Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brand Mascots

In Satisfaction Guaranteed, Susan Strasser discusses the evolution of the advertising agency and its reshaping of the consumer mind from one of utilitarian and agrarian to that of modern, urban, and industrial. Strasser discusses how ad agencies weren’t only trying to sell new products to a consumer culture, “but also creating new domestic habits and activities, performed at home, away from stores and outside the marketing process” (p.89). In other words, by creating new activities (or the illusion of new activities) within the consumer’s home based in part or solely on these new activities, advertising agencies managed to make the products they were pushing a domestic imperative. As Strasser adds, “people who had never bought cornflakes were taught to need them” (p.89).
This major shift in the expanse and integration of advertisements didn’t really occur until the 1870’s newspapers and magazines began to offer “low rates to advertisers who bought whole pages” (p.91). From there, magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and newspapers such as the Saturday Evening Post, found themselves “supported by advertising revenues and designed to highlight the ads—to function as advertising media” (p.90) in the span of five years. These new advertisements “contributed to a larger change; the goals of advertising shifted from an emphasis on providing information to an attempt to influence buys by any means possible” (p. 90).
This unrelenting advert explosion soon broke free from the newsprint and glossed pages into the realm of posters, electric signs, and billboards. With the advent of new technologies, came the rise of ads in the public space, catching the consumer’s eye day or night. However, some of these “new technologies enabled advertisers to create billboards so intrusive that they provoked public controversy about the visual space for commercial purposes” (p.91). This led ads into the realm of politics, which ultimately, led to campaign reform against advertising on public property.
The ushering in of the 20th century also ushered in an expansion of services ad agencies offered: “many agents began to hire artists and copywriters and to offer clients coordination with the agencies that handled outdoor and transit advertising…and handled sampling and other nonprint promotions” (p.93). These product peddlers grew into multi-tasking leviathans of splash-page consumption. With a gestalt of goods-aggrandizers at their beck and call, advertisement agencies began to assault the consumer with carefully-planned ad campaigns that “encouraged new needs and new habits…by linking the rapid appearance of new products with the rapid changes in…social and cultural life” (p.95).
These new ad agencies insidiously created new activities to perform at home in order to sell their new products which initially either had not existed before or found its existence outside of the home (ie- shaves at the barbershop), then claimed that their prefabricated product simplified the subtle fabrications of fast-paced modern lifestyle.
To detract from the homogeneity of the assembly line and the monstrosity of the factory and to distract the consumer from questioning the need for such products, identifiable and, oftentimes, wholesome middle-men appeared. These advertisement avatars had the power to offer comfort and lend sage advice to the confused. Such identifiable humans such as King Gillette, Betty Crocker, and William Penn, the Quaker Oats figurehead, offered their countenance and signature to authenticate the merits of these new products and lent their flesh and blood to make factory goods real and a necessity. As Strasser puts it, these human mascots drew “a connection between new products and the presumed integrity of previous times” (p.118).
Furthermore, an abbondanza of grandmas sprouted up overnight at ad agencies all around town. These sweet, elderly ladies “gave advice through…traditional wisdom and old-fashioned comforts” (p. 119). Grandmothers became symbolic of the comforts of community and home, while their opinions were held in high regard. If a grandmother says it’s alright, then it must be. Who’s gonna question a Granny????
At the opposite end of the age spectrum were the Dutch-girl characters whom appeared on the scene and in ads, adorning white caps to signify cleanliness and play on the stereotype of nostalgic wholesomeness: “clean old-country Netherlanders, dressed in traditional costume” (p.121). These girls were in keeping with Campbell’s Kids who gave the soup “a distinct Cambell’s individuality” (p.95). However, the Cambell’s Kids caricatures had an otherworldly quality to them that was less in line with Dutch-girls and more in keeping with the Jell-O Kewpies.
Jell-O hired Rose Cecil O’Neill to make the Kewpies the “subject of her illustrated poems, published regularly in Good Housekeeping, and, reproduced as dolls, created a sensational fad” (p.117). Other companies caught onto this craze and, soon, “pixylike characters” were popping out of Avalon left and right selling soap and crackers to the consumer. These mascots, as well as Palmer Cox’s Brownies and the Post Toasties Elves, “implied the ‘magic’ of mass production” (p.115) and wielded the “’mystic power’ into service collecting cottonseed and coconuts, manufacturing Ivory soap, and distributing it to every house in the land” (p.115).
These magical characters proved popular and although many of them have shed this mass-marketed mortal coil, they were symbolic of a bygone era and/or an otherworld. The element of magic made the machinations infesting factories and the spokes and wheels that churned out pre-packaged products on the assembly line less confusing to a generation of individuals who were facing the accelerated progress of industry and modernity.

Time to Eye!

Comparing Ridley Scott’s film adaptation to the novel that it is looser-than-loosely based on, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is a tricky task. However, considering that I could probably write volumes upon volumes, examining every dissimilar air and comparable nuance between the novel and film, I have decided to focus my attention on Scott’s and Dick’s visions of the future, and their inclusion and utilization of the eye as the transcendent symbolic device transmitting said visions of the future to its viewer/reader.
Keeping that in mind, let’s discuss the era in which Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was conceived and what issues were troubling Philip K. Dick’s mind, those of his peers, and the population in general when he wrote it in 1968. Blind faith in modernity and technological innovation prior to WWII seemed antiquated, outdated, and foolish in the decades following it. The world was left with questions: Could anyone with a little charisma lead a nation into war like a pied piper playing the sweet melody of delusional genetic superiority? Could one country be so hypnagogically removed from their emotions to commit genocide upon a percentage of their own people? If science and reason were such precise instruments of harmonious order and structure, how could the world have been thrown into chaos and bear witness to such societal evil? By the time the 1960s had arrived, the world still had no answers to the aforementioned questions and was now dealing with a new set of woes set in motion: important leaders were getting gunned down left and right; the Vietnam War was underway; the Civil Rights and Feminist movements were demanding equality; the youth counter-culture was questioning authority and religion; the world was frozen in the icy grip of the Cold War; and nuclear annihilation seemed in imminent. For many writers in this era of confusion and questions that had been built upon the confusion and questions of WWII, these issues weighed heavily on their minds and influenced their literary works; Philip K. Dick was no exception to this.  
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, he envisioned a post-apocalyptic future where the past was a blur and the present was a scramble to escape the realities of what humanity had wrought:  “No one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won. The dust which had contaminated most of the planet’s surface had originated in no country, and no one, even the wartime enemy, had planned on it” (p.13). This quote is not only telling of World War Terminus, the title Dick has baptized as Earth’s final war in the novel, but also of the time in which it was written. It’s quite obvious that Dick was drawing upon and commenting on Cold War fears of nuclear war. By the time Dick had written Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, neither science nor technology had proven to be humanity’s secularized savior, ushering in the pre-WWII promises of a utopian future like many adherents of modernism had confidently predicted. Instead of utilizing the advantages of science and the tools of technology to advance the human race into a better tomorrow, war, fear, and competition had consumed the world. It would seem that the powers that be would’ve much rather invested their time, energy, and money into ways of eradicating the enemy and, ultimately, themselves than building a better future for all.
Dick further plays upon these ideas by explaining that, after World War Terminus, “the sun had ceased to shine on Earth” (p. 14), and that humanity had few options in the aftermath of nuclear bombardment. Abandoning Mother Earth and migrating to the stars seemed the only viable option for those that survived the war. Thus, “the U.N. had made it easy to emigrate, difficult to stay. Loitering on Earth potentially meant finding oneself abruptly classed as biologically unacceptable, a menace to the pristine heredity of the race” (p. 14). This excerpt also echoes the Aryan ideals inherent in Nazism… a subject Dick was fascinated with. Elsewhere in the book, Dick touches upon the notions of the genetically enhanced and perfected ubermensche, “a weapon of war, the Synthetic Freedom Fighter, had been modified; able to function on an alien world, the humanoid robot—strictly speaking, the organic android—had become the mobile donkey engine of the colonization program” (p. 14). A one-way ticket to the off-world colonies was humanity’s only option for survival and “the ultimate incentive of emigration: the android servant” (p. 14), which sweetened the deal for hesitant humans. Earth was advertised as a death sentence to those who weren’t certain whether to stay or go. Dick also touches on other baser reasons behind the world’s final war and its ramifications: “the silence of the world could not rein back its greed” (p. 18); unsurprisingly, humanity’s greed had also weighed heavily in determining the events which led up to nuclear annihilation.
