Resistance Is Futile: Hollywood Bionics, Borg & RoboCops Inspire Pop Culture Cyborg Tech Meld
We’re all cyborgs now.
“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service - us.” Locutus of Borg - Star Trek: The Next Generation from ‘Best of Both Worlds’
In June of 1990, on television sets tuned into syndication networks across America, the final episode of season three of hit TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. Patrick Stewart (Logan) playing one time Starfleet Captain Picard, as the now newly assimilated Borg, Locutus, rocked the geeky Trekkie world from coast to coast. We watched in utter agony as Jean-Luc turned from wise and noble protector of humanity to a traitorous cybernetic Borg stooge. Although we’d seen sci-fi cybernetic characters before - The Borg race itself had been introduced previously, in the second season - Best of Both Worlds shocked by living up to its name. It turned our little space Trekking worlds entirely upside down.
How could it get any worse? Oh, it could, and it did.
When once Enterprise first officer, now field promoted Captain William T. Riker, gives the order to fire on the Borg cube, the gritty reality dawns on us; our beloved, tragically transformed Captain Picard may be killed - terminated and still nearly unrecognizable as a walking dead like creature - an alien created cyborg chock full of high tech computer chips, blinking lights and masses of tubes and wires. It remains an unforgettable moment in both Star Trek and geek history!
Can we ever escape a high tech existence? More importantly, and perhaps more than a little psychologically analytical - would you really want to make the break? You're glued to a PC, tablet or smartphone for hours each day. You whip out an iPhone or Android to update Twitter and Facebook. Reading email is something you do more than a few times daily. Is that snug little gadget, that FitBit always monitoring your precious vitals? Oh, my precious! Gollum would be proud! It may not be the one and only Ring to lead them all, but it certainly influences one who wears it.
Cyborgs - Man Meets Machine & Melds
Despite dramatic appearances in so much of pop culture entertainment, the concept or incarnation of a cybernetic being may be muddled or confusing to many. What exactly is a cyborg?
Cyborg. Noun: a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.
Mechanical elements built into the body? Prosthetic limbs? Is a person who loses a limb, and replaces it with a prosthetic a cyborg? It’s certainly a colorful way to refer to a disabled individual - but in various Hollywood depictions such as Star Trek (Borg Queen) or Star Wars (Darth Vader) the cyborg persona strikes us as beyond a mere reliance on artificial limbs or tech. Indeed, when we look at Darth Vader - we see a classic kind of cyborg. He’s a compromised man. One sustaining savage battlefield injuries. The lightsaber duel with mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, turned him into a pitiful, mutilated mess. He’s been rebuilt with implanted tech, which extends and augments his abilities. Yet it also keeps him at a kind of psychic distance from all around him. His cybernetic helmet, body armor and the haunting sound of his respirator, defines one of the most infamous Hollywood cyborgs.
Does one who depends on tech for nearly all of their persona a cyborg as well? Is Marvel’s Iron Man a convenient, casual cyborg? He certainly relies on a tech armor to extend all of his abilities - literally creating and harnessing most of his powers from his Stark Industries R&D lab. For the villainous Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, fleshed out by actress Alice Krige, her entire existence is owed to an artificial body - even her head is overgrown with tech, implanted with digital, blinking informational processing nodes. The Borg, led by her royal badness, desires to make everyone into a Borg drone - loyal to the Queen's brood. Talk about group think!
Bionics - Colonel Steve Austin
Author Martin Caiden’s novel, Cyborg, became basis for the 1970’s TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man and its subsequent, gender flipping spin-off, The Bionic Woman. Lee Majors plays Colonel Steve Austin and Lindsay Wagner originated the Jaime Sommers character. For fans of these pop culture icons, their influence and narrative power can’t be underestimated.
Sometimes the imaginative power of fictional entertainment intersects beautifully with hard fought real life experiences. Not only did Bionic loving fans see intense sci-fi action and James Bond like espionage play out from week to week, but both actors are on record relating their interactions with actual disabled people. These fans would watch Steve and Jamie use bionics on the show. In turn, they were inspired to use prosthetic limbs to improve their own lives, determined to look to the future for tomorrow’s forthcoming cybernetic advancements.
