Sunday, September 19

Internal Memo of the Delta India Yankee Cryopunk League: Cryonic Mythologies

Cryonic Mythologies:
The Soon-to-be Gospel According to Matt Groening’s Futurama; Or Stelarc and a Strange Argument for Cybernetic Misprision

by F. Austin Love
for the Delta India Yankee Cryopunk League Internal Audit of Semiotic Scrutiny

It is no longer meaningful to see the body as a sight for the psyche or the social, but rather as a structure to be monitored and modified—the body not as a subject but as an object—NOT AN OBJECT OF DESIRE BUT AN OBJECT FOR DESIGNING.

The psycho-social period was characterized by the body circling itself, orbiting itself, illuminating and inspecting itself by physical prodding and metaphysical contemplation.

But having confronted this image of obsolescence, the body is traumatized to split from the realm of subjectivity and consider the necessity of re-examining and possibly redesigning its very structure. ALTERING THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE BODY RESULTS IN ADJUSTING AND EXTENDING ITS AWARENESS OF THE WORLD.

As an object, the body can be amplified and accelerated, attaining planetary escape velocity. It becomes a post-evolutionary projectile, departing and diversifying in form and function.”

--Stelarc, 2000

Cryonic super-folk are just around the corner, the wave of the future, the pitiful obsolescence of their body-objects ala Stelarc, will be ultra-modified and cured by eons of scientific learning. Frozen in time, suspended animation, life extension, reanimated life—all of these clichés play down to a certain sense of both mind-numbing wonder and the most inelegant metaphysical usurpations of our best clever rationality. We are now, today, at this very moment, living in a world where our mythologies exist literally in the spheres of media experience, both ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ . Cryonics is a real viable death option, and a stereotypical subject of science fiction plots, making the whole of cryonics an Umberto Eco-like ‘hyper reality’ . It is the subject of serious scientific scrutinizing and the fleeting fancy of wannabe trans-human cyberpunks.
The mythology of cryonics is essentially a resurrection myth. History is replete with resurrection tales from Osiris and Jesus, to Rip Van Wrinkle and the entire cast of All My Children . New developments in resurrection mythologizing: Christians now have a sleek, polished Hollywood thunder ‘mocumentary’ of the Passion of Christ, knee-jerked and tear-jerked for them by the quintessential king of post-Bogart action stars: Mel Gibson . Reality was never interpreted and brought back to life better.
As divine pre-destiny would have it, our beloved Mel Gibson makes a guest appearance in the history of cryonic lore as Captain Daniel McCormick from the 1992 movie Forever Young, directed by Steve Miner. It is about a man who thinks he lost his one true love, depressed he seeks Socratic nothingness in a vessel of liquid nitrogen. He is revived 50 years later to find out that not only his former love is still alive and available, but that his body is making up for frozen time by aging itself the fifty years it was suspended. The former couple is back together. They happily grow older with each other, into the credits, hugging and kissing, looking out over the majestic ocean.
Cryonics in a Barthesian mythological sign system takes all of cryonic information— fiction and non-fiction—as one large sign, consisting of an equivalent group of signs that correlate significances with and with-in each other . The signs for say, the business of cryonic suspension in the fictional movie Vanilla Sky, can be found as a bizarre trans-humanist corporation , or the signifiers that mean literal cryonic suspension as a form of time elapsing in the television show Futurama, as Pop parodies of H.G. Wells Time Machine. Non-fiction: trans-humanists are really suspended at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona right now, no fooling. Matt Groening’s T.V. show Futurama is broadcast all over the world, portraying the misadventures of a Cryonic ‘defrostee’ , named Philip J. Fry, a 20th century human, who unwittingly became a cryonaut, 1000 years go by, his home of New York evolves into New New York and he is defrosted only to start life over again working as an interplanetary delivery boy in the year 3000, with a Cyclops woman named Leela, and an alcoholic robot named Bender .
Remembering Stelarc’s website I opened this paper with, it is significant to realize that one of the most famous cryonauts in history is a cartoon character: Philip J. Fry. Fry is an artificial person, a phantom body, which is a perfect Stelarc-like dilemma, illustrating one of his central issues, “the capabilities of being a body are constrained, by having a body.” He champions the notion of art performed around the object of the body, inside as with his Stomach Sculptures, and outside of the body, creating cyborg hybrids like his Amplified Body.
In the short history of cryonic mythology, there have been famous persons, who were said to have entered cryonic suspension: Walt Disney (who died two years before cryogenic science knew about cryonic suspension), Timothy Leary (who was set to be frozen, but decided to have his ashes launched into orbit last minute), and Ted Williams (who is the only one of these three celebrities to be frozen; his head was set in liquid nitrogen by the Alcor Foundation). It is notable that Disney and Leary are mythologized in absentia. The stories, over the facts, become just as significant in the Pop understanding of cryonics. The significance of cryonics is absent in Stelarc’s work. Perhaps it is significant because of its absenteeism.