With that in mind, it seems fitting then that Ridley Scott’s interpretation of Dick’s apocalyptic, android-ridden future came to filmic fruition in the 1980s when the stock-market motto, “greed is good”, was running rampant among yuppies and young republicans from sea to shining sea. Although Scott’s Orwellian vision of tomorrow is quite noticeably different than Dick’s, which seems Criswellian in comparison. Unlike Dick’s Earthly ghost town awaiting humanity’s fate, Scott foreordains one of genetic modification, overpopulation, cross-cultural abrasion, over-commercialization, obsolescence, and the most conspicuous of consumptions. Given the current state of contemporary culture, Scott’s vision of the future seems more accurate as ‘November, 2019’ slowly slips from the future and into the present.
 From the opening scene of Blade Runner, the viewer is greeted with an over-industrialized, hellish future complete with bellowing, infernal plumes belching upward and disapproving lightning bolts raining down from the smog-filled heavens, creating an arguing dialect of symbolism between the elements. The viewer’s hovering gaze is pushed/pulled forward into this unholy urban congestion as hovercars whiz by, carrying their wayward occupants on thick stygian winds to their bleak fates. In the distance, the viewer can slowly make out the image of the camera’s ultimate destination—that of the Tyrrell Corporation’s pyramidal headquarters—Ridley Scott’s ultra-modern version of the Tower of Babel.
 The shot is then abruptly interrupted by an all-seeing eye enveloping the camera and staring back at the viewer. As Ridley Scott explains on the DVD commentary to Blade Runner, “the eyeball, really, was the symbol of the ever-watchful eye…which would be the idea of ‘big brother’…the eyeball represented that eye of Orwell”. Much like the novel, the film draws upon the eye not only as the window to the soul …or the soulless, which is the case for the androids in the novel and the replicants in the film… but as the eye of the ‘other’, watching every move the constituents of this apocalyptic future make and, ultimately, the viewer, leaving an overall feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, and violation of privacy.
The eye continues to be a limitless source for symbolism and signification throughout the novel and its film adaptation. Another example of this ocular significance and importance can be found in its fundamental usage in the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test as an external determinant to differentiate between human and android/replicant. This significance of the eye in gauging whether its subject is human or machine is first explained in detail when Rick Deckard, the bounty-hunting/blade-running protagonist of both book and film, uses the Voigt-Kampff apparatus on Rachel Rosen—the naïve Nexus-6 femme fatale/damsel-in-distress—while explaining how it works: “‘This’—he held up the flat adhesive disk with its trailing wires—‘measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know [the police] this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus…this records fluctuations of tension within the eye muscles’” (p. 44).
Likewise, a similar description is extolled by Eldon Tyrrell, a wizened older gentleman and head of the Tyrrell Corporation in the film (in Dick’s novel, his name is Eldon Rosen—head of the Rosen Association): “Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris”. Tyrrell obviously suffers from a severe case of poor eyesight as he is wearing a pair of thick glasses, which magnify and distort the image of his eyes. As Deckard sets up the Voight-Kampff apparatus in the film, the magnified image of Rachel’s eye appears on its main monitor screen, paralleling the image of the Orwellian-like eye looking out over the cityscape from the opening scenes. As in the novel, the Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test administered in the movie is to detect a human from android, or, in the case of the film adaptation, human from replicant.
It should also be noted that the Tyrrell Corporation from Blade Runner and its equivalent in the book, the Rosen Association, are both in possession of a replicated and/or robotic owl. The owl’s eyes in the film are utilized as yet another source of being watched by the ‘other’ as it peers out with glowing, phantasmagoric eyes over the inhabitants of Eldon Tyrrell’s office. Furthermore, the owl’s penetrating eyes are part of the Tyrrell Corporation’s logo. In the novel, the owl was the first animal to go extinct after World War Terminus. The significance of the owl in both novel and film, quite possibly stems from its symbolism in ancient myth. In Indian folklore, the owl was endowed with the gift of prophecy. In Greek myth, the owl was the pet of Athena—the goddess of wisdom—and believed to have magical powers emanating from an inner light which gave it the power of night vision. Additionally, the ancient Greeks believed the owl offered protection to soldiers going into battle and, if an owl flew over the battlefield, it was taken as a sign of imminent victory. The owl also appeared on the reverse side of coins to monitor the honesty of all trade and commerce in Ancient Greece, which seems to be symbolic of its presence within the inner sanctum of the Tyrrell Corporation and the use of its eyes on their logo.
It also seems strange that both Dick and Scott introduce the reader/viewer to the owl almost simultaneously with that of the introduction to Rachel, giving her and the scene an almost supernatural quality. That being said, the ancient Romans believed witches could transform into owls, called the Stryx, as a means of transportation and to seek out that evening’s human victim. With this in mind, Rachel’s first appearance alongside the owl then takes on a vastly different meaning; although, in the novel, it would appear that Dick decided to weigh more heavily on the myths of Ancient Rome. This scene forces the reader to witness, with the written word, Rachel’s transmogrification from showroom-model into that of femme fatale. However, it would appear that Scott incorporated both Greek and Roman myths in his vision of Rachel since she teeters between noir-ish vamp and pencil-skirted damsel, leaning just as heavily on Greek myths of Athena and her holy pet owl as those of the aforementioned Roman ones. Regardless, both she and the owl appear together to extend a visual/textual dialogue between the eyes--those of the owl’s aglow with ‘inner light’ and those of the replicant’s, glowing with the ‘uncanny valley’.
Dick makes reference to the female androids’ eyes several times throughout Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. When Rachel is given the Voight-Kampff test, Dick describes, “She [Rachel] gave him [Deckard] a malice-filled sidelong glance” (p. 42) and “Her [Rachel’s] black eyes flamed up, she glowered at him [Deckard]” (p. 42). Later, in the novel, while describing Rachel again, Deckard observes, “Rachel had been modeled on the Celtic type of build, anachronistic and attractive…the total impression was good, however…Except for the restless shrewd eyes” (p. 185). However, Dick’s references to the eerie android eyes do not stop with Rachel. When describing Pris Stratton, one of the androids Deckard is out to kill, her eyes are described as “enormous, glazed over fixedly as she attempted to smile” (p. 60). Perhaps, the android that Dick most uses to symbolize this otherworldly glow emanating from the eyes can be found in the novel’s chapters dealing with the Luba Luft.
Luft is a renegade android masquerading as a human opera singer. As Deckard moves in for the kill backstage by portraying himself as an ardent opera fan, he notes in her dressing room that her stage makeup “enlarged her eyes; enormous and hazel, they fixed on him and did not waver” (p. 98). Later during questioning, using the Voight-Kampff test, Deckard observes, “her immense eyes widened with childlike acceptance, as if he had revealed the cardinal mystery of creation” (p. 100). Being an opera singer performing the role of Pamina from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Dick has created a Droste effect; in this case, entertainment within entertainment—the opera being performed in the literature being read. Another example of this appears later in the novel as Deckard is joined by another bounty hunter, Phil Resch, to apprehend Ms. Luft who hasn’t fled to the four corners of Earth but, instead, decides to take shelter within the confines of a museum exhibiting the works of Edvard Munch.
Dick has written yet another example or the recursive Droste effect into this scene, “Holding a printed catalogue, Luba Luft…stood absorbed in the picture before her: a drawing of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an expression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face” (p. 129). Here, the reader is left to envision Luba viewing the piece of art; thus, drawing upon Munch’s “Puberty” as an artwork within Dick’s literary work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Furthermore, Dick parallels Munch’s portrait of a young woman maturing within the confines of his painterly brush-strokes, while Dick metamorphoses the character of Luba Luft from cold, calculated android into one of warmth and empathy as she stands there viewing the portrait with an appreciation. Unfortunately, Luba was removed from Scott’s film adaptation.
