Thursday, February 27, 2014

Looking for: Bicentennial Man

After reading Phillip K. Dick’s novel  “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I couldn’t help but be reminded by the 1999 film BicentennialMan directed by Chris Columbus.

The film was about an android designed to serve humans, but overtime he gradually gained human-like qualities such as emotion and having creative thoughts. Andrew was solely purchased to be a household robot programmed to perform menial tasks, but became much more than that to the Martin family.

Here is the movie trailer (it'll really take you back):

The film raises the question of acceptance of the real and the artificial, and how one is more accepted than the other (real is preferred, aka, being human). The idea that an android could possess human-like qualities, so much, that by applying skin and a humanly appearance one could never tell a difference is a scary thought. It is scary because one might question who is actually human and who is an android—kind of hits the line of fear of the unknown. Hence, why throughout the film the creators of Andrew want to destroy him, but for those that know him & have built a relationship with him, they want him to “live” slash not be deactivated and probed back to a reprogrammed machine.

The whole debate over humans and androids is a slippery slope and scary topic for me, because I prefer the “real” meaning I prefer to be surrounded by people that can bleed and have the same physical reactions as me: for example if you were being sliced in half I’d be a bit concerned if wires came out—that to me proves a person isn’t real (if they don’t bleed, to simplify it). The same sort of thing happened when Deckard found the toad at the end of the novel; in order for it to be real it couldn’t have wires inside it/an on and off switch.

I find it interesting how the novel ended with Deckard finding a toad, and being unraveled by the fact that it could potentially be the last living toad. The idea that it was believed to be extinct, but there on the edge of the Oregon Coast in the desert he found this toad out of nowhere—it had to have been real in his mind, because if it were electric someone must have gone out of their way to put it there and that didn’t seem likely to him. The fact that he puts it in a box, and brings it home to his wife and is so ecstatic about finding something so real is fascinating because it raises the question of why do we care so much about something that is real? If it does the same thing, and functions just as well as something that is “real” what is wrong with it? The lack of authenticity does not take away from what is can do. For instance, even though it wasn’t a “real” toad, it still hopped, it still ate bugs, and moved like a toad, but since it had an on/off switch that made it impure/not real. The same question can be raised about Andrew being an Android from the film, what was so wrong with him being an android if he could do everything humans could, and was gradually obtaining more humanly attributes?

Throughout the film Bicentennial Man Andrew strived to become more “real” by becoming a human. He went to extremes by getting fake skin and humanly features made for him by humans that did that for a living. What made it so wrong to be an android that had humanly qualities but wasn’t “really” an actual human?  Was he real even though he had an on/off switch?

It has been a long time since I have seen the film in its entirety, but from what I can remember I think he always remains an android, he just changes his outward appearance to look like a human. He then goes off to live a normal human life, meaning, he gets a career, a wife, and a house on the beach. I would argue he isn’t a real human, but due to his functionality he is a real thing, just not entirely human.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MOOve Over "Real" Meat

As I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook I was surprised to come across a video that pertained to our class discussion: it was about how cows jumped for joy when they were freed from the hands of those that wanted them dead.

These cows were saved from a slaughterhouse. Usually, cows are happy when they get out in spring, but these cows were even happier than the average "milkcows" because even after they have been drained of all of their milk, they still serve a purpose in life for these farmers; and that is: to live. It made me think about the comments made about the difference between test-tube meat and “real” cow meat.

After dairy cows have been milked they are sold and mostly ground into hamburger. Dairy cows don't have as much meat in prime cuts. like (loin and rump) as beef cows because there purpose is to milk. Regardless, they serve a purpose to feed humans, after they have been killed. Studies and experiments have been being done over the past decade to find a new way to create meat (such as hamburger) without actually having to slaughter/kill cows, and some have worked. According to Scientific American test-tube burgers/lab-cultured meat has been passing taste tests.

