Back in May, like most geeks, I was super excited about seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now, I’m going to write about that movie, and its various strength and shortcomings, but I kind of want to watch it again before I do that, so I’ll probably wait until it comes out again. But the main reason that I was excited, beyond seeing a bunch of Hollywood actors dressed up in colorful costumes beating the hell out of robots, was Ultron himself. I love Ultron. Besides Kang the Conqueror and the Masters of Evil, I think he’s the best Avengers villain. I adore having the Avengers fight this unfeeling, purely analytical monster who is more than a match for them both physically and mentally. He’s a great villain, and while I’ll expound on this later, I think the movie handled him okay. Not great, but okay. But there was one thing that I took away from the movie that really got me thinking. Now, Ultron represents a pretty tried and true trope by now, the evil robot. I feel like humans have been worried about our technology becoming too powerful pretty much since we figured out fire and the manifestation of our fear has just advanced over the years. And now that we live in a world full of constantly advancing technology and ever smarter computers, it makes sense that we would be worried about our computers gaining sentience and deciding that they don’t need us.
I’ve always found the idea of a technological coup to be an intriguing dystopia. The hubris involved with the fear that we could create something so amazing that it could fight us is pretty spectacular. We assume that the artificial beings that we create will pretty much automatically be evil, which raises the question of why we would even create them in the first place. The idea of the evil robot/computer that decides to kill off all the human is so prevalent that it’s become a joke at this point. Bender in Futurama regularly jokes about human genocide, and it’s just a funny bit. But when I was watching Age of Ultron, a realization came over me that’s been picking at me since I saw it. I’ve always assumed that the moral of these killer robot/computer stories is that we need to be wary of technology, and not to be as cold and analytical as the machines, but now I have a new idea. Is it that men create monsters?
And when I say men, I’m not talking about the human race, I mean men, males, dudes. Is Ultron evil because he was made solely by a man? My wife and I started talking about this idea, and we really have become fixated on it. The idea that Ultron, and all his various evil robotic cousins, are “evil” because he was a life created solely by one gender is kind of a weird one, but…to me it kind of makes sense. The stereotypical characteristics about men and women are that women are emotional, and men are analytical. I think that’s bullshit, but it’s a popular schema of the genders that still gets used. So, if you go by that, a child should be some balance of those two extremes, and if a life is created by just one of the extremes, they should go even beyond that. I’ve read about a lot of psychological theories regarding the idea that men can be jealous of women because they have the ability to create life. And I feel like the impetus of these stories is the idea that if a man is so jealous that he can’t create a natural life, and decides to create an artificial life, it’ll be a broken, evil thing.
Now, this may sound like nonsense, but I started to notice that anytime people go out of their way to show the creator of an evil robot, it’s a dude. Now, there could be stories that I haven’t thought of, but I’m really at a loss. I’ve done some research (read: Googling) and I really couldn’t find an example of an evil robot that was created by a woman. There are of course non-evil robots, but they don’t tend to have canonical creators. C-3P0 and R2-D2 are good robots, but we don’t know who created them. Yeah, there’s the stupid thing that Anakin Skywalker built C-3P0, but he didn’t create him. He like built him from a kit. Typically, if a robot is nice, they’re just one out of a million, a model that’s pumped out by an assembly line. We don’t care who first designed or created R2-D2, because Star Wars isn’t about that. But stories that have evil robots are typically about how that robot is the first of its kind. And man, there’s a lot of evil robots created by dudes.
I realize that there may be a more simple, misogynistic reason for this phenomena, being that a lot of these stories and characters were conceived in times where they just assumed that if someone was smart enough to create an artificial intelligence, it would have to be a man. I suppose that’s possible as well, but I still like to think it’s the evil man-spawn idea. When it came time for the MCU to create Ultron, the obviously couldn’t go with the comic origin, having him be created by Hank Pym, since they hadn’t yet introduced the character. And the obvious choice was to just have Tony Stark create him, which is what they did (unless Ultron was like, inside the Mind Gem or whatever the hell happened in that movie). But I feel like they also could have had the Helen Cho character who was introduced be involved in Ultron’s “birth” as well. But instead Tony Stark had an evil baby.
And he was joining some illustrious company. Check out this list I scrounged up. We have Skynet, the evil artificial intelligence in the Terminator series that will inevitably destroy the human race, and as we saw in Judgement Day, it was formed by Miles Dyson. Tron had the evil Master Control Program, which tried to kill all the other good programs, and it was made by the villainous Ed Dillinger. The killer androids like Roy Batty from Blade Runner were all invented by the creepy Dr. Tyrell. All the scientists in the Delos company from Westworld were guys, and they created a whole themepark full of robots that decided to kill all the people. And you even don’t have to have male robots. The classic Metropolis had an evil female robot (which is apparently referred to as a gynoid, which is super creepy) that was created by the mad scientist Dr. Rotwang. And the recent amazing sci fi flick, Ex Machina, had a deeply damaged man named Nathan Bateman create a robot he names Ava. Now, Ava isn’t exactly evil, but she does plan a murder and tricks a human into setting her free in exchange for locking him in a room with no escape, presumably to his death…so I guess she is evil. Even good old HAL 9000 informs us that he was trained by a Mr Langley during his death scene. Sidebar, I rewatched HAL’s death scene, and it’s so messed up. It’d be the equivalent of the hero slowly lobotomizing the villain, while he’s conscious and explaining the feeling to us. Yikes. There’s even a fictional supercomputer from a series of novels called Colossus that takes control of all mankind, and guess who made it, Professor Charles Forbin. It’s weird right? I couldn’t find any evil robots created by women. There also wasn’t any super emotional robots made by women that I could find, which is a shame because it could have been a way to prove the point. Hell, even the robots in the Matrix made their fake creator a guy. That dude who looked like Colonel Sanders. At least I think he created the Matrix, I don’t know, those movies are dumb.
But then there’s probably the most famous example of a man creating a technological marvel that turns evil. Frankenstein. It’s really the same story. Now, I last read Frankenstein in high school, so I’m not super familiar with the book anymore, but I usually see the story interpreted more as a warning of the hubris of man. But I still think that it’s the same ideal. Dr. Frankenstein created a life in the only way he could, by reanimating a mixmatched jumble of corpse parts, and surprise surprise, the Creature isn’t exactly a well adjusted being. Just like Ultron, he begins to resent and loathe his creator, while trying to create his own progeny. Because creatures created by men through unnatural means are petty, diabolical, conniving creatures. It’s a weird sentiment, and I don’t know if I’m the only who who sees it, which may say something weird about me, but I just felt like sharing it.
Categories: Reel Talk