Class Discussion: MoMA exhibit & ‘Metropolis’

Ok, we’re going to re-boot and have a discussion about the MoMA exhibit, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, and how it connects to the texts we’ve been discussing this semester, and to the genre of Science Fiction more broadly (so feel free to also bring in other SF texts). However, you should definitely have part of your discussion about Metropolis. Perhaps you need a refresher? Re-watch Metropolis (with the original score) before commenting on this discussion (and maybe even go see it on the big screen again at the Brooklyn Public Library this coming Wednesday!)

Remember to think about the big themes, central conflicts, and competing values in the exhibit (and its content) and also the texts/SF. Remember that part of the critical power of the genre is to think about alternatives to the present, and to imagine radically different ways of living/structuring the world.

Check out the last part of Eugene’s great class notes from Th 3/5 for some thoughts about how to approach the connection between the exhibit and the other texts we’ve been discussing.

(and remember, if you haven’t seen the exhibit yet, you have until this Sunday, 3/8, to get up there and see it and post about it–for credit!)

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (3/8). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 3/10. 

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the exhibit & film (quotes/scene + citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

Upcoming Brooklyn Public Library “Science Fiction in Film” Series

Guess what? The main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (right near the Brooklyn Museum/Prospect Park) is holding a “Science Fiction in Film” series for the next few weeks, on Wednesdays at 7pm. Yippee!!!

And, the first two films are Metropolis (restored version) & Blade Runner (Final Cut), two movies we’re having OpenLab class discussions on this week & will be discussing again in class on Th 3/12. Double yippee!!!

Check out the full details here.


Metropolis response

Metropolis is a movie about a city in the future called, you guessed it. Metropolis. It’s a city that is divided into two parts, one for blue collar workers, and another for regular people. Freder – the son of the commander of Metropolis someday decides to go down to the part of the city were blue collar workers reside. During their work, Freder is a witness to a terrible accident that alters his vision of reality. He comes to a conclusion that hard working people shouldn’t be excluded from the lives of elites of the city, as the workers are the ones who build the city.

Movie Metropolis shows an interesting vision of the future. First vision is the development of technology, which manifests as the city itself. Metropolis is a monumental, dense urban jungle full of skyscrapers. Roads in Metropolis are laid out in not only different directions, but also they appear at different elevations in the city. There are planes flying in between skyscrapers and people build robots. However this is not the most important vision in Metropolis. This movie touches on social inequality by showing a division into two groups – good and bad, or masters and workers. We can see a dystopian image of the future painted in this humongous city.  The workers are pictured as kind of robots who, act, move, dress, and live the same lives. They perform a neck breaking labor and nobody cares about their fate. The other half of the city population, the elites, live in completely different world. Their lives are lavish and devoid of problems regular workers face.

Metropolis is a rather scary movie, especially to people who live in 21st century. Some obvious parallels can be spotted. The most obvious one for me is how wealth in our world is distributed, currently there are 80 people who own as much as the world’s poorest 3.6 Billion. Situation like that can lead to a major dystopian future, where oligarchs die in decadence and regular workers die in poverty. At least everybody dies in the end anyways. Yup, death makes us all equal.


Class Discussion: “The Machine Stops”

We are continuing our  class discussion of “The Machine Stops” online this week. Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (2/22).

Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 2/24. 

The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about this short story. Therefore, your comments need not be very long: for example, you can provide a quote/citation and a few sentences of explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc.) &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point.

Responses to “The Machine Stops” and ‘Metropolis’

A Response to:

The Machine Stops by E.M. Foster

The date of publication gives a good idea behind the motivations and intentions of this short story. During early 1900s new technologies and inventions emerged; among these were the Zeppelin and Internal Combustion engine. It’s probably no wonder these inventions and many other of the time were referenced. If anything The Machine Stops serves as a cautionary tale, due to the rapid changes in culture and technology of the day. Much of the technology described in The Machine Stops appears archaic by today’s standards, however this does not hurt it’s experience. Rather through the narrative’s execution, it lends it a certain uniqueness and authenticity.

