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Time Machine and Futurama

In H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, we followed a time traveler that went into the future and observed the changing of the Earth and its species and eventually even to what appeared to be the end of the Earth. Well in July of 2010, Futurama released an episode largely inspired by Wells’ famous work. Futurama is a television series created by Matt Groening in 1999. The show takes place in the year 3000 where the main character Phillip J. Fry, usually referred to simply as Fry, has been unfrozen from a cryogenic sleep he entered in 2000.  The episode is titled “The Late Phillip J. Fry” and won the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.

The episode can be considered in three different acts. In the first act Fry, the lazy delivery boy, arrives late to work. His boss, The Professor, heckles him for his chronic lateness, asking why he can’t be on time like the rest of his employees. Fry points out that his girlfriend, Leela, is not at work on time. It turns out that Fry was supposed to be meeting Leela for her birthday lunch and he is now late to that as well. Fry promises to make it up to Leela by taking her out to a fancy restaurant that night. He purchases a record your own birthday card and is headed out the door when The Professor stops him. Fry must help The Professor test his new time machine as punishment for being late. The time machine is built to only travel forward in order to avoid altering history. Fry, his robot roommate Bender, and The Professor enter the time machine which The Professor intends to test by moving forward one minute in time. Of course the episode would hold no comedic merit if that were to happen. The Professor trips and pushes the lever forward sending them hurtling through time. By the time they stop they can stop the machine they find themselves in the year 10,000 AD in the ruins of New York.

Fry begins to fret over missing his date with Leela, but The Professor kindly reminds him that everybody they knew has been dead for years. The trio are unimpressed with this stage of the future and after talking to a group of cavemen they decide to continue forward in time in search of a civilization that has invented a backwards traveling time machine to return home. They scan through a few thousand years of little consequence before the show cuts away. When we rejoin them they are in the year 5 million AD. This is the part of the episode that directly parallels with “The time Machine.” Bender, Fry, and the Professor are greeted by a race of enlightened, purple-skinned humanoids that now inhabit Earth; these are the Eloi. Meanwhile below ground paralleling the Murlocs are the Dumblocks.. They ask the humanoids if they have invented a backwards-traveling time machine. They say no, but if they focus their mental efforts toward the problem, they should be to create one within five yearsThe trio jumps forward five years to find the Dumblocks have risen up and slaughtered the entire surface population. This is Futurama giving us a very plausible glimpse into the Future of the Eloi and Murlocs from “The Time Machine.” For all their smarts the surface dwellers always seemed on the brink of falling to the subterranean people.

The three jump all the way to the year one billion to find the scorched remnants of the Earth. Fry returns to the cave where he was supposed to meet Leela for dinner on her birthday eons ago. Surprisingly he finds a note left for him. Apparently the voice recorded birthday card had fallen out of the time machine and found Leela in the past. Comforted by his note from Leela, Fry returns to The Professor and suggests the kick back and watch the Universe end.

To their amazement they observe the universe end, only to see the big bang occur and universe reform. They conclude that time is cyclical and rejoin their old lives in the present.

This episode can be applied to “The Time Machine” beyond the explicit murloc/dumblock uprising. Much of the imagery that is shown as the trio head to the end of the world is very similar to those described in the book. At the end of “The Time Traveler” the main character is takes a trip forward, but has not yet returned. A multitude of things could have occurred to him. It is possible that his time machine could have its backwards lever broken and he was left with a machine like the Professor’s. In this case perhaps the Time Traveler followed a similar path as Futurama, but his universe had linear time that ended and took him with it.

Overall this is one of the best episodes of Futurama I have seen and I thought it was an interesting watch after reading “The Time Machine.”

On a “Tightrope” with a “Good Burger”

This piece of writing compares Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” song and music video with that of the Brian Robbin’s Nickelodeon movie, “Good Burger”. The discussion is based off the following videos: Tightrope and Good Demented Hills. Janelle relays that one cannot get too high or too low in life. Her music video takes place at the Palace of the Dogs insane asylum. This facility was known for holding popular musicians such Jimi Hendrix. The music video lays out the tale of a patient catches the ‘crazy/ dancing feet’ with her friends. In the beginning the Tightrope music video, it is shared that at the Palace of the Dogs Asylum, “Dancing has long been forbidden for its subversive effect and its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices.” Dancing provided the patient in the with a temporary escape from the asylum.

