Using Robots As Metaphors To Combat Prejudice, Not Reinforce It

No Robots, a movie by San Jose State University students YungHan Chang and Kimberly Knoll is lovely, sad, and ultimately redeeming. It’s also a great challenge to the way we normally use robots as metaphors:

No Robots from YungHan Chang on Vimeo.

Often, when we see robots in popular culture, they’re actually more powerful than we are. If the Cylons were a metaphor for, say, Irish immigrants to the United States, they’d be telling a story about workers rising up from the slums and engulfing us all in whiskey and potatoes. These metaphors tend to legitimate the fears of privileged class rather than debunking them. But a movie like No Robots has a different power differential. The shopkeeper is angry at a robot who is physically smaller than he is, who is annoying rather than intimidating. He commits an act of terrible violence against that much more vulnerable actor. And then he discovers that things he’s conditioned to want to protect and find adorable—kittens—are emotionally dependent on the robot, who has been stealing milk to feed them. It’s a narrative that questions the shopkeeper’s prejudices and assumptions, rather than suggesting he’s right to be angry and afraid of a new element in his environment.

(HT: io9)