Clynes, Kline and the Origin of Cyborgs


Modern Times

2001: A Space Odyssey


The Terminator

    Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline coined the term "cyborg" in 1960 "to refer to the enhanced man who could survive in extra-terrestrial environments" (Haraway xv). In the same article, they referred to a white laboratory rat implanted with a cyber-control device. "Like all cyborgs, this white rat has something extra, that sign of excess that marks the creature as somehow 'trans' to what once counted as normal and natural" (xv). This rat, embedded with the Rose osmotic pump represents a closed system, self-regulating, enabling it to adapt to new environments. Clynes and Kline muse, "If man in space, in addition to flying his vehicle, must continuously be checking on things and making adjustments merely in order to keep himself alive, he becomes a slave to the machine. The purpose of the Cyborg . . . is to provide an organizational system in which such robot-like problems are taken care of automatically and unconsciously, leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel" (31). The Sixties imagination for discovery and exploration of our moon and beyond captivated an America eager to excel against our Soviet rivals. The push into orbit was a battle of ideology as well as science. The strengthening of the human subject, fitting it to deal with the hostile environments of outer space and other planets, justifies itself. However, as we augment ourselves, covet artificial over natural endowments, do we not somehow change who we are? Artists often depict science as a means for man to conquer the feminine- Nature. This usually implies that the world is imbalanced and needs restoration. The following films represent some of the ideas behind the terminator cyborg and why it has its place as the ultimate monster of technology.

Back to top

   "Generally considered the first great science-fiction film, Metropolis (1926) fixed for the rest of the century the image of a futuristic city as a hell of scientific progress and human despair" (Ebert). Informed by the vast changes in society since the Industrial Revolution, Fritz Lang created this eerie vision of a highly structured future city of 2026 using elaborate set designs and 25,000 extras. The oppressed masses toil and live in an underground world while the elites look down from ethereal skyscrapers. "Lang's film is the summit of German Expressionism, the combination of stylized sets, dramatic camera angles, bold shadows and frankly artificial theatrics" (Ebert). The stratified social realities echo Marxist theories of class division and turmoil. "The workers run the machines, but the machines run the lives of the worker" (Hawkins). The evil genius Rotwang co-opts the underworld's revolutionary leader Maria by transferring her face to a robot . . ." so that the workers, still following Maria, can be fooled and controlled" (Ebert). The robot literally becomes a means of industry, and its conjoined twin Capitalism, to subvert the workers ability to organize themselves. Thinking that Maria is bewitched, the workers literally tie her up and burn her at the stake. The evil robot reveals itself to the horrified workers as its flesh burns off.

Back to Top

  Modern Times (1936) stars Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp, providing needed humor to the disenfranchised and downtrodden of the Great Depression. Here Chaplin is literally consumed by the monstrous machinery.

Back to Top

  In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), HAL, short for H.A.L. 900, unravels the quiet perfection of space travel with a paranoid attempt at self-preservation. Computers are supposed to serve our needs, we are their masters, or so the theory goes. The omniscient eye symbolizes our distrust of authority, of having our thoughts and actions judged. Though an abstract metaphor, it also reflects human flaws and hubris, for who has designed and programmed this artificially intelligent being? Undoubtedly Murphy's Law applies to the "thinking" machine; the wonderous conception of automating decision making that Clynes and Kline conceived of as means for space travel has become a dystopian catastrophe.

Back to Top

   Westworld (1973), directed by Michael Crichton, prepares us to see like a terminator. "Crichton's most striking visual coup was to show us the world through the android's electronic eyes, an electronic mosaic, which was a surprisingly touching effect which enabled the audience to identify briefly with the creature" (French 18). Once the subject of amusement in a sadistic game of western-style shootouts, Yul Brynner becomes the tormentor, an unimagineable malevolence to the pleasure seeking tourists.

Back to Top

    By the time we get to James Cameron's The Terminator in 1984, movies have depicted our tensions with technology many times over. The Terminator recasts the story of "technology gone wrong" into a new form with its own mythology. Owing to budgetary constraints, the movie is stripped-down, allowing just enough special effects to support the narrative (French 24). The movie opens with the battlefield of Los Angeles, 2029 A.D. The conflict is between Skynet, a miltary defense system, and its human rivals. The machines own the sky with formidable weaponry, returning humans to a neo-Hobbesian subsistence. The terminator appears in the present day as a deus ex machina, literally "born" into the world naked. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hypertrophic and mechanical, methodically begins his search to find and terminate Sarah Conner, the mother of a future human revolutionary- John Connor. The terminator is the ultimate soldier, ceaseless and unafraid. Cameron invites us to share the perspective of the terminator at times, seeing the world in rational computed schematics. He also intends a bit of humor and visceral pleasure as the terminator annihilates an entire police station after delivering his famous line, "I'll be back."
Per Schelde argues that, "The sf [science fiction] film locus is on the effects of science, on the junction where what science has created (usually a monster) meets people going about living their lives. Sf science does not have to be logical. All that is required is a scary monster. How the monster came to be or where it came from is, if not irrelevant, peripheral." (2) Perhaps this argument applies to the more conventional monsters of science fiction films; The Terminator has a strong anti-authoritarian message, warning us to beware the prerogatives of the miltary. Skynet has obvious connections to Reagan's Star Wars, the proposed strategic defense initiative that caused much heated debate in the 1980's. The brinkmanship of its promoters often foreshadowed doom and an uneasy tension remained to the last days of the Cold War. In the final scene the unveiled machine, stripped of its human appropriations, meets its death blow at the hands of Sarah Connor. The female, symbolic of Nature, extinguishes its "life", represented in its fading red eyes.

Back to Top