However in her place, is Zhora, a replicant described in the movie as “trained for an off-world kick murder squad. Talk about Beauty and the Beast. She’s both.”  Like Luba, Zhora also works in the entertainment industry… albeit, the seedier side of the entertainment industry. Zhora performs in the 4th Sector as ‘Miss Salome’ and, as the emcee announces to the audience in Taffey Lewis’ rather posh yet questionable establishment, “Ladies and gentlemen, Taffey Lewis presents Miss Salome and the snake. Watch her take pleasure from the serpent that once corrupted men”. Like Luba, the eye is focused on Zhora’s onstage performance, making entertainment within entertainment. Unlike Luba, Zhora bolts out of her dressing room before Deckard has the chance to run the Voight-Kampff test on her. As Deckard pursues her out into the heavy traffic of the raining dark of the noir-ish cityscape, the viewer is inundated with a barrage of advertisements. As our intrepid blade-runner fires away at Zhora, we see her crash into display windows filled with mannequins as she is gunned down. This is an obvious allusion to her being an organically-grown robot. She continues to run after Deckard fires each shot at her and hits his target. Scott positions the camera so that Zhora’s attempts to flee the scene like a wounded animal are mirrored in the reflections of her image emanating along the corridor of display windows. Ultimately, Zhora meets her demise with her eyes open wide as neon images of advertisements overhead pulse and flicker their products, reflected on her lifeless frame.
 Keeping representations of mass-media entertainment in mind, both film and novel handle its oversaturation in the public eye but in their own distinct, separate ways. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick introduces readers to the TV and radio personality of Buster Friendly and his merry band of Friendly Friends. Buster Friendly’s show appears to be the only thing that the constituents of this post-apocalyptic world tune into and no-one seems to mind. As Dick informs the reader, “The Buster Friendly Show, telecast and broadcast over all Earth via satellite, also poured down on the emigrants of the colony planets. Practice transmissions beamed to Proxima had been attempted, in case human colonization extended that far. Had the Salander 3 reached its destination, the travelers aboard would have found the Buster Friendly Show awaiting them. And they would have been glad” (p. 72); not even the cosmos appears to be free of Buster Friendly’s broadcasts.
Buster Friendly is a source of companionship, “Good old Buster…I watch him every morning and then again at night when I get home; I watch him while I’m eating dinner and then his late late show until I go to bed” (p. 61); a source of information, “it’ll be nice to see Buster Friendly on TV again, instead of just listening on the radio in the store truck…Buster Friendly is going to reveal his carefully documented sensational expose tonight. So because of Pris and Roy and Irmgard I get to watch what will probably be the most important piece of news to be released in many years. How about that, he said to himself” (p. 202); and a source of fear and disgust, “Better, perhaps, to turn the TV back on. But the ads, directed at the remaining regulars, frightened him. They informed him in a countless procession of ways that he, a special, wasn’t wanted...why listen to that?” (p. 19).
While Buster doesn’t appear in Scott’s adaptation of the novel, the viewer is assaulted with a multi-sensory surplus of inner-city commercialization and skyscraping advertisements replete with: massive, flashing Coca-Cola signs; smiling kabuki-faced women enjoying the stylized pleasures of the products they’re pushing; a throng of television sets stream neon images similar to Nam Jun Paik’s video artworks; an overwhelming barrage of brand-names and logos overpowering the city spires appear everywhere the eye can see; and catch-phrases and buzzwords radiate in katakana and hiragana under radioactive skies. Scott has taken the argument that Linda Hutcheon discussed in On the Art of Adaptation, concerning the logophiliac superiority and iconophobic mistrust that the literati feel towards cinematic adaptations  and turned it on itself; thereby, transforming the ‘logo’ into light-emitting ‘icon’, usurping every camera angle and jutting out every corner of the lens. It should also be noted that Scott has found an inventive way to include product placement into his film.
 Similar to the inventiveness involving product placement, Ridley Scott has masterfully created a way to explain part of the story and history behind Dick’s dystopian vision of tomorrow, and all within the context of conspicuous consumption. Several times throughout the film, Scott intersperses leering zephyrs floating alongside the thick of pollutants choking the dystopian skies. These dirigibles brandish a ‘friendly’ voice selling civilians below on the idea to escape the caustic environs of nuclear holocaust on Earth and head for the stars. The confident, masculine voice reverberating from the blimps announces, “A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure”, while yet another blimp appears to be selling the populace “the custom-tailored, genetically-engineered humanoid replicant designed especially for your needs.” This echoing voice may very well be an echoed homage to Buster Friendly from the novel.
Unlike Dick’s focus on the female of the android species, Scott singles out Roy Baty from the novel and expands and flushes out his character to create an antagonist to Rick Deckard’s sleuthing, hard-edged hero. Taking this liberty with the novel, Scott also adds an extra “t” to Roy’s surname; ultimately, changing the original meaning from “son of Talmay” (a commune in eastern France) to “crazy” or “insane”. Since Ridley Scott cut out the backstory of Roy’s leading an android commune and opted for accentuating his maniacal side, this change makes sense. Roy’s character in Dick’s novel is minimal at best, while his filmic counterpart takes on several symbolic meanings; that of temperamental child, god-killing machine, and bleach-blonde psychopath.
Roy’s two key scenes in the film adaptation both focus on sight. Once Roy has made his way to the center of the Tyrrell Corporation’s maze to face Eldon Tyrrell himself, he confesses, “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”  After Tyrrell cautiously asks Roy how he might help him, he viciously responds with “Death!” Tyrrell then explains, “Death? Well, I’m afraid that’s a little out of my jurisdiction. You…” Roy impatiently interrupts Tyrrell as he predatorily moves in closer to his creator, “I want more life, father.” Tyrell then piously retorts, “The facts of life. To make an alteration in the… evolvement in an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once it’s been established.” Roy continues to prod Tyrrell for possible solutions to prolonging his four-year lifespan until Roy must face his fate and sits down on Tyrrell’s bed. Tyrrell explains to Roy, “You were made as well as we could make you.” Roy calmly interrupts Tyrrell again, “But not to last.” After stroking Roy’s ego to sooth the savage beast within him, Tyrrell exclaims, “Look at you. You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize.” Mimicking this ego-stroking, Tyrrell strokes Roy bleached-blonde coif. Roy confesses to his maker, “I’ve done questionable things.” Now, Tyrrell interrupts by feeding Roy’s ego even more, “Also, extraordinary things. Revel in your time.” Roy’s look of disparity shifts towards a sinister sneer and questions, “Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn’t let you in heaven for?” Roy smirks at Eldon Tyrrell, reaches out to embrace his creator, kisses him passionately upon the lips, then, grasping Tyrrell’s head in his hands, proceeds to crush his skull while crushing Eldon’s eyes with his thumbs; blindness in death.
Likewise, in Blade Runner, the brief battle between Roy and Deckard is expanded in the film and, in doing so, Ridley Scott transforms Batty from a soulless psychopath to a flawed, troubled soul. In his final dying moments, Roy saves Deckard who is hanging from the side of a building about to plummet to his death. Roy collapses into a meditative pose and proudly admits to Deckard, “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams…glitter in the dark near Tannhauser Gate… All those… moments will be lost… in time… like… tears in rain.” Roy then lowers his head to meet his fate. In this scene, the viewer is again faced with the eye and sights that he/she will never see due to Batty’s death. This parallels some of Deckard’s final thoughts in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: “Once, he [Deckard] thought, I would have seen the stars. Years ago. But now it’s only the dust; no one has seen a star in years, at least not from Earth. Maybe I’ll go where I can see stars, he said to himself” (p. 225).
For all intents and purposes, Blade Runner is Scott’s cinematic assimilation of Dick’s dystopian vision of tomorrow through the lens of a “many-worlds interpretation” into the ‘uncanny valley’ of human/machine interaction. This paper is by no means exhaustive for I have left out the mind’s eye of Mercerism—the Sisyphean video-game religion that would make Albert Camus proud. Nor have I included scenes from the film involving Chew—genetic engineer of the replicants’ eyes. However, I have tried to include as much as possible without turning this response into an 8-page paper. Therefore, I will end on this note: for as many liberties as Ridley Scott takes with Philip K. Dick’s novel, the overriding themes concerning the complexities of human nature and the nature of reality still remain intact, and Scott’s use of the eye keeps these themes in focus; without them, the movie would quite simply be blinded by kipple compared to the novel.

