularly striking (and typical for the series) tracking shot is included in the “Forests” episode. Beginning at the base of a California giant sequoia, the camera slowly tracks up the length of the tree’s trunk. Rather than providing a holistic view of the tree, however, the camera frames the tree in a medium close-up, granting just enough distance to see the width of the trunk. Through this tracking technique (which is, from a technical perspective, amazing, as the camera is performing a vertical tracking shot over hundreds of feet within a dense forest), the camera is mapping the trunk of the tree in a way that is most closely akin to the ways in which Hollywood cinema maps the legs of women. In other words, Planet Earth is relying on the same colonizing cinematic look to map nature as Hollywood cinema uses to map bodies. Whether it is the trunk of a tree, the craggy face of a rocky outcrop, or an enormous mound of bat guano, the tracking shots of Planet Earth construct nature as something to be mapped and colonized through the mastery of vision. The conceptualization of mastery-through-visual mapping also has close ties to epistemological frameworks of knowledge-through-surveillance. HD, by providing a “crisper,” denser image of higher resolution, allows the camera to look more closely at nature, creating a more detailed map of the surface of the world. Lisa Parks, discussing remote sensing (satellite) television technology, argues: Remote sensing is related to the televisual, then, for it involves practices of seeing and knowing across vast distances and can powerfully shape our worldviews and knowledges of global conflicts, histories, and environments. (2005, 4)

Parks, like Haraway, is viewing visual technologies as fundamentally epistemological systems—they create the knowledge and objects they purport to be merely capturing. She continues:

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The televisual is an epistemologic system that intersects with and permeates various forms of knowledge and power, especially those of scientific fields that pride themselves on masterful seeing and knowing the world from a distance. (Parks 2005, 117–118)

Parks views the earth as a text, and visual technologies give the impression of operating as a Rosetta Stone, merely translating the language of the natural world rather than actively creating that language (2005, 114). Helen Wheatley also identifies the use of satellite imagery in HD nature programming as one of the genre’s recurring traits. Linking the form and aesthetics of these programs to a larger incorporation of a Google Maps-style of viewing and understanding the world, Wheatley argues that these kinds of shots not only provide a unique visual pleasure but also function as a kind of visual effect: Aside from the spectacle of aerial photography that dominates this cycle of programmes, we might also locate the production of visual pleasure within HD television’s spectacular landscape documentaries in the use of satellite and computer-generated imagery. If, as a kind of middlebrow landscape art of constantly moving pictures, these programmes have pretensions to the representation of the “natural beauty” of land rendered as landscape, then they also feature a dazzling array of what we might call special effects or trick shots (2011, 246).

What Wheatley identifies here is a kind of supplementation of human vision with that of machines. Visual technologies and software like Google Maps and Google Earth have trained our eyes to sense and perceive the world from a godlike, authoritative perspective. Moving from the cosmic to the microscopic, the visual technologies of Planet Earth allow the viewer to fantasize about transcending their body, seeing and mastering the world through the camera. And by extension, these technologies encourage viewers to adopt the camera’s perspective as their own, incorporating the apparatus of the camera into their emergent form of technologically mediated embodiment. Seeing and knowing the world from a distance is the primary function of surveillance technologies, and in a sense, the filmmaking technology—and the rhetoric that frames this technology—of Planet Earth is functioning as an eavesdropper on the natural world. Aside from the many war stories recounted in Planet Earth Diaries about film crews hiding out for months waiting to capture the activity of a particular animal, the very technology utilized for many of the aerial tracking shots was explicitly designed for surveillance. The Cineflex heligimble stabilizing system, as described by the producers, is

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a revolutionary new aerial photography system that stabilizes a very powerful lens to film animal behavior from the air as never before seen … [It was] used by the police, the military and some news organizations but never before in a wildlife film. (Peabody 2007)

Visual mastery is thus inscribed into the very technology used to film Planet Earth; however, this purely visual framework ignores much of the richness of embodied experience, and Planet Earth’s mapping schema operates on levels other than the human optic. I have discussed the visual mapping strategies of Planet Earth at length because this is the most conventional way in which filmed images have been understood. I now intend to complicate that reading by accounting both for the intersensorial experience of Planet Earth and the nonhuman, machinic experience, both of which are elements of the series’ vernacular posthumanism. Visual maps are very logical. Based in rational, predictable Euclidean geometry, visual maps correspond quite nicely to human-based cognitive perceptions of the world. However, as decades of psychoanalytic theory have shown, human beings are far from rational creatures in complete control of their cognitive activities. Also, as Brian Massumi (2002, 181) has insightfully pointed out, our cognitive maps are always already imbricated with our synesthetic experiences: It is very uncommon, a limit-case rarely attained, that we carry within our heads a full and accurate map of our environment. We wouldn’t have to carry maps on paper if we had them in our brains. No matter how consciously overcoding we like to be, our mappings are riddled with proprioceptive holes threatening at any moment to capsize the cognitive model … No matter how expert or encompassing our cognitive mapping gets, the monstrous sea of proprioceptive dead reckoning is more encompassing still.

Visual maps, such as those created in Planet Earth, serve as overcodings in that they attempt to replicate the experience of space on one sensual register. Maps, however, are never purely visual, and sensual experience must also supplement the maps. They must necessarily be understood phenomenologically. Massumi serves as a guide through this phenomenological terrain, and he conceptualizes movement and mapping as existing on two registers: the virtual—a synesthetic movement through non-Euclidean space; and the actual—a cognitive movement through Euclidean space. Cognitive movement is the type of movement that I referenced earlier in this chapter; it is based in a Cartesian framework of the subject’s mastery over the world through vision. Synesthetic

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movement is more difficult to discuss, particularly in regard to moving images, which are conventionally viewed through optic or sonic perspectives. Massumi, following Gilles Deleuze, views experience as the constant folding together of the actual and the virtual, the cognitive and the synesthetic, the past, the present, and the future: “Where we go to find ourselves when we are lost is where the senses fold into and out of each. We always find ourselves in this fold in experience” (2002, 182). The actual is the realm of molar bodies, of cognitive and Euclidean space. The virtual is a realm of pure potentiality, of sensual and nonEuclidean space. It is a place where affects and intensities create an indeterminate space, where the past, present, and future exist simultaneously. The virtual, while it is not “real” in the sense of something concrete and molar, nevertheless has implications for the actual. Potentialities are experienced molecularly in the virtual but made real within the actual. Experience is thus unstable, a hallucination, and our perspective of the world is perpetually shifting between and throughout the actual and the virtual. Thus, purely optic theorizations of HD cannot possibly fully account for its phenomenological effects; a more synesthetic approach is needed, and in the following section, I will address how that might be achieved.1

Machinic synesthesia and the phenomenology of HD HDTV is commonly discussed not only in terms of its technology but also in an ad hoc phenomenological way. Most typically, the experience of viewing an HD image is understood as something that is “hyper-optic,” something that increases immersion within the image through increased visual quality. The quality of the image is perceived as something that allows the viewer to completely lose themselves within the image—something approaching Bazin’s notion of “the myth of total cinema.”2 However, some of the discourse expresses an interest in the ways in which the HD images of Planet Earth can also evoke bodily responses in the viewer. As one commentator notes: Planet Earth certainly excites a wealth of visceral responses as well. Cute things romp. Monstrous things chomp. Inevitably, because nature is more bloodyminded than fair, the cute gets chomped by the monstrous. And as the backdrop to all the struggle, there’s always the Northern Lights or the vast expanse of Antarctic ice to make the observer feel at once a part of the tableau and yet wholly alien to the scene and what takes place there. (Crupi 2008)

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While Crupi does not engage with the phenomenological experience of viewing HDTV in a sustained theoretical way, he does note the bodily effects of HDTV on the viewer. Especially noteworthy is Crupi’s recognition that the visceral responses evoked by Planet Earth have a dual, and contradictory, effect. On the one hand, the images make the viewer feel “a part of the tableau,” and this is consistent with most popular commentary on HDTV—the images embrace the viewer and fold them into the image. On the other hand, the HD images make the viewer feel “wholly alien to the scene,” which demonstrates the distancing effect of HDTV—the images are, quite literally, stunning. The ability of HDTV to simultaneously immerse and distance the viewer from the image is something I will take up shortly and in more detail. Like most technologies, HDTV has its utopian proponents, those who speak to HDTV’s radical potential to transform society. In the context of Planet Earth, much of the emphasis (and hyperbole) concerns the ability of the series to not only bring humans into a closer relationship with nature but also to bring humans closer to other humans. Two comments are exemplary of this. The first comes from Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, who wrote a letter of recommendation to the Peabody Awards, encouraging them to honor Planet Earth with a Peabody. In her letter, she claims that Planet Earth exhibits “excellence” because “the series brought nature closer to people around the world through its stunning and vivid cinematography of Earth’s ecological diversity” (Peabody 2007). For Meeks, it is not the ecological diversity of the planet per se that brings humans into closer contact with nature; it is the “stunning and vivid cinematography,” that is, the HD filming technology. HDTV is also understood as uniting the various peoples of the world: “The promise of HDTV is not just in the clarity and resolution of the picture; rather, it’s an opportunity to bring people together again in a fragmented entertainment universe” (Crupi 2007). Here, the utopian potential of HDTV extends beyond the image itself, and the commonality of humankind’s relationship to nature— filtered, of course, through HD—becomes the great leveling force of the world. Empirical research has also attempted to make sense of the phenomenological experience of HDTV. One study found that viewers of HDTV do, in fact, report that viewing HD images increases immersion into the image, and this is tied to the marketing potential of HDTV: “These results are important because the selling point used by television manufacturers for HDTV is that viewers will feel as if they are ‘there’ or part of the action” (Bracken 2005, 202).3 Another study reported:

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The goal of HDTV is to give viewers a visual experience with a strong sensation of reality and superb picture quality. Experiments to gauge the visual experience according to the viewing angle show that the 1080 format is significantly better than SDTV, whereas the 720p format only achieves a comparatively slight improvement. (Sugawara et al. 2006, 14)

What both of these studies indicate is the extent to which HDTV is conceptualized as a primarily visual technology, one that offers viewers a more “realistic” experience.4 This idea of HDTV frames the studies and, to a large extent, determines their results. As with most empirical research into phenomenological experience, the results seem rather commonsensical, and the translation of sensuousness into data sets leaves much to be desired. While the comments above point to a concern with the effects of HDTV on the viewer’s body, none of them directly indicate a concern with the body of HDTV itself. The “technological body” of HDTV is made up of the lines of resolution in the image and the method of scanning the image. In the United States, the most common format of Standard Definition television (SDTV) is 480i/p, meaning that there are 480 lines of vertical resolution on the TV screen. The “i” stands for “interlaced”—interlacing is a bandwidth saving technology that, similar to film, relies on the persistence of vision to nullify any flicker in the image. An interlaced image is created by breaking the image apart into odd and even lines; the “odd image” and the “even image” are then displayed rapidly, one after the other, giving the impression of a single, unified image. Interlacing technology was originally designed to save on bandwidth space, since only half of the image’s information would need to be transmitted at any one time. However, as a result, the interlaced image experiences a loss of quality. Progressive scan images (“p”) require more bandwidth but are of a higher visual quality than interlaced images because they do not break the image into alternating sets. Instead, progressive scan images are drawn in their entire sequence every time the image is refreshed. SDTV can display both interlaced and progressive scan images but within the United States, 480 lines of resolution is generally considered the maximum. US standards of HDTV increase the lines of resolution, and the most common formats of HDTV are 720p and 1080i/p, where 720 and 1080 indicate the number of vertical scan lines. The increased lines of resolution in HDTV give the image a greater density and clarity, substantially improving the quality of the image. I have thus far explained the technological body of HDTV in quite conventional terms—a focus on the increased lines of resolution, the greater density and clarity of the image, and the gain in visual quality that results from

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HD. The technological body of HD, however, lies largely within the cognitive, Euclidean realm of thought, privileging vision as the primary organizing principle of HDTV’s body. HDTV’s “phenomenological body” is something quite different, and it exists on a more sensual, non-cognitive plane. (I introduce various theories of film phenomenology in Chapter 1, so as not to repeat myself, I won’t rehearse that discussion here. Consult Chapter 1 for a broader contextualization of phenomenological film theory.) The HD body overlaps with, and in some cases adds a prosthesis to, the film’s body. To the extent that they are both related technologies of cinema and television, HDTV’s body and the film’s body share much in common.5 They also share a similar relationship to the body of the viewer. Film phenomenologists note the extent to which the body of the viewer and the body of the film interact and exchange experiences and perceptions. Through the process of viewing, the two bodies lose some of their individuation, merging into each other and blurring the boundaries between subjective sensation: it becomes difficult to discern the place from which sensations arise—the film’s body or the viewer’s body. As Marks claims: “Sobchack’s phenomenology of cinematic experience stresses the interactive character of film viewing” (2000, 162). Film viewing is not a one-sided affair; it is a process of exchanging affects. Subjective and objective experiences cease to have meaning, and both bodies are affected by having been accounted for by the other. Much of this interaction takes place between the skin of the two bodies, and the skin, in that it touches both the inside and outside of a body, serves as the liminal point of interaction between two bodies. Skin is a point of contact between two bodies, and it is the place where a body can feel another body feeling. Barker describes the film’s skin thusly: The function of the film’s skin as the perceptive and expressive boundary between  self and other is thus achieved by different mechanical parts of the apparatus and cannot be equated with just one of those components … The film’s skin is a complex amalgam of perceptive and expressive parts—including technical, stylistic, and thematic elements—coming together to present a specific and tactile mode of being in the world. (2009, 29)

