Technologized Representations of Labour and Class from the Man in the Machine to the Machine (Wo)man in Science Fiction Film and Television

  • Author / Creator
    Savard, Valérie
  • This dissertation is about the implications, and iterations, of “the machine” as a tool and metaphor in science fiction (sf) — particularly within the media of film and television. Beginning with Karl Marx’s depiction of an anthropomorphized, metaphorical, and, expressly, capitalist machine in “The Fragment on Machines,” I take up the machine as a symbol of humanity at work, trapped in the various nodes and mechanisms of capitalism. The machine is described by Marx as a controlling force that mechanises the worker as much as it is itself personified: “[T]he machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso,” writes Marx, “with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. … just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion” (693). Marx’s description is of an overbearing, physically present machine that sources its power from human labour as though that labour were a living organ of the machine’s body. A move toward immaterial labour in the 1960s intensified capitalism’s consumption of the human body and of human subjectivity. Around the same time, this immateriality began to be reflected in sf in virtual and cyber worlds, presenting the labourer as a mere fragment of code within the capitalist system. The machine metaphor has necessarily changed along with the nature of labour and labour technologies; we are now equally, if not increasingly, bound to (and within) the digital machine at which we work and live. Yet Marx’s analysis of the machine as all-pervasive and controlling is still applicable today: The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. (693) The implications of this arresting passage have changed somewhat along with the dawn of the digital era and the advent of Internet technologies. Despite these changes, however, the concern remains the same, yet more urgent, as our connection to the machine becomes increasingly literal. The machine continues to regulate us from all sides, and its control is more pervasive, yet we must remember that the controlling machine is not the technological one, but the metaphorical one that uses the technology as a tool of exploitation. Many of the texts examined in this dissertation demonstrate the ways in which digital technologies are used as tools of oppression and marginalisation within the capitalist machine. These ways are varied, so each of my chapters engages with a different aspect of control expressed through different kinds of technologized science fictional bodies. In each text, the technology is what facilitates capitalism’s control over otherwise autonomous subjects, yet the subjects differ in how they interact with the machine in its dual function. These variations allow for an analysis of different systems of control that capitalism imparts upon its subjects, which are based on class, gender, and race. What ties this dissertation’s four chapters together, and the texts I examine within them, is that they demonstrate the ways in which capitalism’s machine has become all-consuming of the labouring subject, and how its alienating power over the worker’s entire life has extended beyond just her limbs.

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  • Graduation date
    Spring 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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