Ode to Orange Julius: I have seen the future and it shops

Growing up in suburbia, the local Mecca to consumerism was the Millcreek Mall—the socio-cultural haven between school and home for most teenagers in Erie, PA (and the tri-state area). The urban legend surrounding the Millcreek Mall was that it was owned by the Mafia and built in the shape of a gun, which was nonsense, but, after reading Lizabeth Cohen’s “From Town Center to Shopping Center”, it did confirm my long-suspected beliefs about the shopping mall’s sinister aims. As Cohen states, “The landscape of mass consumption created a metropolitan society in which people were no longer brought together in central marketplaces and the parks, streets, and public buildings that surrounded them but, rather, were separated by class, gender, and race in differentiated commercial subcenters. Moreover, all commercial subcenters were not created equal” (pp. 220-221).
Similar to Mark Siwiencicki’s piece on how historians and sociologists overlooked late-19th and early-20th century male consumption, Cohen points out that “historians have paid far less attention to the restructuring of American commercial life in the postwar period than to the transformation of residential experience” (p. 190), and argues that, as suburbanites found themselves freed from the cityscape by the speed of the automobile, “merchandisers…built stores along new highways…that consumers could easily reach by car” (p. 191)… and, over the highway horizon line, pastures with cows grazing were being replaced with strategic cash cows grazing off of consumer convenience. Cohen points out that this convenience gave consumers “the ability to drive and park easily, more night hours, improved store layouts, increased self-selection, and simplified credit like the charge plate” (p. 202). However, this convenience came at a price on several different levels.
For starters, shopping centers were replacing the urbanized marketplace of most downtown areas in cities across America as the commercial nexus between retail business and suburban consumption: “shopping centers idealized—almost romanticized—the physical plan of the traditional downtown shopping street, with stores lining both sides of an open-air pedestrian walkway that was landscaped and equipped with benches” (p. 195). Suburban shopping centers also offered a palatial alternative to the ‘anarchy and ugliness’ of the city market’s inefficiencies, visual chaos, and provinciality” (p. 195). Inner city mom’n’pop shops were worried and with good reason. Nationally, “retail sales in central business districts declined dramatically between 1958 and 1963, while overall metropolitan sales mushroomed from 10 percent to 20 percent” (p. 202); however, city merchants fought back.
Coalitions of small city businesses started to materialize and “mobilized the authority and resources of government on their behalf” (p. 205) by passing ‘blue laws’ which prohibited shopping centers to be open on Sunday. These coalitions didn’t stop there though; “the second way that downtown business people sought to harness the power of the state in fighting the shopping centers involved the use of federal funds for urban renewal” (p. 206). Both, the National Housing Act and the Federal Highway Act were conceived to help ‘rehabilitate’ the city’s retail sprawl; again, this wasn’t enough. Cohen inserts that “federal dollars failed as a remedy” (p. 207).
The reason for this failure—and this is where it gets sinister—“as the segmentation of consumer markets became the guiding principle in postwar commerce, no amount of revitalization could make a city whose population was becoming increasingly minority and poor attractive to the white middle-class shoppers with money to spend” (p. 207). Furthermore, the big businesses behind shopping centers had their own agenda, “When developers and store owners set out to make the shopping center a more perfect downtown they aimed to exclude from this public space unwanted suburban groups such as vagrants, prostitutes, racial minorities, and poor people” (p. 199). Thus, as more white middle-class families fled the city lifestyle for the insular stressless life of suburbia, they took along with them their racial and class-based elitism too. As Cohen dubs it, these ‘exclusionary socioeconomics’ invited the shopping-mall developers to satiate, quell, and play upon the suburbanites’ elitist fears, building them directly into the design of their centers for mass-consumption.
Furthermore, women were also placed in an awkward, confining position. As Cohen explains, “shopping centers were created as female worlds” (p. 213), which only reinforced the stereotype that consumption was a purely feminine activity and that it was a woman’s duty to consume. Although “female authority was…enhanced by shopping centers” (p. 214) and thus “bore witness to a wife’s or mother’s control” (p. 214), women were still at the mercy of their husbands. As charging became the standardized way to purchase items in the shopping center, women’s roles as consumers were only reinforced since “qualifying generally depended on husband’s or father’s income even when women earned money of their own” (p. 216).
As women sought part-time employment in the shopping centers, department stores had another set of lascivious motives in mind. This time around, they underhandedly tried to outmaneuver labor unions and deprive women of “job security, wages, benefits, and working condition of unionized downtown workers” (p. 217).
I always knew there was a darker side behind all of the easy-listening muzak, octagonal-tiled banality, and glass-block chic when I worked at the Millcreek Mall back in Erie.  I think it had to do with all the coins that were thrown into the fountains—people’s wishes—collected then pocketed by the shopping mall’s powers that be. That was the giveaway that there was more to the story. Lizabeth Cohen shed some light on the outlandish conspiracy theories I’d formulate as a teenager while on my fifteen minute break, sitting on a mall bench …slurping an Orange Julius.

The Stitchuationists: Knit Artists and Yarnbombers

Blurring the boundaries and deconstructing the distinctions between craft and art, a new group of like-minded individuals has materialized in the first decade of the 21st century. This new generation of do-it-yourself (DIY) knitting and crocheting artists are putting down the paintbrushes and picking up the knitting needles, and, in the process, are skewing the lines between “knitting and fine art practices like sculpture and performance” (Gschwandtner, 5). Knitting is no longer restricted and relegated to Rockwellian stereotypes of grandmothers crocheting blankets in their rocking chairs. It can now be sculptural, political, performance-based, environmentally-conscious, guerrilla and graffiti-based works of art both within the white-washed galleries to the banalities of inner-city sidewalks. Furthermore, the definition of what knitting is and can be has been propelled down pathways of new thought and now incorporates everything from large-scale, monumental pieces; projects sewn with hazardous materials; and projects with a conceptual art aesthetic.
 Thanks mostly to the DIY revolution of the last 10 years; this new way of looking at a very old craft is being explored in a wide range of art forms, styles, and ideas. From performance art collectives featured in the Whitney Biennial to the internet-based global community of knit-graffiti artists (aka- yarnbombers) to CMU fine-arts graduates transforming knitting into activism, the practice of knitting has evolved into an outlet for a new generation of artists.
Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Jim Drain, was bored with using traditional materials for his sculptures. After deciding to stay in Providence, he joined some fellow classmates as part of the four-man art collective called Forcefield.  Drain was in charge of the collective’s visual aesthetic for their performance pieces. “Because Providence had once been a booming textile mill town, places to find inexpensive yarn were plentiful” ( 51), as Drain puts it while being interviewed by Sabrina Gschwandtner for her book, Knit Knit. Gschwandtner goes on to state that Drain knits “dizzying patterns in bright colors” (51) for Forcefield’s “frightening, silly, hallucinogenic, and cryptic” (51) audio/visual performances. After traveling to China to peruse the yarn shops in Beijing, Drain realized “that knitting is a living tradition – its physical knowledge of a culture. Knowledge as a language dies so quickly” (52). Drain concluded that knitting is a primitive form of consciousness and has been part of the human psyche since time immemorial.
When he returned from his trip, he discovered that he and the other members of Forcefield were invited to participate in the 2002 Whitney Biennial.  He shared his revelations during his trip to China with the other members, which in turn helped the collective to take a decidedly different approach to their piece, “3rd Annual Roggabogga”, for the Biennial. Instead of their usual performance-based works, Forcefield created an installation piece with “elaborately constructed knit costumes, nomadic-looking sculptures, overstimulating silk-screened wallpaper, a psychedelic projected video, and electronic audio works, all encountered in dim light” (Gschwandtner, 52).
Soon after the show ended, Forcefield disbanded but Jim continued to work with this new knitting philosophy and combined it with his first love of sculpting to create pieces for several gallery exhibits including: P.S.1, New York; Pompidou Center, Paris; the 2004 Lyon Biennial; Dietch Projects, New York; Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; and the 2005 Basel Art Fair. Now located in Miami, Drain continues to probe the limits between gallery and craft-show art with his abstract, knit sculptural works in a mish-mash of outlandish designs and an array of vibrant colors.