When my skin, through tactile vision, touches the skin of the film, our perceptions and modes of being merge, allowing both of our insides and outsides to intermingle and infect each other. Viewing a film thus becomes much more than a visual experience—or, in the case of HDTV, a hyper-visual experience. The interaction between the film and the viewer involves all of the senses, and it cannot be limited to operating merely on the level of optic sensation. The

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phenomenology of HDTV involves much more than a simple increase in visual quality; it also involves a change in the relationship between the skin of the HDTV body and the tactile vision of the viewer. This idea of tactile, or haptic, visuality is key to understanding the ways in which HDTV’s body both shares affinities with and differs from the film’s body. Marks defines haptic visuality as a mode of seeing whereby the eyes come to act as tactile organs, as organs of touch (2000, 162). As Barker puts it: “Marks defines haptic visuality as a kind of looking that lingers on the surface of the image rather than delving into depth and is more concerned with texture than with deep space” (2009, 35). Haptic visuality, therefore, moves across the surface of the image, focusing on the materiality of the image rather than what is represented in the image (Marks 2000, 162–163). Within the film’s body, Marks argues, haptic images are generally the products of extreme close-ups, blurred images, or nonrepresentational figures (such as carpets or sheets). The nature of these images is not immediately apparent to the viewer, so they must focus on the surface materiality of the image instead of the illusion of depth that representational figures provide. HDTV operates by a different means. Rather than achieve haptic images through “film tricks” such as intentional blurring or scratching the film stock, the HD image itself is haptic. As my previous discussion has demonstrated, the quality of the HD images in a series like Planet Earth is, in many ways, the “star” of the series. The rhetoric surrounding the series is as much about the HD images as it is about the wildlife and environments represented in those images. Thus, when viewing Planet Earth, the viewer’s look is constantly oscillating between the materiality of the image and the figures represented within the image. Planet Earth encourages this swirling instability of viewing through the constructions of its shots. Many of the scenes are not of wildlife but of environments that are not recognizable until the camera either zooms in or pulls back. As with the example of the giant sequoia tree described earlier, one strategy of Planet Earth is to begin with a close-up of some object—a tree, a rock face, a mound of bat guano, a coral reef—and then pull back until the object becomes recognizable. In these cases, the initial image is purely haptic; the focus is on the texture and surface quality of the HD image. As the camera zooms/tracks out, the focus shifts from surface/texture to depth/representation as the image becomes recognizable as an object, and the image then becomes primarily optic. Or, conversely, the reverse happens: the camera will begin at a great distance from its object and then zoom in until the object is close enough to recognize. For example, in a scene from the “Pole to Pole” episode, the camera begins at a great distance from the land,

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and what appears on screen is virtually unrecognizable, except as surface texture.6 Then, as the camera slowly zooms in, the image becomes recognizable as a herd of migrating caribou (see Figure 6.2). This strategy of moving from haptic to optic is used elsewhere, as in the “Shallow Seas” episode, where a mass of dots on the screen slowly reveals itself as a 100,000-member-strong seabird colony (see Figure 6.3). Marks differentiates between optic and haptic visuality:

Figure 6.2  Caribou migration in Planet Earth, “From Pole to Pole,” 2006. Dir. Alastair Fothergill.

Figure 6.3  Seabird colony in Planet Earth, “The Shallow Seas,” 2006. Dir. Alastair Fothergill.

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Haptic visuality is distinguished from optical visuality, which sees things from enough distance to perceive them as distinct forms in deep space: in other words, how we usually conceive of vision. Optical visuality depends on a separation between the viewing subject and the object. Haptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object rather than to plunge into illusionistic depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture. It is more inclined to move than to focus, more inclined to graze than to gaze. (2000, 162)

In the HD body of Planet Earth, both optic and haptic, immersion and distanciation, are present. It is important to note that neither of these images in Planet Earth is ever out of focus (something that often happens when film shifts from optic to haptic). Every image is in crystal clear HD. This focus allows the camera to move from depicting the tiniest pores of a rock face to depicting the vastness of a mountain, all in one continuous shot. It is only with HD technology, and the special cameras and lenses utilized in Planet Earth, that the HD body of the series can achieve this type of oscillation between optic and haptic visuality, and this is what differentiates the film body from the HDTV body. It is also this quality of the HD body that marks its unique production of machine vision. The vernacular posthumanism of this mode of vision modulates the sensorium of the viewer, offering a mode of perception unattainable through human eyes. The visual technologies of Planet Earth thus initiate viewers into a nonhuman system of perception, one that claims dominance over the natural world through its ability to move effortlessly through radically varying scales, distances, and speeds of sensation. Discussing HDTV in the context of Marshall McLuhan’s classical formulation of “hot” and “cool” media, Newman and Levine argue that HDTV breaks down this distinction. As a refresher, McLuhan describes “hot” media as something like film, which activates primarily one sense, and through its visual clarity, fills in interpretive gaps for the viewer. In other words, the viewer doesn’t need to bring much to the image. “Cool” media, conversely, because of its poorer visual quality, requires that the viewer fill in the interpretive gaps left open by poor resolution (in the case of television) or the gutters between the frames (in the case of comics). Newman and Levine argue that HDTV, through its improved picture density, absorbs some of the distinctions of cinematic picture quality: “In the era of convergence, the television set has been remade in the image of the film screen, so much that the new standard of television picture is known by the same term McLuhan used to describe hot media like cinema: high definition” (2012, 101). The increased resolution of the televisual image, now a close cousin

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to that of 35 mm celluloid, functions as a “hot” medium, appearing to seamlessly link the viewer’s body with the HDTV body. The HDTV body is also differentiated from the film body through the simultaneous ability of the image to immerse and distance the viewer. Helen Wheatley observes: The television image is simultaneously intensely close but also always held at a distance, and … through the broadcast or streamed image, the object of desire is simultaneously brought physically close to us but is also always tantalisingly absent, broadcast or downloaded from some other place. (2015, 898)

The HD images of Planet Earth are stunning in dual senses of the word: they are “stunning” in the sense of being aesthetically beautiful and engaging (immersive), and they are “stunning” in the sense of shocking the viewer with their quality (distancing). The images are distancing and immersive in dual ways as well. They are “distancing” not only through their stunning quality but also through their ability to maintain perfect clarity from great distances (as in the migrating caribou example). They are “immersive” not only through their detailed representations of creatures but also through their ability to achieve crystal clear close-ups of objects and animals. This oscillation between distance and closeness is a fundamental attribute of HDTV’s body, and it must always be remembered that this oscillation is an embodied oscillation, one that affects the viewer’s interaction with the HDTV body and HDTV’s interaction with the viewer’s body. As Lisa Parks explains in the context of satellite television, technologies of seeing do much more than merely increase the visual. And though she is speaking of temporal distance, her argument is useful for understanding the spatial distances of Planet Earth: However, the further the televisual gaze peers back in time, the more forcefully it collapses into the realm of the senses. For distant vision needs to be embodied. That is why the term remote sensing is so apt for the televisual, because it implies that distant vision ultimately necessitates and is contingent on various visceral experiences, libidinal investments, and sensuous engagements that could never be reduced to the visual alone. Understanding the televisual as a practice of remote sensing thus complicates paradigms that attempt to isolate and privilege vision as the ultimate sense, as the one of greatest accuracy, knowledge, and truth, and insists on the significance of other senses, whether hearing, touch, or taste, in interpreting the world. (Parks 2005, 137)

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The embodiment and interaction of both the viewer and the image, and the distance between the two bodies, concerns the final piece of my discussion of Planet Earth, and I will use Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal in order to understand the ways in which this phenomenological interaction might be understood both within a theory of becoming and within a theory of vernacular posthumanism.

Becoming-Animal through Planet Earth: HD and beyond In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari make the argument that “becomings” deterritorialize the subject, and becoming-animal is one step toward that deterritorialization (1987). Deleuze and Guattari’s overall project in A Thousand Plateaus is to outline a philosophy of rhizomes, a philosophy whose concepts are all intertwined and follow nonlinear connections. This rhizomatic philosophy is deterritorialized, meaning that it does not inhabit a stable, subjective point of view (in contrast to a humanistic, subject-based, arborescent philosophy). For Deleuze and Guattari, the goal of philosophy is to deterritorialize the subject, which allows them to escape the molarity of the physical body and perceive the world molecularly, as a flow and interaction of affects and energies. Becomings are the means to achieve this deterritorialization, and becomings create a situation wherein a subject might experience, through the sharing of affects, movements, speeds, and intensities, the energies of another being.7 This sharing of movements and affects within the process of becoming is not, however, mimetic, and becoming-animal does not involve acting like a particular animal: For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not “really” become an animal any more than the animal “really” becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes. Becoming can and should be qualified as becoming-animal even in the absence of a term that would be the animal become. The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human being becomes is not; and the becomingother of the animal is real, even if that something other it becomes is not. This is the point to clarify: that a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself; but also that it has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another

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becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 238)

Thus, for example, becoming-rat would not involve scurrying around the floor, looking for cheese. Instead, it would involve sharing the movements, intensities, affects, and speeds of a rat. Deleuze, in fact apparently desired to become-rat, as indicated in an anecdote recounted by Steve Baker: “Deleuze’s own attempts to write like a rat, for example, are said to have sometimes included a refusal to cut his nails” (2002, 93). Though I am concerned primarily with becoming-animal, Deleuze and Guattari  conceive of becoming as a process, passing through many stages (including becoming-woman and becoming-child) before reaching the ultimate goal of becoming-imperceptible (1987, 272). The ultimate goal of all of these becomings is to allow the subject to deterritorialize themselves and experience existence in terms other than those of an individuated, fleshy, molar body. This deemphasis of the importance of the lived body puts Deleuzian/Guattarian becomings at odds with much phenomenological theory, which stresses the significance of embodied existence. In the case of becoming-animal, a complication that arises is the difficulty of navigating between the actual (human/animal bodies) and the virtual (becoming-animal) and the consequences that the virtual can have for the actual. While Deleuze and Guattari stress that it is the process of becoming that is real, not some imagined end result that would destroy the physicality of the body, becomings necessarily imply that centers of indetermination should strive for molecularity, sloughing off the fleshiness of embodied existence. However, a potential alliance between phenomenology and becoming might lie in this relationship between the actual and the virtual. While becomings might exist within the virtual, an arena of molecularity and pure potential, there is also an element that exists within the actual, namely the physical modification of movement, speed, affect, and intensity. In a sense, becomings change the ways in which a body exists in the world, altering its physical relationship to other bodies, and this change in embodiment is quite real: Becoming-animal has its own reality, which is not based on resemblance or affiliation but on alliance, symbiosis, affection, and infection … According to Deleuze and Guattari, there exists a reality of becoming-animal that consists of a proximity between man and animal on the level of affects, movements, and speeds … It is on the level of intensities that the assemblage animal-human is made. It is not evoked by blood ties or heritage but by contagion and infection. (Pisters 2003, 144)

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Becoming-animal can thus evoke a change in the way in which a body inhabits space, and just as the vernacular posthumanism of Planet Earth can initiate haptic and visceral responses within the viewer, so too can it initiate becomings. In fact, much of the connection between becoming-animal and phenomenology can already be found (implicitly) in the literature discussed thus far in this chapter, and as I have already indicated, the deployment of HD as an aesthetic strategy of Planet Earth produces a liminal phenomenology. That is, the experience of viewing Planet Earth is one of oscillation—oscillation between immersion and distanciation, cognitive and synesthetic mapping, humanistic and nonhumanistic perspectives. This oscillation fits quite nicely with the concept of Deleuzian/Guattarian becoming in that it is always in motion, always fluttering between the virtual and the actual. A Deleuzian phenomenology can be found in Barker’s discussion of the film body’s viscera, and in many ways, Barker is making a fundamentally Deleuzian argument: the body of the film and the body of the viewer come to share much in terms of affect and intensity, and this leads to a Deleuzian/Guattarian becoming. In her section on the film body’s viscera, Barker makes the argument that the experience of viewing a film has the potential to create an affinity of movement between the rhythms of the film’s body and the rhythms of the viewer’s body— in other words, the viewer becomes-film: “We find a film’s rhythms riveting, perhaps even eerily human because they are, in fact, founded on and perpetually indebted to our own imperceptible human rhythms” (2009, 128). She continues: “One of the reasons we respond so passionately to cinema as an art form is because of a deep, and not uncomplicated, affinity between our bodies and the film’s body” (Barker 2009, 129). Marks, who is more explicitly Deleuzian than Barker, shares a similar view of the phenomenology of becoming in relation to haptic visuality: “Haptic cinema does not invite identification with a figure—a sensory-motor reaction—so much as it encourages a bodily relationship between the viewer and the image” (2000, 164). Barker and Marks are essentially making the argument that the process of viewing a film initiates a bodily interaction between the viewer and the film, and this fits the basic definition of becoming—a sharing of movements and affects. The haptic nature of Planet Earth’s HD images facilitates this process, as haptic visuality more easily deterritorializes the image since it is nonrepresentational. Planet Earth allows the viewer to become-animal, not only through cinematic techniques but also through the haptic visuality of HD and the haptic visuality of the multiplicity of swarms depicted in the series. The cinematic