“Good Burger” is about two teenage boys, Dexter and Ed played by Nickelodeon’s Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who work at the local fast food restaurant called Good Burger.   After getting in mischief over their summer break, the two find themselves in Demented Hills, a local insane asylum…Well, here’s how they get there…The antagonist in the movie is a terrible guy named Kurt, he opens a new and high tech fast food restaurant across the street from Good Burger, called Mondo Burger. With their bigger and better burgers, Mondo Burger soon becomes competition for Good Burger. Even quicker, they begin to steal all of Good Burger’s customers and lead Good Burger to almost go out of business before the summer is out. Dexter and Ed suspect that something is odd about the “mondo” sizes of their competition’s burgers. The teens eventually discover that Mondo Burger is chemically inducing their burgers with an illegal food additive. When Kurt figures the know the secret ingredient, he sends them to the Demented Hills Mental Hospital to prevent the public from learning Mondo Burger’s secret. Ed begins to dance and sing, encouraging the other patients to dance. After the entire mental hospital breaks out in dance, the teens escape the mental hospital. But there was something unique about how they escaped Demented Hills. This was like Tightrope where they used there dancing as a way of escaping and making interactions with the other patients. Another correlation was that the group in “Good Burger” danced to the song Knee Deep by Funkadelic. Funkadelic, the artist, as his name reveals is know for his music of funk like Janelle Monae.

Throughout the Good Burger movie, the viewer could relate message behind “Tightrope”. The teens, Dexter and Ed, are walking on tightropes. They deal with wrecking their parent’s car, having to get summer jobs, being placed in a mental hospital. However, their gains are new friendships, improvement of the Good Burger restaurant, catching “bad guys”, and a summer to remember!

Cyborg?….Yes, I am a cyborg.

This entry is presented in the format of a letter from a cyborg to fellow society.

Dear Cyborg Society,

After being exposed to the film series Battlestar Galactica, and watching this short clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUzFtWNOOOU), I am convinced that I, as a member of my fellow society am a cyborg! Before we all go around casually calling each other cyborgs, let me explain. First, how do we define cyborgs. According to Dictionary.com, a cyborg is person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device. You all most likely would associate this with their typical sci-fi thrill, (i.e. X-Men, robot movies, and of course their favorite superhero and villains). What do these examples have in common? They each use unique tools to extend the boundaries of their physical body.

One may argue that humans cannot be cyborgs because their physical body limits them. However, I am aware that my body is surely not limited. I can regurgitate almost any piece of knowledge known to this planet, with my extended features of Google and Wikipedia. Just how the colonial fleet, in Battlestar Galactica, executes a faster-than-light jump every 33 minutes to escape the Cylons, I can do one better. I send my thoughts to hundreds of people in a hundred different locations, with my extended features of email and text messaging. I can also continuously read the minds of thousands of people, with my extended features of Twitter and Facebook. Did I mention I could tell you the exact location of everything on this planet, with my extended feature of GPS. If you think I am something special, wait to meet my guardians. My male guardian has the ability lift and crush cars with his extended feature of prosthetic arms. My female guardian has the ability to control every second of her heartbeat, with were extended feature of a pacemaker. Pretty cool, right! But what can I say, not all of us can be cyborgs.

Sincerely,

Your Fellow Cyborg

You Go, Kee

While I typically like to relate my journal entries to a cultural text,Children of Men is pretty much in a league of its own.  Though I could discuss the scary ways this reminds me of present and historical treatment of immigrants or the possible weird fetitization of black women’s hyper-fertility, I would rather leave the movie in its own context and explore a question of my own.  How awesome is Kee?    In the midst of complete and utter turmoil, traveling as a refugee, watching friends and loved ones die, and in the company of activist-murderers she delivered and protected a precious baby girl. 

            The first thing that I came to appreciate about Kee is her insight and instinct.  There is nothing worse than watching a movie and watching the main character make completely foolish decisions, especially when there is a lot at stake—that’s just stressful.  All along, Kee had a keen sense of who she could trust.  She trusted Julian enough to show Theo her pregnant belly and ask for his help when she barely knew him.  She trusted herself and her body enough to realize that she was pregnant when she had never even been taught what pregnancy looked and felt like.  Though pregnancy was foreign to her, Kee relied on the sensation of her kicking baby girl to know that she was pregnant rather than just infected with some bug.

            Not only was Kee insightful, but she boldly and confidently asserted that those around her take own ideas seriously.  When Theo (still a stranger) woke her in the middle of the night to say that she must escape with him for safety, Kee’s guardian and midwife,  Miriam, objected in a tantrum.  It was Kee who squashed the feud and told Miriam that she would be leaving with Theo.  This was one of the many decisions that saved Miriam and her baby.  This trend continued in the moment when the prison guard learned of Kee’s baby and promised her safety but she refused at the incomprehensible cries of a foreign woman who objected.