Another knitting artist who got his start in Providence, RI (and continues to work there to this day) is David Cole. Like Drain, Cole makes knit sculptures but the similarities end there. Working with a variety of strange, and often hazardous, materials, Cole weaves baby blankets out of carcinogenic, spun porcelain with a bright yellow sign reading “Warning: Cancer and Lung Disease Hazard” that he keeps in sealed glass tanks. Cole calls his work “conceptually-driven sculpture” and uses nontraditional materials such as lead, Kevlar, shredded dollar bills, and rubber for his sculptures. His use of heavy, toxic, and industrial materials makes Cole’s sculptures “time-consuming and laboriously difficult tests of his own perseverance that…border on the obsessive” (Gschwandtner, 39).
Suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Cole uses the methods he learned to help him focus on such pieces as “Fiberglass Teddy Bear” (2003) to provoke a sense of wonder from the viewer at the enormity and intensive labor involved in his works, while simultaneously transmogrifying an object usually identified as “cute” and “huggable” into and untouchable item that required museum installers “to wear respirators, gloves, and goggles when they put the figure together” (Gschwandtner, 41).
As Gschwandtner states, many of David Cole’s pieces “have required spectacular…theatrical feats of labor” (40). However, Cole insists his work is not about performance or about subverting gender stereotypes associated with needlework, but rather, about “the creation of an object…the carrying out of an action…it’s about presenting contradictory ideas in a single form, and co-opting the craft” (52).
In 2005, Cole continued to insist his work had no hidden message other than the arduous task of its creation when some critics accused him of his work, “The Knitting Machine”, of being un-American and/or a commentary on aggressive U.S. foreign policy during the Iraq War.  “The Knitting Machine” is an eight-hundred stitch, thirty-five-by-twenty foot American flag made of felt for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Cole required two John Deere excavators, a cherry picker, over a mile of acrylic felt, and two twenty-five foot aluminum poles that he used as enormous knitting needles for his project.
Reminiscent of Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s works, David Cole is thinking even bigger than previously. His next project, a “gigantic mobile taller than the Statue of Liberty and made from eight antique pickup trucks” (Gschwandtner, 41), will require a team of structural engineers, architects, and a millions of dollars from fundraising in order to execute.
Similar to the size and scale of David Cole’s work, the Viennese artist collective, Gelitin, erected a mammoth pink bunny on a northern Italian hillside in 2005. Over two-hundred feet in length, “Hase”, harkens back to ancient, geoglyphic images like the Nazca Lines in Peru or the Uffington Horse and Cerne Abbas Giant in the U.K. In their book, Yarnbombing: the Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti, authors’ Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain, discuss Gelitin’s artists’ statement, which explains, “as Columbus discovered, an inexplicable continent…behind a hill, as if knitted by giant grandmothers, lies this vast rabbit, to make you feel as small as a daisy” (209). Knitted in pink wool, “Hase” can be viewed by Google Earth and its creators expect viewers “not only to walk around the bunny, but also climb up onto it” (206).
Continuing in the pink-knit tradition of Gelitin’s but with a decidedly gender-based tone in her work, Theresa Honeywell “juxtaposes the soft nature and feminine associations of knitting with masculine objects like power tools and motorcycles” (Moore & Prain, 26). In a style similar to Claes Oldenberg’s “soft sculptures”, Honeywell knits “floppy woolen machine guns and cuddly jackhammers” (Moore & Prain, 26). Her needleworked piece “Everything Nice” (2006), covers every inch of an engine-revved Harley Davidson in pastel pinks; simultaneously, mollifying and nullifying any and all stereotypical assumptions of a motorcycle being a male, phallic extension.
Yet another artist crocheting pink-knit creations that blight the common, street-life cityscapes is Marianne Jorgensen. Taking inspiration from Christo and Krzysztof Wodiczko, Danish born, Jorgensen developed her guerrilla art piece, “Pink M24 Chaffee” (2006), to cover an army tank in a hot-pink blanket to “protest Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq War” (Moore & Prain, 205). Made of four-thousand squares contributed by needleworkers across the world, Jorgensen called out for contributors via word of mouth locally and via the Internet globally. As Jorgensen explained, “the main impression of the knitted tank is that it consists of hundreds of patches knitted by many different people in different ways…that represent a common acknowledgement of a resistance to the war in Iraq” (Moore & Prain, 205). Jorgensen goes on to discuss the use of pink in her collective project: “When it [the tank] is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed, and it loses its authority” (Moore & Prain, 205-206).
Another activist knitter is Cat Mazza, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s BFA program in 1999. Mazza became interested in knitting “an abandoned skill that was practiced before garments were made through feminized sweatshop labor” (Gschwandtner, 121), and explains that her knitting projects “just a small act of resistance against the fact that mostly women work in horrible conditions to make the products we consume If only two percent of Americans demand that garments be made in fair working conditions, the corporations that capitalize the most on cheap labor would have to change their policies” (Gschwandtner, 121).
Mazza’s ultimate goal is to create a network of hand-knitters involved in DIY apparel production that she calls NARCA (the New American Radical Craft Alliance) via the blogosphere and her weblog microRevolt. “She hopes that creating a powerful microeconomy might tip the balance of power toward fair labor” (Gschwandtner, 122). As Mazza puts it, “NARCA is intended to create an alternative to sweatshops” (Gschwandtner, 122).
Continuing in Mazza’s radical views on the power of knitting as art, Houston-based knit graffiti crew, Knitta, is made up of eleven members ranging in age from twenty-three to seventy-one. These “yarn-bombers” (the title given to knit graffiti artists) “tag street lamps, public statues, handrails, gates, and other public and private property with impractical hand-knit cozies late at night” (Gschwandtner, 91). Knitta started in 2005 with a simple cozy placed on a door handle on a storefront, and “in just a few years, yarn graffiti has become a widespread phenomenon, with crews in North America and Europe planting tags wherever they travel. They have tagged Las Vegas, Beijing, NYC, “France, Germany, Sweden, El Salvador, and Canada” (Moore & Prain, 20). Member PolyCotN brags, “We prove that disobedience can be beautiful and that knitting can be outlaw” (Gschwandtner, 92). Although their work is considered public defacement and therefore illegal, PolyCotN disagrees and says, “It’s covering, not defacing. It’s considerate to the victim. If they don’t like it, they can unbutton it” (Gschwandtner, 92); not to mention, it’s friendly to the environment, unlike spray-canned graffiti art. Because Knitta is inundated with email requests from knitting artists across the globe, the graffiti crew has opened up chapters on three continents now.
The knit art movement has been going strong for 10 years now and with websites like Myspace, Etsy, and Facebook, as well as sites solely devoted to yarnbombing and knit art such as Ravelry.com, the yarnbombing and knit art movement has used the internet to create a globally-connected community. Yarnbombing has even hit close to home; in an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, dated December 5th, 2008, the headline reads “Artist weaves alternative graffiti into Oakland fence”. So, the next time you cross the Schenley Bridge, stop and admire the three panels of yarnbombing that now adorn it.  

Future Angst

The future can be a frightening concept for anyone who steps back from society’s ceaseless wage-slavery and gets caught up in the gravitational tug of tomorrow’s reality. Furthermore, as technological innovations made the socio-cultural construct of today look more and more like that tomorrow, the linearity of time was also called into question. For teenagers, these factors seemed to offer an infinite source of confusion, rebellion, and anxiety. Moreover, with the advent of the industrial revolution which sent modernity hurtling into an age of reason and science, a definite shift in accepted, reactionary adolescent norms occurred. This in turn led to family, institution, and society in general reevaluating its previous (mis)conceptions of youth culture as a whole.
After WWII, this imperative to not only be mindful of what one was doing in the present but also in the future reared its ugly head…and teenagers weren’t immune to such a socio-cerebral overhaul either. In fact, since the youth of today would be the adults of tomorrow, a majority of these expectations of the future were placed upon teenagers. Unsurprisingly, many youth found themselves caught between this societal Scylla and cultural Charybdis while navigating through the rough, murky depths of destiny; ultimately, such blind steering led to rebellious reaction to a predetermination. As Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard state in Generations of Youth, “The contradictions…highlight the bifurcated social identity of youth as a vicious, threatening sign of social decay and “our best hope for the future” (p. 2).
