Singer: Sci-Fi Is Not So Far Away

P.W. Singer speaks “about a revolution in warfare.” (Photo by Matt Molek)
P.W. Singer speaks “about a revolution in warfare.” (Photo by Matt Molek)

P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War, delivered a talk to a packed St. Mary’s Hall explaining how the increase of robotics in warfare may bring war closer and closer to our doorsteps.

The talk, which took place on Wednesday, Feb. 25, was presented by the Center for the Study of Democracy, the Patuxent Partnership, and the Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium. It combined an examination of the robotics used in warfare today with the implications that the use of those robotics bring.

Singer discussed the use of robots in every area from Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams in Iraq to unmanned drones that fly over foreign airspace but that are controlled by pilots in the United States or other countries.

Michael Cain, a political science professor and the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, said that the importance of the topic of robotics and warfare was evident in the talk. “It was one of the most interesting [lectures] I’ve heard here,” he said. “The topic is one that we haven’t really thought about…[and] he forced us all to think about it.”

Senior Barry Adkins agreed. “Yeah, I found the topic very interesting. I found an interest in sci-fi technological innovations, and this showed the real-life play-out of all of those things.” Adkins’ Sociology of War and Peace class was cancelled for the day so that students could attend the lecture.

Singer likened the changes in robotics developing now to other major advances in warfare such as the machine gun or the atomic bomb. “I’m not talking about a robots’ revolution,” he said. “I’m talking about a revolution in warfare.”

According to Singer, “The very meaning of the term ‘going to war’ is changing within our lifetime.” He said that unmanned technology such as planes can eliminate the culling power of suicide attacks, leading to the development of “al-Qaeda 2.0” or possibly a next-generation version of terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber. According to Singer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) levels are higher in drone pilots who go to war for 12 hours and return to their families than the levels are for other pilots because of the chilling distance between the pilots and their targets and weaponry.

“It’s like a video game,” Singer said of the mechanism for killing used by drone pilots.

This point struck first-year Eleanor Sullivan as especially unnerving. “It’s kind of scary removing soldiers from the immediacy of war, from the visceral aspect, because it makes killing so much easier,” said Sullivan.

But as the human aspect is removed from war, war is also becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives. Singer mentioned the effects of sites such as YouTube that can bring war into our homes via our computers. According to Singer, there are over 7,000 video clips of war online right now, which can be a positive thing in that it connects the public to the gruesome reality of the war sites to which soldiers are sent, but it can be a negative thing in that it can also be viewed as a form of entertainment by others. “These clips are just the highlight reel of war,” he said.

According to Singer, the robotics revolution will also raise a series of legal and ethical questions that society will have to handle. Will a new legal crime of “unmanned slaughter” arise for the drone killing of the wrong person? Also, “robots don’t get upset when their buddy gets killed,” Singer said. “They don’t commit crimes of rage and revenge.” However, he continued, robots by themselves are unable to distinguish between an elderly woman and a tank.

“It made me wonder how robots are going to be used in the future,” said Sullivan. “You win a war by terrorizing a population, so it’s not like robots are going to be fighting each other, they’ll be fighting humans.”

As science-fiction becomes reality, as it did when the atomic bomb came into existence after inspiration from H.G. Wells, these questions and more will have to be answered, and Singer said that “we don’t have the excuse that [society at the onset of the atomic age] have…it’s happening in labs all around us.”

Overall, response to the lecture was positive, both from audience members and from Singer himself. “I think it went great, [with] a nice mix of students and people from the community,” Singer said. He also liked the variety of subjects raised in the questions asked, ranging from ethics to the details of the technology to the degree to which science fiction influenced modern technologies.

Physics professor and Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium Director Charles Adler was also pleased with the way the lecture went. “I did not know most of the things he was talking about,” he said. “The lecture was scary and thought-provoking, and…he was a good speaker.” All in all, said Adler, “what I envision as an ideal colloquium.”

“Hill House” A Campy Romp Through Great Gore, Gritty Music, Bad Editing

“Hill House” is an entertaining and campy film, but it also addresses more serious issues such as manipulation and guile. The film was written and directed by senior Ciaran Stone and stars Kyle Clothier, Kiki Possick, Max Heaton, and Morgan Brown, and was screened in Cole Cinema on Feb. 15th and 22nd.

The movie follows a crew of student filmmakers as they travel to film their zombie-infested world and attempt to get footage that will make them famous. The film team is sent to a house on a hill where they encounter flesh-hungry zombies, all the while dealing with internal group conflict. Disagreements result in their endangerment. Rash decisions in zombie films do not lead to positive results.

The plot in “Hill House” feels reanimated: it is a plot about college kids messing up when dealing with a dangerous zombie apocalypse. The dialogue is a little stiff too, but lends itself well to the campy-ness of the film. There are a few drawn-out scenes, when it seems as if there should be some sort of action. In one scene, the film crew is standing while the doors to the house are swinging open and closed. It did create tension at first, but it soon became monotonous without any further action. The scene could have been shot with fewer shots of the swinging doors. Also, later in the movie when the main character gets ripped in half the same thing happens – it gets repetitive. The basic understanding that he is in a lot of pain comes across in the first few shots of him getting mauled, and after that the shock factor wears off.

