ABSTRACT

In the months following the phenomenally successful release of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar (2009), the news media were saturated with stories of viewers who were so enthralled and immersed that they suffered withdrawal symptoms when the ‘real world’ failed to live up to the film’s pixel-perfect digital fantasy (for example, Connelly, 2010). On one hand the idea of withdrawal from a film, even in 3D, seems fanciful, and yet Avatar gripped people in a way which was at times both profound, but also complex and contradictory. It’s a film which champions nature, privileges the ideal of living as part of an ecosystem rather than at odds with it, and yet the vast majority of Avatar was shot against blue-screen and created using hugely expensive and complex computers and digital equipment. The ecological dream of Pandora exists only as a digital simulation. However, rather than seeing the technological creation of a parable about nature simply as an unworkable and irreconcilable contradiction, I would argue that that this tension highlights a complexity in the relationship between nature, technology, and human beings. More to the point, while the stellar financial success of Avatar thrust questions about the boundary between people and technology into the media spotlight, these questions are far from new. Indeed, exploring the complex relationships between nature, culture, humanity, and technology has long been a common theme in many forms of popular culture and especially in what is broadly defined as science fiction. What might be new is that these questions have shifted from being somewhat novel to completely ubiquitous; from popular culture to our communication through email and social media, our relationships to, with, and mediated by technology are deepening daily and permanently under scrutiny. While measuring or even just highlighting cultural trends is an awkward and imprecise business, examining popular culture does provide one useful lens through which these changing relationships can be at least partially mapped. It will thus be the central argument of this book that by analysing certain examples of popular media, the deepening and increasingly complex relationships between people, bodies, and technology can be usefully explored. Indeed, far from being able to easily demarcate where people end and machines begin, I will argue that our culture at large has become artificial.