Both of these antithetical extremes arise from the same unforeseen events leading each of us to our own fate. Though, with teenagers this anxiety and uncertainty over one’s future looms ever larger than with adults. Fate can take many forms for us all, but with youth culture the inability to see or control tomorrow often leads to reactionary revolt against familial, institutional, and socio-cultural expectations.
Take, for example, the novel The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. In it, Ellison tells the tale of an unidentified young, African-American man who must undertake the expectations that society has placed not only upon his age but also of his race. In the process of dealing with these expectations, the narrator has chosen to not pursue a predetermined future concocted for him by his family, academic institutions, political movements or white culture in general. His choice to “drop out” of modern civilization has led him into a reclusive life of “invisibility”.
The narrator discusses his decision to become a socio-cultural phantom, “Invisibility…gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead” (p. 8). Here, the narrator comprehends and embraces a nonlinearity to his time, avoiding the future altogether.
This evasion of time is a rebellious reaction to the narrator’s previous attempts to fit into preconceived socio-cultural paradigms. He expounds upon this later in the novel by declaring, “I’ve come a long way from those days when, full of illusion, I lived a public life and attempted to function under the assumption that the world was solid and all the relationships therein. Now I know men are different and that all life is divided and that only in division is there true health…because…there is an increasing passion to make men conform to a pattern” (p. 576). 
The narrator continues his criticism of these patterns of conformity by explaining how he came to his current state of spectral rebellion, “I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am the invisible man” (p. 573).
As the narrator explains, this rebellion did not simply manifest overnight. Throughout The Invisible Man, the narrator is met with a plethora of possible of futures for himself; however, none of them are his own. For example, during his foray into college life, the narrator is volunteered to chauffeur Mr. Norton, one of the aged, white trustees of his school. Until this point in the novel, the narrator has believed that his attending college was for the betterment of his future, but after driving Mr. Norton around, he begins to re-evaluate this belief. Norton makes it perfectly clear that because the narrator is attending a college that he is a benefactor to, his dreams for a better tomorrow are not solely his own: “So you see, young man, you are involved in my life quite intimately…you are bound to a great dream and to a beautiful monument. If you become a good farmer, a chef, a preacher, doctor, singer, mechanic-whatever you become, and even if you fail, you are my fate” (Ellison, p.43-44).
In response, the narrator thinks to himself, “My feelings were mixed. Was he kidding me? Was he talking to me like someone in a book just to see how I would take it?...How could I tell him his fate?” (Ellison, p.44). He forces himself to address an important self-imposed question, a revelation, which lifts a veil from his shrouded views. Later, the narrator goes on to think, “But you [Mr. Norton] don’t even know my name” (p.45). Norton continues on his naïve self-righteousness: “I suppose it is difficult for you to understand how this [the narrator’s future] concerns me. But as you develop you must remember that I am dependent upon you to learn my fate” (p. 45). The narrator begins to realize that his future isn’t strictly for himself but also for the personal back-patting of a rich, white man.
After shedding this layer of institutional predetermination, the narrator is still confronted with the expectations of his racial heritage. He later rooms with Mary who represents a surrogate mother to the narrator. She emphatically states, “You got to lead and you got to fight and move us [African-Americans] all on up a little higher…it’s you young ones what has to remember and take the lead” (Ellison, p. 255). During this phase of his life, the narrator has run across a few roadblocks of reality, which he fervently attempts to figure his way around, “I had lost my sense of direction…Mary reminded me constantly that something was expected of me, some act of leadership, some newsworthy achievement; and I was torn between resenting her for it and loving her for the nebulous hope she kept alive” (Ellison, p. 258).
This dual love and hate the narrator has for Mary burgeons from the expectations she has placed upon him for simply being a young, black man representing the future of their race and because she forces him to face his uncertain future: “I had no doubt that I could do something, but what, and how? I had no contacts and I believed in nothing…Who was I, how had I come to be? Certainly I couldn’t help being different from when I left campus; but now a new painful, contradictory voice had grown up within me, and between its demands for revengeful action and Mary’s silent pressure I throbbed with guilt and puzzlement” (Ellison, p. 259).
This reactionary tear between revenge and uncertainty that the narrator in The Invisible Man is feeling over what exactly awaits his fate can be paralleled to similar predicaments the zoot-clad hipsters of the 1940’s were feeling. Even Ralph Ellison commented on the zoots, stating, “Much in Negro life remains a mystery; perhaps the zoot suit conceals profound political meaning…if only Negro leaders would solve this riddle” (Kelley, p. 136). With a comment like that, one’s left wondering if the narrator from The Invisible Man may have garbed himself
In his essay, The Riddle of the Zoot: Malcolm Little and Black Cultural Politics during World War II, Robin D. G. Kelley attempts to decode the racial, social, and political meanings behind an often overlooked 20th century youth subculture. As the title suggests, even Malcolm X was a member of this youth movement. Kelley quotes Malcolm X as he reminisces, “the men sharp in their zoot suits and crazy conks, and everybody grinning and greased and gassed” (p. 142). 
Within the historical context of WWII, the zoot suit and its wearers were not initially setting out to make a political statement but rather a cultural one. Unlike the narrator from The Invisible Man, the hipsters “represented a subversive refusal to be subservient” (p. 140). However, as Kelley points out, “much of the black community restrained their enthusiasm, for they shared a collective memory of the unfulfilled promises of democracy generated by the First World War” (p. 138). The African-American community had risked their lives (and futures) for WWI without receiving the same respect and honor that their white compatriots in battle had, and “this time around, a victory abroad without annihilating racism at home was unacceptable” (p. 138).
This indifference to WWII originated from a demand for equality, and the zoot suit came to visually symbolize this indifference: “the political and social context of war had added an explicit dimension to the implicit oppositional meaning of the suit into an explicitly un-American style” (p. 140). Black youth weren’t about to give up their lives without having some sort of tomorrow to come back home to. Why should they risk their lives and not receive the same heroes-welcome of rights like their white counterparts would? So, the hipsters transformed their zoot suits from a symbol of leisure and pleasure into a political statement fortified with concerns of their possible immortality and questions regarding their economic future.
 Similar reactions over such economic futures still resonate today. Japan is experiencing a “culturebound syndrome” titled hikikomori, “which translates as ‘withdrawal’ and refers to a person sequestered in his room for six months or longer with no social life beyond his home” (Jones, p.1). Unlike the African-American hipsters of the 1940’s who purposely stood out like sore thumbs, the hikikomori choose to confine their existence to the four walls of their bedrooms. Experts cannot seem to agree on just how many Japanese youth are suffering from this illness of the invisible with estimates ranging from 100,000 up to one million, or 1 % of the population. Furthermore, about 80% of hikikomori are males between the ages of 13-28.
As Maggie Jones reports in her New York Times article, Shutting Themeselves In, hikikomori are resisting Japanese cultural expectations of “a set path to an elite university and a top corporation” (p. 3) because they view themselves as failures within contemporary Japanese society. Jones further states that many “young men and women are neither working nor in school. After 15 years of sluggish growth, the full-time salaryman jobs of the previous generation have withered, and in their places are often part-time jobs or no jobs and a sense of hopelessness among many Japanese about the future” (p. 2).
This poor outlook on the future has many Japanese youth loathing themselves and desiring nothing less than shutting their bedroom doors so that their “failures, real or perceived, will be cloaked from the world” (p.4). Make no mistake though, hikikomori is a rebellion that “comes in muted forms” (p. 4) and silently retaliates against familial, institutional, and socio-cultural expectations heaved upon Japanese teenagers.
Although the hikikomori are visually (or lack thereof) comparable to Ralph Ellison’s narrator in The Invisible Man, they share more in common with the reactionary elements that manifested in the foredoomed futures the zoot-suit hipsters of the 1940’s saw for themselves. However, all are/were battling for control over their own destinies. Their desire to break free from familial, institutional, socio-cultural, and racial predetermination was at the forefront of their actions. Whether visible or invisible, their reactions to external and internal expectations placed upon them were the driving force behind their each unique approach to take control of and chart a destiny for their own lives.

What’s Kubrick going to change then, eh?

