Strange days and the dispossesed

I continue my explorations these days into pleasurable sci-fi territories I’d forgotten about during my doctoral study (contrary to what the Thesis whisperer blogger describes as her experience of repression during PhD study, I didn’t binge any trash fiction literature during my study – well, except for a bit of True Blood). And so I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s film Strange Days (1995) and the Lawnmower Man (1992) again, and will spend winter holidays probably watching again some VR, time travel and AI classics. Strange Days was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman director to win an Oscar for the 2008 film The Hurt Locker. The film received substantial attention when it was released, especially since ideas about virtual life and cyberspace (and the vocabulary that emerged to describe technological change and new mediated experiences) were quite popular at the time. The film represents a dystopian version of pre -Y2K Los Angeles -is interesting because it is concerned with personal identity and experience (who am I when I’m sensing someone else’s lived/recorded/coded experience), and particularly with visual experience.

Barry Keith Grant (2001), in the book chapter Strange days: Gender and ideology in new genre films, writes that in Strange Days Bigelow comments on the racist, misogynist gaze of Hollywood cinema – especially in relation to the generic characteristics of action film. For Grant, the director recasts these expectations, not only through the kick-ass character of Angella Bassett, but also through the retelling of Rodney King‘s story – in a version that ends in revolt. Watching the film now – when having violent kick-ass heroines in action movies is more common than it was in 1995 – I couldn’t ignore the sexualised violence of the film (the disturbing rape/murder scene) and of course the VR technology=masculine, naughty boy-toy kind of figuration that completely turns me off.

I’m also reading Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossesed and find myself thinking and dreaming about non-propertarian, non-possesive ways of living and loving, as if I’m an idealistic teenager. But then there are other reasons I love this book – it’s the idea that people get together because of shared hardship (which reminds me of sharing salt and bread with someone – the very basics of survival – a greek saying about making a substantial connection with someone) – and that scene where Shevek talks his theory of time to the baby. I’ve also discovered this fun Study Guide for the book, in case you’re feeling really geeky!

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