quarta-feira, 30 de maio de 2012
The Exposed Modern Body: The Terminator and Terminator 2 by J. P. Tellote
— Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Do not be misled by the above quote from Terminator 2 (1991). Hardly "deep," this chapter only looks at surfaces, particularly at how the Terminator films, as symptomatic of robot texts in more recent years, play with appearances. I cite this remark by young John Connor, according to these films the prospective savior of humankind, though, because it emphasizes a type of response at which both aim— what may even be a type of "saving" response that our most recent works about human artifice, even in their schizophrenia, may be working toward. This remark indicates not only the amazement any ten-year-old might well register at the "heavy" thought of one day sending his father-to-be back in time to sire him but also a kind of awakening, a shock of recognition at the depths of human nature, even in the face of postmodern culture's tendency to reduce everything, including the self, to surfaces, so that we everywhere seem, as the previous chapter offers, exposed, vulnerable, almost irrelevant.
We might recall Baudrillard's description of this situation as he sketches the impact our technology is having on the human body. He says that in the postmodern world—which he likens precisely to "science fiction"—we live in a state of "pure presence" or "overexposure," in that "obscene" condition we earlier defined (Ecstasy 17, 32). With "everything... so immediately transparent, visible, exposed" (21-22), the human body easily becomes little more than an object for a dispassionate gaze, an object with no hidden dimensions, no real desire, no purpose.1 As we have already seen, real science fiction—at least the science fiction film—has in the last decade taken a singular tack in exposing this pattern of expo¬sure. In a near fixation on the artificial, technologized body—the robot, cyborg, android—the genre has tried to examine our ambivalent feelings about technology, our growing anxieties about our own nature in an increasingly technological environment, and a kind of evolutionary fear that these artificial selves may presage our own disappearance or termination.
At the root of that fear, O. B. Hardison, Jr., feels, is a blurred or "weakening ... sense" (321) of what it means to be human, a loss of distinction or equating of all things that has become quite commonplace in the postmodern world. The Terminator films, along with similar robot movies of recent times, target this superficiality, which they expose by placing the artificial body, as a trope for the self, in front of the scene (as the word "obscene" implies), out in the open, where we might gauge its depths—and our own. In the way that this wave of films about a human artifice is trying to recuperate our "deep" sense, our sense of self, our very humanity, they suggest a significant pattern of resistance to that creeping postmodern overexposure.
Both films treat the body in a similar manner. The manufactured bodies of the cyborgs they depict are not simply sites of special effects displays but measures of our own human level of "manufacture," our own constructedness. At the same time, the narratives emphasize the difficulty we have today in really seeing ourselves. In the postmodern environment Baudrillard describes as "visible, the all-too-visible, the more-visible-than-visible" (Ecstasy 22), we typically seem to lack the perspective needed to see things—or ourselves—clearly. Thanks to our cultural fascination with surfaces and superficial effects, we no longer seem able to focus beyond that which is constantly exposed for us. And this difficulty, Baudrillard suggests, often leaves us resembling the schizophrenic who "can no longer produce himself as a mirror" (27), and who thus floats free of any secure identity. The Terminator films, though, seem intent on reproducing this mirror, at finding ways to let us see the self through the image of the constructed body, while also revealing the very problem of seeing that plagues both our world and our films.
