BCM325 Future Cultures: Why Science Fiction?

BCM325 Future Cultures is a third-year subject in the major of Digital and Social Media, which is one of five majors in the Bachelor of Communication and Media. Previously the subject was called ‘Cyberculture’ and had a very techno-social focus, with an emphasis on regulation and policy. My revisions for the subject have responded to the attention that digital, social and emergent media already receives in earlier subjects in the major and even subjects in the core subjects of degree, after all these are ‘the’ media that graduates will be working, in, with and around. Future Cultures has been refocussed around the primary goal of challenging students to think about the future across three time scales: the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term. The subject has a student blog, which students contribute to here.

As the major is going to be offered across multiple campuses including Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai over the next few years, I have transitioned to a blended learning approach, which provides the lecture material in a series of online videos. My approach to the three-hour face-to-face seminar time mixes a little of the old and a little of the new. One of my favourite experiences as an undergraduate was the screenings of movies that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to or had the opportunity to view. Student’s today have more access to this type of content but don’t often choose to watch it. Similarly, classroom discussion in traditional tutorial mode is often hampered by an increased level of student anxiety, and less available time to prepare and do the background readings and research that would help them to speak from an informed position. Our students, however, are encouraged to use Twitter during their first-year lectures, deploying the hashtags #BCM112 and #BCM110 to develop their sense of a cohort and engage with the content, using memes, gifs and the obligatory shitposting.

Enter live Tweeting. One of my favourite experiences at academic conferences is the ‘backchannel’ conversations and coverage that comes from the rapid live tweeting of speakers and presentations. Similarly, some of the most interesting Twitter threads emerge from the live tweeting of events and especially from fans participating in the coverage of their favourite shows. Live tweeting is not an easy skill to develop, it requires advanced practices in note taking, listening and the ability to distil information rapidly, and in such a way that it contributes to the understanding of those not physically present. Even if students don’t go on to continue using Twitter, and many don’t, it is a valuable process that supports student learning, and confidence in engaging in real-time analysis, research and critical conversation that will be useful to their future careers in the media and communication industries.

This brings me to science fiction. Over the course of the session, students engage in the live tweeting of science fiction movies from the previous one hundred years. Beginning with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, moving through Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both Blade Runners, the original animated Ghost in the Shell, and ending with Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime. The point is to consider the way the future has been represented in the past and to contemplate the tension between the representation of the future and its reality. Students must tweet during the screening, using the #BCM325 hashtag and are assessed on their ability to engage with each other and outsiders, who often comment on the live tweeting stream, and make sense of the films for a public audience.

In the above video, I explain why we are using Science Fiction to think about the future in more detail, drawing very briefly on the work of two SF scholars, Istvan Cicsery-Ronay and Darko Suvin.

Future Cultures

It is a new year and a new semester, and I have been busy writing a new set of lectures for BCM325 Future Cultures.

As this subject is going to be available across four campuses over the next couple of years, in Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai, I’ve elected to record them as video lectures.

I’ve been learning Final Cut Pro, but have been screen capturing from Prezi for the time being.

This is the Week One introductory lecture:
And a short guide to Live Tweeting, our seminar activity:

this time around

Teaching this semester involves a welcome return to DIGC330 Digital Asia and the most satisfying collaborative blog I’ve been fortunate to be a part of in my teaching experience. The subject is very much directed by the students own interests, both personal and professional, and the results are unpredictable and revealing of the way that we are capable of coming to an understanding of cultures that are not our own.

DIGC330 Digital Asia – Week Two

I didn’t discover that the ‘original’ Godzilla, which I knew as a child was actually a remake for US audiences of the original 1954 Gojira, until quite recently. It is minor ‘epiphany’ of sorts that serves as my starting point for the seminars in DIGC 330 Digital Asia this week. Following on from the lecture on field studies, ethnography and the autoethnographic research method that we will be using to investigate the production and consumption of ‘asian’ media in an Australian context this session, I introduced two student seminar groups to two very different texts that have informed my media ‘experience’ of Japan and Japanese culture. The first group got to experience Godzilla, while the second were treated to Ghost in the Shell.

Autoethnography is not a research method that is commonly encountered by undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Media and Communication Studies and there is often a degree of hesitancy and confusion regarding ethnography, let alone accepting the idea of allowing the researcher to directly and overtly account for their own subjectivity through autoethnographic narrative in their analytical, critical and cultural research. The following is meant to serve as a guide for students still wrestling with the concepts, and is a simple start towards some autoethnographic observations on the experience.

My first encounter with Godzilla was a chance discovery made while flipping TV channels on a school holiday afternoon, when I was 8 or 9. The cultural shock and sheer strangeness of the movie was confronting and intoxicating; the characters, plot, structure, and the monster were like nothing I’d encountered previously. Finding the movie well into its run time and heavily punctuated with advertising, it was a difficult text to make sense of, but a season of lazy afternoon monster movies, science fiction classics, and black and white war movies had prepared me to make a kind of meaning out of the movie that went well beyond interest in the obviously rubber suited monster.

The extensive use of practical and special effects, cemented a deep and lifelong interest in cinema’s use of models and perspective, and the scenes of various Japenese people and cities would later feed into an obsession with Blade Runner. Rewatching the movie now three decades on from my first viewing I am remembering those early lessons, including the importance of Japan’s fishing industry, that fear and terror of the unknown were universal, and that despite clearly delineated social, political and cultural roles, gender relations are a predictable force in practically any narrative. Growing up on a diet of science fiction themed politics of 1970s Doctor Who, I’m confident that I registered that Godzilla was a critique of unrestrained scientific inquiry and the propensity for humanity to turn amazing discoveries into terrifying weapons.

Encountering Godzilla anew this week in the context of the subject, I’m curious as to what the students will make of the text. As @jawgbear noted we are watching 70 years on from Hiroshima bombing, more than 50 since the movie’s first release, and only four years on from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I’m looking forward to the discussions next week to see how the students have accounted for their own experiences. I’m sure many will have encountered Godzilla in some capacity in the past and making sense of it anew will hopefully pose questions about gender roles, cultural politics and the assumptions that we bring to the text as an outside audience.

One interesting framing element I did notice this time around was an early scene making use of a map of Japan, titled with the japan sea. The island nation is pictured rotated 90 degrees on the map, so the islands play out in a long elongated horizontal stretch, bordered by the Japan sea at the ‘top’. I’m very interested in this self-presentation of a very differently visually aligned Japan, although I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, which is a clear signal that I need to do some research on this visual representation of the Japan as a nation state.

 

 

Serres, time travel and the Gothic in science fiction

Three new postgraduate students to co-supervise this year. The first I’ve caught up with so far is a Creative Arts students writing a science fiction novel. The exegesis for the thesis will focus on the Gothic in science fiction and to kick the process off, we will be working on an analysis of the Gothic in the Mass Effect series. The aim is to prepare an article for a games studies or the science fiction studies journal, and to contribute to the formation of an emerging research group on technology and science fiction studies at Deakin. In doing some fresh research I came across a great article by Laura Salisbury on Michel Serres, time travel and gothic SF. It’s a cracking read and coincides with the material I’m working on using Serres concept of quasi-objects to analyse the use of screenshots in participatory gamer cultures (to adopt Joost Raessen’s term).