Pop Culture and the Body

Fairly recently, my friend Matt Anderson wrote a book entitled Earthen Vessels. I think the book is worth reading, but today I just wanted to highlight the fact that the question of our bodies and their relation to our being is one that is asked outside of the realm of theology: specifically in video games and in television.

The first example is the recent game Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which I reviewed here). The game’s story centers around a futuristic world where people have been augmented mechanically. Sometimes these augmentations help someone walk properly or have a functioning arm, where other augmentations enhance computer skills or visual acuity. Augments are installed in people for various reasons: some because of wounds from wars, others from diseases, and some just because they want to be ‘better’ than they would be without the augmentation. There is a real life analog here, of course, but the question of whether you would choose to replace your functioning eye with a bionic one that could zoom a few hundred feet is a different one than current technology can even offer. But one question still remains: does adding a bionic or otherwise ‘unnatural’ mechanical device to my body make me more or less human? It definitely makes my life different; my lens for viewing the world has changed, and in the case of bionic eyes, quite literally. The game has people on every side of the debate, and at the end (mild spoiler alert) you are able to choose which of these people you side with.

The second is that of the television show Futurama, from the same creator of the iconic Simpsons. In an episode from the sixth season of the show, the plot revolves around the cast switching bodies with one another. Many crazy things happen as a result of this, but there is one character in the episode that seemed to understand the fundamental connection we have with our bodies (and why they are rightfully called ‘ours’). The character in question is an elderly cannon (not uncommon in this show, since most robots are effectively alive) in the circus. The Professor offers to allow the cannon to switch bodies with someone who is younger, since she is beginning to crack and cannot perform the shots she used to. Her response, I think, captures the connection to bodies quite well. She says in response to the offer: “Never! My body may be old, but it is mine! And every crack a memory of heavy things shot a long way.” Now, the phrasing is a bit odd, since we are not cannons, but the point remains the same: our bodies are actually ours, and our memories are sometimes tied to our bodies.

The point of the references is simple: our bodies do matter. While Anderson framed the discussion in theological terms, people outside of the realms of theology recognize that our bodies are important, or are at least worth talking about. Deus Ex may not offer a conclusion, but it is willing to talk about the different perspectives. Futurama has a more clear bias, but the important thing here is that discussions are happening.

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J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).