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techniques of Planet Earth encourage a more Cartesian, Oedipal relationship with the animals in the series to the extent that they cultivate an identification with the animals on a representational, molar level. This type of relationship, rather than initiating a mutual, molecular exchange of affects, encourages an anthropocentric/anthropomorphizing identification with the animal. As Marks describes it: Cinematic conventions have a lot to do with our powers of putting ourselves into the other’s paws. In nature documentaries, shot-reverse shot structure creates a sense of narrative; quick editing makes for excitement; cutting gives a sense of simultaneous action; eyeline matches between animals and their prey establishes intentionality; and when the creatures gaze into the camera, their eyes seem to communicate with the depths of our souls. (2002, 25)

Here, Marks is criticizing conventional nature documentary techniques (which are also utilized by Planet Earth) for attributing to animals the types of intentionalities and thought processes of humans. That is, she is criticizing nature documentaries for not following a framework of becoming-animal. However, just because Planet Earth utilizes representational, Cartesian modes of filmmaking does not necessarily indicate that it cannot initiate becominganimal. Nor does this indicate that the machine vision of Planet Earth cannot subvert anthropocentric modes of perception. As I have reiterated throughout this book, a fundamental aspect of vernacular posthumanism is that it presents a contradictory, often paradoxical view of the relationship between the human and the nonhuman. At times, images of vernacular posthumanism construct sensations of nonhuman experience and embodiment. At other times, images of vernacular posthumanism reinscribe the authority of the human in order to assuage fears of disembodiment. Through its fluctuating presentation of human and nonhuman vision and sensation, Planet Earth exhibits many of the qualities of the other case studies explored in this book. For example, through its focus on swarms and packs of animals, Planet Earth encourages the viewer to become-animal. As Deleuze and Guattari write: “A becoming-animal always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short, a multiplicity” (1987, 239). Swarms, packs, and multiplicities are rhizomatic and deterritorialized, meaning that the loss of one individual, while it may restructure the pack, does not destroy the pack. Swarms and packs are also formed by infection and contagion—the actions of one member can “infect” the others and cause a substantial shift in affect and intensity. The recognition of the multiplicity of these packs can initiate a becoming in that the human perceives

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the pack as a collection of forces, which molecularizes perception and provides an opening to becoming-animal. Elena del Rio echoes this thought: “Deleuze’s understanding of the body as an assemblage of forces or affects that enter into composition with a multiplicity of other forces or affects restores to the body the dimension of intensity lost in the representational paradigm” (2008, 3). When bodies begin to lose their individuation as molar representations, becomings can ensue. One scene in particular from Planet Earth (in the “Shallow Seas” episode) illustrates this concept of swarms and their ability to infect others. In this episode, there is a sequence depicting a very large sunflower starfish hunting some much smaller brittle stars. As the sunflower starfish moves, the brittle stars constantly re-form themselves into new assemblages in an attempt to avoid being eaten (see Figure 6.4). What is most striking about this sequence, however, is not the swarms of brittle stars but the cinematographic techniques utilized by the filmmakers. The sea creatures move much too slowly, at least in terms of human movement and perception, for their activities to be fully comprehended. To solve this problem, the speed of the film is increased, giving the sequence the appearance of stop-motion animation. This has the uncanny effect of making the speeds and movements of the brittle stars match those of humans, initiating a kind of becoming-human on the part of the animals. The stop-motion look also encourages a becoming-brittle star on the part of the viewer, as it creates an affinity between the discontinuous movements of both human and animal. Barker points out this affinity in relation to stop-motion animation: Cinema’s defining characteristic is the movement of discontinuous images in space and time at a prescribed rate of frames per second, and this intrinsic form is derived from the temporal structures of the human body, whose actions are also made up of discontinuous movements that seem smooth and uninterrupted. (2009, 134)

Through this example from Planet Earth, a link between becoming-animal and phenomenology can be forged. Becoming-animal involves a very real change in affect and motion, and through the affinity between the internal motions of the viscera and musculature of HDTV’s body, a corollary change in affect and motion is effected in the body of the viewer. In this way, Planet Earth encourages the viewer to deterritorialize themselves and become-animal. This becoming is not, however, without danger. As my discussion of Planet Earth has demonstrated, the process of Deleuzian/Guattarian becoming invokes competing ethical claims. On the

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Figure 6.4  Sunflower starfish and brittle stars in Planet Earth, “The Shallow Seas,” 2006. Dir. Alastair Fothergill.

one hand, the process of becoming initiates a fundamental questioning of the Cartesian subject, decentering human subjectivity and providing an alternative, deterritorialized and rhizomatic, perspective of existence. This type of radical critique of the Cartesian cogito, which is connected to the seeing/thinking subject’s ability to master the objects, people, and creatures within their environment, allows for an ethical intervention into the exploitative, colonizing destruction of the environment that such an anthropocentric cogito permits. When mastery is tied to the molarity of the human body, destructive human activities can be excused on the grounds of the natural superiority of Homo sapien’s cognitive ability. On the other hand, the de-emphasizing of individuated, fleshy bodies results in a loss of the importance of unique subjectivity (not only of humans but also of all nonhumans): through the process of becoming, subjects are encouraged to escape the boundaries of their molar, physical bodies. Driven by an all-consuming desire to become, human becomings-animal, as Akira Lippit claims in Electric Animal, transform the animal into pure metaphor, something conceived of as absolute other to human existence and outside the realm of human ethics (2000, 25; 181–182). As a result, it is not the actual bodies of the animals that matter, it is what they stand for in relation to the human, which, as Katherine Young argues, makes becoming-animal an essentially anthropocentric event, problematizing a straightforward reading of becominganimal as radically transgressive (2008, 258).

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In When Species Meet, Donna Haraway takes strong exception to Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of “becoming.” In particular, Haraway takes issue with Deleuze and Guattari’s desire to become molecular and, in the process, escape the molar body: Despite much that I love in other work of Deleuze, here I find little but the two writers’ scorn for all that is mundane and ordinary and the profound absence of curiosity about or respect for and with actual animals, even as innumerable references to diverse animals are invoked to figure the authors’ anti-Oedipal and anticapitalist project. (2008, 27)

For Haraway, lived bodies matter, and she is reluctant to support a theoretical framework that advocates the dissolution of the lived body as its endpoint. While Haraway might be overlooking the subtle interplay of actual and virtual that undergirds Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of becoming, her critique nevertheless resonates strongly with a broader phenomenological critique of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. The fact of lived existence—the fact of our embodiment—matters, and a desire to dissolve the phenomenological boundaries of the lived body speaks more to a transhumanist idealization of information over materiality than a nonhumanist position that offers a strong theorization of the material reality and existential equality of all other actants within a particular network. Central to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of becoming is the relationship between the actual and the virtual. Becomings take place in the virtual, which is an area of pure potentiality and molecularity. When two actants “synchronize” affects and intensities between themselves, they have entered into a relationship of becoming.8 The “reality” of becoming, however, is not quite so straightforward, and it involves a complex relationship between the actual and the virtual. As Deleuze and Guattari write, “There is a reality of becoming-animal, even though one does not in reality become animal” (1987, 273). The physical and mental actions that constitute the process of becoming—the sharing of movement, affect, and intensity—take place in the realm of the actual, the realm of the physical, molar, and lived reality. However, the result of a particular becoming— for example, a horseman assemblage—exists only in the realm of the virtual, a place of futurity and potentiality. The virtual is equally as “real” as the actual, but it exists in a spatial and temporal plane beyond immediate sensation and perception. It is this virtual aspect of becoming that so frustrates Haraway. Rather than sharing with Deleuze and Guattari the goal of “becoming-imperceptible,” which

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is the ultimate outcome of the process of becoming, Haraway prefers instead to recognize the unique and radical alterity of the other, and she does so to maintain the distinct existence of every actant. So, instead of turning to a virtual becoming, Haraway relies on a physical and biological fact of human existence in order to explore the interrelatedness of beings: I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, and us, no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many. (2008, 3–4)

Haraway thus sets her framework of significant otherness in contrast to Deleuze and Guattari’s framework of becoming. The former views the other as uniquely distinct from the subject, something that possesses its own particular mode of existence but that can be understood through a mutual respect and openness. The latter views both subject and object as a collection of similar forces, which, through a sharing of movement and perception, can become a virtual assemblage. While Haraway fervently distinguishes her own stance from that of Deleuze and Guattari, both frameworks rely on a kind of empathy and respect toward the other. Haraway, however, is much more concerned with the world of the molar. This ambivalence between embodiment and disembodiment undergirds many expressions of vernacular posthumanism, and Planet Earth is exemplary in this regard. Planet Earth is a fundamentally unstable phenomenological work, and it encourages competing reactions in the viewer. Thus, any reading of the series must account for this instability, and much of the phenomenological liminality of the series is a result of the instability of the HD technology with which it was made. HD is both a haptic and optic technology, and the images it produces can either reinforce or radically question the anthropocentric Cartesian cogito. As with any emergent visual technology, it is difficult (if not impossible) to firmly establish HD’s cultural and phenomenological impact. The oscillating and dialectical properties of HD, therefore, locate it comfortably within the competing claims made within objects of visual culture that speak in a language of vernacular posthumanism. Vernacular posthumanism—as the totality of this book argues—is a messy dialect of visual culture, and it often speaks in paradoxes and contradictions, displaying a desire both to transcend the human body and

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to reassert the importance of the lived, material body. The deployment of HD in Planet Earth, in its insistence on having its phenomenology both ways, speaks in the familiar tones of vernacular posthumanism, tones shared by all of the objects explored in Spectacular Posthumanism.

Conclusion: A Drone Future

As I was nearing completion of Spectacular Posthumanism, the BBC released a sequel to Planet Earth, entitled Planet Earth II (2016). While I did not have adequate time to incorporate a full analysis of the series into the book, Planet Earth II seems a fitting case study through which to explore the future potentialities of vernacular posthumanism. Planet Earth II loops back to many of the theoretical concerns addressed in the introduction—human exceptionalism, the colonizing work of the camera, human-machine assemblages, machine vision—while at the same time looking forward to emerging issues related to user-based generation of spectacularly posthuman imagery. Through its deployment of drone photography and other advances in cinematography, Planet Earth II serves as an example of where images of Spectacular Posthumanism are heading while also connecting to my earlier analyses of machine (dis)embodiment, multilocal experience, hybrid bodies, and technologically enhanced spectacle. I begin my brief examination of Planet Earth II with an uncanny moment from the “Jungles” episode—uncanny in the sense that something feels slightly strange about the camerawork, something ethereal, something inhuman, or at least something outside the norms of technologically mediated human vision. In this opening scene, a camera seemingly floats through a dense thicket of trees, weaving through a tangle of branches and leaves before settling its vision on a close-up of a spider monkey. Extending the various perspectives on Spectacular Posthumanism presented throughout this book, this conclusion offers some preliminary thoughts on this uncanny feeling, the “something” that makes this cinematographic move so strongly distinctive. As such, much of what I’m proposing is tentative and exploratory, an attempt to extend my own senses in order to understand the nonhumanity of much of the camerawork in Planet Earth II. By once again invoking the term “nonhuman,” I do not mean to indicate that these images were produced outside of human agency or that the series

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isn’t strongly humanist in its philosophical orientation. Rather, I follow Joanna Zylinska in thinking through these images as a means to reorganize the sensorium, a way to produce an expanded experience of perceiving the world. As Zylinska writes: Embracing nonhuman vision as both a concept and a mode of being in the world will allow humans to see beyond the humanist limitations of their current philosophies and worldviews, to unsee themselves in their godlike positioning of both everywhere and nowhere, and to become reanchored and reattached again. Nonhuman vision is therefore not just about reflexivity; it is rather about introducing concern about our point of view, and an account of it, into our conceptual and visual framework, while removing from it the privileging and stability of the humanist standpoint. It is about inviting the view of another to one’s spectrum of visuality, to the point of radically disrupting this spectrum. (2017, 15)

