A Day of Public Humanizing: Sydney Skybetter

Editor’s Note: Hi, DayofPHers (you don’t have to call yourselves that)! Robyn, Jim, and I have been reaching out to friends, colleagues, idols, and other acquaintances in the wide world of public humanities to see if anyone wants to write guest posts about their days of public humanizing. If you’d like to tell us about your day (or blog about another topic related to our Day of Public Humanities!), please get in touch! You can email us (dayofPH[at]gmail) or contact us via Twitter (@DayofPH). And don’t forget to talk about your work with us on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017! 🙂

Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer. His dances have been performed at many cool places (including the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts and The Joyce Theater). He is also a consultant and lecturer on everything from dance history to cultural futurism (most recently at Harvard, SXSW Interactive, and TEDx, among other places). He is presently a Public Humanities Fellow and Lecturer at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities, where he researches the problematics of human computer interfaces and mixed reality systems. 

Sydney Skybetter (Photo Credit: Safety Third Productions)

8:30am: Arrive in office. Small talk with management team. Give self permission to make and drink four cups of coffee. 

8:40am: Google “Star Trek Season 5 The Game” to find that episode of Star Trek: Next Generation starring Ashley Judd and Wil Wheaton where an alien tries to take over The Enterprise through a Google Glass-looking eyepiece that addicts the crew to an augmented reality video game that makes them open to hypnotic suggestion (?) but then Ashley’s and Will’s heteroromance saves everyone. Consider teaching episode as model of compulsory heterosexuality and speculative technology in seminar. Reject that idea. Decide to teach an entirely new seminar on Star Trek instead. 

9:30am: Get tip from colleague that there’s an episode of The X-Files where a vaguely Amish religious sect- but they’re actually aliens?- uses some sort of megapheromone to inspire intense sexual urges in others. One of the Amish / Aliens is a murderer with the ability to change genders, who uses the megaphermone to attract his / her victims, and then somehow the megapheromone kills them. In Mulder’s words, “Maybe it’s the sex that kills.” 

10:00am: Watch X-Files episode on Hulu, unimaginatively titled “Genderbender.” Consider teaching episode as a heteroparanoid vision of queer affective contagion. In the words of one intended victim of the sex alien, “Hustling in the club scene used to be so simple.” But then these folks without normative genders use pheromone affect power to lure innocent straight folks into queer sex THAT KILLS. Reject that idea. Decide to teach entirely new seminar on The X-Files Instead. 

11:00am: Watch the media *actually* assigned for this week’s seminar, “The Entire History of You” from Season 1 of Black Mirror, where everyone has something called a “grain” implanted in their brain / eyes so they have perfect visual recall and are able to scroll backwards through their visual sensorium, in effect, surveilling their past selves retrospectively. Ponder role of narcissism and self-surveillance. Check with library to see if anyone has written a book yet on narcissisurveillance. Plan discussion of Black Mirror relative to Simone Browne’s “Dark Matters,” theories of surveillance, sousveillance, and race. Unrelated: why is everyone in the future rich and wearing Armani and lounging on mid century modern furniture? Did mid century modern signify the future when Eames was first a thing? Realize the captain’s chair in Star Trek: Next Generation looks like an Eames chair. Make mental note to think more about chairs. Do we have any chair scholars on campus? 

12:00pm: Lunch. Scribble some notes on a napkin. Why is it that the visual is so privileged in speculative futures? What is the neurological basis of visual stimulus catalyzing memory? In the case of Black Mirror, is the interface for the infinite visual archive not a kind of offboard brain, already arguably accomplished by Google, et al? What would an infinite multi-sensorial archive look like? What if instead of scrolling backwards through televisual time, one could catalogue all the different gut feelings one has ever had? What does it mean to have a “gut” memory?

1:00pm: Read remaining chapters of Dark Matters.

2:30pm: Twitter rathole. No memory or record of proceedings. 

3:00pm: Complete seminar preparations. Write a few sentences juxtaposing a line from Black Mirror– “You can’t hide it. Not completely.”- said in reference the physical tells of amorous intention, to X-Files, Star Trek and that line attributed to Martha Graham, “The body never lies.” Ponder what would happen if Martha Graham had gotten into surveillance tech instead of modern dance. 

4:50pm: Worry about the future. 

5:00pm: Realize that the Black Mirror episode hinges on a marriage broken when surveillance technology unmasks the true paternity of a married couple’s child, and that all the speculative futures I’ve thought about today are set in an incredibly conservative moral universes. Realize I’m not surprised. 

5:05: Pick son up from kindergarten. 

5:06: Feel slightly better about the future.

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