Plot wise, The Machine Stops is very simplistic. A mother goes to see her renegade son, disowns him due to his radical ideals, then regrets it later when her world crumbles around her. Rather than a series of events to engage and tell the ‘tale’ of the world of The Machine Stops, Foster goes on to describe the world in depth from the characters perspective; principally Vashti the mother. From the Cells of the living galleries, to the scenes from the airships, to the recount of Kuno’s escapade outside the machine on the surface of the earth, each scene is packed with information used to fuel Visualization. As I read the short story, the visualizations I came up with reminded me vaguely of Ann Rand’s Anthem. Although different in terms of descriptions of technology; Anthem focused more on societies deficiencies, whereas The Machine Stops relied heavily on descriptions to tell its tale. I draw parallels with Anthem because both stories revolve around going against the status quo, in a world after a disaster.

The interaction between Vashti and her son Kuno could be viewed as a microcosm of the society as a whole. The only problem with that line of thinking is that Kuno is the only known renegade in the story, while Vashti personifies the vast majority of the populace living within the machine. Vashti’s character could be taken as the common citizen of the machine, who realizes too late the consequences of not questioning the circumstances of her life and her environment. Her only redemption was that she had her son and his experiences to make sense of the calamity at the end.

The question of whether or not the society of The Machine Stops was a Utopia is a hard one to answer. It’s never explained why the machine stopped working. If it continued to operate indefinitely then what? To the ‘people of the machine’ it was truly a utopia. All basic needs were provided. All higher needs such as communication, interaction, fulfillment, and information were also provided by the machine. Although an individual’s freedom was limited, that didn’t mean the individual was not content; pretty much everyone was content and then some in the machine. From an outsiders prospective and bias, the idea of the machine is basically that of a glorified prison. So which is correct? Can that be even answered? We are not even aware of the previous generation’s intentions when they built the machine. What if their circumstances were worse off than Vashti and Kuno’s. The fact that these questions are swimming in my head, leaves me a little bitter with the conclusion of the story. What would be more interesting would be to see how the ‘people of the machine’ and the ‘people outside the machine’ would have had to co-exist with the machines destruction. Or how the two cultures would clash had the machine continued to operate.

It could be argued that The Machine Stops is too ‘black and white’ in it’s social commentary of technology and society as a whole; given there is such commentary to begin with. By that I mean that the story tries to label everything the machine stood for as ‘wrong’. To make a correlation with today’s world: what if we were to take away electricity? If we viewed our combined technology and power grids all over the world as the ‘machine’ and took that away, would we be in the same situation as Vashti and Kuno? I doubt it, as The Machine Stops seems to to take a hyperbolic outlook on technology. However since a correlation can be drawn, it can be said we would be in a sorry state if such a thing came to pass. However that does not mean our technology does not give us a great deal of benefits. What we trade for some of our more natural properties, we gain something in return.

I would also like to point out a few things to add as food for thought:

  • References to “God” and the creation of a religion surrounding a machine. It seems like a natural phenomenon of humans to want to worship something. Why is that? First thing that comes to mind is a sense of security.
  • The idea that direct experience is bad, and only second hand information is valuable. I find this to be an interesting point. After all isn’t this what we do every day? For example as students we look up information on the internet or libraries, which is essentially second hand information. The difference between us and the ‘people of the machine’ is that we don’t have an aversion to direct experience. It’s just not practical to strive for direct experience, as we can’t be everywhere at once.
  • Youths’ openness to change, or rebelliousness towards the status quo. This is represented by Kuno rebelling against the ideas of his mother.
  • Can we apply the supposed message of “The Machine Stops” to today’s take on global warming and climate change? I reference the fact that many people ignore blatant scientific evidence to support global warming.
  • Do names such as Vashti and Kuno from an Indian or Asian influence? Is this due to British influence around the world during the early 1900s?