James Cameron's original The Terminator speaks to this world of superfice by contrasting two discourses on the body. Most obviously, the film presents the technologized body, the android Terminator, as a kind of ultimate threat, directed not just toward a specific individual but toward humanity itself. For if the Terminator can kill Sarah Connor, the eventual mother of the human leader, then all of humanity will be terminated and replaced by machines. In this way, and particularly in depicting the other, technologized body as menace, the film seems to replay an old and often-told story of modern society's "technophobia," (2) the fear that our constructions might eventually shape our destruction. It is a story picked up by a number of films that would try capitalizing on The Terminator's success, but most notably by Hardware
At the same time, the film explores another sort of construction centered around the body, the manner in which it assumes a controlling cultural inscription, becomes almost in spite of itself a cultural construct. More specifically, it questions how notions of the feminine, the masculine, even the "normal" are imposed on us. (3) In linking these two discourses— the physically constructed body and the culturally inscribed self—the film ties the shaping, coloring power of technology to that of culture. It thereby suggests that these are not at all separate influences, but linked, mutual powers that wield a similar and indeed joint influence on us. In all of my subsequent references to a technologized self here, then, I want to evoke not only the "ecstatic" impact of technology that Baudrillard emphasizes but also a larger historical/cultural manipulation and inscription of the self, one in which our films have historically assisted.
Of course, the first film's title implies that its central concern is the technological threat, embodied in a killer cyborg which, for all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's excess muscularity, disconcertingly blends in with the human: speaks our language, crudely follows our basic customs, acts in roughly effective ways. (4) In fact, the film emphasizes just how easy it is to "pass" for human in a world that judges that status so superficially. As Sarah's human protector Reese explains, while the earlier model Terminators had crude rubber skin and were easily distinguished from humans, the newer model has become, at least to all appearances, almost undetectable. To dramatize the danger in that situation, a flashback shows a Terminator gaining entry to a human hideout and slaughtering the people there.
Yet this figure undergoes a gradual deconstruction that points up how difficult it is to "read" the body, yet also how necessary. To get at Sarah and defeat her bodyguard Reese, the Terminator assembles an arsenal of technological destruction. When his weapons empty or are discarded, the Terminator becomes simply an embodiment of implacable force, the imperative of programmed desire, the image of technological power itself. But in the process, its human seeming gradually disappears: eyebrows are singed off; an eye goes, exposing a video transmitter in its socket; patches of hair and skin are blown away; and eventually the entire synthetic human covering burns off, leaving only the underlying mechanical chassis to continue, relentlessly, with its deadly mission. Thrusting the human body to the fore, crafting this menacing image—an image that disturbs partly because it is one our culture either accepts or simply ignores—is a starkly inhuman technological power, the purpose of which is the destruction of the human image, or rather its replacement by whatever images it chooses to generate.
Here, though, is the sort of "deep" vision The Terminator strives for. The film strips away technology's alluring and human surface to show the potential total control over the human image it portends. That menace parallels the film's other focus on the body, its presentation of the female image through Sarah. She is a character who moves between self-determination and objectification, who seems easy prey precisely because she lacks a clear self-image, as if she already embodied the sort of manipulation of the self that a technological hegemony would promise. And in a way she does, as her public persona emphasizes. At work, outfitted in a pink dress and knee socks, she looks almost childlike. In action, she seems a familiar cultural construct—or even cinematic cliché: the attractive but clutzy waitress who not only can't balance a tray but, as she admits, "can't even balance my checkbook." Whether innocent or inept, she suggests the sort of superficial, stereotyped image with which, through films and television, we are already quite familiar, and one that seems the sorry destiny of this world.
The Terminator, then, warns about a kind of technologically inspired way we have of judging the world and those in it on the basis of appearances, while it also cautions us about the basis of those appearances—how much they are simply constructed for us, without our awareness, and made to seem quite natural and transparent. No one nor no thing here is simply who or what it first seems. For this reason, it is quite fitting that the Terminator makes no discriminations in carrying out its prime directive; it simply kills every Sarah Connor in the telephone book to make sure it gets the right one. Reese, who appropriates a tramp's clothes and looks like a streetperson, is a picked soldier from the future and Sarah's only hope. And despite her remark about her own unlikely appearance—"Do I look like the mother of the future?" she asks Reese—Sarah proves to be just that, the fully self-sufficient mother of the man who will lead humanity to victory over the machines. By pointing up this slipperiness, the unexpected depths that mark all appearances, The Terminator challenges us to look again, to look more deeply, to pay more attention to a world and a self we are, with our technology and our culture, constantly constructing.
