E-Learning and Digital Cultures:
Utopian and Dystopian Cultures in Four Short Films
The short film Bendito Machine III consists of a primitive tribe/culture worshiping a higher form of technology that falls from the heavens. At first the radio is seen in the mouth of an idol in the image of a bull. The film opens when a man climbs a mountain and summons an alien television. One must assume that at some point the radio for the man was no longer sufficient and he sought an even higher form of power and knowledge. As the man returns from the mountain (much like Moses in the Old Testament) the tribe quickly turn against their current god and adopt the new form of technology in the form of a television. The tribe dispose of the old radio-god in a trash heap.
What is disturbing is the suggestion that technology and a digital age could possibly create a culture that has no roots in tradition and can thoughtlessly follow a new form of idea, thought, technology, or god so readily and without debate and contemplation as to the adverse effects to social or cultural norms. The culture shown in this video is one willing to forsake an established norm in order to be entertained. A shallow notion indeed. The tribe, however, is punished by the new god and they bow before it in hopes of appeasement.
The second film, Inbox, represents the overall desire for men and women to maintain connection and communication with one another. The man and the woman in the film share physical notes which echo the physical contact an older man and woman displayed by holding hands in Land Mart at the beginning of the film. In today’s growing digital culture there will always be a need for affection and human contact. The woman logs in to her Facebook account and sees the messages in her inbox but looks on disappointedly and logs off. The woman could have easily messaged the other suitors but she chose not to.
This shows that the messages through the digital world was not as appealing as those messages she shared with the man through the two red bags. The film clearly shows that people will continue to have the need for communication, but at some point physical objects and contact will outlast the digital objects which may appear lifeless and dead. Either way, the man and the woman (either using the digital form or the physical form of communication) took for granted the means of communication and almost lost out on their chance at happiness.
The third film, Thursday, is a rather interesting take on a Utopian society. For a date night, a man and a woman ride an elevator to a space station to become enchanted as they float high over Earth and look down on the glowing lights of a modern city that resembles a computerized grid. Later, they share a romantic night in bed. For Nature, represented through the birds in the film, it is more of a Dystopian future. One bird plucks wires out of a machine in order to build a nest for its chicks. Nature finds a way to survive, despite what man creates from the excess of technology. Here we have man enjoying what he has created with his own hands: a land without trees and fully formed into that of a machine world. The birds, however, struggle with this new planet and must find a way to adapt to the digital world they find themselves living in.
New Media is the final film and it is a grim depiction of a ruined world void of population and where technological entities drift along over a cement city. From hovering machines (similar to Wells’s alien machines in The War of the Worlds) long wires cris-cross along deserted streets. By the video’s end we come to realize that each one of these wires is attached to a person’s head/brain and that humans are behind these machines drifting with what looks to be very little purpose and human interaction. But who is really in control?
New Media is similar to Bendito Machine III in two ways. First, both films have technology conquering the human race to some degree. What is found in the ”norm” of today’s world is controlled by machines that roam without moral or ethical consequences over people. The next similarity is that humanity, in one way or another, are in control of these machines. In Bendito Machine III the tribesman simply discard the new technology, which exhibits a form of control.
From Thor to Superman there are many examples of how technological superior races treat and are eventually affected by technology. Krypton is destroyed when government agencies use technology to harness and drill the planet’s core, which leads to the demise of the planet and a majority of the species.
But let us go back before we continue forward. At one point sowing vegetation and reaping a harvest came to humanity as a new form of technology. Women, who often stayed behind in tribes and villages, harnessed the ability to grow plants and vegetables, which in turned gave these women a power over the hunting men, who had very little control of the migration of animals. The men soon feared these women, who now wielded the power of life in the form of sustainable crops, and in turn created a power struggle within this primitive society.
In the Basal Neolithic era, Joseph Campbell writes: ”And the role of the women has perhaps already been greatly enhanced, both socially and symbolically; for whereas in the hunting period the chief contributors to the sustenance of the tribes had been the men and the role of the women had been largely that of drudges, now the female’s economic contributions were of first importance. She participated–perhaps even predominated–in the planting and reaping of the crops, and, as the mother of life and nourisher of life, was thought to assist the earth symbolically in its productivity” (The Masks of God, Vol. I, Primitive Mythology, page 139).
Now let us move forward far into the future. As we saw in the past, any advancement in society will be seen as a leap forward, and perhaps it is. The question, however, we must raise in this age of technological determinism is what divisions in social, economical, and cultural arenas will pop up in the course of these advancements? Other serious questions include: who will hold the power of these future technologies and how will those people who are powerless react?
- Brave New Worlds before Huxley and Orwell (writersinspire.wordpress.com)
- Dystopian Literature: What makes it Dystopian? (dystopianreflections.wordpress.com)
- Dystopian Literature (kdorwin614.wordpress.com)
- Wu Ming’s top 10 utopias (guardian.co.uk)
- Popular cultures . . . #edcmooc (smoocdotme.wordpress.com)
- Digital Culture/ Digital Media & Society (zwwf071.wordpress.com)
- E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (alistudy.wordpress.com)
- Digital Culture in daily life. (zwwf040.wordpress.com)
- Digital culture’s vital role in digital transformation (econsultancy.com)
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 350,000+ followers