Science Fiction Film & Television

A man inside a machine

Commodification, the political unconscious, and the antihuman attitude in RoboCop

Science Fiction Film & Television (2022), 15, (1), 3–20.


This article traces the manifestation of the antihuman attitude in twenty-first century sf cinema, particularly in the cyborg film. The antihuman attitude is most clearly recognizable in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic cinema, where it provides spectacular images of humanity’s destruction. However, it also finds a much subtler visualization in films featuring technologically augmented characters. While presenting narratives which ultimately reinstate a privileged Enlightenment humanism, the visual economy of these films continues to represent its protagonists as dehumanized commodities. Engaging with Fredric Jameson’s political unconscious and film genre theory, the article explores how the antihuman attitude manifests in 2014’s RoboCop through visuals which undermine the autonomy of its human protagonist and contradict the film’s humanist narrative.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works cited

Altman, Rick. 2012. “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre.” In Film Genre Reader IV, edited by Barry Keith Grant, 27-41. Austin: University of Texas Press. Google Scholar

Bender, Stephanie. 2019. “Just Popular Entertainment or Longing for a Posthuman Eden?” Journal for Religion, Film and Media 5, no. 2: 31-50. Google Scholar

Bewes, Timothy. 2002. Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism. London: Verso Books. Google Scholar

Bostrom, Nick. 2003. “Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist Perspective.” Journal of Value Enquiry 37, no. 2: 493-506. Google Scholar

Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press. Google Scholar

Brookfield, Simon. “RoboCop Reboot is ‘Hell’ Says Director Jose Padilha.” We Got This Covered, Aug 27, 2012. Google Scholar

Bukatman, Scott. 1993. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Google Scholar

Buscombe, Edward. 2012. “The Idea of Genre in the American Cinema.” Film Genre Reader IV, edited by Barry Keith Grant, 12-26. Austin: University of Texas Press. Google Scholar

Capek, Karel. 2004. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Translated by Claudia Novack. London: Penguin Books. Google Scholar

Carrigan, Mark. 2019. “The Evisceration of the Human Under Digital Capitalism.” In Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina, edited by Ismael Al-Amoudi and Jamie Morgan, 165-81. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Clemente, Bill. 2016. “Corporate Abuse and Social Inequality in RoboCop and Fido.” In The Last Midnight: Essays on Apocalyptic Narratives in Millennial Media, edited by Leisa A. Clark, Amanda Firestone, and Mary F. Pharr, 101-11. Jefferson: McFarland and Company. Google Scholar

Deleuze, Gilles. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: The Athlone Press. Google Scholar

Ferrando, Francesca. 2015. “Of Posthuman Born: Gender, Utopia and the Posthuman in Film and TV.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Posthumanism in Film and Television, edited by Michael Hauskeller, Thomas D. Philbeck, and Curtis D. Carbonell, 270-78. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

Fitting, Peter. 2003. “Unmasking the Real? Critique and Utopia in Recent SF Films.” In Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination, edited by Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan, 155-66. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Foucault, Michel. 2002. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Ford, Henry, Samuel Crowther, and William A. Levinson. 2013. The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford’s Universal Code for World-Class Success. Boca Raton: CRC Press. Google Scholar

Harris, John. 2009. “Enhancements are a Moral Obligation.” Human Enhancement, edited by Julian Savulescu and Nick Bostrom, 131-54. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Jameson, Fredric. 2005. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London: Verso Books. Google Scholar

Jameson, Fredric. 2002. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Johnson, Craig, and Rowan Tulloch. 2017. “Video Games and Dystopia: Total Cities, Post-Cities and the Political Unconscious.” Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 9, no. 3: 243-56. Google Scholar

Jones, Nick. 2016. “Expanding the Esper: Virtualised Spaces of Surveillance in SF Film.” Science Fiction Film & Television 9, no. 1: 1-23. Google Scholar

Khapaeva, Dina. 2021. “Killing Humanity: Anthropocentrism and Apocalypse in Contemporary Cinema.” In The Age of Spectacular Death, edited by Michael Hviid Jacobsen. Abingdon: Routledge. Google Scholar

Kurzweil, Ray. 2008. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. London: Duckworth Overlook. Google Scholar

Lahiji, Nadir, ed. 2011. The Political Unconscious of Architecture: Re-opening Jameson’s Narrative. Farnham: Ashgate. Google Scholar

Lahti, Martti. 2003. “As We Become Machines: Corporealized Pleasures in Video Games.” In The Video Games Reader, edited by Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perrson, 157-70. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Landa, Ishay. 2002. “Slaves of the Ring: Tolkien’s Political Unconscious.” Historical Materialism 10, no. 4: 113-33. Google Scholar

Lukács, Georg. 1971. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Marsellus, Mynt. 2017. ‘‘‘The RoboCop We Deserve’: Post-Human Transformations and Social Critique in Paul Verhoeven’s and Jose Padilha’s RoboCop.” Laurier Undergraduate Journal of the Arts 3: 51-61. Google Scholar

Marx, Karl. 2010. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. London: Lawrence & Wishart. Google Scholar

Newman, Joe, Joseph Jerome, and Christopher Harzard. 2014. “Press Start to Track? Privacy and the New Questions Posed by Modern Video Game Technology.” American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) Quarterly Journal, Google Scholar

Overall, Christine. 2009. “Life Enhancement Technologies: The Significance of Social Category Membership.” In Human Enhancement, edited by Julian Savulesco and Nick Bostrom, 327-40. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Paik, Peter Y. 2019. “Extinction and Judgement: Misanthropy in the Anthropocene.” English Language and Literature 65, no. 2: 203-22. Google Scholar

Paura, Roberto, and Onoriu Colăcel. 2019. “Reading Reality Through Science Fiction.” Messages, Sages and Ages 6, no. 1: 7-11. Google Scholar

Peters, Ted. 2010. “Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future: Will Technological Progress Get Us There?” In H+/-: Transhumanism and Its Critics, edited by Gregory R. Hansell and William Grassie, 147-75. Philadelphia: Metanexus Institute. Google Scholar

Sudlow, Brian. 2015. “Inner Screen and Cybernetic Battlefields: Paul Virilio and Robocop.” Cultural Politics 11, no. 2: 234-45. Google Scholar

Thomas, Rhys Owain. 2015. “Terminated: The Life and Death of the Cyborg in Film and Television.” The Palgrave Handbook of Posthumanism in Film and Television, edited by Michael Hauskeller, Thomas D. Philbeck, and Curtis D. Carbonell, 57-65. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

Yaren, Özgür. 2019. “Post-Human Aesthetics of Apocalypse.” AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 19: 77-83. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Parr, Christopher