Strictly focusing on both first and final chapters of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, and the opening and closing scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s subsequent film adaptation a decade later, it becomes apparent to the reader/viewer that the latter had envisioned the former’s futuristic oeuvre differently… at least, with the ending. It’s obvious that Burgess’s novel about teenage toughs with ultra-crime on their minds and too much time on their hands was meant to be the bastard child of biblio-bricoleur parents; in this case, the picaresque novel and bildungsroman. Although both film and novel start out at the Korova Milk Bar, the two take an utterly different approach with their finales.   
Anthony Burgess uses Korova as a point of departure/destination in A Clockwork Orange; thereby, affixing symbolism to location. This symbolism represents the coming-of-age tale as told through the wild-eyed lens of its ne’er-do-well narrator, Alex Delarge - a psychotic Holden Caulfield-esque scruff of sorts. However, the signifying parallels that lead Alex from adolescence into maturity don’t end there. Burgess even has Alex repeat himself in the first and final chapters with the words “What’s it going to be then, eh?”; thus, bringing the story full-circle. Furthermore, other than the names and character descriptions, most of the first few lines in both the 1st and 21st chapters are the same word-for-word. In each case, Alex finds himself surrounded by three fellow droogs; though, their names and faces do change. Even Alex’s disillusionment is still intact by novel’s end; albeit, for very different reasons.
In the 1st chapter, Alex appears restless and/or disenchanted over plans for yet another evening of ultra-violence, making the reader gather that ultra-violence to him and his droogs is a nightly occurrence. Whereas, in the 21st chapter, his disenchantment stems not from the boredom of repetitive ultra-violence, but from the ultra-violent act itself. In other words, our knavish anti-hero appears to have grown up a little. In the final chapter, we find Alex having more of a desire to raise a family rather than raising hell. In some of the final paragraphs of Chapter 21, Alex thinks, “first of all, brothers, there was this veshch [thing] of finding some devotchka [woman] or other who would be a mother to this [his] son. I would have to start on that tomorrow, I kept thinking. That was something like new to do. That was something I would have to get started on, a new like chapter beginning”.
Furthermore, in some of his final thoughts, Alex realizes that he’s “not young, not no longer, oh no” and that he’s “like groweth up, oh yes”. Thus, Burgess brings Alex back to Korova by novel’s end, but with a noticeable change in his thought process and a lack of desire to repeat the past. In keeping with the bildungsroman tradition, the reader has witnessed, through the written word, Alex’s transformation from juvie-d menace into a man menaced by the impending responsibilities that only maturity can bring - even if it is just a passing fancy. Burgess leaves that up to the reader to decide.
 Unlike Alex’s illuminations into adulthood at the end of 21st chapter, it becomes quite apparent to the viewer that Stanley Kubrick had another ending in mind for his adaptation of Burgess’s novel. By removing its final chapter, Kubrick has also removed the clichés associated with happily-ever-afters that are apparent in the novel’s final chapter. In doing so, Kubrick transforms A Clockwork Orange into something subversive and sinister within the context of Hollywood’s blithe penchant for stereotypical happy endings. This stark contrast is visible towards the end of the film.
 In some of the final scenes, the viewer finds Alex describing his bout with police brutality (the officers being his former droogies, Georgie and Dim) and his being conditioned against Beethoven’s “9th symphony”. Here, Alex is questioned by a nameless interviewer who asks if he is still feeling suicidal; his response, “I can’t see much in the future and I feel that any second, something terrible is going to happen to me”. Alex then proceeds to pass out, diving face first into his plate heaped with pasta.
In the next scene, Alex wakes up, locked up in a posh attic room of Mr. Alexander’s Tudor-style mansion. A sense of nausea appears on Alex’s face as he is forced to listen to good old Ludwig von’s 9th, which Mr. Alexander & co. have provided for Alex’s listening “pleasure” directly underneath his confined quarters. Unable to take the music any longer, Alex jumps out of one of the room’s windows. Echoing his previous dive into the pasta, Alex dives to the pavement below. Kubrick positions the camera from the perspective of an anonymous spectator below. Likewise, he draws on Alex’s repeated generic response of “as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer” by utilizing the clear-blue skies above as the backdrop for his scene. The viewer watches as Alex plummets to his possible demise, a shot of pavement, and then complete darkness.
The viewer slowly regains consciousness with Alex as the film fades in where he/she is met with Alex all bandaged up and in casts. As he lies in his hospital bed convalescing, Alex is heard in broken breaths (possibly assisted by a medical breathing apparatus) with our anti-hero’s voice-over echoing, “I jumped, O my brothers…and I fell hard. But I did not snuff it [die]. If I had snuffed it, I would not be here to tell what I told have. I came back to life after a long, black, black gap of what might’ve been a million years”. Alex soon starts to moan and groan in agony, unintentionally mimicking his assisted breathing and, perhaps, that of the “old in-out, in-out” as well; as the viewer will soon see, this was Kubrick’s intention.
We are then shown a shot of the entirety of Alex’s hospital room with a nurse and doctor emerging into the mise-en-scene from the right and from behind curtains, abruptly ending their sexual encounter with an involuntary coitus interruptus. The importance of having these two figures caught in the act of procreating …two figures who have sworn the Hippocratic oath to save lives… materialize from the right ironically parallels Alex’s suicidal plunge minutes earlier. The very society Alex was trying to escape from ultimately saves him only to enslave him later on.
Kubrick then sharply bombards the viewer with a barrage/montage of headlines that exclaim: “Government Accused of Inhuman Means in Crime Reform”, “Minister is Accused of Inhuman Cure”, “Government is Murderer”, and “Storm over ‘Crime Cure’ Boy”. Amongst the headlines is an obvious, intentional typo as well. Alex DeLarge is referred to as ‘Alex Burgess’; a tip of the bowler hat to A Clockwork Orange’s author.
Kubrick then cuts to Alex’s parents stooping over him in his hospital bed. They have brought him a cellophane-wrapped fruit basket with the words “Eat Me” clearly printed on a box of crackers nudged in between the bananas. Such symbolism might be referencing the size-enlarging cakes of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or the epithetical catch-phrase (ie- in so many words, “fuck off”) or, perhaps, both.
In the next-to-final scene, Alex is a greeted by a purple-haired psychiatrist named Dr. Taylor. She has wheeled a mysterious mechanical device into his hospital room and explains to him that she’s going to show him some slides, which he is to give her his reaction to. She tells him that each of these slides will display a picture requiring a reply from him. After he nods in understanding, Dr. Taylor begins the test by reading aloud, “Isn’t the plumage beautiful?” In turn, Alex’s responds with “Cabbages. Knickers. It’s not got a beak.” She continues to show him more slides and cheerfully documents his somewhat disturbing responses; ultimately, displaying that Alex is now ailment-free in his lust for ultra-violence.
Finally, Kubrick ends his cinematic adaptation of Clockwork Orange with a visit from the Minister of the Interior – the same Minister who permitted Alex to undergo the aversion therapy of the Ludovico technique earlier in the film – has interrupted Alex’s dinner, which a nurse has been cutting up and feeding him. The Minister of the Interior whose first name is ‘Frederick’ (or ‘Fred’ as Alex calls him) asks everyone to leave the room so he can talk to Alex alone. Taking up knife and fork, Fred continues to feed Alex his food, while feeding him a sly political proposition. Between each cut-up morsel, the Minister apologizes to Alex, “We [the government] want you to regard us as friends. You’re getting the best treatment. We never wished you any harm.” After enticing him, the Minister, finally offers “an interesting job at a salary you [Alex] will regard as adequate and in compensation for what you believed you have suffered because you are helping us [the government]…We always help our friends, don’t we?” The Minister then feeds Alex a sizable piece of the steak he is having for dinner and, in return, receives a Cheshire Cat grin from our ‘malchikiwick’ anti-hero. Alex’s smile is his signature on the dotted line and his collusive agreement with Fred is met with a resounding deluge of floral arrangements, a sound system, and a flood of photogs capturing the two in an embrace and shaking hands as if they had just won some election.
With that in mind, it is hard not to overlook the political atmosphere during the 1970’s when the film was made. Great Britain was in the midst of a sweeping change in political ethos towards conservative ideals. Considering, Anthony Burgess wrote the novel ten years earlier when the UK didn’t appear to be in the clutches of political reform, it makes sense why Kubrick left out the 21st chapter in his film adaptation of  A Clockwork Orange. Though, according to Kubrick, this wasn’t done intentionally. In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick states, “There are two different versions of the novel. One has an extra chapter. I had not read this version until I had virtually finished the screenplay. This extra chapter depicts the rehabilitation of Alex. But it is, as far as I am concerned, unconvincing and inconsistent with the style and intent of the book. I certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it”.
