Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Eugene Thacker on Pop Culture

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
FrontWheel Drive has a great interview with Eugene Thacker in the wake of his Global Genome book. Thacker writes extremely interesting things about the intersections of medicine, biotech and popular culture and I completely agree with his take on the relationship between SF and current thinking on biotechnology:
I wonder if you could expound on your closing thoughts in The Global Genome regarding pop culture being the site in which to understand biotechnology?

Well part of that is due to may background in cultural theory, and, I'll admit, my affinity for SF and horror. But in all my writing on biotech and the life sciences I've always tried to refuse any hard and fast distinction between science and science fiction as a way of understanding the different ways in which futures are extrapolated from a given present situation.

It?s pretty obvious, if one looks around, that the life sciences and biotechnology have pervaded popular culture. A great way of demonstrating this is to look at all of the re-makes of Cold War-era science fiction and comics: Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, etc. It seems to now be a requirement to somehow put genetics in the stories, even if it really doesn?t make any sense (which is often). I?m less interested in what the director ?intended? to mean by this than what it means culturally that genetics, biotech, and even nanotech are always found in SF. One thing it means is that these sciences and technologies are normalized in a way that the general public going to a film will 'accept' their inclusion as a matter of course. Certainly there are always SF-geeks who dispute the technical accuracy of how the genetic mutation actually creates the superhero or villain, but on a general level these technosciences have become a part of a certain cultural imaginary. So the question is ?what conditions had to be in place such that these particular technosciences could become normalized as a part of a certain world-view?? Perhaps this process is somewhat parallel to the normalization of medicine and public health practices themselves.

So I think that popular culture is relevant, not because I believe that films should educate and moralize, but because there is actually a great deal of ambivalence in pop culture's treatment of technoscience. We can't live without it, and yet it seems to be our downfall. The movies that moralize about the ineradicable human spirit do so using the most advanced computer graphics and special effects. There?s also a sense in many of these films, books, and comics, that we as a culture are not quite sure what to do with all of this information and all these gadgets. It's almost as if the greatest challenge posed to SF now is finding something interesting to do with all the technology that exists.

[Via MIT Press Blog]

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