A Response to:

‘Metropolis’ (Friz Lang)

Metropolis’ impetus can be summarized in one word: Empathy. Had Freder not had that quality, the events of ‘Metropolis’ could not have happened. Had Joh Fredersen not ultimately expressed this quality, he probably would have died and/or had his city crumble around him due to uprisings. The movie opens with great promise and expectations. We’re introduced into a ‘futuristic’ city with a dual class society. The privileged live above ground living a life of luxury, while the ‘workers’ live below the city surface in a sort of subterranean ghetto. The visuals along with the movie’s context fuel the viewers imagination.

Unfortunately after the first half of the movie, things go down hill. It boils down to it being too predictable. Richest guy’s son becomes the catalyst between social classes, Rich son falls in love with the female cultist on a whim, biblical references, and so on. I suppose its a trend with older stories to relegate conflicts into simplistic “black and white” circumstances.

Another frustration I had with the movie is that events of the story simply happen without any apparent cause and effect; seemingly for the sake of just moving the plot along. Examples of this are everywhere: Maria just walks into the gardens with a hoard of kids seemingly unopposed her whole trip from the ghetto, Rotwang just happens to have an entrance to the catacombs in his house, destroying the machines just happens to cause flooding to the ghetto, there just happens to be no police or military to deter worker uprising,Rotwang’s switch just finally flips and he decides that the real Maria is Hel at the end of the movie, etc. This kind of spontaneous storytelling degrades the overall experience.

In terms of acting, it is a little hard to get used to. Most of the cast rely on exaggerated gestures and movements to convey their respective parts. The frustrating thing about this is that it not needed. A person’s expression and unique actions in response to given stimuli can tell us all we need to know. I don’t need to flap my arms around and waddle in circles to convey anger now do I? However since this was a time when stage acting was making a transition into screen acting, I tried not to mind it as much.

In my opinion, due to my above gripe, I consider the man who played Joh Frederson to be the best actor of the cast. This is due to the fact he does not use exaggerated movements or expressions to convey emotions. For most of his screen time he uses reserved and authoritative expressions to convey a wide range of emotions. He only resorted to dramatic gestures when the scene called for it; namely when his son was fighting a lunatic on a roof. Perhaps his reserved acting style worked against him in this role, as he didn’t seem as tyrannical or ruthless as the plot would have you believe.

The defining aspect of the film has to be the “metropolis” itself. The idea of a state, country, or world spanning city is an intriguing prospect. Even though the actual size of the metropolis is never mentioned in the film, I suppose that worked in it’s favor. The audience can then use their own imagination to determine the size of the city. The concept of human society adapting to living within a gigantic city has always intrigued me; which is why I gave this movie a chance in the first place. How would people organize themselves in a mega city? What kind of culture and values would come about? What kind of organizations would exist in such a situation? What organizations would hold power? What kind of technology is needed to make mega cities? What would the economy look like? What are the benefits and disadvantages of mega cities? These are the types of questions I would ask when imagining such possibilities.

The idea of a two dimensional city in the conventional sense doesn’t have to always be the case. In the ShadowRun table-top and novels franchise we see arcologies; self sustaining densely populated living spaces. The Fallout franchise popularized the idea of subterranean city sized fallout shelters. In Star Wars we see the capital world of Coruscant, literally a planet sized city. The point I’m getting at is that the idea of mega cities, has been around for awhile and continues to be a subject of interest within the community.

The second defining aspect of the film would be the inclusion of artificial human life; or as the movie called it “the machine-man”. Interestingly, as many science fiction stories do, the humanoid machine is cast as an antagonist. I’ve always wondered why in many stories the machine has to be ‘evil’; this movie is no exception. I suppose the reason is simply that the “machine-man” was just a tool used by the slightly unhinged Rotwag. In any case, there is a strangely intense interest in giving what is essentially an inorganic object the ability to emulate human intelligence and behavior. Why bother with such shenanigans when we could simply talk to another human? I’m not sure but I’m all for it.

All in all ‘Metropolis’ was an alright movie. My aversion to the movie’s simplistic plot and underdeveloped characters, was outweighed by my interest in it’s take on a mega city and artificial life.