            Of course, I cannot go on a Kee praise rant without paying ode to her as she who could tough out any situation.  I think I laughed out loud when Kee and Theo had a respite at Jasper’s house after escaping the refugee activists who wanted steal Kee’s baby and Theo is soaking his feet while pregnant Kee engages in conversation over a home-cooked meal.  Furthermore, Kee causally endured hours of contractions as she toured refugee internment camps and watched her beloved midwife get slapped and taken by a rough prison guard.  With a couple of hefty pushes she delivered her baby in a dingy refugee hostile and was less shaken up by Theo himself.  Neither the emotional pain of seeing the deaths of everyone who sincerely tried to help her or the physical pain of her pregnancy stopped Kee from seeing that her baby girl remain safe. 

            For Kee’s own sense and boldness, it was my impression that the film did have a promising ending.  Though everything seemed to be evil and corrupt, if Kee believed in the Human Project then so do I!

Cattle and Nudity: Investigating the Pregnancy Reveal in Children of Men

The pregnancy reveal scene in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) is undeniably crucial: Kee’s child is the glimmer of hope around which the chaos of the film revolves. The presentation, however, is confusing. Why does Kee begin the conversation talking about cow titties? Why is the barn filled with milk cows? Why does Kee decide to disrobe?

Perhaps Kee is simply nervous and so she just starts talking about the first thing that comes to mind. Why, though, are cow titties the first thing that comes to mind? I do not think that there is a ton of significance to this particular choice, but the question she asks is quite fitting: “Why not make machines that suck eight titties, eh?” Even this lighthearted reprieve brings to bear an example of reproductive brutality. The fact that this pivotal scene takes place with the one hope for humanity standing amongst a herd of milk cows makes it seem that the cows, and Kee’s brief commentary on their mistreatment, are indeed important. The reveal could have happened in a basement, in Kee and Miriam’s room, anywhere isolated. Instead it happens in a barn full of milk cows, ready symbols of motherhood and reproduction, and opens with a commentary on their brazen mistreatment. Perhaps this sort of needless cruelty is part of what the film warns against. Extrapolating, perhaps mankind has driven itself to the brink of extinction through its defiance and abuse of nature.

This still leaves the third question unanswered: Why does Kee decide to undress in order to announce her pregnancy? She could have just told Theo, or she could have bared only her stomach. It seems that this detail reinforces the symbolism of the cows and the importance of Kee’s commentary. Immediately after being presented with the unnecessary removal of mammary glands, Theo and the audience are presented with Kee’s naked breasts. Taking the reproductive process for granted by amputating udders simply because the machine only fits four seems ridiculous when juxtaposed with the first working human reproductive system in over a decade. Kee’s nudity, then, taken with the setting and introduction of this very important scene, can reasonably be judged as a warning against reproductive abuse –  as a reminder that humanity is itself dependent upon the process it often defies.

Humans Always Turn to Violence (Warning, this is depressing)

Children of Men is an extremely dark movie about the effects of the impending end to humanity.  With essentially no reproduction, other than the birth of baby Dylan, the world has become a den of violence and destruction. After watching this movie, I stopped to consider if there are any real world examples of low reproduction and violence. Upon my researching, I found the CIA’s ranking of infant mortality rateS but also the highest fertility rates tend to be those countries with extreme violence. Taking this in consideration with the plot of Children of Men, one can not help but wonder whether there is some kind of correlation between the two.

In the opening scenes of the movie, we immediately become aware of the deterioration of “First World” society and the random acts of violence being committed. Immigrants are being forced into cages and sent to horrible prisons where they are subjected to terrible treatment and have to struggle to stay alive. When we think about the world today, there is not much difference. Though we live in the “First World” where we are still subjected to random acts of violence, we still imprison immigrants and some refugees (to a lesser extent than the movie), and we still leave those we deem lesser or other than ourselves to struggle to survive, whether in our own country or in others. This movie is only set 13 years from now, and to be honest it might not be much of a stretch to think that we could turn to such violence if reproductions stops.

One of Children of Men’s  main characters, Kee, is a young refugee that is pregnant with the first child to be born in 18 years. The implications of her race and nationality are extremely significant. She is living in a time where refugees are discriminated against and treated like animals. She is very young and has little autonomy over her existence; whether it is being led and controlled by The Fishes or by Theo. We also know that after Theo’s death, she is only left to turn to the guidance of the (suspected) Human Project. In juxtaposition to modern society, we yet again see so many similarities. In countries like Niger, Afghanistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo there is war, rape, and turmoil, but also the world’s highest fertility rates. There are often many young women of color, living in times of immense struggle, violence, and turmoil, and faced with the task of trying to bear and take care of their children in such an environment. Sadly, those high fertility rates occur also the death of many of those newly born children. When we think of the fact that Kee is a young African refugee and the fact that she will be bringing the first child into the world after 18 years, it amplifies the uncertainty of her and Dylan’s futures and the possible political and social effects that will ensue.

