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Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters

Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films

Per Schelde

Publication Year: 1994

Science fiction films, from the original Frankenstein and The Fly to Blade Runner and The Terminator, traditionally have been filled with aliens, spaceships, androids, cyborgs, and all sorts of robotic creatures along with their various creators. The popular appeal of these characters is undeniable, but what is the meaning of this generation of creatures? What is the relationship of mad scientist to subject, of human to android, of creature to creator?

Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters is a profound investigation of this popular cultural form. Starting his discussion with the possible source of these creatures, anthropologist and writer Per Schelde identifies the origin of these critters in the folklore of past generations. Continuing in the tradition of ancient folklore, contends Schelde, science fiction film is a fictional account of the ongoing battle between nature and culture. With the advance of science, the trolls, dwarves, pixies, nixies, and huldres that represented the unknown natural forces of the world were virtually killed off by ever-increasing knowledge and technology. The natural forces of the past that provided a threat to humans were replaced by the danger of unknown scientific experiments and disasters, as represented by their offspring: science fiction monsters.

As the development of genetics, biomedical engineering, and artificial intelligence blur the lines between human and machine in the real world, thus invading the natural landscape with the products of man's techno-culture, the representation of this development poses interesting questions. As Per Schelde shows, it becomes increasingly difficult in science fiction film to define the humans from their creations, and thus increasingly difficult to identify the monster.

Unlike science fiction literature, science fiction film has until now been largely neglected as a genre worthy of study and scholarship. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters explores science fiction (sf) film as the modern incarnation of folklore, emblematic of the struggle between nature and culture—but with a new twist.

Schelde explains how, as science conquered the forests and mountains of the wild, the mythic creatures of these realms—trolls, elves, and ogres—were relegated to cartoons and children's stories. Technology and outer space came to represent the modern wild, and this new unknown came alive in the popular imagination with the embodiments of our fears of that unknown: androids, cyborgs, genetics, and artificial intelligence gone awry. Implicit in all of these is a fear, and an indictment, of the power of science to invade our minds and bodies, replacing the individual soul with a mechanical, machine-made one.

Focusing his analysis on sixty-five popular films, from Frankenstein and Metropolis to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator, and Blade Runner, Per Schelde brings his command of traditional folklore to this serious but eminently readable look at SF movies, decoding their curious and often terrifying images as expressions of modern man's angst in the face of a rapidly advancing culture he cannot control. Anyone with an interest in popular culture, folklore, film studies, or science fiction will enjoy this original and comprehensive study.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. v-vii

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Preface

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pp. ix-

This book has been a long time in the writing and I owe thanks to the people who have helped, read, and been willing to discuss. First, I need to acknowledge, gratefully, Kitty Moore who originally read my proposal and responded with a contract...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-24

Although every year sees a new flock of science fiction (sf) movies populate movie screens with aliens, spaceships, androids, cyborgs, and other assorted monsters, the genre has, until lately, largely been neglected...

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2. Dangerous Science

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pp. 25-63

This chapter is designed to do a number of things. I start with a working definition of what an sf movie is, then move on to profile the three most important sf stock characters: the Hero or Honest Joe/Jane, the Scientist, and the Monster...

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3. Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen; or, Women and Science

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pp. 64-83

Here Nietzsche intends to praise woman for her constancy, her healing, life-giving, but basically uncreative "nature." This image of woman as being rooted in nature, with culture being just a varnish, is ingrained in...

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4. Humanoids in the Toolshed

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pp. 84-117

The quote from Finney and Jones makes the genocide of 25 million Native Americans2 and of thousands of Aboriginal Australians not only acceptable but also inevitable. Humans are "exploring animals" who cover continents...

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5. In the Belly of the Beast

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pp. 118-131

Fictional science and genius scientists are important ingredients of sf. But at the core is the interplay between science's most profitable invention, the machine, and the human beings who have to operate them...

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6. Disembodied Brains

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pp. 132-149

The machines that daunt the "little tramps" are mindless—strictly nuts and bolts and belts moving things along. They do not solve problems and figure things out. They replace manual labor. That was very much what machines were...

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7. Docile Bodies

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pp. 150-165

Computers do not fare well in sf movies because they're not photogenic. Computers are, however smart and silky voiced, never really cute. They are machines with square metallic surfaces, gauges, controls, lamps, and screens blinking...

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8. Intrusive Media

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pp. 166-186

Speaking of "docile" bodies is of course pure metaphor. What power needs and wants is docile minds. Smart, fast, knowledgeable, utterly obedient minds inside strong, pliable, enduring, and beautiful bodies. Sf is full...

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9. The Dystopia

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pp. 187-195

The dystopias presented in the previous chapter used communication technology as their primary or sole means of control. Below, we shall encounter dystopias that enslave humans through a "science of fear." The three movies...

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10. The Human Form Submerged, Beleaguered, and Triumphant

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pp. 196-213

In this chapter we will encounter radical routes to creating humanlike forms that are but human in name: genetic engineering used to create perfect and perfectly docile beings; or docility secured by submerging the core...

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11. Have Mind, Seek Soul: The Android's Quest

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pp. 214-240

The final link in my "plot chain"—the denouement, if you will— is the point where the boundary between human and machine has finally become so blurred that there no longer is a difference between the two. In...

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12. Conclusion

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pp. 241-244

In the quotation above, Giuliano Bruno refers specifically to the replicants of Blade Runner, but the truth of the matter is, of course, that the androids are stand-ins for us, for the human race. Power, meaning the New World Order...

Bibliography

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pp. 245-251

Filmography

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pp. 253-269

Index

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pp. 271-279


E-ISBN-13: 9780814788752
E-ISBN-10: 0814788750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814779958
Print-ISBN-10: 0814779956

Page Count: 291
Publication Year: 1994