Thoughts on “The Machine Stops”

I though the short story “The Machine Stops” was a very interesting and depressing read for me. The first thing that came to my mind was the similarities that we share with the society in this short story. For example, a lot of what we do in our every day lives is dependent on technology, which we humans, have created. If you eliminate that, most of civilization will turn into chaos. In addition, I also find it very interesting that the humans in this story do not have any physical contact with one another, nor do they travel outside out their “cell.” If you compare it to our current day, lots of people are stuck on social media and other forms of technology, that they don’t make the time to travel outside or meet people face to face. People begin to lose the ability to socially communicate with one another, and that has clearly happened with the Vashti. When traveling on the air-ship, people hardly even make any eye contact and avoid touching each other. What is amazing about the conclusion of this story is the idea that we humans are not infallible; therefore, the technology we create is also a reflection of us. The technology in “The Machine Stops” almost becomes a religion to these people, because they depend on it so much. We cannot depend exclusively on technology, because when something does go wrong, we have to learn to live within our natural world as well. The ending highlights some of the negative outcomes that could occur if we begin rely to heavily on technology to dictate the way we live our lives, which is amazing given the time this was written (1908) when technology wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now.

Response to The Machine Stops/Metropolis

I have never blogged before so this feels a little awkward, but I will do my best to write to the best of my abilities.

The machine stops starts off like many Sci fi stories, Dropping you in the middle of a world that leaves you with many questions and does not answer them until later in the story. It describes a world where Humans have stopped doing anything themselves, merely relying on survival through the actions of the Machine. The Machine seems to be some kind of large construct that was built to help make lives easier, but over time, became the hands of man. Doing everything in order to keep its former masters alive. The description provided of the lives of these individual paints a bleak outlook on the way humans have progressed into the future. A progression that can be called a regression.

They have no understanding of what it means to be human and just reading their views and actions, represented by the actions of Vashti, filled me with anger. They believed themselves so sophisticated and civilized when everything they did, did not make any sense and was backwards. This is obviously influenced by my views as a normal semi healthy human being and could be different had I been in their shoes, but the views of Vashti’s son after he begins to recapture what it means to be humans enforces my feelings. Here is a man that began to question his way of living. A man that felt there was more to life than just living in a box. His adventure out into the world filled me with hope for these people, but reading how they became less humans by completing their isolatons and worshipping the hand that feeds them made me lose all hope.

At this point I felt that there was no point for the to live, and as dark as it may sound, death was the only way for them to really be free. This probably sounds psychotic, but once the machine began to fail I hoped that their whole world would end. The only reason I welcomed their death was because of what Kuno said. He saw actual humans living outside their cells. Humans who were actually Humans. This meant that our race would continue to live, without the dependence on a machine and with everything that makes us human. I consider the ending to be a happy ending, even with all the death and chaos that happens at the end. Perhaps a bit dark, but I did enjoy the story, or rather I really liked the end. Reading their reactions as their world fell apart brought me joy.

The movie Metropolis is a silent movie about a great city and the struggle of the workers within. I really enjoyed the music and I’m sure if it was the original soundtrack, I would not have felt the same way. The acting was well done, being able to convey the emotions and at the same time making the movie much darker. I honestly did not finish watching it so I cannot say much about. although I did like the dark nature of it, its something I like in my stories.

‘The Machine Stops’ & ‘Metropolis’ review – Andrew D

The Machine Stops

One of the things that I found different in this reading from other narratives is that the in-universe or setting was not all explained at once. Instead, relevant details were revealed little by little as the story went along, which in a way made me want to keep on reading in order to understand it fully. At the beginning all you get is a description of Vashti’s chamber, and as you read you start to realize that every aspect of her life is mechanized, and eventually it is revealed that that is the way all of society exists in that time.

