The Imitation Game is impressive in two distinct ways. One is the deployment of cinematic license to dramatically convey what Turing expert Professor S. Barry Olson describes as “the objective truth” about the invention of the counter-machine that cracked Enigma, the Nazis supposedly unbreakable coding machine.

However, Christian Caryl’s criticism isn’t completely wrong: stereotypes about gay men do inform Benedict Cumberbatch’s representation of Turing, and could support homophobic attitudes about what is/isn’t a security risk. That said, Cumberbatch does strike a nice balance between the story of the man and the story of the technology within the constraints established by the script.

In the end, as far as the significance of this film goes, as much as Turing deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as, say, Stephen Hawking, in historical terms it is the computing technology that eclipses the identity of a gay man. This leads to the second, most impressive aspect of the film, which is of a certain metonymy: The Imitation Game is representative of the material birth of postmodernity, in which time and space have been collapsed by the digitalization of communication.

The Ultra project at Bletchley Park brings to mind the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Although the film rightfully celebrates Turing’s life and achievement of “the unimaginable,” like most forms of innovative knowledge his invention has a dark side, too. Unlike the development of the atomic bomb with its obviously ethical aspects, the creation of the computer appears neutral. The ubiquity of computing today feeds ambivalence about the ethics of computing which might render its unintended consequences all the more dangerous because of their subtlety.

The dark side of computing is not videogaming or social media or the proliferation of cute cats on youtube or data mining or even threats to privacy or cyberterrorism (because both of these can still be contained, if enough of us act soon and in concert). Nor is it the deep canalization of subgroups being reinforced by targeted advertising, although this may outrank all the others by perpetuating attitudes of ethnocentrism and prejudice. The difficult challenge of computing is the social construction of time as a race that only the fastest can win.

The race of Ultra vs Enigma prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad, the latter claiming to be ”working to get access to some of the core routing equipment of the Internet.” This cyber/cipher “game” is as serious now to human life and death as it was during WWII, if not more so, with the entire planet at stake. The Imitation Game should win the Oscar for its historical relevance on top of all the excellent acting and flawless production. Imitation champions anti-sexism and anti-homophobia while skirting wide of racism, “the uncontrolled imaginings of the white mind,” which make it a politically safe contender at this volatile moment of “I can’t breathe” and #BlackLivesMatter.

The imitating that Turing and contemporaries created is far more than a game. As a technology, computing has sped up the rate and pace of human social interaction. Turing’s invention was perfectly in keeping with that era of industrialization: radio, telephones and television were spreading information faster and further than ever before, and assembly lines were improving efficiencies and cranking out products at ever-increasing rates. People were (and are, even moreso now) being trained to the clock, not to any natural rhythms of the actual earth or a biological species.

Conceptualizing time and humanity’s relationship to time is tricky territory, not least because science hasn’t yet figured out where time comes from or what it is. “We’re not in a war with Germany, we’re in a war with time,” is the most important line in the film. The meaning of the scripted line is transparent in relation to the calendar and the clock, to the exigencies of battle: factually and descriptively, it is true enough. Metonymically, however, the meaning is deeply representative, even reifying, of the effect of civilization on the modern and postmodern construction of time.

It wasn’t long after the war when Claude Shannon (also a code-breaker) wrote the foundational paper on digitalization. Turing and Shannon were working on different but complementary problems at the same time. Shannon’s application of Boolean algebra is where all those 0s and 1s come from, the key being that all digitized information is forced into one or the other value. This is (so they say) a great boon for copying but there is also loss of variation, at least some of which has artistic value and intrinsic human merit.

Digitalization forces communication to flow along extremely rigid channels. All analog communication, that is, all human communication, has to be broken down into a binary code: either a zero or a one. There is no variation. (Hence, for instance, the return to vinyl for musicians attuned to the richer quality of analog sound.) The unintended consequence now known as the postmodern condition is an effect of digital forcing. Increases in the speed and ability of communication to reach across distances have outpaced humanity’s ability for sane and sustainable cultural adaptation. It’s as if human society has been sucked into a wind tunnel; people find themselves either in the main flow or in the turbulence. Few seem able to find their balance within the onrush, let alone establish positions adequate to attempt healthy and restorative counteractions.