While I don’t want to make overly utopian claims about Planet Earth II, I do think the series offers a corrective to much of the work on the “post-cinematic,” which claims that these kinds of images offer a break with prior visual regimes, that they are threatening to human perception. For example, in his book Drone Age Cinema, Steen Ledet Christiansen, following the work of Steven Shaviro, argues that contemporary action cinema is a response to a widespread “culture of fear” within which we are all living. Christiansen argues that action films compensate for this fear by granting us— through their post-cinematic style, disjunctive editing, digital visual effects, and nonhuman cinematography—a power over these images and an agency of vision. Part of this sense of visual mastery emerges from action cinema’s “drone logic,” a logic that views the world as a target to be apprehended by the viewer. According to Christiansen: The drone stands as the central object of power today, a conjunction between human and nonhuman agencies, which binds images, intensities, flows and culture together. Contemporary cinema’s emphasis on nonhuman embodiment, the production of images rather than the reproduction of reality, automated processes, the decoupling of bodily perception and cinema’s imbrication in operational images and machinic vision instantiate a new mode of cinema. (2017, 17)

Christiansen calls this new mode of cinema “drone age cinema,” and this cinema is marked by a convergence between human and nonhuman forces. In a parallel vein, Shane Denson argues that much of post-cinematic media— generally digital VFX and action blockbusters—is marked by its deployment of

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“crazy cameras.” The images produced by these crazy cameras are “discorrelated” from embodied human subjectivities, generating a radically nonhuman ontology of the image, one which alters the ways in which we humans perceive and sense the world. For Denson, these images accumulate to form a “hypoinformatic cinema,” a cinema that “overload[s] our capacities, giving us too much visual information, presented too fast for us to take in and process cognitively— information that is itself generated and embodied in informatics technologies operating at speeds well beyond our subjective grasp” (2016, 210). While I largely agree with much of what both Christiansen and Denson argue, I also see in Planet Earth II a variation and counterpoint to their analyses of VFX and action cinema, an indication that nonhuman vision is unstable and is affected, in part, by genre. Planet Earth II deploys many of the same postcinematic camera technologies—including infrared camera traps, stabilizer rigs, low-light/high-speed/micro-cameras, 4K cameras, Go Pros, and drones— but it does so toward different ends. Planet Earth II, rather than utilizing this technology as a disruption to the visual regime of the nature documentary, instead incorporates the technology as part of an ongoing evolution in the representation of the natural world. The series is a humbler, more utopian example of “crazy camerawork.” Its use of drones and other nonhuman camera technology is NOT about war and destruction. It is NOT chaotic. It is NOT designed to overload perceptual and cognitive capacities. Though, as Denson and Christiansen argue regarding VFX and action cinema, the series does produce an emergent sensorium that alters human perception. Planet Earth II, however, domesticates its nonhuman camera technology to a humanist perspective. It is an ecological form of humanism, using nonhumans to facilitate the production of human affect. While there is much to critique about this anthropomorphic approach, one of the major goals of the series is to forge a connection to animals through the empathy and intimacy facilitated by its camera technology. Planet Earth II attempts to rehumanize the nonhuman vision of its technology, placing us within the natural world and perceiving the world from an animal’s point of view. In doing so, Planet Earth II refuses the destructive perception often associated with drones. Much of the critical literature regarding drones understands drone vision in terms of war, surveillance, and power. This literature draws connections between the drones’ development as a technology of war, targeted killing, and larger visual cultures of observation and domination.1 Planet Earth II, however, is doing something different, and it repurposes military technology for more

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seemingly benevolent ends. These are “optimistic drones,” not bringing fear or war but attempting to forge connections between humans, nonhuman animals, and the environments of our shared world. (Planet Earth II also features an episode dedicated to cities, which is an Anthropocene acknowledgment that humans both shape and are a part of an interlocking global assemblage.) The series is utopian and humble in its outlook, rather than seeking mastery over its subjects.2 Planet Earth II’s embedded, bottom-up view of the natural world is also a stark contrast to the visual regime of 2006’s Planet Earth. Mike Gunton, an executive producer for Planet Earth II, has stated that one of the primary goals of the series was to “tell the story from the animal’s point of view rather than the observer’s perspective” (Holloway 2017). Whereas Planet Earth I featured many top-down, God’s eye shots, Planet Earth II’s aesthetic strategy focuses more on intimacy, inviting viewers to adopt the position of the animals. In opposition to the style of Planet Earth I, which highlights human dominance over camera technology— and, by extension, the world—through its aerial shots of animal swarms, the style of Planet Earth II, through its embedded camerawork, highlights the nonhuman agency of its image technology. In this regard, Planet Earth I is much more in line with the predatory, world-as-target view described by Christiansen and other drone theorists. Just as emerging camera technologies are vital to realizing the vision of Planet Earth II, so too were then-emerging technologies—specifically high-definition camera technology and advanced helicopter gimbals—crucial to the visual regime of Planet Earth I (as discussed in Chapter 6). In a wired.com interview, Gunton describes this shift in formal visual structure: The original 11-part series made heavy use of a shot you could call the god’s-eye view—a sweeping overheard aerial filmed from a helicopter. “There’s something about using helicopters that gave a majesty to it,” Gunton says. With the new series, everything is tighter, smaller, more intense. You see things from the animals’ perspective. “It demands proximity,” Gunton says, “it demands you have the camera in the world of the animal.” He hates the word immersion, which has been rendered all but meaningless by overuse, but says that is exactly the quality he wanted here. “In the old days,” Gunton says, “you became the camera, because the camera’s in your position. Now the camera becomes you. You’re in that world, you’re sensing and seeing.” (Pierce 2017)

Gunton goes on to note that, after the debut of Planet Earth I, this Google Earth–style perspective of looking down at the planet became very common

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within our visual rhetoric. And this connects to a larger point I’m making about the relationship between technology, image culture, perception, sensation, and experience—and where this relationship is headed in the future. The idea that technology and images can modulate the sensorium goes back at least as far as Walter Benjamin and has been forcefully articulated more recently by writers including Miriam Hansen, Jennifer Barker, Scott Richmond, and William Brown. Christiansen’s work also falls under this theoretical umbrella, arguing that nascent drone and other post-cinematic image technologies produce emergent forms of embodiment: Our embodiment is stretched, amplified and distorted in the process; impossible spaces unfold and our perception becomes increasingly plastic as a result. Our embodiment with new image technologies is a historical one, and the shock perceptions elicited when cinema was young has long since been naturalized into perception, eliciting recognition rather than shock. However, the perceptual technologies listed above have not yet been assimilated into our embodiment. Therefore, they register a different kind of image regime than the cinematic one. Hence, post-cinema. (2017, 15)

This claim also applies to the relationship between Planet Earth I and Planet Earth II. At the time of its release, critics and cultural commentators breathlessly celebrated the triumph of Planet Earth I, noting its innovative use of HD digital cameras, helicopter gimbals, and slow-motion photography. At the time, this was all heady stuff. Planet Earth I seems quaint now, since we have largely absorbed this image technology into our perception. Having seen countless examples of top-down surveillance and HD photography, the innovations of Planet Earth I no longer register as shocks. The images of Planet Earth II, conversely, are still being absorbed into our visual regime, and our sensorium is still adapting to these new formal structures. Hence the uncanny feelings I discussed at the beginning of this conclusion. In this sense, the innovations of Planet Earth II aren’t so much a break with the past—a radical, nonhumanist restructuring of vision—but rather an intensification of historical processes of vision and visual culture. The relationship between visual culture and the human sensorium is one of reciprocity, with artists creating new modes of vision in response to technological and cultural shifts, and in turn, audiences adjusting to the new visual regime and demanding further innovation. Just as the shocks of modernity described by Benjamin no longer register as shocks to the contemporary subject, so too have the top-down, artificially smooth helicopter shots of Planet Earth I been fully incorporated into

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our sense perception and experience of the world. These modulations of sensation occur as a historical dialog, evolving over time rather than abruptly rupturing with what came before. In other words, vision has never been nonhuman and vision has always been nonhuman. As Zylinska points out, a technology like photography has, from the beginning, presented us with nonhuman vision (2017, 21–22). Photography, through its mechanical, “objective” capturing of light and stopping of time, has always created a world as unseen by human eyes. For Zylinska, “all vision is to some extent nonhuman … even we humans see in ways that are more than just uniquely human. Devices such as satellites or drones only foreground this inherent nonhumanity of all vision” (2017, 17). This view recognizes the fundamental imbrication of humans within larger networks and structures, theorizing the human as a member of a complex assemblage of perception that includes nonhuman animals and machines. Planet Earth II is therefore a recent iteration of a rich lineage of understanding film and television as modulating sensation and reworking human perception. From Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Kubrick’s use of NASA lenses in Barry Lyndon, to the innovative camera technology of Planet Earth II, the assemblage of human and camera has produced images that transform our experience of the world. However, at the present, the images of Planet Earth II are still integrating themselves into our sensorium, and much of their uncanniness and unfamiliarity has to do with their nonhuman production. I offer a few brief final examples of this uncanniness not as a conclusion but as a provocation for thinking further about the ways in which nonhuman technologies of vision produce new modes of sensation and experience. In a spectacular moment from the “Mountains” episode, Planet Earth II’s filmmakers strapped a camera onto the head of a golden eagle in order to provide human access to nonhuman modes of experiencing the world. While this can only ever be an approximation of eagle vision, shots like these facilitate the sensation of aerial hunting for those of us who remain earthbound. Moreover, these images are produced by the eagle itself, edging closer to the kind of nonhuman photography described earlier in this conclusion. Another sequence from “Mountains” contains footage of the elusive, difficultto-photograph snow leopard. Because snow leopards are notoriously shy, the filmmakers acquired their footage through remote camera traps. In a sense, the cameras and the leopards themselves captured these images: the movement of the leopards triggered the cameras, and the cameras began recording. The style of these shots is also notably different from most of the human-produced

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images within the series. Instead of containing graceful camera movement and kinetic editing, these shots are static long takes, revealing the different aesthetic demands of nonhuman, hidden camera traps. As a final example, the “Cities” episode features footage of a leopard prowling the streets of Mumbai. Because the leopards hunt primarily at night, their activity isn’t perceptible with traditional camera equipment. As such, the Planet Earth II filmmakers employed night vision cameras. While not a radically new technology, the use of night vision fits with the general aesthetic strategy of Planet Earth II, which utilizes visual technologies to modulate perception and sensation in order to facilitate nonhuman modes of vision. In each of these examples, we see images either produced without the direct input of humans or produced in a way that presents the world as no human could ever see it. Part of the unfamiliarity of these images has to do with the fact that they appear outside the boundaries of human perception. They present us with images that our bodies cannot comprehend. In the case of the “eagle cam,” human paragliders attempted to reproduce this vision, but it’s not quite the same. As one of my students, who is a drone operator himself, told me, part of the reason why drone images feel so different is that they are unnaturally smooth. Unlike a crane shot, they have no physical link to the ground. They are literally untethered and can move wherever they wish. To the extent that technologies like drones might someday replace helicopter and other moving camera shots, the images they produce will surely become passé, an artifact of our particular historical moment. For now, though, the camerawork of a media object like Planet Earth II highlights the nonhuman agency of its image technology, and when placed in comparison to Planet Earth I, their instructive differences reveal the evolving relationship between technology and perception over the last ten years. Fundamental to this ever-evolving imbrication of technology and sensation is the incorporation of drone logics into our everyday lives, a continuation of the vernacular posthumanism at the heart of this book. While the case studies and objects I’ve discussed in Spectacular Posthumanism have come largely from legacy media industries and institutions, technologies like drones allow for consumer- and user-generated examples of Spectacular Posthumanism, and this is a logical continuation of the vernacularization of posthuman theory I’ve discussed throughout this book. As Michael Richardson observes: Once the drone is abstracted away from the unmanned aerial vehicle and understood as the figure of autonomous, sensing technology, its logics become

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even more ubiquitous and its complex imbrications with our bodies inescapable … As fields of life from security to finance to domesticity are enfolded into networked and mediating infrastructures defined by remote sensors and autonomous systems, the figure of the drone is increasingly entangled in the everyday, impinging upon bodies and producing new modes, forms and flows of relation between the corporeal and the technical. (2018, 80)

What was once a spectacle of posthumanism is incorporated as vernacular into the sensorium. Moreover, extending my discussion in Chapter 2 of performance capture and remote robotic surgery, this kind of drone logic also results in new forms of embodiment. Just as a technology like performance capture creates a new human-machine assemblage, so too do emerging autonomous technologies such as drones (self-correcting navigation and flight), self-driving cars, algorithmic stock market trading, “smart” homes and appliances, and other cloud-based technologies. Each of these examples enacts physically the kind of posthuman sensation visualized in the media artifacts examined throughout this book. Concomitant with these emerging technologies is the user production of things like drone footage. As drone technology has decreased in price and become more accessible, we’ve seen an explosion of amateur drone videos on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. Discussing this phenomenon—including the ever-popular “dronefail” videos, which feature drone crashes and user errors— Anna Munster articulates the modified forms of sensation and embodiment that emerge from the interaction of human and drone: “What is conveyed affectively through the dronecam clip is not first person point of view or narrative action but instead a sense of being in the midst of transmission, buoyed by a network of multiple signal flows, subject to fluctuations, transitions, instabilities” (2014, 154). She continues: “This multiplying, arbitrary and nonhuman flow of signal(s) is exactly what is realised by the dronecam, which deterritorialises itself from the human completely, finding its own jet stream of transmission far above and beyond its remote human controller” (Munster 2014, 158). This process of deterritorialization is precisely what this book has diagnosed in its examination of images of vernacular posthumanism, and the continued vernacularization of the spectacular is sure to continue into the future, as evidenced by the emergence of media objects and technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, Deepfakes and facial replacement, virtual networks and cloud computing, and increasingly sophisticated surveillance technologies.