I also found it interesting and ironic that while this society had become ‘advanced’ enough to consider religion irrelevant, the Machine came to become their deity over the centuries, a view that became intensified in the time the story itself takes place.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the interactions with other humans through ‘speaking tubes’ and the way we as a society today have become dependent on social media to keep in touch with people in our lives. Also, the way the ‘Machine’ provides all the needs of the people with the press of a button made me think about how nowadays a person can technically live the way the protagonists do in the story, by ordering everything they need online, communicating through the internet and never leaving the house. For a novel written in 1909, that was a pretty good prediction. Hopefully it does not reach to the point that Vashti and her society did.


Although slightly confusing at first, it is easy to see why Metropolis has become a classic film in Science Fiction. It was one of the first films to feature technology and machinery as a central theme, not only narratively, but visually as well.

Similarly to ‘The Machine Stops’, we encounter a society that has become dependent on machinery in order to function properly, with the difference that in Metropolis we encounter a social divide between the ‘head’ (the wealthy folk who run the society and live a hedonistic lifestyle) and the ‘hand’ (the lower-class workers who must operate the machinery in order for everything to function). I personally liked the way the saying at the beginning, “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!”, was fulfilled at the end with Freder being the the mediator (the heart), between his father and the working class.


The thing I found that both stories had most in common was the way they portrayed how becoming overly dependent on technology can have detrimental consequences for a society or civilization when that technology fails and turns its back on its creators, that technology being the Machine and the doppelganger Maria respectively. It is a common theme that pops up in Science fiction, and it’s interesting to see how they come up in such early examples of the genre.

The Machine Stops Metropolis

I like my combination of the titles. When I started reading “The Machine Stops” I was very confused on what it was all about but then on page 2 there was a line that spoke to me “The Machine is much, but it is not everything”. I think it somewhat sums up the conflict between the Son Kuno and the mother Vashti and her obsessive addiction to The Machine. She is a slave to it and that fact cannot be even more relateable to what is happening in the real world now. Nowadays with all of the new technology and our smartphones we have become a slave to it, the machine. It does so much for us, like the machine, but we have become so dependent to it and made it a bad habit and isolated ourselves, like Vashti, from social interaction. “The Machine Stops” is an exaggerated example of the negative effects on the dependency of technology but I think we’re on that track.

Watching “Metropolis” was actually fun, the music helped a lot for me. I think a good score can make or break a film, but that is just my opinion but to me it really did give the story an extra spice. I see a similar concept in the sense I can relate the concepts to the real world. Greed of power and control can only lead to the revolt of the oppressed, how many times has that happened in the history of this earth. I can’t stop mentioning the music, I am infatuated with the rescore it really gave it a new layer to the classic film.

An interpretation of “The Machine Stops” and “Metropolis”

All though both of these works are of science-fiction genre, they have very little in common. “The Machine Stops”, is presented in a cautionary fashion, it presents, at first, a future society that is leaps and bounds different from our modern say society. Later, the story goes on to have the characters talk about the past and how they have “evolved” compared to us. The major themes involve individuality, technology, and perceptions. “Metropolis”, on the other hand, is presented in a much different manner. Although it also is a cautionary tale, it focuses on a matter that is more personal, rather than something that can connect to everyone. “Metropolis” was clearly made by and for god fearing men; religious symbolism plagues every scene of this film, making it, at times, sound extremely preachy. In this, however, lie the similarities between these two works; they are both cautionary and use religious symbolism/parallels to convey their message.  One, however, uses religion in a more insulting manner, while the other favors it.