At the same time, this shape-shifter helps develop an emphasis on perspective that is keyed to the body and its representation in a technological environment. For the T-1000's ability to reshape itself points up our difficulty in correctly seeing and judging the world around us—a difficulty linked to the technologized environment's tendency to expose everything, including the body, thereby reducing it to little more than observable surfaces. When the body is all surface, exposed, a visible function, there is little point to considering motivations or to holding some special knowledge (such as the knowledge of the future Sarah has). All that really matters, it seems, is right before us. In such circumstances, scant space is left for human identity, or what in the previous chapter we termed a "private self."
Of course, the film's very premise poses one problem of perspective simply by asking us to see the Terminator as a protector, to believe in this technological power's good intentions, despite all our memories of the prior film. Moreover, various visual clues once again prompt us to read into it a deadly potential. Schwarzenegger's Terminator comes through the time portal before the T-1000, thus suggesting, after the pattern of the first film, that his goal is the pursuit of John Connor, not his protection. Further coloring his image is his "look," taken from a fringe social group usually seen as dangerous—bikers. (6) To the tune of "Bad to the Bone" on the soundtrack, he violently acquires jeans, a leather jacket, sunglasses, and motorcycle—all of which conspire to produce a menacing figure, even as he embarks on a redemptive mission, rescuing John from the T-1000 at a local mall. Even this rescue sequence opens in a disturbingly predictive way, with a series of disorientingly rapid tracking shots down a narrow corridor, punctuated by low-angle close-ups of Schwarzenegger's angular, almost inhuman face. When he suddenly extracts a sawed-off shotgun from a box of roses, and we see a close-up of his black-booted foot crushing the flowers, we cannot help but be less shocked than confirmed in our first impression, that he is indeed "back," another version of the earlier Terminator.
As in the earlier film, this pattern of troubled perception extends beyond the technologized bodies of the Terminator and T-1000, to the central human characters, John and Sarah Connor. John, for instance, at first glance seems as unlikely a future hero as Sarah appeared a "mother of the future." His foster parents note he is always in trouble, and a police computer shows he has been charged with trespassing, shoplifting, disturbing the peace, and vandalism. In his first scene John ignores his foster mother when she asks him to clean his room, roars off on his motorbike when his foster father approaches, and steals $300 from an auto-teller to play video games and shop at the mall. His sloppy appearance, antisocial behavior, and motorbike mark him as a rebel without any apparent cause, one we read as negatively—and just as quickly—as the Terminator with whom John will later show such affinity.
But those initial appearances gain new resonance when his suspicion of all authority figures and his bike-riding prowess help him escape from the shape-shifting T-1000, and his electronic skills aid in destroying the information that will produce the destructive computer Skynet. Taken from his mother, placed in an uncaring foster home, typecast as a "bad kid," rendered as a computer readout, John is a cultural version of the body reduced to surface, to pure presence, and thus left exposed, vulnerable, and manipulated. Beneath what we readily see lies an intelligent boy who longs for his mother, suffers from an absent father figure, and— like much of modern humanity—is both fascinated by and has a keen understanding of various sorts of technology. These latter traits especially look toward his initially unlikely alliance with the Terminator, as well as his ability to take charge of it and redirect its actions in a nonlethal direction.
Sarah, though, shows the clearest parallel to that link between the body and a problematic perception modeled by the T-1000. If in The Terminator Sarah seemed a stereotype of the disempowered female—a position she had to overcome if she and the rest of humanity are to survive—here she initially seems a quite different cliche—the ultrafeminist. The film introduces her in a way that emphasizes her body and a transformation that has occurred. Compulsively exercising, she has made herself hard and muscled—like a smaller version of the Terminator—in preparation for the apocalypse she believes to be coming. Along with her exercising, survival skills, and martial arts expertise, she has subjugated all of her emotions. As John notes, she exercises a constant self-control to avoid betraying any signs of weakness. In a way, she has technologized herself, shaped herself into the best human cyborg possible in order to cope with the menace posed by the future's real cyborgs.