Stelarc does not work in the medium of cryonics, yet all of his work seems to address life extension, albeit in a mostly cybernetic or cyborg fashion. And he is serious about it. He does not make fun of himself as a component of his own aesthetic system. This may sway his work towards a more camp aesthetic in the future, but as Sontag noted of why most of the Pop artists cannot be considered as pure camp, “Pop art is more flat and more dry, more serious, more detached, ultimately nihilistic.” Stelarc’s work may one day very well be a kind of pure camp, for its failed seriousness, its ambitions of redefining an aesthetic system by ignoring its previous elements of style and taste, but it may just be too direct to ever be laughed at. It is not ‘nihilistic’ by any extension of the imagination.
Two rules Stelarc’s artworks are invented, executed and motivated by create a nice conundrum, “The Body is obsolete,” and “Bodies are both Zombies and Cyborgs.” So the body has evolved beyond its own pragmatism and usefulness, and human bodies are at all times, at once composed of dead, decaying material and all purpose artificial material integrated by the living matter of the body, into itself to aid in survival and the menial tasks of existence .
This brings up the vital issue of trans-humanism. As a Pop philosophy it has its headquarters in Los Angeles at the Extropy Institute, run by a performance artist named Natasha-Vita More. Their tenants are silly and poorly rationalized. They host many websites and discussion groups, preaching a message of peaceful liberation through innovation and cybernetic symbiosis, a kind of technography. Vita-More’s contributions to cryonic mythology consist mostly of an essay she wrote for the institute in 1995 called “Cryonics—A Smart Safety Net”, where she doesn’t discuss the aesthetic significance of cryonics, but rather the conceptual frameworks of cryonics as a medical extension of the human body, that cryonics is simply a redefinition of death. These ideas of course were already discussed at length by the harbinger of the cryonic movement, Robert C.W. Ettinger, in his book, The Prospect of Immortality, from 1964. The book had amazing Pop success, and was even featured as a book-of-the-month in Reader’s Digest , but like many other half-baked science books it never garnered academic success. One thing it did do was start the debate of new critical thinking about cryonics, which ultimately led to the creation of Life Extension foundations, knowing they are use obsolete and archaic science before it has even been discovered or understood. No matter what they use as science it will be ancient in the future.
There is a misprision in the extension of human knowledge created by this gap in our ability to creatively address a problem of the future, in this case cryonic suspension. While we are conscious of our inabilities to understand our preconscious knowledge of the problem, we understand a simulacrum of things to come. And as Debord points out, “time is a necessary alienation, being the medium in which the subject realizes himself while losing himself, becomes other in order to become truly himself.” And as Stelarc has pointed out that the body-object is no longer the space for the social. This social alienation becomes “the alienation that has forbidden and petrified the possibilities of a living alienation within time.”
But the rub of the trans-humanists and pseudo-scientists like Ettinger, is that they see their scientific philosophies as a natural extension of scientific evolution, more in line with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, than numerology and astrology. But as any skeptic would tell you, Ettinger’s work is more like religious malefeasance than science. A more recent issue of Christianity Today had an article warning Christians of the dangers of ‘techno sapiens’ as they called trans-humanists. The author, C. Christopher Hook warns his followers at the end of his essay that Christians must not be ‘techno dystopians’, but rather ‘techno-realists’.
In an issue of Free Inquiry magazine around the same time, I found an article by Beth Birnbaum on what she dubbed ‘cartoon religion’, “Religious references abound in almost every past and current cartoon series.” Among them she lists The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Simpsons, Veggie Tales; and bemoans that Scooby Doo is the only cartoon populated by skeptics. She then called dibs on the rights to the gospel according to South Park. She didn’t mention Futurama, so I took it and ran.
The debate is a good one, religious fundamentalism, though not on the rise, is certainly being televised more than people really believe in this media age. But as McLuhan has suggested, “the medium is the message” , and “Myth means putting on the audience, putting on one’s environment.”
In The Prospect of Immortality, Ettinger states:
Human life has always been based largely on fanatic lies and
self-deception, a consequence of the endless struggle to solve
the unsolvable, reconcile the irreconcilable, scrutinize the ins-
crutable. Most of us have always preferred make-believe to
frustration. But now at last it will be safe to go sane—at least