Let me start with “Metropolis”, as I have the most to say about it. This movie represents machinery/technology in not only a negative way, but in a down right evil way. To begin with, the intro quote “The mediator between brain and hands must be the heart”. Now this could have been used in various intelligent ways to caution mankind of how over zealous it has become with technology, and how man should always listen to their conscious in the pursuit of advancing technology, as the ethics of technology are just as important as the need for advancements in those fields. Instead this movie uses the quote to present a messiah/eve like figure to connect to the quote; ending the movie in a terrible and cheesy way. Let me elaborate, one of the first scenes where the religious symbols comes into play is in the garden scene of the prelude. The garden in this scene is shown in a innocently ignorant fashion; here Freder can be seen blissfully enjoying his time in this garden, at this point Freder is ignorant to what goes on under the city of Metropolis. In comes Maria, Maria at this point can be seen as a parallel to Eve. In religious texts it is Eve that convinces Adam to taste of the forbidden fruit, and in the movie it is because of Maria that Freder comes to know the horrors of what lies under Metropolis in the depths. The parallels of Maria to the virign mary/eve, and of Freder to christ/adam to not only end there but let me get back to that later. In a later scene when we are introduced to Rogart and the Machine-man, behind the Machine-man, on the wall there is a inverted pentegram (talk about subtlety), additionally, a pentagram can be seen on the front door of the building that Rogart works in. Inverted pentagrams symbolize the rejection of the holy trinity from the christian mythos; therefore, the message that Fritz Lang is trying to convey is that machines are evil and the work of the devil. In the scene after this, we see Maria preaching in front of a collection of crosses (again, your subtlety is art, Fritz Lang); therefore, she is represented as a force of good fighting against the evil that is the Machine-man. The scene in the catacombs also has a scene where Maria refers to Freder as the mediator, further proving that the movie paints him as a messiah-like figure, such as christ. In a later scene Rogart gives the Machine-man the appearance of Maria to trick the laborers of the city to revolt and destroy the machines. Additionally, in another scene a priest reads an excerpt from a bible that represents women simply as man’s desire; therefore, Fritz Lang chose the Machine-man to take the shape of a woman to further emphasize the machine man as evil; the addition of the female form attaches the idea of the seven deadly sins to the Machine-man. This is also supported by the club seen in which men gawk at the Machine-man and become violent, thus causing the statues of the seven deadly sins, seen throughout the film (again with that subtlety, how do you do it Mr.Lang?), to replace the men that are holding the Machine-man up on a pedestal; at this point Machines/technology have become synonymous with sin. In the scene where the Machine-man convinces the workers of the city to revolt, it uses quotes such as, “Who is the living food for the machines in metropolis?” and “Who lubricates the machine joints with their own blood?”.These quote are use to represent that all men serve evil, thus paving the way for next scene. The city begins to flood during the films climax, this is a parallel to the great flood from the bible, but on a much smaller scale and no one dies (aw shucks). There is not much to this scene other than Lang creating a slight parallel with this seen with the water as symbol for washing away the evil of man through the destruction of the machines, as well as the goodness of Freder and Maria being further emphasized. Lastly the movie ends with Freder bringing peace, again messiah-like imagery. I could go on but I’m short on time as I’m doing this with a couple minutes left until the deadline. Side note, that soundtrack was AMAZING!

Moving on to the “Machine Stops”. I thought this story was actually really funny and it reminded me a lot about Wall-E. I think this would serve better as a black comedy. Now over all I liked this story a lot more than “Metropolis” as it felt purely like a cautionary tale, with no religious agenda. It perfectly paints a picture of our over reliance on technology, and man-kinds further over-dependency on technology. Although things like Skype are great for getting in touch with people who you do not have easy access to, it is a dangerous precedence in a society that is growing ever lazier. One of the only things this short story shares in common with the “Metropolis” is the fact that they use religion to convey a point. In the “Machine Stops” religion is used to paint a picture of just how over reliant on machines man has become. At one point Vashti becomes insulted when Kuno says she is basically praising the machine as god, but Vashti responds by saying religion is foolish and a thing of the past. Despite Vashti’s response to religion she has parallels to religious people such as her constant need to seek guidance from The book of Machine(pg6), they way she holds the book reverently(pg4), and how she has a mini ritual where she repeats things in threes before opening the book(pg5). This blind faith the people of this society have in The Book of Machine, however, uses religion in a negative light; their inability to have their own thoughts and relying on the machine as God, has led to the down fall of their society, and the deaths of all who inhabit it (brutal). Again I could go deeper, but last minute!!!! I’ll do this ahead of time next time (maybe).