For proper historical context and relevance, The Imitation Game needs to be understood in parallel with Citizen 4. Whether you approve of Snowden’s action or not, you should see Laura Poitras’ film capturing his conversations with journalist Glen Greenwald as news reports unfolded on our television screens and online news sources. Citizen 4 should win Best Documentary because of the time manipulation it achieves in service of art and social justice. Humans now have the means to recognize and record significant historical moments as they happen. Awards aside, to understand what The Imitation Game can teach us about living through this perilous era in human history, it is necessary to be informed about the stakes of cyber-surveillance and cyber-security’s cipher games. The new imitation game (made visible by the Sony hack with its political fallout and economic consequences) not only threatens privacy, real democracy, and genuine social justice, but is also a crucial playing field where humanity’s efforts to evolve enough to avert climate disaster will be determined.

The Imitation Game is more than a good movie; it allows a rare window for comprehensive reflection on the highest stakes of life and living, here and now.

The essential message of these three very different movies–all playing now–is that everything is up to us.

Interstellar and Birdman are rivals on the twinned theme of love and passion. Where they diverge is that Birdman establishes no context: there’s only the stage awhirl in the midst of contemporary chaos. Interstellar, according to the best principles of science fiction, embeds its story in the established science of our times, prioritizing the climate crisis on the scale at which it deserves, within the irrefutable consequences of species survival or extinction. Along comes Dear White People, to illustrate the sickening scope of intraspecies bigotry and pettiness which we’ve yet to overcome.

Mentoring for the Earth, Utne Reader, Mar-Apr 2014, p. 70.

Mentoring for the Earth, Utne Reader, Mar-Apr 2014, p. 70.

While watching Interstellar, I wondered at the non-representative racial composition of the slice of surviving humanity the film constructs for us to see. Tokenism reigns, unless Christopher Nolan and his band of writers aim to propose that the privileges of whiteness extend into the near-term upcoming calamity. They could, of course. Certainly the U.S. government is embattled on this linch pin: will democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunity truly be enabled for all or will special [white] interests continue to dictate law and privilege? Not that underfunded NASA seems likely to have anything to offer in the way of off-planet redemption. That’s more likely to come from the European Space Agency, having successfully landed a spacecraft on a streaking comet.

As far as media effects go (that is, convincing the world that white people, especially white men, are the main strain of the species worth caring about), Birdman is right on cue, with its agonized and agonizing straight white male Everyman. Saving Broadway! Hallelujah!

While Birdman patches together an impressively tight composition of literary layers and cultural references, Dear White People blows it out of the water with the most densely packed social commentary I’ve ever seen. (Curious to know what you think are its equals, or even in the same league.)

“Dear White People,” Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) sums it all up, “Nevermind.” Are the costs of racial fallout still too touchy to resolve? In our day and age, too many white people are playing racism as a game–and a fun one at that. People of color are still too often forced to craft lives within the omnipresence of race consciousness. (It’s time to be colorbrave.) Oh sure, Dear White People is a comedy! How else could such stunning criticism receive the light of day? Are all the characters types? Aren’t we all, each of us, out here living our real, untheatrical lives, also easily categorized as a type? The question is which types get airtime and which don’t; which types can help us reweave the social fabric and which won’t. We have to choose.

“Humans are cultural animals,” writes Mark Morey. “Our evolution continues along paths that we direct through our choices, patterns, and behaviors. Even more importantly—we pass culture along through initiation and story.” The story of Interstellar is that the bond of parents and children is a force commensurate with gravity. The science stretches into fiction here, because none of the things we need to know to pull off such a journey are within reach. The declining ability to grow food, however, foretells the end of humanity in Interstellar much as it does in actual climate science. Food doesn’t enter Birdman, and is only racialized in Dear White People.  Now, stretch with me, will you?

Just as Lionel blows when his jazz solo arrives—even though he doesn’t like jazz!—we need to be colorbrave in our daily lives, identify and dismiss noisome distractions, and alter the impelling rush of catastrophe.  Somehow, someway, the artistic and intellectual brilliance of today’s intergenerational collective intelligence must form new relationships and stories that recreate and renew society based on perennial agriculture, aka permaculture. The trio of films examined here demonstrate that social justice needs permaculture and vice-versa, if another seven generations are to prosper on the earth.

My dissertation is available through Scholarworks at the University of Massachusetts.



“Language is the medium and progenitor of discourse.”

~ Evangelina Holvino ~


This dissertation began twenty-five years ago, long before I entered graduate school, with the Deaf and Hearing members of the Bilingual-Bicultural Committee at the Indiana School for the Deaf.  By living what it means to be an ally, you gave me a taste of the possible and set my life on course. Together, all of you had achieved a large cohesive group where difference mattered but was not allowed to get in the way. I have not yet encountered another group with such a broad range of diversity and clearly shared purpose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Page 5 of 929« First...34567...102030...Last »