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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

MIGC 2019: Artifice

I will be presenting a paper at the The 14th Annual Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference in Milwaukee on Friday, February 15th! My paper, entitled “The "Dissolving Panopticon:" Surveillance Culture and "Liquid Modernity" in "Spider-Man" Media” during the Technological Interruptions of History Panel.

The presentation abstract is as follows:

Over the last two decades, across three film franchises, as well as within Insomniac’s franchise-inciting video game, portrayals of Spider-Man have unwittingly charted fluctuations in cultural attitudes toward surveillance. Michel Foucault’s panoptical theory and Zygmaunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity” can be productively combined to structure examinations of modern surveillance. The emergence of progressively more “liquid,” mobile and digital, surveillance technologies has coincided with the continuing cultural shocks initiated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As technological devices become increasingly ubiquitous, and as data-collection becomes increasingly invisible, cultural concerns regarding both continue to diminish. Produced immediately prior to the 9/11 attacks, Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film captures a sense of timeless Americana, in which the titular hero only limitedly engages with technology, and never for the purpose of surveillance. By the time of Spider-Man’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016, the hero’s technological engagement—and its thematic signification—has drastically altered. The MCU’s Spider-Man--directly mentored by weapons-developer-turned-superhero, Tony Stark—uses a technologically-advanced “spider suit” equipped with drones and an artificial intelligence. Unlike its cinematic predecessors, the current culmination of Spider-Man’s technological trajectory, Insomniac’s 2018 game, fails to even mildly interrogate the stakes surrounding the hero’s use of technologically-enhanced surveillance. Conflating superhero and metadiegetic player, Insomniac renders both complicit in performing active surveillance of Manhattan’s citizens, via a corporately-produced, police-operated spy-network to which Spider-Man has tacitly been allowed access. This de-politicizes surveillance, while also creating internal tensions; by the narrative’s start, Spider-Man has become a police-ally, yet he reminisces about the time during his vigilante days when his physics textbook stopped an officer’s bullet from killing him. The evolution of Spider-Man’s technological engagement across the last two decades reflects changing cultural attitudes toward surveillance, which has become progressively ubiquitous, invisible, and un-concerning to the average media-consumer.

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