The Bionic Woman
What did cybernetic techn provide for our heroes? Both of these ‘Bionic Buddies’ sported super strong artificial legs (atomically powered) and a right arm so ultra capable it would make Hercules jealous. The two ran faster than a car, and jumped like they were on a trampoline - which, in truth, the show’s stunt men and women used to achieve the awesome jumping feats. Steve’s eye was bionic, allowing him to see miles away. Jamie’s cybernetic ear could hear a pin drop from a few blocks away.
The shows were pop culture landmarks - so visionary and playful. Action figures, comic books and even lunch boxes were produced as toys and collectible merchandise. They even introduced bionic animals to the mix. Jamie got custody of Max, a bionic powered German shepherd. It may have only been fun fiction at the time, but today, animals are getting prosthetic replacement limbs - just as their human owners do.
RoboCop - The Classic Tale of Cyborg Law & Order
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me!" - RoboCop
Peter Weller played police officer Alex Murphy - morphed into the crime busting RoboCop - twice in two feature films. Though he’s acted in dozens of additional high profile productions, RoboCop is where he’ll probably be most known for as an actor. It’s a credit to the film makers, director and actor that Murphy/Robo still resonates so strongly with the public.
Murphy’s brutal attack by a gang of thuggish criminals led him to being turned into a law enforcing machine. Make no mistake - despite the name, RoboCop is a cyborg, not a robot. He’s a man augmented by machinery and tech, he’s no mindless drone. No matter how many times the villains of Detroit's OCP try to program him, Murphy rises above and becomes something far more than the digital directives they try impose upon him. In 2014, Michael Keaton starred in a flashy remake. And while the re-imagination plays more than serviceable and proved profitable at the box office, it never does quite capture the fable like magic of the original.
The Borg - Star Trek’s Exploration Of Cybernetics
“I am the beginning, the end, the one who is many. I am The Borg.”
Leave it to the ever inquisitive Enterprise D science officer to inquire as to the official identity of Starfleet's most dangerous adversary. After android Data (Brent Spiner) asks, ‘Who are you?’, the enigmatic Borg Queen is more than happy to answer him - after a fashion. Borg drones are simply biological creatures, Humans, Klingons, Romulans - anyone - who are assimilated or transformed by a collective group or race of cybernetic beings.
First seen in the 2nd season of Next Generation in the episode ‘Q-Who’, the Borg had remained mostly mysterious, until the thrilling return of the cybernetic collective in the 3rd season. After Picard is changed into Locutus, he’s taken back aboard his Starfleet ship, where Dr. Crusher tries to rehabilitate him. As she desperately uses her sickbay gadgets to ‘deborg’ him, Locutus boasts about how all the galaxy will soon be one with the Borg. Well, isn’t that special!
In subsequent outings - both in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact and the UPN TV show Star Trek: Voyager - the nuanced machinations of Borg life, development and existence is explored in greater detail - through the Borg Queen and her human drone, 7of9, played by Jeri Ryan. One thing for sure is known about them - their collective nature enables all to have a voice, an influence within the group mind. Although apparently incredibly crowded by the billions of minds co-existing in the collective, that sense of merging of one’s self into the group allows one to never be lonely. Of course, one’s privacy and their unique individuality are simultaneously sacrificed. A fair deal and exchange?
Cyborg of Teen Titans
Comic books love featuring cyborgs. In fact, in the DC Comics Universe, the character of Cyborg is one of the most powerful cybernetic individuals ever depicted anywhere.
Victor Stone - or just plain Vic Stone - splashed onto the comic book pages of DC Comics in 1980. After an inter-dimensional creature murders his scientist mother, his scientist dad anxiously repairs him by implanting cybernetic prosthetics. Vic learns to control these awesome tech gifts, and a new superhero is born. As is the case with many cyborgs, Vic must adjust to his new look - and it's far more than skin deep. He commands wonderful new abilities and powers, however, his humanity, at least visually, is now compromised. It's changed. Can he still be considered fully human? If he's now something else, what is it to be a cyborg?
Hollywood’s fantastic depiction of the healing, assistive use of prosthetics and cybernetic components for the injured or otherworldly has led to the creation of beloved entertainment properties and iconic film and TV characters. Through science fiction portrayals such as the Bionic Woman, Six Million Dollar Man and DC’s Cyborg, we see how high tech supports, augments and even enhances the lives of those who've sustained a massive injury. A fun, speculative question: Would you want to be a Lord of the Sith, such as Darth Vader or the manipulative Borg Queen? Or is the noble Cyborg or secret agents like Jamie Summers and Steve Austin more your preferred style?