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Predictions often eventually make the predictor appear a fool, so in order to avoid seeming even more foolish, I’ll avoid any grand prognostications. What I am fairly certain of, however, and what the examples throughout Spectacular Posthumanism have indicated, is that technologies, images, humans, and nonhumans will continue to coevolve with each other, symbiotically reworking perception and sensation in a complex network of interaction. What was once spectacular will become vernacular and mundane, only to be replaced by the newest spectacle of perception and embodiment.

Notes Introduction   1 Most scholars of VFX delineate the difference between “special effects” and “visual effects.” Special effects, sometimes referred to as “practical effects,” are produced on set in front of a camera and include things like car crashes, pyrotechnics, makeup, and matte painting set extensions. Visual effects are elements added to the image in post-production, either through analog means such as an optical printer or through digital means. I adopt this terminology throughout this book. See, for example: Prince (2012, 3); North, Rehak, and Duffy (2015, 2).   2 Profilmic objects are those that are physically present in front of the camera during image acquisition.   3 Contrast this with what Michele Pierson identifies as the “wonder years” of digital visual effects (1989–1995). The science fiction films of this period display a “selfconscious showcasing of a new type of effects imagery. Everything about them is designed to magnify its aesthetic impact. No fabulous or picturesque tableaux, no monumental vistas or lush sets, compete with the effects image” (Pierson 2002, 125).   4 This fantasy of disembodiment in strands of popular posthuman/transhuman theory has, of course, been richly theorized by Katherine Hayles (1999), whose work is foundational to this book.   5 Brown also notes that this conceptualization of the analog existing within the digital—and the digital image intensifying latent aspects of the analog image— follows Gilles Deleuze’s argument that the time-image was always present in the movement-image (Deleuze 1986, 1989).   6 My concept of vernacular posthumanism also complicates Tucker’s reading of the relationship between film and viewer. Tucker draws explicit connections between box office success and the extent to which a film fulfills the expectations of the machinic audience, arguing that Avatar (Cameron 2009) was so massively financially successful because it reflected the networked experience of life back to its audience. In contrast, Tucker (2014, 82) claims that Surrogates (Mostow 2009) “failed to resonate in the zeitgeist in the same way Avatar did because it belittles and ultimately discards the user-avatar species that Avatar and the machinic audience celebrate.” This interpretation overly simplifies the many factors related to box office success—month of release, “quality” of film, name recognition of associated talent,

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etc.—and it assumes that viewers were drawn to Avatar because of its depiction of networked logic, as opposed to, say, its environmental message, innovation of 3D technology, or because seemingly everyone else on the planet saw the film, which created enormous buzz. My vernacular model of analysis avoids this pitfall, and my approach allows for critique of both utopian (Avatar) and dystopian (Surrogates) examples of posthumanism, as both circulate widely in popular culture. In other words, by acknowledging the complexity of the posthuman experience—and how images themselves negotiate this complexity—and by conceptualizing the contact between image and viewer as an interactive, reciprocal relationship, my vernacular approach allows for a more nuanced view of the ways in which images work to initiate viewers into a virtual experience of posthumanism. Wolfe’s reclamation of “posthuman” for more critical ends is evidence of the confusion of terminology I’ve been discussing. Even within the scholarly literature, the terminology is often contradictory and unevenly defined. For the sake of space, I cannot discuss the entirety of critical posthumanist literature, but I’ll mention a few authors who take broader views of posthumanism. In the field of anthropology, Zeynep Tufekci (2012) argues that we have always been posthuman (and the edited collection of which her essay is a part is exemplary of posthuman approaches to anthropology). Patricia MacCormack (2012) and Rosi Braidotti (2013) approach critical posthumanism from the perspective of ethics and activism. William Brown (2009b) discusses posthumanism from the perspective of cinema studies. As developed by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979), Latour (1987, 2005), and Donna Haraway (1991, 1992), a material-semiotic method is one that acknowledges both the material reality, as well as semiotic (cultural) construction, of actants. As with Latour’s theory of hybrids, a material-semiotic method assumes that all actants are hybrids of nature and culture. Latour’s use of the word actant is an attempt to move away from language that differentiates between things that act and things that are acted upon. For Latour, all entities within a given network have an influence on how that network operates, and the concept of an actant moves away from traditional subject/object, culture/nature, human/nonhuman dichotomies. The credits to the film acknowledge the participation and cooperation of the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus and its various performers. The Interrotron™, developed by Errol Morris, is essentially a modified teleprompter that, instead of displaying text, displays the interviewer’s face. This allows the interviewee to look directly into the camera while still focusing on the interviewer. The end credits acknowledge Roto-Rooter’s Sewercam™ for the mole-rat POV photography.

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12 This promiscuity of style echoes Lev Manovich’s (2006, 25) claims regarding digital production and aesthetics: “Computerization of all areas of moving image production created a common pool of techniques, which can be used regardless of whether one is creating motion graphics for television, a narrative feature, an animated feature, or a music video.” 13 In deploying the term “rhizomatic,” I am, of course, building on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987). 14 Morris’s intrusion into the film functions as a kind of reassertion of the human. Up to this point, Morris’s perspective had been largely obscured in order to diffuse narrative and perspectival control across a variety of actants, both human and nonhuman. The reassertion of Morris’s voice is indicative of much of vernacular posthumanism, which fantasizes about a posthuman utopia while simultaneously displaying a hesitancy to completely let go of the human. 15 My analysis of crowd simulation software in Chapter 4 expands on this idea “fuzzy logic.” 16 http://www.newportmansions.org/explore/green-animals-topiary-garden

Chapter 1   1 See the introduction for a discussion of how nonhumans might behave as “fast, cheap, and out of control” organisms.   2 Throughout the film, the Mantle twins compare themselves to Eng and Chang Bunker, the “original Siamese twins” (they were born in Siam, now Thailand, hence the name Siamese twins). In making the analogy between the Mantle and Bunker twins, the film uses physical connection as a bridge to exploring the potential for two individuals to share an experience. While a physical link between two people certainly does not lead to those people sharing a subjectivity and consciousness, the visual element of connection makes the link seem more plausible, or at the very least, easier to imagine. The Mantle twins are not physically conjoined, though they attempt to get their bodies “in sync” in order to facilitate the sharing of their experiences and consciousness. Dead Ringers, at its heart, is a reiteration of the classical philosophical problem of the relationship between “mind” and “body,” though it rearticulates the problem as one of multiple minds and bodies as opposed to the mind and body of an individual.   3 The film does include one Cronenbergian display of gory special effects. During a dream sequence, Beverly dreams that Claire is severing a thick umbilical cord that connects Beverly to Elliot. In this scene, Claire bites through the cord, ripping through the flesh and tearing out a bloody mass.

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  4 I discuss the relationship between posthumanism and a digital cultural logic in more detail in the introduction to this book.   5 Here I am invoking Marx’s (1990) discussion of the commodity and its basis in the abstraction of human labor into the general equivalent of money.   6 For an extended analysis of the connections between the Baroque and digital culture, see Munster (2006); Murray (2008).   7 In this, Haraway echoes some of what Deleuze and Guattari discuss in terms of “becoming.” Haraway, however, has very serious reservations about Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of virtuality and becoming.   8 As with my discussion of 300 in Chapter 4, Dead Ringers utilizes a “surface-level” aesthetic form of equivalence to indicate a “deeper” form of equivalence.   9 For an extended discussion of the relationship between surface and depth in posthuman theory, see my discussion of DNA portraits (Ayers 2011). 10 For in-depth discussions of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, see Beard (2006); Mathijs (2008).

Chapter 2   1 The technological apparatus of robotic surgery also relies on a reliable network infrastructure, placing it within the purview of studies of internet policy and practice. While outside the scope of this chapter, the role of policy and infrastructure is essential to understanding the place of robotic surgery in larger practices of media and communication.   2 Performance capture is such a widely used imaging technology at this point that it would be difficult to list all of its uses. Suffice to say that performance capture has found ubiquitous use within the media industries broadly, particularly within the video game industry.   3 It is, however, important to note that the actor manipulates a virtual image, whereas the surgeon manipulates actual living matter.   4 When referring to the actual, physical, meaty, lived body, terminology becomes tricky. “Physical” is not an ideal word to use, as the digital also possesses a kind of physicality and materiality, but it is the clearest term for non-specialists to understand. Within film studies, “profilmic” refers to bodies and objects that exist in front of the camera during filming. Since I’m discussing both filmed/ captured bodies (actors) and bodies that exist in the physical space of the real world (surgeons), I will be using the term “profilmic/physical” throughout this chapter to refer to those bodies that exist within the lived space of the actual world.   5 Brian Massumi (2002, 137–139), following Deleuze, argues that the act of sensation is fundamentally analog, and thus the digital must always first pass through the

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Notes analog at the moment of production and back through the analog at the point of consumption. An example he uses is the transformation of one medium—the zeroes and ones of word processing—into another—words and the thought required to make sense of those words. In much of the industrial and promotional rhetoric surrounding performance capture, the labor of animation and VFX artists is elided in favor of promoting a view of the performance as primarily the work of the actor. For an in-depth examination of this phenomenon, see Mihailova (2016). The interactivity and playability of this digital body is also important to understand, but the scope of this chapter is unable to explore this issue fully. A delineation of the ontological differences between games, movies, and surgery is also important, and perhaps games have more in common with remote surgery than they do with other visual media. However, it is also important to note that, while captured performances are, in theory, infinitely malleable, an influential strain of thinking in the production practices of digital visual effects is concerned with constructing a photorealistic, believable digital human, which produces design limitations from the perspective of both industrial and reception practices. For a more thorough discussion of the role of immersive and perceptual realism and style in digital special effects, see North (2008), Prince (1996, 2012). This position is echoed by communication philosopher Joohan Kim (2001), who discusses the ontology of “digital-being.” Working from Heidegger’s development of the concept of Dasein, Kim argues that a digital-being is both a thing and not a thing. Digital-beings share certain traits with traditional things—digital-beings can be manipulated like things and they can be used as tools—but they also diverge in significant ways—they exceed the spatiotemporal constraints of traditional things, they can be copied, and they can exist in multiple locations simultaneously. Like Galati, Kim acknowledges that digital-beings have a physical and material presence, but this presence is ontologically different from traditional profilmic/physical presence. See, for example: Cubitt (2004), Galloway (2006), Manovich (2001, 2006); Murray (2008), Rodowick (2007). The very different ethical commitments of performance capture and robotic surgery—the former involves a performance created for the purposes of entertainment while the latter has very real consequences for the patient and is bound up with the ethics of medical practice—provide an important context for the real-world practice of each technology. This ethical context is important to keep in mind, as it provides a corrective to discourses of disembodiment. Many contemporary iterations of virtual reality headsets share much with the apparatus of robotic surgery, including a head-mounted rig that provides

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stereoscopic 3D imagery and motion control to players, haptic feedback, and immersive sound. Examples include Facebook’s Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive. 13 In its current usage, most operations take place with the surgeon and robotic apparatus in close proximity. However, given the appropriate infrastructure and equipment, the distance between the patient and the surgeon could be increased so that the two could be thousands of miles apart, radically reconstituting the scale and distance at which the bodies of the surgeon, patient, and robot interact with each other. In fact, the unit was initially conceived for use on the battlefield, but my research has not uncovered a situation where the system has been deployed for this use. However, Low has stated that the system has been adapted for the purposes of remote detonation and disarming of explosive devices. 14 The two technologies also exhibit a notable difference in their practice of reception. In performance capture, the actor is not intended to be the main consumer of the image. The image is consumed by multiple people along the chain of production, from the director to the visual effects artists to the animators to the audience. In robotic surgery, however, the surgeon is both the producer of the image (along with the technologies of vision of the robotic apparatus) and its primary consumer.

