technological progress – good or bad?

there’s only one way to find out…FIGHT!!!

this was the closest i could get to working out the moral of the story of Iron Man 1, which i had the pleasure of catching most of on flights to and from Toronto. the trailer is here. if you can’t immediately deduce it from this trailer, the hero of Iron Man is an engineering genius who is deeply conflicted about the effects of technological innovation. not immediately obvious from all the it where he making everything blow iup.

(though the problem with flying to Canada is that all the passenger announcements are in English and French, which means they last twice as long, which means to don’t get much viewing time on a 1 hour and a bit flight. so technically i’ve missed the last five minutes of Iron Man, in which I am sure that everyone who survived became a better person and further adventures were broadly hinted at.)

Iron Man just about pulled off the ‘deeply conflicted about progress’ approach, despite being primarily an intense and weirdly anachronistic love letter the arms industry, because it featured robert downey junior, who could make a traffic warden quirkily loveable.

he had also made a very convincing positive case for innovation and technological process in sherlock holmes actually. which if you haven’t see it is certainly better than you think it is, dare i say it maybe not even in spite of guy ritchie but because of him. even this movie culminated in some strange meta-morality about chemical warfare (and a fight atop the Tower of London) but generally the moral of Sherlock Holmes was that invention, innovation, and, well, thinking, is good.

maybe somehow this is easier when a movie is set in the past. ie – technology that got us from victorian london to modern london is good, anything further is a bit dubious. it seems to be morally brave at the moment to suggest that technological progress is good. if Iron Man was brave in anything as a movie. it was in at least having the courage to be conflicted, and not downright dismissive, towards technology.

much more par for the course nowadays is avatar. described, quite aptly, as ferngully in space, it made without a trace of irony the case that advances in technology were inexorably and irrevocably destroying hand craft, spirituality and cultural diversity. which considering the fact that avatar will probably make $3bn in all formats by the time it is done and has created a scenario in which a dog smelling its own bum could break through the $1billion barrier as long as it was in glorious 3D.

i should point out that at the time i quite enjoyed avatar, much in the way that i would enjoy, say, a ballbearing hovering in space thanks to the power of magnetism. it just wasn’t a very good movie. of course james cameron being who he is, i can’t link to any avatar footage, because it is locked in a cavern under the sea. but you can listen to the destruction of ‘hometree’ if you like…

but, at the risk of being preachy, i come back to my central point. i am glad Iron Man didn’t make arms dealers look like heroes more than was absolutely necessary (though, the character being who he was, it was quite necessary.) but i would love to see some optimistic explorations of the technological future. the 1980s was full of them, from the ridiculousness of Top Gun to the chaotic good heartedness of Back to the Future.

maybe now, in a time of fuel crisis, and oil leaks, and post-recessionary economies, and financial crisis, and the surveillance society, would be a good time to start creating some good dreams about what technology could accomplish. and i tend to believe that the movies are a pretty good place to start.

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1 Comment

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One response to “technological progress – good or bad?

  1. Welcome to the world of blogging!

    I get the impression it’s a belated welcome, but I’ve only just discovered your blog.

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