Auto ethnography according to Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams & Arthur P. Bochner is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno). It requires inspiration from text, digital media or communication technology, subculture, industry or practice that allows an epiphany into a new direction of critical thinking or research. This particular methodology allows a personal thought processes that allow the individual to make sense of something and in my own reflection, The Ghost in the Shell was a starting point to uncover some underlying themes and patterns of existential thought into humanity and machines. By using auto ethnography, we “realize that stories are complex, constitutive, meaningful phenomena that teach morals and ethics, introduce unique ways of thinking and feeling, and help people make sense of themselves and others”.
Understanding a unique and new culture is almost impossible to understand through theories and assumptions, as we’re not able to empathise, as we have no means of feeling what people who are different from us are experiencing. Anime was completely new in the sense that I had my initial prejudice on the genre without even having viewed it, simply because I thought it was childish or completely inappropriate (referring to hentai). Initially my engagement with this genre was difficult. I often found myself trying to skip dialogue to work out what the characters were, and therefore missing points in the storyline. It’s nothing against the genre of anime; I think just my lack of exposure to its conventions made me have to really focus in the first 10-15 minutes. This being said, for a “cartoon” feeling film I found myself deeply engaged in the sound detail. The class discussion at the end of the film was probably the most beneficial part of my experience as i was able to listen in on those that have prior anime experience and perhaps slightly more engagement with the film which were then able to recount and make points about it. This is where I was able to make connections and ultimately understand the film in its entirety.
The idea of a man vs. machine storyline really captured my interest and the cyborg argument that arose of “is the cyborg human?” It provoked my understanding of “cyborg” as an extension of the human body, and all the ideas I had when creating a prosthetic limb. This promoted my own epiphany of research I conducted and in correlation with auto ethnographic form in “Use (of) characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders. To accomplish this might require comparing and contrasting personal experience against existing research” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011) I quickly learnt how easy it was with something as simple as a 3D Printer, it was to modify the job, This made way for thinking about things like a USB slot or even a simple bottle opener, which are both things a human hand/arm cannot do. The idea that people could enhance themselves to become greater in their own way wasn’t so new or original; in fact this film explored the possibilities of that. Stephen Hawking has recently released his views on the topic claiming, “I think the development of full artificial intelligence [AI] could spell the end of the human race.”(BBC News, 2014)This article goes on to explain the advancements with AI technology, in in relation to Ghost in the Shell the idea that warfare could be between machines and humans seems to be a reoccurring fate. Human enhancement has always been a fascinating topic of discussion that poses ethical questions towards its use today. Then the possibility of using this technology for warfare and solider enhancement is debated on for its potential to break international law, “half a world away from the battlefield, a soldier controls his avatar-robot that does the actual fighting on the ground. Another one wears a sticky fabric that enables her to climb a wall like a gecko or spider would”.(The Atlantic, 2013)If our human genome can be replicated in such a way that makes it superior to the original, what’s to say that people won’t believe that human tissue and original capabilities are good enough and willingly try to enhance themselves?
“The auto ethnographer inscribes the experiences of a historical moment, universalizing these experiences in their singular effects on a particular life…a commitment to connect critical ethnography to issues surrounding cultural policy, cultural politics, and procedural policy work.”(Denzin, Norman K 2003), Society is under the microscope for the film The Ghost in the Shell, for the inclusion of technology and its effects on humanity and what it means to enter the existential question, what does it mean. Perhaps this is a question that has carried on throughout my experience of the film that prompted me reflect on what I personally believe the “requirements” of humanity. Whilst discussing artificial technology and cyborg culture, the ethical considerations on a technology could be something that needs to be addressed if it’s going to make an appearance in current society. The use of machines intertwined with human tissue that develop individual capabilities beyond its normal function could spark a whole new debate in terms of military. An all new era of arms race with perhaps soldiers becoming less vulnerable to attacks, could spark a need for weapons to increase their destructive power and thus damaging the susceptible populations whom aren’t enhanced with the technology as yet. It can be paralleled to how we view enhancement in sports, or almost even an example to this, what if our athletes were able to access these “improvements”, would all codes of sport have to re-evaluate their policy and terms of entry?