Chapter 3   1 The organizational schema employed in this analysis of action bodies is admittedly broad in that it reduces dozens of films from three decades into overly neat categories. The reality is, undoubtedly, more complicated, and on a more micro level, a categorization could take any number of different forms. On a macro level, however, the framework utilized here highlights a particular perspective on the evolution of the action body, one that emphasizes the relationship between the production of the image, broader cultural logics, and the representation and phenomenology of the body. What is lost in this broad view, however, are the nuances of this relationship as exhibited in individual films. The concise lines of demarcation between eras are perhaps overstated, for example, when discussing the shift from industrial and postmodern action bodies. The films from the 1980s until the present do not follow a precise chronology in their engagement with issues of industrial and postindustrial cultural logics. As evidenced by Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron 1991), these films do not present a clean, precise attitude toward cultural and economic issues. Like all pieces of art, they are messy and complicated. T2, for example, exhibits a fear of mutability while incorporating a more sensitive masculinity into its narrative. At the conclusion of the film, industry

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Notes triumphs over information, while in the world of 1992, American manufacturing was inexorably being replaced by an information economy. What is clear, however, is that these films display a working out of these cultural and economic shifts, however messy this process might be. And the body of the male hero is a site where we can see these issues play out. To complicate this schema, Jean Baudrillard (2005, 277), for example, considers the hardbodies of 1980s American action cinema to be exemplary of a postmodern cultural logic. For Baudrillard, the body has become a consumer object that functions both as a representation of capital and as a consumer fetish. Baudrillard also views the body produced by bodybuilding as a form of simulation or cloning, a performance of a particular kind of identity. The built body is an Ego-Ideal that individuals can put on and take off: “This is how it is with body-building: you get into your body as you would into a suit of nerve and muscle” (Baudrillard 1996, 124). I have tried to account for this viewpoint by referring to the industrial hardbody as an imaginary reclamation of a lost American culture and economy. Each film in the franchise features a unique T-800 cyborg, but they all share Schwarzenegger’s appearance. The scene in which John and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) remove the T-800’s CPU to activate his learning and emotional capabilities was not included in the original theatrical cut of the film. This scene was added to the “special edition” home video release. In the theatrical cut, the T-800 simply states that he possesses the ability to learn: “My CPU is a neural-net processor; a learning computer. The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn.” Though we can find a return to the materiality of the body and action scenes in examples like The Raid: Redemption (Evans 2011), John Wick (Stahelski and Leitch 2014) and the Netflix series Daredevil (2015–), all of which emphasize action choreography that avoids VFX supplementation, it is important to note that the action bodies in these films are the lean bodies of martial artists, not the bulky hardbodies of 1980s American action cinema. The facial de-aging in X-Men, Benjamin Button, and Ant-Man was completed by the team at Lola VFX (Jones 2015). The de-aging VFX used in TRON: Legacy are a bit different from those used in the other films cited here. Instead of using Bridge’s profilmic face as the basis for digital manipulation, Digital Domain employed a process closer to performance capture. On set, Bridges acted the part of his younger digital self, Clu, and his facial performance was captured with a head-mounted camera rig. Using reference images from Bridge’s long film career, VFX artists then created a digital version of Bridge’s face circa 1987. Thus, while Bridge’s performance capture forms the basis of the animation, Clu’s face is completely digital. This digital face was then grafted onto the body of a profilmic performer.

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  8 Shortly before this book went to press, Rogue One (Edwards 2016) was released to theaters. This film features both a de-aged actor (Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia) and a digitally resurrected actor (Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin). Given more time to consider this film, I would undoubtedly feature an analysis in this chapter.   9 Diagnosing a link between digital media/networking and the recent popularity of zombie films and TV shows, Allan Cameron (2012, 70) argues that the “fast zombies” of post-2000 zombie films are influenced by the growth of digital media. He notes a parallel between the spread of zombie plagues and the spread of computer viruses.

Chapter 4   1 Dan North argues that contemporary deployments of special effects draw on a rich history of illusionism. Within the context of this cultural history, part of the enjoyment of special effects derives from “spotting the joins” where live-action meets special effect. In other words, knowledgeable spectators take pleasure in deciphering the complexity of special effects. North (2008, 2) refers to the interactions between live-action and CGI as “spectacles of comparison, when composited elements drawn from discrete and diverse sources share the frame.” As I will soon discuss, much of the extratextual “are they real or aren’t they” rhetoric surrounding the muscular bodies of 300 demonstrates a working through of North’s process of “spotting the joins.” This commentary is similar to that surrounding Lena Headey’s body, which I discuss in Chapter 3.   2 This idea of the informationalization of contemporary culture is also echoed by Manuel Castells (2000), who argues that the economic (and concomitant technological) shift toward information as a commodity and mode of transaction has resulted in a profound shift in culture toward a “network society.” See also Shaviro (2003), Cheney-Lippold (2017).   3 Throughout his work, Gilles Deleuze (1986, 1989, 2003) discusses the functioning of the virtual and actual in film.   4 I interpret Snyder’s statement as indicating that he wanted to translate the poetics of the graphic novel to film, rather than try to impose the poetics of film onto the story of the graphic novel. A similar approach was taken in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005). According to Snyder, “300—like Sin City—was storybased, presenting the point of view of a graphic novelist. I felt it was my job as a director to present that on screen” (Fordham 2007, 66).   5 As I will later discuss in this chapter in much more detail, Massive software (short for “Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment”) is used to generate virtual crowds. Massive was originally developed to generate the crowds used in the battle scenes of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy.

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  6 The reference to cult leader Jim Jones is intentional. According to Gym Jones co-owner Lisa Twight, they “knew some people would call [them] a cult so [they] decided to own the joke” (Barnes 2011).   7 According to Twight, around half of the cast and crew successfully completed the 300 Workout.   8 See the introduction for more on Mitchell, picture theory, and metapictures.   9 The muscles on the bodies of the actors index and “prove” their pain and suffering, and this labor registers in the image. In Roland Barthes’s (1981, 6) terminology, “the referent adheres.” 10 As theorists of phenomenology point out, the mind/body duality is untenable if one conceives of consciousness as an embodied process that arises from an interaction with the world. My use of abstract labor as a means to integrate the digital and analog components of the image is an attempt to move beyond such dualities. 11 For a discussion of the perceived “effortlessness” of (digital) animation, see Sobchack (2009). 12 In short, the time-image is the logic that governs Post–World War II art cinema, and as opposed to the movement-image, which follows a logic of action and reaction (as in Classical Hollywood cinema), the time-image follows a logic of duration and focuses on the space between perception and action. The time-image confuses past, present, and future, and through its presentation of duration, it opens up a space of perception whose concern is perception itself. 13 For a history of the interaction between crowds and film technology in Hollywood, see Faden (2001). For a discussion of the relationship between widescreen technologies and crowd scenes, see Belton (1992, 183–210). 14 Though it’s also important to note that much of the production of VFX is founded on the exploitation of a contingent pool of laborers. 15 For an extended discussion of the technological underpinnings of Massive, see Merrill (2004), Thompson (2006). 16 Here there are obvious parallels with my discussion of Fast, Cheap & Out of Control in the introduction, specifically the Rodney Brooks robot material. 17 It is true that, at the end of most of these kinds of films, the humans generally triumph or manage to come together temporarily to defeat the foe, though it’s worth noting that the humans “lose” at the end of Apes. However, these moments of threat reveal an anxiety about nonhuman collective action, as well as an anxiety regarding the inability to comprehend fully the energies and intensities of digital flows of information. 18 An early example is from King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack 1933), which presents Kong as a spectacle not only for the viewers of the film but also for the characters within the film, who attend a presentation of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

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Chapter 5   1 James Naremore (2007) memorably refers to Kubrick as “The Last Modernist.”   2 Eyes Wide Shut (1999) contained some CGI shots, but these were added after Kubrick’s death. The digital tinkering with the film was done in order to achieve the “R” rating that Kubrick had promised Warner Brothers. CGI figures were added to the orgy scene within the film to obscure certain sex acts within the scene.   3 This technique of using a handheld camera is repeated in the other fight scenes in the film, most notably during the impromptu boxing match between Barry and another soldier.   4 This “cold” machine aesthetic can also be seen, most notably, in the Steadicam movements of The Shining as well as in the hyper-controlled camera movements of Eyes Wide Shut.   5 Stanley Cavell (1979) echoes these thoughts with his concept of artistic “automatisms.” There is a long scholarly history of investigating the relationship between sight, knowledge, and imaging technologies, far too long to recount here. Jonathan Crary (1992), along with Daston and Galison (2007), provides a comprehensive overview of this relationship.   6 See the introduction for a discussion of photographic image vernaculars.   7 In this (in)famous passage, René Descartes (1998) details his process of methodological skepticism, whereby he doubts the existence of everything by his thinking mind. Using a piece of wax as an example, Descartes concludes that his perception of the wax produces the object, and the only thing that he can “prove” about the wax is that an impression of it exists in his mind.   8 This loss of control over the machine is made thematic in Kubrick’s 2001.   9 David Gunkel (2007) discusses the ethical implications and responsibilities of our encounters with machine otherness, and he argues that we must think outside of our traditional anthropocentric frameworks—to think otherwise—in order to apprehend the nonhuman in all of its unique alterity. 10 Much of the recent scholarly work on “drone vision” also tackles this problematic of machine perspective and the ways in which it alters human perception. See the conclusion for a fuller accounting of the relationship between drones and vision. 11 Two actors portrayed Lord Bullingdon. Savage played the younger version, Vitali the older. 12 The few times Barry does display emotion are during scenes of death, most notably with the death of Captain Grogan and the death of his son, Bryan. 13 Juhani Pallasmaa (2007) argues that The Shining is organized around space and architecture, both physical and mental. The film presents space as fundamentally unmappable, which reflects both the complexity of the narrative and the devolving

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Notes mental state of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), the primary character of the film. Kubrick’s filming of the Overlook Hotel presents a space that is physically impossible and can only exist within the context of the film world. This could be said about any traditional narrative film in that the camera acts as a silent observer. However, the form of the image, which is hyper-smooth and has the appearance of floating, contradicts the traditionally invisible camera of mainstream filmmaking and positions the camera as a character and interloper within the film. In other words, the excess of style calls attention to itself. Ellis Hanson (1993) “queers” this kind of machine vision and perspective, and he explores the connections between homosexual panic and the kinds of paranoia surrounding machine subjectivity. To be sure, the film also contains the bravura camerawork of all of Kubrick’s films. 2001, however, and perhaps due to its complicated, rotating set design and use of special effects (which require stillness for optical printing), is less kinetic and mobile than other Kubrick films, and the compositions and cinematography tend to prize stillness over motion. In Classical narrative film production, the 180-degree rule is an informal practice whereby, in order to maintain a cohesiveness of diegetic time and space, the camera remains in front of the axis of action and never crosses the 180-degree line separating front and back. Crossing this line would cause the images on screen to appear as the reverse of the previous shot. My interpretation of the violation of the 180-degree rule in Eyes Wide Shut is, admittedly, highly idiosyncratic. However, one of the beautiful things about Kubrick’s films is that they are open to—and inspire—a wide variety of interpretations. Thomas Allen Nelson (2000), for example, argues that the film is structured like a musical sonata. Kubrick uses a similar conflict between “reality” and “fantasy” in Barry Lyndon. As Nelson (2000) observes, the film features voice-over narration throughout, and this narration frequently features content that we, as viewers, already know or that directly contradicts what we are seeing on screen. I won’t be discussing Bill’s scenario here, but he ends up tending to a model, who has overdosed on drugs while having sex with Zeigler—this after having been hit on by two other models who were also at the party. Two notable projects that Kubrick abandoned are Napoleon and The Aryan Papers (Nelson 2000, 136, 261–262). The connections to Pinocchio are obvious, and the film alludes to these connections throughout.

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Chapter 6   1 For more on synesthesia, see Connor (2004), Harrison (2001).   2 By invoking Bazin here, I do not mean to indicate that he adhered to a naive sort of photographic and filmic realism. Rather, my aim is to utilize his critique of the “myth of total cinema” and bring it to bear on my own commentary regarding HD. As recent scholarship on Bazin has demonstrated, his theories of realism are far more nuanced than that established within the vernacular of Classical film theory (Andrew and Joubert-Laurencin 2011).   3 This data raises the inevitable “chicken and egg” question: do viewers feel more immersion with HDTV, or have they been primed to think that they feel more immersion with HDTV because so much of the popular rhetoric conceives of the phenomenological experience of HDTV in these terms? An additional problem with this kind of research is that, perhaps, the term “immersion” is the only way respondents are able to verbalize the intersensorial experience of viewing HDTV. That is, “immersion” becomes shorthand for a whole host of sensual experiences.   4 Again, an issue with this type of research is the framing of the questions to the respondents. If someone is asked if an HD image, compared to an SD image, is more “realistic,” that person will probably respond in the affirmative. HDTV picture quality is much clearer than that of SDTV. However, that does not mean it is more “real”; “realistic” merely comes to signify many other experiences.   5 For the purposes of this chapter, I am focusing on HDTV, as opposed to cinematic HD projection systems. As such, my discussion concerns the televisual, not the cinematic, body of HD. While this is a subtle difference, the apparatus of recording and projection is a fundamental aspect of any mediated body, and I might very well find different results if I examined cinematic HD projection systems. However, as I am concentrating mainly on the image of HD, my argument would remain largely the same whatever mode of exhibition under examination.   6 These shots were achieved with the aforementioned Cineflex heligimbal.   7 It is important to note that becomings take place in the virtual, which is an area of pure potentiality and molecularity. Deleuze and Guattari oppose the virtual to the actual, which is the area of molarity and lived reality.   8 Note that Deleuze and Guattari do not use the term “actant.” I am borrowing this term from Bruno Latour. For more on synchronization, see my discussion of Dead Ringers in Chapter 1.