After reading some articles about this type of test-tube meat process I realized it would save a lot of cows lives in the long run, and it doesn’t hurt them. But in the grand scheme of things it is very expensive to do these kinds of procedures. “The resulting five-ounce burger, cooked by chef Richard McGeown, was made using 20,000 strips of cultured meat—about 40 billion cow cells—and took about three months to produce, "which is faster than [raising] a cow,” Post joked. The most impressive number associated with the burger, however, is its $325,000 price tag, donated by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google,” (Duhaime-Ross). If the world had more co-founders of Google to donate money to these types of experiments I think it would be more plausible and popular. It’s really interesting how the taste-testers couldn’t even tell the difference between the “real” meat versus the test-tube meat.

It reminds me of the questions that underlie the novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” such as how simulations can sometimes be so “real” that it can be hard to decipher what is real and what is fake (things created to pose as the real). One might argue that this test-tube type meat is “fake” but is it really fake if it tastes and looks the same as regular meat that we are used to? Is it the different process it takes to make this test tube meat that bothers people & makes people think it isn’t real? If the properties are same, and the taste is the same, I personally don't see the difference between the two--it could be different, but if they share the same purpose I don't see the harm in switching to this kind of process, as long as it doesn't cost too much, and the cow population can be regulated--in a humane manner; meaning they don't force them to reproduce or die.  

What Descartes Really Meant

I just found this humorous, and thought you would all appreciate it as well.

To Psy, or not to Psy

Vice magazine recently published an article titled “A Guy Who is Scamming Rich European Kids for Free Drinks.” The article describes the exploits of a French-Korean, Dennis Karre, who has travelled to Barcelona Fashion Week for the past two years wearing fancy suits and sporting sunglasses mimicking the most viewed artist on youtube, a South Korean artist known by his stage name Psy. Psy’s fame came into the limelight on his six album with hit “Gangam style.” His charismatic dance routine and catchy beat in the 2012 hit became the first video to exceed one billion views on youtube. Certainly a spectacular feat any artist would like to make but he is also a repeat offender. In 2013, Psy’s video “Gentleman” became his second video on youtube that claimed the most viewed heavyweight title, passing artists Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and other notable mainstream pop artists. A force to be reckoned with, surely, but how was Karre mistakenly recognized as Psy?

As Karre’s entourage entered various night clubs to mingle with all the beautiful people, patrons began to notice a face they all knew, or thought they knew. This situation is a prime example of Jean Baudrillard's notion of Simulacra and Simulation, where the copy has replaced the “real” version of the artist. Even though this was Karre’s repeat appearance at the fashion week, none of the party goers seemed to mind that he was imitation, or remember that he had received a lot free drinks out of their pockets the year before. Karre was immediately ushered into VIP sections where he posed for photographs with his “fans” and even at one point got on stage and performed a dance that was no way reminiscent of the famous “Gangam Style”.

The video that started it all.

The imitation of the “real” Psy had become as much as “real” as if the actually artist had travelled from the Republic of South Korea to attend the Barcelona Fashion Week. Perhaps it was because to the alcohol, perhaps it was because of the environment that allowed for the perception of an image of a famous person to take the place of the actual artist as a reality. It might not have helped that Maciej Pestka, the author of the Vice article, doctored Karre’s entourage with photographers, beautiful women, a well tailored suit and the symbol of sunglasses Psy’s image is known for, the most recognizable aspect of the parody they were playing on the city of Barcelona. Pestka has written a book on the experience, titled The Life of Psy, which you can learn more about here. That, however, is what makes up all the difference in producing a simulation as described by Baudrillard. The ability to trick a crowd of people at the top of their field into believing they had been in the presence of greatness is an example of how reality is formulated. It didn't matter whether or not he was real, he was "real" to them. As they share the photographs taken with the famous artist across social media, they will remember that they had met the actual “real” Psy instead of Karre, a French-Korean with no affiliation with the most viewed man on youtube.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vortex of Terror

