Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

The Emergence of ‘Cyborg’ Chic?

August 8, 2017

Last weekend’s Sunday People carried a feature, complete with ‘tasteful’ nude piccie, of a former female British squaddie, Hannah Campbell. Campbell, had lost a lower leg while guarding a building in Basra a decade, and was mentally still scarred with PTSD. The accompany photo showed her wearing only Union Flag body paint and her artificial leg.

Aside from the questionable morality of using pictures of women in states of undress to sell newspapers, I’ve absolutely no objection to disabled women – or blokes, for that matter – appearing as sexy or glamorous. I don’t mean in a fetishistic sense, such as amputee fetishism, but simply as people, who remain glamorous and attractive despite their injuries.

But the picture also set me wondering how long it would be before disabled people also became style icons, because of the quality and aesthetic style of their prostheses.

A few weeks ago there was a piece on the news about a company based at UWE here in Bristol, which has developed relatively cheap artificial hands, which people can make for themselves. The designs are only, and I’ve got a feeling some of the components can be manufactured using a 3-D printer. The journos talked to one little chap, who was very well impressed with his new hand. One of the company’s directors also said that they were currently negotiating with Disney for the rights to use some of their characters. They were interested in developing an Iron Man artificial hand, based on the Marvel character’s body armour. I can see children absolutely loving that, and the lad, who wore one of their hands already said that the other kids really admired it. This is great, because the company’s turned something that could easily be a mark of shame – a missing limb, and its artificial replacement – and turned it into something cool.

These two stories have made we wonder how long it will be before models, celebrities, fashionistas and other style icons include those with disabilities, but who have managed to incorporate the latest trends in cybernetic or bionic aesthetics with their own natural good looks or stylish clothes. After all, a few years ago one newspaper, reviewing Britain as the centre of cool design, selected various pieces of technology – I can’t remember whether it was computers or mobile phones – as examples of British design excellence. And just as style is a part of modern computer design, it’s also a factor in that of artificial limbs.

And so there’s the distinct possibility that as the technology advances, so we could see the emergence of a kind of ‘cyborg’ chic, of glamorous people sporting equally glamorous artificial hands and legs. It’d be what the Transhumanists – those extreme technophiles that want to upload their minds into robots and computers – have partly been looking forward to all these years.

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Government Internet Censorship in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 6, 2017

One of the very real concerns about the current attacks on freedom of speech by British and American governments is these states’ demands for increasing powers to regulate and censor what is posted on-line. This has all been framed under the pretext of protecting the British and American peoples from pornography, especially paedophile, and terrorism.

Stephen Baxter is one of Britain’s leading writers of Hard SF. This is the subgenre of Science Fiction, which follows Asimov and Clarke in being based on real science, though obviously also with a greater or less degree of extrapolation and invention permitting the inclusion of FTL drives, AIs and aliens. Baxter’s best known for his Xelee sequence series of books. These are set in a universe dominated by the advanced and unknowable Xelee, an alien race so far ahead of humanity that humans and the other intelligent species compete with each other to scavenge bits and pieces of their technology. At the same time, the universe is being prematurely aged by the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures for whom the light and warmth of the universe of normal matter is a hostile environment.

Baxter has also written a number of novels set in an alternative world. In Voyage, he described a crewed NASA expedition to Mars, whose triumph – a successful Mars landing – comes just when the entire American space programme is cancelled. The book was adapted as a radio play and broadcast on Radio 4.

In Titan, published in 1995, Baxter tells the story of a group of NASA and JPL scientists and astronauts, who launch a manned expedition to Titan to investigate further the discovery of living biochemistry by the Cassini probe. This is to be NASA’s last hurrah after the crash of the Columbia space shuttle results in the cancellation of the manned space programme. The story begins in 2004, in a world that is almost identical to the present of the time the book was written.

There are a few exceptions, however. Amongst the new inventions of this future past are computerised tattoos, which change shape according to the wishes of the wearer, and soft computer/TV screens, which can be rolled up and pasted on walls like paper.