The characters could have used a little more emotion, especially when friends died or when they were trying to escape. The amount of fear and hysteria was not necessarily consistent with the situations. There was more emotion in arguing about picking up camera equipment than there was about seeing a best friend get ripped in half. Which is a shame, because the gore and blood were very well done. When a neck was gnawed upon or when muscle was masticated, it was gross. It seemed very realistic and there was a lot of attention to detail. The death scenes: shootings, chewings, and rippings were easily nausea-inducing and certainly made the audience uncomfortable.

The soundtrack, recorded by alumni Trevor Shipley and junior Rich Kolm, also fit the film’s gritty feel. The low-fi electric guitar and bass did a nice job setting the mood of inescapable, impending, brain-chewing doom.

This production did not shy away from exploring more serious moral ambiguities or exploitation issues that were interwoven throughout. For example, when would it be okay to sacrifice another human being? What does or should it cost to promote yourself? How far are you willing to go to get what you want? “Hill House” asked the audience these tough questions, but didn’t give answers. It showed what the characters in the film did, mainly using others for their own benefit, but that didn’t turn our too well for any of them. In an interview with Stone, he said the movie has a “fairly moral tone…definitely a lot to say about people who take advantage of each other.”

Overall, the movie was entertaining, gruesomely gory, and thought- provoking.

Zombie Flick to be Screened in Cole

“Hill House,” St. Mary’s first student-produced zombie movie opens in Cole Cinema for two showings this month, playing Feb. 15 and Feb. 22 at 8:30 p.m.

The film was written and directed by Ciaran Stone, and shot last semester at the off-campus house known as hill house from which the film takes its name.  Formerly titled “Of the Dead,” the name was changed due to copyright issues. Starring Kyle Clothier, Kiki Possick, Max Heaton, and Morgan Brown, the film was shot in black and white and is slightly longer than 30 minutes.

The showing on Feb 22nd will be a red carpet event. Stone will be wearing a tuxedo and the cast and crew are planning to dress up for the evening. Viewers are encouraged to dress up.

The cast and crew are especially proud of their work.

“I was really really impressed with the final product,” said Max Heaton. “It’s the only thing I’m proud of from last semester.”

Heaton said his favorite part is the sound track, recorded mostly all in one sitting by alumnus Trevor Shipley.

Shooting saw its share of challenges. According to Kiki Possick, getting everyone organized was the biggest challenge. “You know we’re all still students,” added Max Heaton. Another challenge was special effects for blood and gore, which were created using a combination of, among other materials, oatmeal, chocolate syrup, and condoms filled with blood.

During the filming of one scene, the corn fields were in the process of being harvested. “It was never really distracting, it was just kind of a nuisance,” said Kyle Clothier. The crew had to time the shots as to not have harvesters in the background of the scene.

One thing the cast is particularly proud of is the make-up, provided by Liz Gossens. “My favorite was getting the bite mark on my leg. It was latex, toilet paper, and make-up paint,” said Kiki Possick, “I was so proud I left it on all day.”
Despite challenges, the cast and crew had fun making the movie. Possick added that “you can never take yourself too seriously when making a zombie film.”

TFMS Film Series: “Outing the Home Movie: From the Backyard to the Big Screen”

TFMS’s Second Annual Film Series will explore how home movies inflect issues of gender in narrative, experimental, and documentary film. Internationally acclaimed, award-winning filmmakers Michelle Citron, Daniel Reeves, and Jennifer Hardacker will be joined by film scholars and archivists Patricia Zimmermann and Pamela Wintle to screen and discuss a variety of work that incorporates home movie footage. Topics include gender and family relationships, war and masculinity, and the home movie as sociohistorical document.
Screenings begin at Cole Cinema on Feb. 2nd and last until the 23rd in weekly Monday screenings beginning at 8p.m. Screenings are free and open to the public.

Patricia Zimmermann and Pamela Wintle:
Monday, February 16

Zimmermann and Wintle will present “Mining the Home Movie,” a program exploring the social, regional, national, textual, and historical meanings of home movies through screenings selected from the archival collections from the Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian Institution and Northeast Historic Film in Maine.
Patricia Zimmermann is professor in the Department of Cinema, Photography and Media Arts at Ithaca College, and is the author of numerous books, including Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (1995), States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies (2000), Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories (2008), and the forthcoming Public Domains: Cinemas, Histories, Visualities, a work that explores the relationship among historiography, political engagements, and digital art practices.
Zimmermann has delivered invited lectures and plenary addresses across the globe and throughout the United States. Currently, she serves on the editorial boards of the journals Wide Angle, The Journal of Film and Video, The Sixties, and The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists and as co-director of the week-long multimedia inter-arts festival, the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.
Pamela Wintle is the senior film archivist for the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and founding board member of Northeast Historic Films (NHF), a regional moving image archives located in Bucksport, Maine. The HSFA collects, preserves, and makes accessible moving images and associated materials that document the world’s cultures and the history of visual anthropology. NHF collects, preserves, and makes accessible moving images of northern New England.

Jennifer Hardacker: Monday, February 23

A self-described experimentalist and structuralist who has worked professionally as an editor and assistant editor of television commercials, short films, and music videos, Jennifer Hardacker has been making short films and videos for over 13 years. Her work ranges from animation and abstraction to the personal essay and the home movie, and has been shown in festivals across the United States and Canada. Hardacker’s films are often personal in nature and are interested in re-imaging and re-imagining the meaning and context of images.
Hardacker currently teaches film and video production and studies at Pacifica University in Oregon.
For the film series, Hardacker will screen and discuss three experimental works—Ghost Stories, 24, For Summers to Come—and a work-in-progress, Nightgardener.
-Submitted by Mark Rhoda