The essayist/ novelist F.M. Esfandiary took these ideas and ran with them. He created an entire world of ideas he called ‘trans-humanism’ , the political beliefs of these trans-humanists was neither left wing nor right wing, but up wing. The early trans-humanists referred to themselves, as Up-wingers, based mostly on the book Esfandiary wrote by the same name. Eventually as his writing began evolving Esfandiary changed his name to FM-2030 and became the ‘Saul’ of the cryonicist movement.
This was from the 60s to the 00s, an age that also bore the world of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is the moniker normally saved for addressing the science fiction works of William Gibson, whose novel Neuromancer, literally changed the science fiction world with its descriptions of the mythological sign of cyberspace which would find a correlation in the real world as the thing signified: the world wide web. This is more of the fictive world that Stelarc is influenced by. Trans-humanism has its place, but it is the aesthetic world, such as all the exotic cyberneticism and cyberculture Case is about in Neuromancer. Stelarc would work well, as an artist, living in the Sprawl of Neuromancer.
Another New York moment of cryonic mythology occurs in Cameron Crowe’s 2001 movie Vanilla Sky starring the extra-ordinary and unflappable Tom Cruise (fig. 4). Tom Cruise is a millionaire who thinks he lost his chance at true love. Depressed, he seeks Socratic nothingness in a vessel of liquid nitrogen, that old chestnut. This is the cyclical hero’s journey of the cryonaut, a zeitgeist of science fiction films, involving cryonic suspension. Vanilla Sky witnesses the birth of ‘cryotainment’, where rather than be frozen in a coma-like state virtual reality makes an appearance and entertains the cryonaut during their eons of cold storage. Half of Vanilla Sky’s storyline is part of what they call ‘LUCID DREAM’, in the movie, which involves sequences of appropriations and fabrications from Pop culture, mass media and personal experience.
Campy? Only time will tell. ‘Cryonics’ as a whole may very well be camp. It is certainly not conscious enough of itself as a pseudo-science to be ‘too serious’ as Sontag would say. Humans now have the ability to save sperm and eggs in liquid nitrogen, even fetuses up to a point can be kept on ice, and used later. Shelf life is an issue. But look at Ted Williams, he was a legendary baseball player, veteran of WWII, infamous bass fisherman, but in the long run, he may end up just a discorporate head in a cryonic dewar at the Alcor Foundation in Arizona. He even has the Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston named after him, a tunnel completely submerged underwater. But he is literally a frozen head now.
Futurama however will never be camp. Groening did work about cryonics well before he began Futurama. The illustration from Life in Hell (fig. 5), Groening’s comic strip, is a humorous work about cryonics. It is fully aware of itself as both science fiction and parody. There is even a sense of semiotic significance within the illustrated humor, where the thing signified (cryonic suspension) is in cybernetic misprision with the sign itself (a highly stylized cartoon of an advertisement for a fake company specializing in cryonic suspension: Cryonics Hut).
Even Fry from Futurama follows the stringent cryonaut hero’s journey. In episode 101, we see Fry in 1999, his girlfriend dumps him, he has a bad new year’s delivering a pizza for a bogus order to a place called ‘Applied Cryogenics’, so he cracks a brew and accidentally finds Socratic nothingness for 1000 years, by falling backwards into the open door of a cryonic suspension unit.
Perhaps the worst film in the cryonic sub-genre is Encino Man, directed by Les Mayfield in 1992, starring Brendan Fraser, Sean Astin and Pauly Shore. Fraser plays a caveman who was consumed with his cave lady in a freak glacier accident while merrily going about his blissful existence during the Upper-Neolithic era. Two boys (Astin and Shore) unearth him in the early 90s and take him to high school to help make them ‘cool’ too. The cryonaut adjusts and saves the day just in time, before his girlfriend defrosts.
Pauly Shore would return to the history of cryonic mythology in Futurama, episode 219: “The Cryonic Woman”, as himself, as the actor from Encino Man. In said episode, Fry is confronted with the fact that a few years after he was frozen, his former girlfriend, Michelle, underwent the same fate. She comes back into his life and proceeds to fuck it up proper with the constant nagging and controlling behavior. One thing leads to another and she dumps Fry for Pauly Shore in Los Angeles during a freak time/space travel/ cryonic mishap. In the end Fry is happy with his life in the future and prefers to not have his past with him. A cryonic lesson learned from the school of hard knocks, it would seem.
But Fry represents something of the way we feel now about our future. FM-2030 spoke about it often, “I am a 21st century person who was accidentally launched into the 20th. I have a deep nostalgia for the future.” This is something of a futurist orientalism, a generation dysphoria. ‘A deep nostalgia for the future’, is part of the cybernetic misprision of our understanding of ourselves, we are not time travelers. Some of us have redefined our death processes and hope to travel to the future where scientists know the answers to everything, but that is it.
Our extreme aesthetic behaviors are starting to fall into a virtual mimesis with our intellectual surroundings, adapting and re-coupling every few years. Virtual reality and virtual experience are not a thing of the past now, they are valid and efficient ways of relating performative events, as Stelarc’s work virtually attests to. And as McLuhan had stated over and over of our media and media systems, “all media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.” Cybernetic misprision of cryonics is a definite way to ensure a future for the history of cryonic mythology as both signifier and signified.


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