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Conclusion   1 See, for example: Benjamin (2013), Chamayou (2013), Chow (2006), Christiansen (2017), Dorrian and Pousin (2013), Gusterson (2016), Howley (2018), Parks and Kaplan (2017), Shaw (2016), Virilio (1989), Završnik (2016), Zimmer (2015).   2 I realize optimism isn’t fashionable, but I do think the series is striving for something different, even if it falls into traps of anthropomorphism along the way. And there’s certainly an ideological critique to be made regarding its use of military technology. That said, I also think it’s important to give credit and to acknowledge when something reaches for a higher purpose.

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Index 28 Days Later (Boyle) 180 300 (Snyder) 35, 85–6, 90, 104–5, 119–30, 132–6 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick) 35, 151, 155, 160–4 Abrams, J. J. 180 actant 10, 15, 23–4, 26–8, 31, 35, 49–50, 52, 55–7, 59, 82–3, 158–9, 175–6, 200–1 action cinema 34, 37, 85, 96, 98–101, 103–4, 110, 112, 204–5. See also specific films actor-network theory (ANT) 18, 41, 55 Acuna, Kirsten 98 Adventures of Tintin, The (Spielberg) 67, 80 affect theory 18, 41, 53, 72, 93–4, 122, 131, 134, 137–8, 147, 155, 186, 189, 193–8, 200, 205 agents 29, 38, 48, 86, 119, 135–44, 147 Aldred, Jessica 68 algorithmic identities 8–9 Alice in Wonderland (Burton) 180 Alice software 141 Allison, Tanine 68 Alptraum, Lux 95 American action cinema. See action cinema animal studies 18, 41, 142 animation 24, 53, 68, 74, 100, 108–9, 110, 113, 118, 125–6, 143, 198 Ant-Man (Reed) 108 anthropocentric 3, 18, 20, 22, 150, 152–3, 156, 164, 165, 169, 172, 197, 199, 201 anxiety 37–8, 95–6, 104, 108–9, 119–20, 144–5, 164–5 Apatow, Judd 180 apparatus 34–5, 40–2, 45–6, 65, 67–8, 72, 74–81, 113, 149, 152, 161, 163, 165–6, 169, 175, 184, 189

Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg) 2, 16, 141, 169–72 assemblage 18, 40–1, 50, 57, 66, 68, 72–83, 105, 107, 198, 200–1, 203, 206, 208, 210 Astaire, Fred 100, 115 Attenborough, David 174, 178 authenticity 34, 37–8, 49, 85–7, 89, 91–2, 94–9, 105, 107, 111–13, 118–19, 127 Avatar (Cameron) 67, 180 Ayers, Drew 103–4 Bacon, Francis 52, 138 Baker, Steve 195 Bamboozled (Lee) 180 Barker, Jennifer M. 33, 42, 53, 79, 189–90, 196, 198, 207 Barry Lyndon (Kubrick) 35, 149, 152–7, 159, 161, 171, 208 Barthes, Roland 72, 81, 122 becoming 9, 26, 47, 50, 53–4, 79, 88, 146–7, 163, 171, 194–201 becoming-animal 194–200 Belton, John 180 Ben-Hur (Wyler) 140 Benjamin, Walter 7, 24, 45–7, 65, 68, 70, 76, 78–9, 81–3, 108, 164, 207 modernity thesis 164 on mimetic faculty 79–80 Beowulf (Zemeckis) 67, 71 Berenson, Marisa 153 Bestor, Nicholas 68 Beyond: Two Souls (Cage) 67 big data 10, 144 biocybernetic reproduction 24, 81 Birth of a Nation (Griffith) 140 blood synthetic 119–24 in 300 120–4, 134 Bode, Lisa 68, 100, 114–16

Index Bogost, Ian 42 Bordwell, David 6, 179–80 Bouldin, Joanna 68 Boulter, Jonathan 32 Bracken, Cheryl Campanella 187 Braidotti, Rosi 15 brain sciences 18, 41 Brando, Marlon 115 Bridges, Christopher 115 Bridges, Jeff 108 Brood, The (Cronenberg) 33, 42, 61 Brooks, Rodney A. 20–2, 27–9, 30–1, 141 Brotherton, John 114 Brown, William 5, 12, 68, 71, 207 Bujold, Genevieve 44 Bukatman, Scott 33, 35, 163–5, 177 Bush, George H. W. 103 Butler, Gerard 101, 104 Butterfield, Asa 135 Byers, Thomas B. 102 Caldwell, John 182 Cameron, Allan 67, 97, 102, 180 Carbonell, Curtis D. 32 Cartesian theory 2, 72, 156, 176, 182, 185, 197, 199, 201. See also Descartes, René Cavell, Stanley 157 Celebration (Vinterberg) 180 Chan, Casey 37 Chan, Jackie 99 Change-Up, The (Dobkin) 96 Cheney-Lippold, John 8 Chiarella, Chris 176 Christiansen, Steen Ledet 204–7 Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong 17 Chung, Hye Jean 107, 111–12, 118 Clarke, Emilia 109 Clarke, Jason 117 Classical Hollywood cinema 6, 23, 25, 140 Cleopatra (Mankiewicz) 140 Clockwork Orange, A (Kubrick) 170–1 code 57–9, 75–6, 113, 118–19, 132–4, 137–8, 143 Coleman, B. 75, 82 composite body 88, 97, 100, 107–8, 111, 113, 117–18

241

image 37, 46, 130, 135, 147 consciousness 2, 7, 16, 17, 19, 28–30, 45, 50–3, 62, 73, 82, 84, 147, 152, 159, 163–4 contact zone 20, 31 convergence 179, 192, 204 Corliss, Richard 169 Courtney, Jai 109 Crash (Cronenberg) 42, 60–1 Creed (Coogler) 110–11 Creed, Barbara 68, 110–11 Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg) 61 critical posthumanism 3, 16–19 Cronberg, David analog technology 41 digital technology 41, 48–9 fleshy transformations of protogonists 42 human and nonhuman relations in films 41–2, 45, 48–9, 51–3, 55, 60–3 Crossing Jordan (TV show) 178 Crow, The (Proyas) 100 crowd simulation 35, 85–6, 136, 139, 141, 147 Crowd, The (Vidor) 140 crowds 7, 35, 38, 85–7, 126, 136, 139, 140–1, 142, 144, 146–7, 164 Cruise, Tom 37, 166 Crupi, Anthony 186–7 Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher) 108 cybersurgery 76–7 cyborg 15–17, 147 da Vinci surgical system 67, 74, 76–9 Darkest Africa (Beatty) 20, 22 Darlenes 170 Daston, Lorraine 162 Davis, Geena 56 De Landa, Manuel 155–7 De Mille, Cecil B. 139 de-aging 34, 107–8, 112, 118 Dead Ringers (Cronenberg) 33–4, 42–3, 45–6, 48–50, 52–4, 61, 65, 76, 84 Dead Zone (Cronenberg) 61 Del Río, Elena 42, 198

242

Index

Deleuze, Gilles 36, 52–3, 133–4, 138, 186, 194–5, 200–1, 212 becoming-animal concept 194–5 on actual and virtual interaction 133–4 on figurations 138 sensation theory 52–3 Denson, Shane 204–5 Descartes, René 155–6 theories of mind 72 deterritorialization 75, 194, 210 Dickey, Josh 95 Dickson, Glen 174 Diesel, Vin 115–16 digital (cultural) logic 4, 5, 23, 26, 31, 49, 58, 59, 98, 101–2, 104, 117–18, 124, 137, 151, 175–6 digital crowds 139–41, 144 digital multitude 140–1, 143–5, 148 digital nudity 34, 96 digital swarms 135, 142, 146 digitally literate spectator 13 (dis)embodiment 1, 3–4, 18–19, 32, 34, 66, 69, 71, 74–5, 76, 84, 89, 97–8, 100, 113, 119, 147–9, 197, 201 embodiment vs. 14–16, 172, 201 informational 16, 48, 53, 59, 68, 82–3 lived experiences 18–19 transhuman fantasies 74, 82 Doheny, Kathleen 127 Dornan, Jamie 96 Douglas, Michael 108 Dourif, Brad 145 Doyle, Julie 76, 78 drone 36, 203–5 du Mont, Sky 166 Dullea, Keir 161 dystopia(n) 2, 4, 13, 33, 39, 84, 118 Eastwood, Clint 110 Eginton, Madison 166 embodiment digital imagery and 72–5 vernacular posthumanism and 116–18 Entertainment Tonight (TV show) 178 enthymematic forms 9–10 Escape Plan (Håfström) 99 eXistenZ (Cronenberg) 33, 42, 60–1

Expendables (Stallone) 99, 110 Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) 35, 149, 160, 165–7, 171 Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (FCOoC) (Morris) 1, 19–31 Field, Todd 166 Fifty Shades of Grey (Taylor-Johnson) 96 figural 52, 61, 137–9, 142, 144, 145, 147–8 figurative 53, 61, 138–9, 144, 147 figure 103, 109, 111, 128, 131, 138–40, 153, 190, 196 film phenomenology 33. See also phenomenology filmind 12 filmosophy 12 Fincher, David 180 Finnegan, Cara A. 6, 9, 10–11 fleshiness in 300 124–8 Fly, The (Cronenberg) 33, 42, 54–63, 84 Flynn, Anita M. 27 Foggo, Daniel 127 Ford, Harrison 110 Fordham, Joe 127 Foucault, Michel 161 Frampton, Daniel 12 Franco, James 80 Frank, Marcie 46–7, 124–5 Freedman, Yacov 68, 80 Fukuyama, Francis 2, 16 Full Frontal (Soderbergh) 180 Furious 7 (Wan ) 37, 85, 100, 112–13, 115–18 Furlong, Edward 103 fuzzy logic 136 Galati, Gabriela 71 Galison, Peter 162 Galloway, Alexander R 161 Game of Death (Lee/Clouse) 100 Game of Thrones (Nutter) 34, 85, 87, 89, 91, 96, 108, 139 Gates, Philippa 103, 110 Gibson, Tyrese 116 Gilliam, Terry 100 Gladiator (Scott) 100 Goldblum, Jeff 56 Google Earth 184, 206

Index Google image 66, 83 Google Maps 184 Graham, Kristin 174 Gray, Tim 114, 116 Griffith, D. W. 139–40 Grossman, Lev 126 Grusin, Richard 3, 18, 41 Guattari, Feìlix 146, 194–8, 200–1 becoming-animal concept 194–8 Gunning, Tom 68, 72, 122 Hall, Stuart 13 Hansen, Mark B. N. 75, 82 Hansen, Miriam 6–8, 10–12, 207 haptic 67, 69, 75–6, 79, 81, 190–2, 196, 201 Haraway, Donna J. 15, 16, 20, 31, 49–50, 183, 200–1 on significant otherness 20, 49–50, 201 Harlan, Jan 169 Harman, Graham 55, 57 Harrison, John 110 Hauskeller, Michael 32 Hayles, N. Katherine 15–18 HDTV 36, 149, 173, 176–9, 181, 186–93, 198 head-up display (HUD) 78 Headey, Lena 34, 85–91, 87, 93–6 Heavy Rain (Cage), 67 Hepburn, Audrey 100, 115 Herbrechter, Stefan 18 Hibberd, James 89, 94 Hill, Logan 95–6 Hill, Martin 116 Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The (Jackson) 67, 80, 141 Hoffman, Phillip Seymour 100 Holloway, Daniel 206 How to Train Your Dragon (Sanders and DeBlois) 180 Hugo (Scorsese) 35, 135–6 human-machine assemblages 66, 68, 76, 78, 82–3, 203 Hunger Games Mockingjay, Parts 1 and 2 (Lawrence) 100 hybrid 5, 8, 15, 17, 30, 35, 60–1, 68, 75, 78, 83, 100–1, 103–4, 107, 112, 116–17, 121, 125, 135–9, 142, 147, 149, 169, 172

243

bodies 5, 33, 37, 73, 101, 111, 130 hyperphysical 86, 105, 119, 121, 122, 129, 131 Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Gilliam) 100 image vernaculars 1–2, 4–6, 9–11, 20, 33, 60, 66, 73, 143, 147, 152, 157, 175 immersion 67, 93–4, 186–7, 192, 196, 206 information age 8, 39, 113, 121, 140 informationalism 16, 66, 121, 137 Inland Empire (Lynch) 181 intentionality 23, 35, 41, 115, 147, 156–7, 197 intersensorial 82, 185 intertextual/comparative spectacle 91 Intolerance (Griffith) 140 Intuitive Surgical Inc 73–4, 76–9 I, Robot (Proyas) 139 Jackson, Michael 100 Jackson, Peter 113 Jagernauth, Kevin 171 Jeffords, Susan 101, 103 Jimmy Kimmel Live! (TV show) 96 Johnson, Caitlin 105 Jurassic Park (Spielberg) 169 Kaufman, Debra 180 Keaton, Buster 99 Kidman, Nicole 166 Kim, Joohan 99 Kindergarten Cop (Reitman) 103 Kinect (Microsoft) 67 King Kong (Jackson ) 67, 80 King, Homay 158 Kubrick, Stanley 36, 151–3, 156–61, 165–71 Kurzweil, Ray 2, 16 L.A. Noire (McNamara) 67, 69, 70 labor 99, 101, 104–5, 107, 113–14, 116, 123–4, 126–7, 130–2, 140–1 Last of Us, The (Straley and Druckmann) 67 Last Stand, The (Kim) 99 Latour, Bruno 15, 49, 54–7, 60 Latour’ theory of hybrids 54–7, 60