I do not know where I was really going with this journal entry, but I do think that Children of Men magnifies several of the problems that we have today. Immigration issues, race issues, and class issues, are portrayed in this film exemplified by Theo’s cousin who easily says how he just does not think about the horrors happening in the world, while he lives in his large and opulent home. This movie demonstrates how we are all so very dependent on reproduction, even if we do not realize it. Our politics, economics, religions, etc. are all determined by the human ability to continue to go on. At the same time, it also shows how the advent of birth, the production of new hope, brings peace, hope, and faith to people, even those people who are killing each other viciously. That being said, the lives of people living in countries like Burundi, Afghanistan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo have to watch as their symbols of hope die away. Living a life like that certainly could make one turn to violence.

Hope and Fertility

      The movie Children of Men had some very interesting parallels to the Handmaid’s Tale. Both societies have become infertile, but society’s outlook is very different. In the Handmaid’s Tale, the people maintain some hope of having children. Through religion, they continue to have faith in the possibility of having children. Societal restructures occur so that there is a system to put your faith in – the system of handmaids and wives, promising a better future for all children. Obviously, not all characters maintain this outlook, as we see through Offred’s point of view, but even she does carry some hope that life will improve, especially for the sake of her lost daughter.

      On the other hand, in the film Children of Men, the people of the world have generally run out of hope. They have no children left to hope for; there is no remaining reason to wish for a better society because there is no next generation. Governments have fallen entirely, and we are given the impression that while the rest of the world is in total anarchy, “Britain soldiers on.” It’s an interesting choice of words considering that there is definitely a huge military presence in the country.

      The lack of hope is definitely a continued theme throughout the film. The viewer is left with a certain sense of nostalgia, from Julian reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” with Theo to the song on the radio from “way way back in 2003, before people knew that the future was right around the corner.” But this nostalgia vanishes quickly alongside the hope. As Jasper says when talking about Dylan’s death, “faith lost out to chance. So why bother if life’s going to make its own choices?”

      The desperation in Children of Men dims at the thought of Kee’s pregnancy and baby, but even the presence of the infant isn’t enough to stop the fighting permanently. The world has been totally ruined, it seems, because the Uprising is intent on destroying the political forces of Britain. It’s as if the world is too destroyed for anything to be done to resurrect the hope for a brighter future. Most people believe the Human Project to be a myth, but Kee is able to maintain her faith because she must – she has to try for her baby.

      Overall, it’s not a lighthearted message that Children of Men is telling. The film implies that the only reason humans are able to have faith and keep working to improve society is because they want things to be better for their children. Without any hope of kids remaining, the world falls apart. It’s the faith and hope that keeps society running, but the total lack of hope leads to anarchy. Children of Men is a conceivable conclusion to the story in the Handmaid’s Tale ­– it’s the story of a world that no longer has any faith in institutions to help them, because no institution can bring back children. 

Silent Spring, The Children of Men, and Consent

 In 1962, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking work, Silent Spring. This publication explored the many implications that pesticides have on the environment and the adverse effects on other species. While Silent Spring focused on the effect that DDT had on avian populations, the work proposed thought-provoking research that many individuals took and imagined the larger implications it could present. The ideas presented in Silent Spring can be seen in the film, The Children of Men.

In The Children of Men, the world has become infertile. There have been no new births for over 18 years, which has brought despair and chaos to the globe. While the exact reason for the infertility is not mentioned, the world of 2027 is shown to be smoggy, dirty, and unclean. In one of the very beginning scenes, just before a coffee shop is blown up, one can see a group of motorcyclists with hospital masks on, as is seen in many highly polluted cities. In various other scenes, we see thick smog and evidence of a destroyed environment. This depiction brings many of the issues discussed in Silent Spring home; what if the chemicals we are using cause harm to the human population or make our species infertile?