And one of the issues that is very alive is the American government’s ruthless censorship of the internet. This is discussed in one scene, where NASA’s head, Hadamard, meets Paula Benacerraf, an astronaut aboard the ill-fated Columbia mission, her daughter, Jackie, who is responsible for publishing the discovery of life on Saturn’s moon, and her young son, at an official ceremony in Texas to honour China’s first taikonaut, Jiang Li.

He found Paula Benacerraf, who was here with her daughter, and a kid, who looked bored and restless. Maybe he needed to pee, Hadamard thought sourly. On the daughter’s cheek was an image tattoo that was tuned to black; on her colourless dress she wore a simple, old-fashioned button-badge that said, mysteriously, ‘NED’.

Hadamard grunted. ‘I’ve seen a few of those blacked-out tattoos. I thought it was some kind of comms problem -‘
Jackie Benacerraf shook her head. ‘It’s a mute protest.’
‘At what?’
‘At shutting down the net.’
‘Oh. Right.’ Oh, Christ, he thought. She was talking about the Communications Decency Act, which had been extended during the winter. With a flurry of publicity about paedophiles and neo-Nazis and bomb-makers, the police had shut down and prosecuted any net service provider, who could be shown to have passed on any of the material that fell outside the provisions of the Act. And that was almost all of them.
‘I was never much of a net user,’ Hadamard admitted.
‘Just to get you up to date,’ Jackie Benacerraf said sourly, ‘we now have one licensed service provider, which is Disney-Coke, and all net access software has built-in-censorship filters. We’re just like China now, where everything goes through the official news agency, Xinhua; that poor space kid must feel right at home.’
Benacerraf raised an eyebrow at him. ‘She’s a journalist. Jackie takes these things seriously.’
Jackie scowled. ‘Wouldn’t you, if your career had just been f***ed over?’
[Censorship mine].
Hadamard shrugged; he didn’t have strong opinions.
The comprehensive net shutdown had been necessary because the tech-heads who loved all that stuff had proven too damn smart at getting around any reasonable restriction put in place. Like putting encoded messages of race-hate and smut into graphics files, for instance: that had meant banning all graphics and sound files, and the World Wide Web had just withered. He knew there had been some squealing among genuine discussion groups on the net, and academics and researchers who suddenly found their access to online libraries shut down, and businesses who were no longer allowed to send secure encrypted messages, and … But screw it. To Hadamard, the net had been just a big conduit of bullshit; everyone was better off without it.
(pp. 130-1).

This is Science Fiction as the literature of warning: against cuts to the space programme, and net censorship. It even mentions rising graduate unemployment, in a scene where Paula Benacerraf arranges a meeting with her team to discuss the possibility of launching a crewed mission to Titan. They meet at dinner party in Benacerraf’s house, served by her housekeeper, Kevin. Kevin is a fine art graduate, who is working as Benacerraf’s housekeeper in order to work off his student debt. His works are the usual horrors inflicted on the world by contemporary artists. In her only visit to his atelier, Benacerraf is shown a 1/4 size sculpture of himself which Kevin has gnawed from a block of lard. This is just a study for a full-size work, which he intends to gnaw from his own liposuctioned fat or faeces. As she and her guests are being served by Kevin, she reflects that he is like the majority of graduates, who will never have a job.

Well, the shuttle programme has been cancelled, but hopefully this will not prevent the further exploration of universe. The Chinese certainly are looking to put a person into space, and are believed to be aiming to land a human on the Moon by 2020. Baxter also mentions this in Titan in his description of the spacewoman’s mission to the Deep Black, where he states that this is believed to be in preparation for a moon landing in 2019.

And Baxter is absolutely correct about the demands for a comprehensive censorship of the internet by the British and American governments. The only difference is the terrorists the governments are panicking about are Islamist, rather than neo-Nazi. So far, the demands for censorship have been limited, so there isn’t the almost-complete shutdown of the net described in Baxter’s version of the recent past.

But this is still a very real danger, as these accompanying threat, which Baxter didn’t predict, of increased state surveillance of electronic communications, for the same reasons as censorship.

Someone once remarked that all science fiction is really about the issues of the time they were set. Titan reflects the fears about the internet that were present back in the 1990s, when it was first emerging. These fears, and the consequent demands by government to censor nearly everything we see or read online, are still very real, and Baxter’s book is still very relevant.

