A Sample Response to the Following Question:


A) Donna Haraway states that "Monsters have always defined the limits of community in Western imaginations" (180). And yet, we are presented in this course with "monsters" that are little different from ourselves: the aliens that turn out to be government agents in "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"; the Borg who could be read as a reflection of the Federation or as the evil double of Data; the serial killer in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" who is as "scripted" as anyone else in the episode; Bladerunner's Replicants who are, as Tyrell states, "more human than human"; and, of course, Victor Frankenstein's creature in Mary Shelley's novel. Discussing three works, explain why these examples of science fiction move away from the tendency (for example in fantasy) to represent monsters as the opposite of that which is human. What is significant about this alignment of monsters with ourselves?


Things to note:

1) The response has a strong thesis, articulated from the start in an introductory paragraph.

2) The response has strong, well-articulated, and logical transitions between sentences and paragraphs. The argument seems to proceed inexorably from point to point.

3) The student is making powerful connections among the three texts s/he examines, interpreting any differences s/he identifies.

4) The student is providing interpretation of the text rather than mere paraphrase. The student has even made points that were not made in class. S/he is interpreting the text on his/her own and providing evidence to support his/her claims.

5) The student has provided strong quotations to support his/her points and has then gone on to analyze these quotations, suggesting their significance.

In the long history of the existence of fantasy literature, writers represent monsters as something opposite to the human being. The prior conflict of this genre is usually "man Vs monster." Several examples of science fiction seemingly portray antagonistic creatures yet they are depicted as being similar to humanity: the replicants in the film Bladerunner; the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; and the Borg in Star Trek. In each of these examples, the aforementioned "monster(s)" posses human-like characteristics (some, like the replicants in Bladerunner appear almost exactly human) yet are still "monsters," they are not quite human. Thus each of the human societies shuns and despises these creatures for what they are. The significance of the alignment of the monsters with ourselves is how the monsters are the personification of our ontology. The unconscious human mind is the content of what these works attempt to personify in the monster. As Donna Haraway said in her "Cyborg Manifesto," "we are all chimeras." The curious thing is that the protagonists in some of the works actually portray monster-like characteristics--a role reversal between the monster and the hero of the work: "We have found the enemy and he is us." The analogy of the monsters is actually depicted in each of the work's respective humans' thoughts and deeds. This also shows the authors' portrayal of the monster-like and thus human-like characteristics of the human unconscious and the conscious mind.

The role-reversal of an antagonistic monster and the human hero is never more blatant than in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In modern pop culture, the name of Frankenstein is often associated with the monster of the novel. Unknowingly, this case of mistaken identity accurately describes Victor Frankenstein for what he is: Frankenstein is in many ways more monstrous than the actual monster. Mary Shelley depicts Frankenstein as someone who cannot deviate from the course that he chose. While Frankenstein was in the midst of creating the monster, he states, "But my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines...than an artist occupied by his favorite employment." This sense of doom and lack of free will suggests the possible inability of man to escape the monster within--the unconscious desires of the mind. The monster, itself, is the physical allegory of Victor Frankenstein's unconscious desires and ambitions come to life. Not long after creating the monster, Victor Frankenstein has a dream of a dead Elizabeth; upon waking Frankenstein immediately meets the monster. The dream of Victor's unconscious self becomes a reality when the monster kills Elizabeth when Victor shuns all compassion to help his creation. Because of the lack of empathy on Frankenstein's part, resentment builds up in both the creator and the creation to the point that total hatred consumes them both. Frankenstein himself denies the similarities that are so apparent between Frankenstein and the monster when he says to the monster, "Begone! I will not hear you. There can be no community between you and me." Frankenstein seems to be in denial of the relationship between himself and his creation and condemns the monster. Frankenstein here displays several Freudian defense mechanisms: contempt and projection. Frankenstein seems to show utter contempt for the monster even though he himself is to blame. Thus, as he denies his relationship with the monster, so does his subconscious deny the monstrosities that he has done.

In Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, the film's monsters, the replicants, are so human like that the company that created them uses the slogan, "More human than human." There are four main replicants who try to contact their creator in order to receive help similar to the monster in Frankenstein. Also, not unlike Frankenstein's monster, the society in which the replicants live bans any replicant to exist. Police operatives, called Bladerunners, hunt and kill any replicant that comes back to earth from the slave colonies from which they came. Once again, the role reversal comes into play: in the first part of the film it is the police and the Bladerunner, Deckard, who seem monstrous when they kill a seemingly harmless replicant. The beautiful, and almost innocent appearance of the female replicant dancer coupled with the ruthless execution by Deckard depicts the Bladerunner, the hero, as appearing monstrous and the replicant, the monster, as being human. In fact many of the humans in the film appear physically abnormal or deformed--a characteristic traditionally carried by a monster such as in Frankenstein. Gaff, a police operative who follows Deckard, walks with a limp; J.F. Sebastion, a genetic engineer for the Tyrell Corporation, has "accelerated decrepitude"; and Chew, the eyeball maker, looks like someone out of a fantasy book. Ironically, the only characters in the film that appear like "perfect humans" are the replicants. This reversal of stereotypical physical qualities between the human and the monster further illustrates the connection between the two.

One replicant is so real that human memories are implanted into her mind and false photographs of her childhood are given to her. The test used by Deckard to determine the identify of a replicant is based on the lack of emotions such as empathy and compassion on the part of the replicant. Yet once again it is the replicant, Roy, that teaches empathy to Deckard when he saves and spares Deckard's life and says moments before his own death, "Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it. That is what it is to be a slave." The replicants were slaves to their own identities and to the fear of what it meant to exist as a replicant (i.e. Knowledge of 4 year life span.) Ironically, the film plays with the identity of the Bladerunner as being a replicant himself. This connection is made when Deckard has a dream of a Unicorn in an Eden-like forest, then, at the end of the film, Gaff leaves behind a paper puppet of the unicorn; this may show that Gaff knows about Deckard's identity of being a replicant and thus knows his implanted memories of the unicorn. Deckard realizes what it is to be a slave to his unconscious programming; to have all his memories implanted at the mercy of Tyrell corporation; know that he is programmed to die; that he is the machine-- the monster. This may be questioning the future ability of programming one's genetic code by DNA engineering as in the film Gattaca. The final irony of Deckard's realization of his identity as a replicant at the end is that he can now empathize with the replicants--the one thing replicants are not supposed to be able to do. In fact, many of the other replicants show the ability to show empathy suggesting the humanness in the machine.

[Note: weak transition.] On the series, "Star Trek The Next Generation" a collective cyborg community named the Borg is the primary enemy of the Federation, or in essence humanity. The Borg seems to be everything that humanity is not: "a collective consciousness" completely void of any uniqueness, personality, individuality, or anything else that would be termed a human quality. It is a supreme hegemony where no individual can stand alone; a society that is everything that human is not--or so it seems. The Borg is something of complete terror and horror, and yet, like the aforementioned monsters, the Borg is more like human society than we would like to believe. The analogy of the Borg is similar to that of the replicants and of Frankenstein's monster. Like Frankenstein's monster's doomed existence in the society of man and the Bladerunner replicants' programmed memories and time of death, the Borg also have a loss of free will with their programming into the collective consciousness that is the Borg. Thus the motto of the Borg: "you will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." The federation, though, performs similar acts to that of the Borg. In the episode, "I, Borg," the Enterprise attempts to "assimilate" a member of the Borg, three of five, to the customs of human life in the Federation. The analogy of this assimilation, or conformity to a group or society, is prevalent in our modern reality. In many of our modern institutions, conformity is required to "pass as a member." Another possible analogy of the Borg is the sense of being programmed like the replicants. The old argument of nature Vs nurture: How much do our genes control how we will live our lives? Our dependence on machines is one popular theme in science fiction including Star Trek. The Borg are cyborgs--completely dependent on their mechanical components to survive. In modern society, how much do we depend on machines to survive? The Borg reflects several aspects of our own human society and human self.

Donna Haraway says, "The cyborg is our ontology...The machine is us." Frankenstein's monster, the replicants, and Star Trek's Borg each is analogous to the monster within a subconscious or unrealized level within modern reality. The unconscious needs of modern technology, the uncertain amount of genetic programming within us, and the unknown about the human's unconscious mind are all objectives explored in the allegorical genre of science fiction as we explore the monster within.

Grade: 40 points

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