The film explores mechanical and cyborg enhancements on humans with full artificial intelligent cyborgs who can think for themselves. Are these characters human? The film makes sure that the audience knows the cyborg is female with its emphasised physical make up, but is human to be physical? Heavy reliance on technology today leads one’s thought into the possibility of one day replicating human existence with a form of electrical network, or is it the cluster of experience and memory truly define it. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown or simply an unanswerable question, but it’s one that seems to bug philosophers and those chasing existential views of, “what is it to be human”. The Ghost in the Shell anime movie introduces a world post World War III set in Japan where humans are inextricably linked to the machine world, and have become a society, accepting them and referring to them as equal. The futuristic world of the film, incorporates the cyborg in a female depicted character Major Motoko Kusanagi, thus “Throughout its 80-minute runtime, Kusanagi finds herself — or perhaps, itself — facing a somewhat existential identity crisis, one that is inevitable in a world where it is possible to manipulate an organism’s memories, to rewrite their personal history.” (Japan Subculture, 2011)
Perhaps existential though has followed me, as with a year 12 drama monologue I looked at the way in which humans question existence of life and the possibilities of a greater controlled being. How perhaps death is the solution to people learning too much truth about origins and thus is discarded in the form of “accidental death”. It’s a topic that resonated with me and allowed me to understand and interpret the text of Ghost in the Shell, as I was able to understand where this cyborg was coming from, yet also empathise as she believed that it was wrong to question it and a fear of the consequences to follow. In relation to being human, “Ultimately, What It Means to Be Human is less an answer than it is an invitation to a series of questions, questions about who and what we are as a species, as souls, and as nodes in a larger complex ecosystem of sentient beings”(Maria Popova, 2011) this questioning of all things that make us up mentally and collectively I believe makes this character equally human as the next ‘full’ human. The idea that her soul and genetic being has been preserved and the thing that makes her unhuman is the physicality of the machine, for me doesn’t resinate in the film as her strong mental power captures my attention before her super-human power does.
One of the great ways The Ghost in the Shell leads into gender equality in a post-apocalyptic world is how they’ve created a strong and successful character in Motoko, giving rise to the proposal of the futuristic women creating the even playing field in topics such as military, justice and strong will. Technological advancement “shows a future that praises technology and renders humanity and its gender prejudices obsolete”( RIT Confluence Wiki, 2010). This moves away from negative stereotypes that often get portrayed when having female characters in sci-fi films to be of less value. The Ghost in the Shell makes a statement with her obvious self-determinism and powerful persona. Perhaps a subtle message that technology and artificial intelligence are a chance to right all the wrongs surrounding negative portrayals in cinema and society today, human enhancement could be written as policy to give an equal level of capability, regardless of gender. Thus, the cyborg character isn’t limited to internal organs and structure that make up a female, only the ‘shell” of her mechanical being, that takes away the stereotype of a female’s limits.
Alexandra Kaplewicz 2011, Physiology and Sociology of Ghost in the Shell, RIT Confluence Wiki, viewed 26th August 2015, <https://wiki.rit.edu/display/05052130220101/Psychology+and+Sociology+of+Ghost+in+the+Shell>
Denzin, Norman K 2003, Performing [Auto] Ethnography Politically,The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 25:257–278.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.
Zoe Klienman 2014, When Does Man Become Machine, BBC News, viewed 27th August 2015, <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30583218>
Jake Adelstein 2011, Ghost in the Shell: A Classic Film of Japanese Sci Fi Animation with Universal Themes, Japan Subculture Research Centre, viewed 26th August 2015, <http://www.japansubculture.com/ghost-in-the-shell-%E6%94%BB%E6%AE%BB%E6%A9%9F%E5%8B%95%E9%9A%8A-a-classic-film-of-japanese-sci-fi-animation-with-universal-themes>
Maria Popova 2011, What Does it Mean to be Human? 300 Years of Definitions and Reflections, Brain Pickings, viewed 27th August 2015, <http://www.brainpickings.org/2011/12/09/what-it-means-to-be-human-joanna-bourke/>
Patrick Lin 2013, Could Human Enhancement Turn Soldiers Into Weapons That Violate International Law? Yes, The Atlantic, viewed 27th August 2015, <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/could-human-enhancement-turn-soldiers-into-weapons-that-violate-international-law-yes/266732/>
Professor Susan Dodds, 11th February 2015, 3D Printing Raises Ethical Issues in Medicine, ABC: ABC Science, viewed 27th April 2015, <http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/02/11/4161675.htm