However, while Sarah is not crazy, as these appearances might suggest and as the normative view of the doctor and hospital staff affirm, she has become much like the very thing she struggles against. Like the T-1000, she and humans in general are protean, almost infinitely adapt¬able to circumstances. It is one of our great strengths, what allows us to cope with change, yet also a potential problem. Sarah, John tells us, would "shack up with anybody she could learn from"—bikers, drug runners, soldiers of fortune, and so on—to acquire the survival and com¬bat skills needed to deal with the bleak future she foresees.7 She has also created an almost impenetrably hard, unfeeling surface that denies depth by disallowing displays of emotion or caring, as a defense against that cold, emotionless menace she must face. But what Terminator 2 suggests is that such a self may not be the best solution for confronting the technological threat.
That shift in perspective, as Sarah comes from behind her telescopic sight, abandoning her dispassionate gaze, has an important ripple effect, for it moves the computer expert to see his own work in a different, more human light, and eventually to help in destroying it, even at the cost of his own life. That movement also prepares us for Sarah's final confrontation with the T-1000, wherein she comes out of hiding, "shows" herself in order to save John from the cyborg. Despite her previous comments about steeling the self, hardening the emotions—fittingly, the final scene occurs in a steel mill, a place where even steel melts—Sarah confronts the T-1000 when it corners John and, in her near self-sacrifice, buys time for the protective Terminator to defeat the shape-shifter. Her action is particularly significant because of the sort of show it represents: a show of her inner self, of the emotions she has kept hidden, of the sort of caring John has throughout the narrative longed for, and the sort that, we might suppose, could best draw humanity back from what appears to be a dark destiny.
That the Terminator also gains a new perspective at this point seems equally significant. He has all along been puzzled by human emotions, by the depths to which they bear witness. Tears, for example, mystify him; do they mean something is "wrong" with Johns eyes, he asks. But with this rather different sort of opening up—that is, with Sarah's show of motherly love, John's repeated demonstrations of his love and need for Sarah, the computer programmer's concern and sacrifices for his family (and, indeed, for the larger human family)—the Terminator, repro-grammed not to end life but to abet it and programmed, like humans, to learn from his experiences, begins to understand the complexity that cannot be shown by literally opening people up—or blowing holes in them. (8)
The altered human destiny that results here shows not only, as the film literally states, that we control our own fate but also that we are able to cope with the ongoing technologizing of the self. The self as surface, as a set of functions, as a hard, unfeeling thing, or as a subject codified by culture, "constructed" in a certain fashion by the world we inhabit, stereotypically represented by our popular narratives—this is the human problem rendered quite literally in both of these films. But it is a problem, they suggest, that we can deal with, even triumph over, thanks to the depth of human nature, which lets us be both hard and soft, steel the self against difficult times and open up to others, resist programming and reprogram the self, that is, construct a self free from the sort of superficial configurations our culture commonly imposes.
As these films imply with their dissection of a robotic logic of surface and depth, one key to coping with a world of artifice is seeing clearly, understanding the sort of "overlay" the modern technological environment imposes on our sense of self and how much it values that overlay. In his book Technology as Symptom and Dream, Robert Romanyshyn makes a similar connection. He links the development of technology and that of linear perspective in western culture, as he argues that we have historically produced "a distancing and detached vision" that interprets the body "as a spectacle" (117). As a result, he says, we have become far too much a culture of "dreamers"—of a certain sort. In this fantasizing, technology becomes "our cultural-psychological dream of distance from matter" (194). It is a dream that ultimately separates us from the world by depicting the self as an "invented ... created ... manufactured" and eventually superfluous thing (17).