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Index

Law, Jude 61 Ledger, Heath 100 Lee, Brandon 100 Lee, Bruce 100 Lee, Christopher 144 Leigh, Jennifer Jason 61 Lenoir, Timothy 76, 82 Lieberman, David 180 Lincoln, Abraham 9 Lippit, Akira Mizuta 199 Lloyd, Danny 160 Lockwood, Gary 161 Lolita (Kubrick) 171 Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson) 35, 67, 80, 139, 141, 143–6 Lundgren, Dolph 101 Lyotard, Jean-François 138 machine vision 35–6, 149, 151–2, 155–7, 160, 162–3, 165–6, 168–9, 171–2, 175–6, 192, 197, 203 machinic audience 13–14 Mad Max:Fury Road (Miller ) 37, 117 Magid, Ron 125, 128 Maher, Jane Maree 47 Malec, Brett 115 Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov) 156, 208 Manovich, Lev 121, 123 Marchand, Nancy 115 Marks, Laura U. 33, 42, 189–91, 196–7 Marx, Karl 131 Massive software 126, 136, 141–3 Massumi, Brian 72, 120, 134, 183, 185–6 material-semiotic 18–19, 23–4, 29–31, 83, 147, 156, 158, 175 materialism/materiality 41, 48–50, 52–3, 68–9, 71, 83, 104, 109, 113, 116, 118–19, 124–5, 128–30, 132–3, 166, 190, 200 McClure’s (magazine) 9 McGarvey, Seamus 96 McLuhan, Marshall 82, 192 media trends 67 mediation 54–5, 61, 79, 82–4, 168–9 Meeks, Stephanie 187 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 79–80, 82, 176 metapicture 11, 129, 133 reflexive images 8

method acting 80 Michelson, Annette 155 Mihailova, Mihaela 68 Miller, Frank 34, 124–5 Miller, Gerri 127 mimesis 79–83 Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation (McQuarrie ) 37 Mitchell, W. J. T. 10–11, 24, 81, 121 Mittell, Jason 182 mixed reality 75, 82 modernity 6–8, 140, 164, 207. See also Benjamin, Walter Monday Night Football (TV show) 178 money shot 91–2 Monnet, Livia 68 Monroe, Marilyn 100 Morgan, Daniel 6–7 Moritz, Neal H. 115 Mortensen, Viggo 145 motion control 46, 67, 95, 179 MotionScan technology 70 M7 Surgical Robot 76, 79 multilocal self 34, 83 Munster, Anna 72, 210 Nayar, Pramod K. 18 Nelson, Katherine 175, 182 Nessif, Bruna 115 network 18–22, 28–32, 69, 71–2, 82–4, 158–9, 163, 175–6, 178, 200, 210–11 new materialism 18, 41 new media theory 19, 41 Newman, Michael Z. 177–8, 192 Nolan, Christopher 180 nonhumanism 3, 17, 20, 196, 200, 203, 207–8 North, Dan 68, 80, 87–8, 91 nudity 34, 85, 87, 91–4, 96 O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coen Brothers) 179 O’Connell, Jeff 128 Ohanian, Thomas A. 46 Olivier, Laurence 115 Olympics 2002 178 O’Neal, Ryan 153

Index ontology 4, 8, 11, 19, 35, 57, 68, 71–2, 100, 104–5, 107, 121, 129, 205 Opam, Kwame 37 optical printer 46, 95 optimistic futurism 163 Osment, Haley Joel 170 panopticon 157, 161 Parent Trap (Swift) 46 Parikka, Jussi 72, 141 Parks, Lisa 82, 183–4, 193 Paths of Glory (Kubrick) 170 Patrick, Robert 101 Peabody 36, 174–5, 181–2, 185, 187 perception 12–13, 41–2, 68–9, 78–9, 82–3, 120–1, 133–4, 149–50, 155–7, 197–8, 200–1, 204–5, 207–9, 211 performance capture 38–40, 45, 65–71, 67–8, 69–76, 78–84, 80–2, 84, 141, 210 special effects, in movies and video games 67–8 subject/object relationships. 79–80 technological history 68 temporal dimension 81 perspective 2, 3, 11, 18, 20, 23, 28, 30, 53, 62, 73, 98, 115, 124–5, 142, 152, 156, 161, 163, 168, 172, 176, 183–4, 186, 205–6 Pettman, Dominic 143 phenomenology 19, 28, 41–2, 68, 104, 116, 118, 161, 165, 179, 186, 189–90, 195–6, 198, 202 Philbeck, Thomas D. 32 Phillips, Michael E. 46 photorealism 70, 107, 118 Pierce, David 206 Pierson, Michele 122 Pisters, Patricia 5, 138, 195 Planet Earth (BBC nature documentary) 36, 149–50, 172–6, 178–9, 181–7, 190, 192–4, 196–8, 201–9 awards 174–5 Planet Earth Diaries 173, 182, 184 Planet Earth II (2016) 36, 203–9 Planet of the Apes, reboot trilogy (Wyatt and Reeves ) 35, 67, 80, 139, 141–2 Pleasantville (Ross) 179

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Pliatska, Chris P 153 Polar Express, The (Zemeckis) 67 Pollack, Sydney 166 pornography 85, 91–2 posthuman condition 3, 8, 10–11, 13–15, 20, 32–3, 39, 63, 66, 119 posthumanism 1–36 posthumous performance 85, 100, 113, 115–16 postmodern 100, 102–3, 105, 118 Practice, The (TV show) 178 Price Is Right, The (TV show) 178 Prince, Stephen 68, 123 profilmic 2, 8, 33–5, 37–9, 41–2, 61, 69, 71–5, 85–6, 89, 98–100, 102, 104–14, 117–20, 122–3, 125, 128, 130, 134–6, 139, 144–5, 147 proprioception 66, 152, 185 psychoanalytic 68, 185 Purse, Lisa 2, 13, 38, 107–8, 125 on virtual action bodies 38 Rabid (Cronenberg) 42 radical alterity 29, 31, 49, 172, 201 Raengo, Alessandra 72, 122 Rapkin, Mickey 127 Reagan, Ronald 103 realism 19, 34, 41, 55, 68, 92, 121, 123 Redenbacher, Orville 100, 115 Reed, Oliver 100 Regelous, Stephen 141 Rehak, Bob 73 reproduction 24, 26–30, 43–5, 47, 81, 204 respecere 31 Return of the King (Jackson) 145 reverse zoom 35, 149, 153–9 rhizome 27, 194 Richardson, Michael 209 Richmond, Scott C. 152, 207 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt) 35, 142 Robertson, Barbara 125–6 robotic surgery 34, 65–7, 73, 75–6, 78–9, 83, 210 Rocky Balboa (Stallone) 110 Rodley, Chris 62 Rodriguez, Robert 180

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Index

Romano, Nick 116 Rosen, Christopher 116 Ryzik, Melena 96 Sabotage (Ayer) 99 Savage, Dominic 158 Scanners (Cronenberg) 60–1 Schwarzenegger, Arnold 34, 85, 97–9, 101–3, 105–6, 108–13, 116 Scoble, Robert 79 Scorsese, Martin 180 screen nudity 85, 92 Second Life (videogame) 71 sensation 7, 9–10, 32, 42, 52, 68–9, 72, 79–80, 83, 133–4, 138, 144, 152, 181, 188–9, 192, 197, 200, 207–11 sensation, logic of. See sensation sensorium 1, 7, 9, 12–13, 47, 135, 149, 168, 192, 204–5, 207–10 Serbedzija, Rade 167 Serkis, Andy 80, 141 Shallow Seas (Planet Earth) 173–4, 191, 198–9 Shaviro, Steven 204 Shining, The (Kubrick) 35, 149, 160 Shivers (Croneberg) 33, 60 significant otherness 20, 49–50, 156, 201. See also Haraway, Donna simulated space 35, 86, 119, 121, 123, 129–30, 132, 136 simulation 35, 85–6, 103, 109–10, 118, 120, 122–3, 125, 130, 136–7, 139, 141, 147 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Conran) 115, 125 Skywalker, Luke 38 Smith, Mark R. 174 Snyder, Zack 119, 125, 128, 130, 139 Sobchack, Vivian 33, 41–2, 170, 189 theory of film phenomenology 41–2 Sobieski, Leelee 167 Social Network, The (Fincher) 108 Soderbergh, Steven 180 Sofge, Erik 108 software 9, 12, 17, 34, 39, 73, 77, 86, 126, 136, 141, 144, 184. See also specific software Sopranos, The (Chase) 115, 178

space 49–50, 121–3, 125–6, 128–30, 132–6, 138–9, 142–3, 161–3, 185–6, 190, 196, 198, 201 spectacle 35–7, 87–9, 91, 103–4, 119, 139, 146, 149, 151, 165, 173, 176–7, 184, 203, 210–11 speculative realism 19, 41 Sperb, Jason 108, 113 Sperling, Nicole 98 Spider-Man 2 (Raimi) 38 Spielberg, Steven 169–72 Staiger, Janet 6 Stallone, Sylvester 99, 101, 105, 110–11 Stanford Research Institute (SRI) International 76 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer) 179 Star Wars (Lucas) 151 Star Wars: Episode I–III (Lucas). 37 Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Lucas) 179 Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (Lucas) 179 Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams) 37, 117 steadicam 35, 149, 160 subject/object relationships 79–80 sublime 144, 146, 163–5, 177 Sugawara, M. 188 Super-Toys Last All Summer Long (Aldiss’s short story) 169 Superman Returns (Singer) 115 surgeon 42, 45, 47, 65–6, 68–9, 72–9, 81, 83–4 surveillance 155–7, 183–4, 205, 207, 210 Survivor (TV series) 178 Suschitzky, Peter 46 swarms 135, 139–42, 144, 146, 149, 196–8, 206 synesthesia 186 synthespian 68, 81 systems theory 19, 42 tactile 189–90 Tadpole (Winick) 180 Tarantino, Quentin 180 Tasker, Yvonne 104 telepresence 68, 82 televisuality 182

Index Telotte, J. P. 68, 125 The Terminator (Cameron), 97 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron) 101 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Mostow) 105 Terminator Salvation (McG) 105 Terminator Genisys (Taylor) 34, 85, 97–100, 105–6, 108–13, 116, 118 Thacker, Eugene 137, 142, 144 Thompson, Kristin 6, 179–80 Tokyo Drift (Lin) 112 Toy Story 3 (Unkrich) 180 transhumanism 3, 16–18 translation 54–60, 69, 71, 74, 79–84, 121, 130, 132, 134, 188 TRON: Legacy (Kosinski) 108 Trumbull, Douglas 162–3 Tucker, Aaron 13–14, 106 Tudor, Deborah 123 Tupac 100 Turnock, Julie 33, 163 Twight, Mark 126–7 Universal Pictures 113 Universal Soldier (Emmerich) 104 utopia(n) 2, 4, 10, 14, 33–4, 40, 48, 59, 82, 84, 92, 97, 118, 121, 129, 133, 136–8, 145, 147, 164, 182, 187, 204–6 Van Cleave, Rebecca 88–9, 93–6 Van Damme, Jean-Claude 101, 104 Varley, Lynn 124–5 vernacular posthumanism approaches 14–19 composite action body 105–12 digital swarms 135–48 embodiment and 116–18 visual culture 135–48 Vertov, Dziga 156, 208 Videodrome (Cronenberg) 33, 42, 60–1

247

Vidor, King 140 Virilio, Paul 155–6 virtual backlot 35 vision machine 155 visual culture 14–15, 19–20, 22, 24, 31–2, 84, 120, 123, 128, 137–8, 151, 157, 160, 201, 207 Vitali, Leon 153 Vivarelli, Nick 180 von Palleske, Heidi 51 Walas, Chris 56 Walker, Paul 85, 97, 100, 112–16 Wark, McKenzie 82 Weaver, Sigourney 174 Wei, Sha Xin 76 West Wing, The (TV show) 178 Weta Digital 100, 113–14, 116, 141 Wheatley, Helen 176–7, 184, 193 Whissel, Kristen 35, 140, 145–6 Wilde, Olivia 96 Willemen, Paul 98 Williams, David E. 125, 129 Williams, Linda 91–2 Williams, Michael 126 Willis, Bruce 101, 110 Winfrey, Oprah 174, 178 Winston, Brian 182 Wojcik, Pamela 7 Wolf, Mark J. P. 95 Wolfe, Cary 16, 18 Work of Art (Benjamin’s essay) 45 World of Warcraft (videogame) 71 World War Z (Forster) 139–40 Wyler, William 140 X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner) 108 Young, Katherine E. 199 ZEUS Surgical Systems 76 Zylinska, Joanna 204, 208

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