Lucas Gave Profits from Sale of Star Wars to Education

December 16, 2015

The world, or at least Britain and Europe, is gearing up for the release of the new Star Wars film, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Unlike the earlier features, which were Lucas Film/ 20th century Fox, the new flick has been made by Disney after Lucas sold Star Wars to them. I found this meme on 1000 Natural Shocks, and if it’s true, then it shows another side to Lucas in an extremely generous and admirable gesture.

Lucas Education Donation

Lucas has, of course, made his money cinematically from entertaining children, so its extremely appropriate that he should also try to benefit them educationally as well.

Unlike the current Tory government over here, which is trying to shut everything down or privatise it. And there isn’t even a Death Star to destroy Chipping Norton.

Cameron Demands Return of Chinese Slavery

October 10, 2015

David Cameron, or one his underlings at the Tory party conference this week declared that British workers should work like the Chinese in order for Britain to compete in the global marketplace. This comment, coming from a party intent on destroying workers’ rights and the last vestiges of the welfare state, as well as forcing the unemployed to labour for zero pay under workfare schemes, has sinister overtones of the ‘Chinese slavery’ denounced by British working class organisations at the beginning of the last century.

The term refers to harsh conditions forced on immigrant indentured Chinese labourers in South Africa, which became a symbol for the employers’ oppression and exploitation of the working class. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes it thus in this entry:

Chinese slavery. Virtual slavery; excessively hard graft for negligible rewards. The phrase became widely used as a political slogan by the LIBERALS from 1903, when Balfour’s CONSERVATIVE government (1902-1905) introduced indentured coolies from China to combat the shortage of Kaffir labour in the Rand gold mines after the dislocation caused by the South African War. They were kept in compounds and only allowed out under permit. (p. 229).

I apologise for the use of the word ‘Kaffir’.

Unfortunately, resentment about the way the Conservatives and their moneyed paymasters were trying to force British workers into the same highly exploitative conditions quickly spilled over into bitter racist hostility to Chinese immigrants in Britain. These were believed to be imported as a deliberate ploy to take jobs away from British workers and keep wages law. In 1909 a series of anti-Chinese riots broke out after a firm in one of the northern towns sacked its British employees en masse and replaced them with Chinese.

This fear has also returned with the controversy over mass immigration. Theresa May herself played on it in her speech when she demanded an end to it, stating that the importation of foreign labour had been used to drive down wages. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs, has pointed out that despite attempts to portray the White British working class has racist in recent strikes caused by the importation of low-paid workers, the strikes themselves were directed against their exploitation. The unions that called the strikes did so because these workers were being exploited, and demanded that they should enjoy the same conditions as their British co-workers.

As for China itself, it’s fair to say that the workers there are exploited. They are low paid, often toiling under extremely exploitative conditions. There has been controversy surrounding the appalling conditions workers manufacturing merchandising for the immensely rich Disney corporation. Workers employed by other firms in China have thrown themselves off roofs to end it all in despair at their exploitation.

And real slavery also exists, in the prisons and archipelago of gulags and ‘re-education’ camps to which the Communist government sends political prisoners, there to work for the state’s further profit. Just as the inmates of the German concentration camps and Stalin’s gulags were used as slave labour.

The Chinese themselves are beginning to revolt against this. There have been mass labour protests by disabled workers, discarded after industrial injuries or illnesses made them too sick to work, and by veterans of the Red Army, who were conscripted to build the vast, skyscraper megacities that now characterise modern China. They’re joined and aided by crusading civil rights lawyers, trying to use the law to get them justice.

In other words, the Chinese are doing the very things that the Tories would like to stop over here: grass-roots labour protest and the use of legal challenges to exploitation.

We should join them. Cameron, Osborne and the rest of their vile crew aren’t acting alone. They’re part of a global elite that is impoverishing workers and their families all over the world under the guise of globalisation and free market economics. We need to challenge them on this end of the Eurasian landmass, just like the Chinese are challenging them at their end. The slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ isn’t just an empty catchphrase, but a genuine insight into the tactics that have to be adopted to stop them forcing workers around the world, whether in London, Mumbai, Beijing, or wherever, into a 21st century ‘Chinese’ slavery.