However, in disseminating the final scenes of the film, it is hard not to believe that the political shift to conservatism in Great Britain didn’t affect Kubrick’s bleak vision of the future as seen in the film. Regardless of his real reason for omitting the final chapter, Kubrick’s adaptation serves as an alternate reality to the book. A reality where Alex DeLarge’s marionette strings are manipulated by duplicitous politics. A reality where our ‘humble narrator’ has been willingly mollified into puppetry …and a well-orchestrated photoshoot.  A reality that has stripped away Alex’s adulthood, leaving him demasculinized and eternally knavish. A reality where society has failed him and he fails to care …or, rather, he fails to care as long as he’s being fed his ‘steaky-wakes’.

Differentiating Science from Spectacle

So, what’s the deal with the History Channel series, The Universe, doling out an Earth-slamming cataclysm every other week? Initially, I joked about it being a crutch for the edutainment TV show. However, after further viewings of Seasons 1-4, I was left wondering if all of the hypothetical doomsday scenarios were more the crux to The Universe and less a crutch. For instance, in the first season alone, 11 out of the 14 episodes contained some sort of computer-simulated apocalypse. So, why is it that a television show appearing to be based on real science seemingly reverts (or is it resorts?) to the Hollywood flash and panache of explosive spectacle rather than remaining founded in the facts? Why do the logical words of sci-lebrities such as Michio Kaku and Neil Degrasse Tyson seem to be silenced by the reverberation of impact blasts and overshadowed by the image of Earth annihilated by asteroids, comets, supernovae, and a variety of other cosmic dangers?
If it’s a case of feeding off of the viewers’ fears via sensationalism—similar to some Dateline NBC expose about internet predators that may or may not be lurking in your backyard—then The Universe shouldn’t sheep-clothe itself in the scientific method. Furthermore, if entertainment rather than education is its ultimate goal, then the producers of The Universe might want to make it more apparent to the viewer that this isn’t solely science but Hollywood spectacle as well. I should stress here that I am by no means condemning or reproaching the show for venturing down such a path every so often. A little fear is healthy and natural. However, when said path appears less like the stars in the night sky and more like the stars on the Hollywood walk of fame week after week, The Universe starts to sever itself (and its audience) from scientific reality by assaulting the senses with a barrage of hypothetical, hyper-real, and hellish scenarios. Moreover, if the odds of such catastrophic events are underplayed by the overkill of computer-generated armageddons, there runs the risk for astronomical inaccuracies to be accepted as fact; such misinformation is potentially damaging to a culture already floundering in scientific illiteracy like the U.S.
According to a recent study conducted by the California Academy of Science, only 53% of adult Americans know how many days it takes Earth to revolve around the Sun, only 59% are aware that human beings and dinosaurs didn’t cohabit the planet at the same time, only 47% know the percentage of the Earth’s surface covered with water, and, when combined, only 21% of Americans were able to answer all three of these questions correctly. High-school students aren’t fairing much better. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a 2008 study of 15-year-olds from developed nations assessed that one quarter of high-school students in the United States never reach a basic level of scientific competency and, overall, ranked 21st in scientific literacy out of the 30 participating countries. With such sub-par scores over the most fundamental of scientific knowledge, does the spectacle of Hollywood really have a place on a show like The Universe? If the 1938 radio dramatization of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles is any indication, then the answer would unequivocally be “no.”
The mass hysteria that occurred due to the aforementioned radio broadcast that Halloween night back in ‘38 is a perfect example of when the hyper-real realms of entertainment collide with reality and can cause a public panic. My mother, who was only six years old when the War of the Worlds was broadcast on CBS radio affiliates across the country, shared her memories of the incident. “Your great-grandmother looked concerned,” she told me, “Aunt Edith stared at the radio and had me sit on her lap, telling me everything would be alright. The family had all gathered in the living room and listened. Your Uncle Jack kept pacing back and forth, walking out on the porch and looking up toward the night sky. I didn’t even know what a Martian was, but I was scared because my family was scared,” and, apparently, they weren’t the only ones.
As Barry Glassner points out in his book, Culture of Fear, concerning the Orson Welles’ adaptation of the H.G. Wells science-fiction classic, the reason that over a million Americans listening to the broadcast were bracing themselves for Martian invasion wasn’t due to ignorance or stupidity, but because “the program had a credible feel…it [the radio play] featured credible-sounding people professing to report scientific or firsthand information” (206). Now, I am by no means accusing or insinuating that the revolving door of scientists appearing on The Universe are frauds like Welles’s portrayal of Professor Richard Pierson nor am I suggesting that their words are questionable . Kaku, Tyson, and Rob Roy Britt aren’t sitting in The Universe’s editing room, chopping up their own words to match the theme of each episode. What I am driving at is that, unlike the radio broadcast back in ’38 which had no visual element to accompany it yet was still capable of causing a panic, The Universe does. When you add this to the abysmal statistics concerning scientific literacy in America, the possibility for another incident similar to that of the War of the Worlds broadcast might not appear as far-fetched as some of the hyper-real what-ifs the series offers up.
Sociologist and philosopher, Theodor Adorno, discussed such hyper-reality—which he dubbed “pseudo-realism”—in his book The Culture Industry and addressed the possible impact that televised imagery might have over its viewing audience. He suggests that “pseudo-realism allows for the direct and extremely primitive identification achieved in popular culture…as though they [the hyper-realities presented on TV] were the promise of something thrilling and exciting taking place at any moment” (170-171) and stresses that, as a result of this expectation, viewers may ultimately “lose true insight into reality” (171). However, Adorno also states that if the viewer is able to discriminate between fact and fiction “by exposing the socio-psychological implications and mechanisms of television, which often operate under the guise of false realism…the public at large may be sensitized to the nefarious effect of some of these mechanisms” (158). So, let’s sensitize ourselves by removing the various visual doomsdays and just look at the facts.
In his book, Death from the Skies: These are the Ways the World will End…, author, Phillip Plait, includes a convenient chart of many of the same apocalyptic events that the History Channel series touches on. For asteroids snuffing out human civilization and/or destroying life on Earth, the odds are 1 in 700,000, but notes that this is also “almost 100% preventable” (p.299). For solar flares eradicating our atmosphere, leaving humanity in its gasping death throes, the odds are 0. For supernovae unleashing cosmic chaos upon Mother Earth, the odds are 1 in 10,000,000. For stellar gamma-ray bursts setting the Earth afire, the odds are 1 in 14,000,000. For black holes spaghettifying the Earth into gravitational linguine, the odds are 1 in 1,000,000,000,000. For our Sun dying and taking Earth with it, 0…Although, Plaitt notes “Of all the ways the Cosmic Grim Reaper can pay us a visit, just this one and one other (Death by End of the Universe) have odds of 100 percent. You just have to wait long enough!” (304). Plaitt later states that the Earth’s destruction via the Sun’s death, intergalactic collisions, and quantum collapse of the universe “won’t happen in your lifetime, but they will eventually happen.” (306). He then goes on to add that the two most plausible scenarios of wiping out all life on planet Earth—that of asteroid impacts and massive solar events—also happen to be “the only two we can do anything about” (306).
Phew! Is your mind reeling from all of these statistics and odds yet? If not, then more power to you. If so, you’re not alone. Odds aside, let me make it perfectly clear that I think The Universe is an awesome show. I wish that there were more like it on TV; however, I also wish that the series would rely a little less on Hollywood spectacle. I’m not going to nit-pick over scientific faux pas’s like the sonic blasts that are pumped out of my surround-sound every time there’s a cosmic explosion in the vacuum of space, which the series often does. What bothers me most is when the odds are sacrificed to the gods of TV ratings. Although some of the visuals might make for next summer’s blockbuster in the theater, with scientific literacy in the U.S. faltering, television shows like The Universe have a responsibility to educate and inform the viewers about the very real facts and not simply to entertain them with the hyper-real fantasies of Hollywood.