Yet our very immersion in technology, Romanyshyn argues, also holds out "an opportunity" (10), for even while it impels us to hold things—or beings we might reduce to the status of things—at a distance, it is also a measurable "symptom" of that condition which, in its increasing impact on our lives, could help us see the world and the self anew. By reexamining that distant and superficial view of things it fosters, by peeling back the artificial surface and looking into our depths, we might recognize how much we have "lost touch with things" (194) and begin to reclaim the self.
That project seems well underway in our most recent films about a human artifice, for in their depiction of androids and cyborgs that easily pass as humans, they repeatedly evoke this difficulty we have in seeing— seeing in a proper, human way. "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes," the replicant Roy Batty tells the crafter of his artificial eyes in Blade Runner. Cast in the role of redeemer, driven by a desire for life, he helps point up—and remedy—the dark, death-serving vision that Rick Deckard has adopted. At an opposite extreme is the voyeur Line of Hardware, who watches his neighbor Jill through an infrared telescope, fantasizes about her, and, when she seeks help against an attacking android, tries to finish the job and rape her. A kind of human extension of that film's frightening shape-shifting robot and an emblem of the surveillance company for which he worked, Line shows how our technology can reinforce a human distance, making us all into spectators, and priming us to see each other as little more than superficial images of desire. As the previous chapter suggested, Total Recall's Doug Quaid, prodded by an equally superficial image, a computer-screen projection of himself, moves in a rather different direction. With the help of the rebel Kuato, he casts aside his artificial identity, looks inside himself to discover his real self. It is a search that is only completed when he quite literally penetrates the depths of Mars, where he discovers and activates a mechanism that will create a humanly hospitable atmosphere. Both that sort of penetration, into the self, and that sort of product, a human environment, seem most urgent in an age of surfaces, when virtual realities and virtual versions of the self stand ready to distance us ever further from our world and others, as a film like Lawnmower Man (1993) well illustrates.
Of course, film is itself a medium of surfaces, a technologically based one dedicated to reproducing the image, especially the human image. Vis-a-vis the situation described here, it thereby occupies a problematic but significant position—and the science fiction film, thanks to its technological focus, even more so. The contemporary science fiction film, with its emphasis on a technologized, artificial self and on the deceptive, superficial world we have all too unwittingly crafted, might well be trying to recuperate something more than just the self, then. As newer forms of technological reproduction, such as video, computer graphics, and virtual reality generators, appear and threaten to render it obsolescent or take its place, film may be working out its own strategies of recuperation and survival. In questioning its own technological fundament, in probing beneath these surfaces, in suggesting that it can, in effect, offer a privileged access to our human depths, even through those images of artifice, the science fiction film may also be trying to affirm the cinema's own difference from these other forms and to stabilize its tentative position in our cultural imagination.
As measured by their box office success, as well as by the warning they sound against computer-fashioned images of the human such as the T-1000, the Terminator films stand out as benchmarks in such a project. Yet of more immediate significance is their human work: the way they suggest, through their artificial beings, the dangers and the hope implicit in our creations (including our films), while reminding us of the depths of which we are already losing sight. Our human vulnerability, they imply, is our superficiality, the surfaceness Baudrillard describes, the too simple view that science fiction's critics too often ascribe to the genre. We seem so vulnerable not simply because we are today everywhere exposed, deprived of some haven from others' prying eyes, but because we have, in the process of fashioning such a world, denied our interior life, our identity, a private self independent of the public and artificial one our culture defines for us. It too often seems as if there is simply nothing inside for us to show. In their images of this modern technologized body, the Terminator films, as paradigms of our human artifice narratives, offer us our reflection. They make our "exposed" condition "all-too-visible" and, by pushing through those surfaces, stake out a future path to recuperating the human.
• NOTES •
An earlier version of this chapter appeared as "The Terminator, Terminator 2, and the Exposed Body" in Journal of Popular Film and Television 20.2 (Summer 1992): 26-34 and is reprinted with changes by permission of the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation. Published by Heldref Publications, 1319 18th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036-1802. Copyright 1992.