The idea that environmental destruction could cause infertility is not a novel one to the speculative fiction genre. The Handmaid’s Tale paints a very similar premise to The Children of Men, showing what environmental disaster can do to fertility rates and to human society. In both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, those who are able to become pregnant lose much of their autonomy. Their potential progeny are needed to either reinforce the regime in place, or to act as a salvation for the world. Because of this, mothers lose the ability to make decisions over where their bodies go, what happens to their progeny, and many other important decisions. Going along with our discussions of consent, did these mothers consent to this sort of treatment? Did their children? Did the environmental destruction that caused the rarity and importance of their pregnancies remove their rights to be autonomous human beings? These questions are raised in speculative fiction because of the implications that Silent Spring had on how people think about the environment and how humans could potentially impact it, and in turn how it would impact us.

Yivo and T’Gatoi

Futurama is an off the wall animated comedy series set in the year 3000 that follows the spaceship crew of a delivery company “Planet Express.” In the straight to DVD special “The Beast with a Billion Backs,” creators had a feature length time frame to work with and develop a story with deeper content than the typical thirty minute television episodes. “The Beast with a Billion Backs” follows a previous episode where there has been a tear in the universe. Fry, the main character of the series, is dealing with loneliness on a delivery and finds himself on the other side of the tear where he meets an alien tentacle. Fry returns to Earth along with the tentacle that is now attached to his neck, claiming the tentacle is love and all should join with the tentacle. With time most on earth accept the tentacle…until Leela (a member of the Planet Express crew) exposes the tentacles as reproductive organs. The owner of the tentacles, named Yivo, is an alien the size of a planet that admits to his intentions of using everybody on Earth for reproductive purposes, but claims he wants a second chance. What started as reproduction had turned to love. Yivo dates everybody on Earth and eventually asks them to marry him and come join him in his universe.

This episode parallels quite nicely with Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”. One interpretation of the Terran and Tlic relationship is that of slave and owner; the Terran being used solely for their reproductive success. Similarly, Yivo seemed an alien threat posed to use all of earth for his reproduction. Given time Yivo became attached emotionally and by the time the humans were enlightened to the fact Yivo did not want to force anything upon them and just wanted to be together with them. While the Terran may have been taken in by the Tlic initially for their great potential and use in successful Tlic reproduction, I believe the Tlic and Terran became a more mutualistic symbiotic relationship. While the Tlic reproductive process is brutal we see very real emotional attachments develop between the Tlic mothers and the Terran carriers. One of the most exemplary of these is when the one word we hear Lomas say is the name of his Tlic; this in addition to Tlic’s concern and pressing need to get to her Terran as she arrives despite her sickness.  At the end of the story Gan and T’Gatoi became closely emotionally bonded just as Yivo did in the episode of Futurama. Yivo asked the humans for marriage and Gan and T’Gatoi have a relationship that seems at least as strong and complex as a marriage.

Running in a Cage

Bloodchild traces Gan’s journey of finding out the harsh realities of the society in which he lives. In this society, terrans are forced to live under a Tlic’s control and ownership. Terrans are used as host animals for the Terrans to reproduce. For this process to work, Tlic eggs are implanted into a Terran until they grow into grubs and until the grubs destroy the host Terran until it cannot survive any longer while supporting the grubs. Once they had grown the right amount, a Tlic would cut open the Terran in order to receive its grubs. If any grubs were left in the Terran, it would kill the Terran by eating it from the inside. At best, the Terran would be sewn up, survive, and be forced to go through more implantations in the future. In order to get the most out of every Terran, Tlics encouraged their Terrans to take life-lengthening drugs. Eventually Gan unravels the social norms of his society and realizes that he should have autonomy over his own body. He still is implanted with T’Gatoi’s eggs though in order to save his younger sibling, Xuan Hoa.

Although Bloodchild is a science-fiction story, the premise of using humans as host animals is not far from reality in many parts of the modern world. The article, “In India, a rise in surrogate births for West” sheds light on increasingly common surrogacy programs in which western, wealthy women enter into surrogacy contracts with Indian women. These Indian women who chose this option actually don’t have much have a choice. They often struggle to provide for themselves and their families and have no other ways to make a decent income. Sometimes they are pushed to act as a surrogate by their husbands who want more income. Agents only concerned with their own profits lure women into contracts that they don’t fully comprehend. The character Gan in Bloodchild was similarly manipulated into thinking he chose to be a surrogate. In Gan’s case, he is tricked by T’Gatoi’s supposed friendship with him. In the Indian womens’ case, they are forced into the position of surrogate because of their impoverished state and do not realize they are being taken advantage of and being paid five to six times less than an American surrogate would commonly be paid. Both real and fictional stories show the horrors of being exploited for the purpose of reproduction.

See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-india-a-rise-in-surrogate-births-for-west/2013/07/26/920cb5f8-efde-11e2-8c36-0e868255a989_story.html