Every new technology seems to promise both liberation from drudgery and new forms of economic and social control. The contradictions between dead labor (accumulated productive capital) and living labor (workers), between the forces and relations of production, have always been at the center of Marxism. The way these contradictions play out in the cultural realm is contingent and evolving. Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), was translated into dozens of languages, popularizing both the idea of the robot – and the idea of robot rebellion. Working-class audiences, at the time, tended to identify with Capek’s robots – who were not exactly mechanical automatons, but rather artificial persons of a sort. Within a few decades, however, the mechanical automaton “robot” replaced Capek’s artificial humans in popular consciousness. The mechanical robot was increasingly viewed as a threat; perhaps in response to the growth of unemployment by automation, the mechanical slaughters of the imperialist and world wars, and the alienation of post-war corporatism.Read more
There is no getting around the popularity or cultural clout that both Afropunk and Afrofuturism have in contemporary culture. It’s been over ten years since James Spooner’s film on Afropunk came out, the website that bears its name is visited by hundreds of thousands each month, and the yearly festival recently expanded from Brooklyn to Atlanta and will soon be making its way to Paris. Afrofuturism, for its part, has become quite trendy in certain circles, with advertising companies attempting to cash in on its aesthetic. It is not difficult to see its influence in a growing array of artists.Read more
One of the delights of growing up politically lies in discovering one’s own traditions. In art they were nearly obliterated by Stalinism, declared redundant by the long post-war boom and generally buried in a "modernism" which was often apolitical and trite. It was exhilarating to unearth in Soviet Russia the most genuinely modern of modern art movements and Mayakovsky, the original "hooligan communist".
Vladimir Mayakovsky, the poetic loudspeaker of the Russian Revolution, came to socialist ideas with the enthusiasm of youth. He began to read Engels and illegal pamphlets under his desk-lid when he was 12. When later the same year his school was closed by Military Edict because of the 1905 uprising, he became chief school leaflet distributor. When he made his first contact with the illegal Bolshevik Party, he immediately presented them with his forester father’s shotgun. Aged 15, he was arrested in Moscow for helping to organise the escape of political prisoners from jail and was himself held in Novimsky Prison where he began to write poems. For the following 20 years he served the Revolution as a poet-agitator with the same audacity and passion. And when he shot himself in Moscow in 1930, he died a Bolshevik, brandishing his poems:Read more
Black Future Month is here.
Black Future Month is the name film curator Floyd Webb and I selected as the title for our February Afrofuturism film series each Thursday at the SMG Chatham Theater in Chicago. Situated in the Chatham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, Floyd and I, as creators of Afrofuturism849, aimed to introduce curious audiences to the range of sci fi works and documentaries highlighting ideas, stories and people within the sci fi, speculative fiction, and science worlds. We showcased the Cameroonian film Les Saignantes about women in a corrupt mystical and futuristic Cameroon. We showed “White Scripts, Black Supermen” on the early black comic heroes and brought out Turtel Onli, father of the Black Age in Comics, comic creator Jiba Molei Anderson and Institute of Comic Studies cofounder Stanford Carpenter to discuss the project. Amir George, co-curator of the Black Radical Imagination, a series of experimental shorts introduced his works and several physicists and astronomers were on hand to discuss our science documentaries. While displaying my book Rayla 2212, a story that follows a war strategist on a former earth colony 200 years into the future who time/astral travels, one attendee remarked that she had no idea that black sci-fi and comics existed.Read more