So this post is delayed but I want to talk about Simulacra and Baudrillard’s thoughts. I think I would love to sit down with Mr. Baudrillard and just talk about life…whatever that is. His three orders of simulation really have me thinking about how everything is actually represented in the life we are living in.
            The first order is a representation of the real and it is very obviously artificial and things that are first order are like realist paintings or maps. These things are simulation because they aren’t the actual things but a mere representation. Looking at a painting of Henry VIII is just a representation of the actual man that lived in the 16th century. We don’t know him and we cant experience him first hand but we do however create our own Henry VIII based on the painting we are looking at and can say “Yeah, okay, this is what Henry VIII looked like.” The painting represents what we are unable to see and experience first hand.
            The second order is where things begin to get more interesting and less straightforward… This is the land where the line between reality and representation begins to blur and your mind begins to do circles. This order of simulacra is where the representation of the real becomes as real and important as the thing it is representing. A lot of times this could mean that a statue is as important as the real thing or person it is representing. People pray to statues of deities with almost as much devotion as if they were praying to the real thing. This is where the line blurs between the representation and the simulation. People who practice Hinduism pray to statues and gods that have been given a physical representation but are not of this “world”, a woman with multiple arms is being praised and worshiped but that statue is not the “real” thing, which is not the real deity. People don’t know the difference. I think it’s interesting to think about that concept regarding religion in young children who have not yet learned the difference between what’s here in this world around them and what is beyond real manifestation. They wouldn’t know the difference between Christianity’s God and the idea of Christianity’s God.

            Then last, there is the third order of simulacra according to Baudrillard is when we enter the “vortex of terror” as I like to call it. The third stage is when the representation of the real surpasses the real. COMPLETE MIND EXPLOSION. The representation of the “real” is now better than the actual thing….Main Street USA in Disney for example. The original idea of creating that wonderful land of goodness was to simulate what an “ideal” American downtown, Main Street would look like. Now that simulation has surpassed the real Main Streets in the U.S.

Towns like Plymouth, NH have committees that gather to talk about how they can make their own Main Streets more appealing in lieu of “Main Street” in Disney. Disney is supposed to be based off of the real life Main Streets and now the real life Main Streets aim to make themselves like Disney. NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS OKAY. Simulation has become more desirable than the real thing, the glorified, FAKE versions of real things are more important now. The representation has surpassed the real which is scary to me. There is going to be a time when we wont be able to distinguish between the real and simulation. The lines won’t be blurred and things won’t be surpassed because we wont be able to even pinpoint the original or “real.”

Can You Ever Explain Originality?

After our discussion today in class I looked further into the differences between post-modern and modernism. I am fascinated by the different post-modern art forms in painting, poetry, and other works.

The post-modern portrait created by Matt Groening of The Simpsons, based on Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory (1931)…, which is already post-modern, is taking it a step further.

Tom Phillips is an artist that creates humuments, which are his version of art—he takes a page in a book and creates a painting or drawing on top of it. This to me is a very postmodern way of creating art. He takes something that is already “real” and enhances it, he manipulates it into something else…but is it something else or is it the same piece of page out of a book? Does putting paint on a page of a book change the meaning or originality of the page?

I actually created my own at one point when I first heard of him because I really like art, and the book "To Kill A Mockingbird" but never realized it could be post-modern. 

Or take for example Tristan Tzara, in 1920 he created a “recipe” for making a dadaist poem. In order to create a Dadaist poem one must take newspaper clippings and turn them into a poem. Again, this is taking something that is originally a form of a newspaper, and then is turned into something different, a poem. So does this make this post-modern? If modern is focused on the product, and post modern is focused on the process I’d say this artist has a postmodern way of creating art because he is taking a product and turning it into something else by using a another form of art (poetry versus journalistic writing). Tristan Tzara’s process violated all sorts of formal techniques used in poetry. He made poetry become randomized, and free, and rather “unconscious.” His process allowed the author to have free range to do what he or she wants with the piece from its original. By having this knowledge the product is explained by the process of clipping newspaper and making it into new sentences, hence why I think this is post-modern.

 I think the questions that arise from these artists is does taking an original work and making it your own by altering it change its authenticity/originality…does it become something completely new? Can one ever create something that is original? I think, since everything is socially constructed nobody can every be "unique" or create something original because we know too much. Based on our experiences we process things and understand them, and also build off of them to create something of our own, which some of us call "unique." Can anything ever be unique if everything has been done at least once? How do you know for sure it has been done or not? So many questions…