1. In Forget Foucault, Baudrillard suggests that the "obscene" destiny our culture seems to have ordained for us is not inevitable. He offers that we can cope with or confound it by what he calls a "reversible cycle" (43). In effect, we can "put on the act of obscenity," fashion our own "rituals of transparency" (34), and by foregrounding our "overexposure" regain a sense of self. This is the process I see being enacted in much of contemporary science fiction film.
2. In their essay "Technophobia," Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner describe a special twist in the great number of "technophobic" films that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, including The Terminator. They posit a contradiction in the era's dominant ideology, arguing that conservatism "requires technology for its economic programme" but "fears technological modernity on a social and cultural plane" (65). The films thus hint at an ongoing cultural tension. While Ryan and Kellner questionably ascribe that tension to a contemporary clash between liberal and conservative ideologies, we should note that a similar ambivalence toward the technological runs through the whole history of the science fiction film.
3. In her feminist reading of the contemporary science fiction film, Mary Ann Doane argues that whenever the genre "envisages a new, revised body as a direct outcome of the advance of science," the question of gender construction naturally follows, since cultural definitions of the feminine and the maternal are "inevitably involved" ("Technophilia" 163).
4. We might see a reflexive dimension here, since these characteristics could just as easily describe the persona of these films' star attraction, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He too, after a fashion, speaks our language, crudely follows our customs, and "acts" in roughly effective ways. Moreover, in a manner that some must surely find disconcerting, for all of his differences he has managed to blend right into the contemporary American scene.
5. Sarah's motorbike provides a telling link between The Terminator and Terminator 2. In the latter film we first see her son John working on his own motorbike, demonstrating his mastery over this piece of technology. When the Terminator acquires transportation, it is fittingly a motorcycle, a larger, adult version of John's vehicle that points toward his eventual, fatherly relationship with the boy. While Sarah and John depend to some degree on the technological, they also show their control over it through their masterly riding of these vehicles in the chase scenes.
6. We should note how both films use culturally overdetermined images-punk muggers, bikers—to introduce and trouble our initial perception of Schwarzenegger's Terminator. On the level of cultural wish fulfillment, the cyborg's routing of these menacing types must satisfy many viewers. But that enjoyment is compromised by the escalating violence in these scenes and, especially in the first film, by a sense that we are on the human side, allied with the prey of this technological menace. Both films seem intent on evoking this complex pattern of response, a kind of "guilty pleasure," in part to lay bare our own level of inhumanity, and at the same time our own uneasy place vis-a-vis the technological. Furthermore, these scenes prove disturbing precisely insofar as they imply a certain level of violence is not only justified but even necessary if we are to control our lives, maintain our identities, direct our destinies.
7. It is worth noting the extent to which heat and cold become emblematic conditions here. Sarah, we note, is noticeably "cold" toward her son. Since his birth, she has apparently been afraid to let herself feel or express any human warmth; thus she has gone from one brief relationship to another. That coldness is a possible way of steeling oneself against the impending threat of the machines. In fact, the first time the T-1000 is stopped, it occurs, suitably, thanks to a very literal coldness; he is doused with liquid nitrogen. However, that solution proves only temporary, and he is finally destroyed thanks to the fires of the steel mill—a destruction that follows from Sarah's and the Terminator's increasing displays of "warmth," of personal caring for young John.
8. We might read in this context of opening up and penetration the scene in which Sarah uncovers the arsenal she has been hoarding in anticipation of the coming war with the machines. As John and the Terminator descend into the underground bunker and inspect the variety of weapons there, they discuss Sarah and the boy tries to explain—to the Terminator but more for himself—why she has all these things and why she is the way she is. It is a very literal depth analysis, a penetration beneath the hard desert surface, accompanied by an effort to penetrate the cold, hard surface Sarah has cultivated.
In: Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film. Chicago (1995), pp. 169-185.