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Structuring binaries in Terminator 3

by Critical Commons Manager

By 2003, the simplistic binary of human/machine as it appears in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines might have already seemed anachronistic. Arnold Schwartznegger plays a killing machine from the future sent back (once again) to protect the lives of two humans who are tasked with rebuilding the world following a nuclear holocaust initiated by a machine-borne virus that takes over first the civilian internet and then the military defense network.

Skynet, a silly conflation of suspicious-sounding technologies, was unwittingly created and promoted by a civilian military contractor that convinces the Pentagon to put it in irrevocable control of the entire U.S. missile defense and communication networks. This marks another of the structuring binaries on which the Terminator series is based, namely the strict civilian/military divide. In the Terminator movies, the military is positioned as holding the line against reckless, scientific and industrial experimentation, which inevitably leads to the "rise of the machines" and global annihilation.

Yet another binary may be found in the gay/straight divide that is momentarily blurred when a naked Arnold walks into a cowboy bar on Ladies Night and steals clothes from a stereotypically gay male stripper performing to the Village People's "Macho Man." After ordering the dancer to remove his clothes and donning an all-leather road warrior outfit, Arnold reaches into the pocket of the jacket where we expect to find his signature Terminator shades. Instead, he pulls out a cartoonish pair of Elton John-style Captain Fantastic glasses, which cannot be redeemed as queer kitsch within Schwarznegger's economy of cyborg hypermasculinity and the glasses are crushed under the heels of his newly acquired - and no longer ironic - jackboots.

As Arnold's system begins to break down, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics and a Star Trek-style logical paradox are used to stop him from killing the humans he was sent to protect. Arnold's declaration that "desire is irrelevant; I am a machine!" contrasts sharply with the conception of Cylons in Battlestar Galactica (which premiered the following year) as more deeply sensual, desire-driven and spiritual than their human counterparts.

Terminator 3, like many sci-fi anxiety movies, ends with a didactic voice-over that warns against the excesses of technology in general and machine intelligence - specifically software embedded in a distributed network that is capable of self-awareness with no central "system core" that could be shut down - in particular. This is an obvious parallel with the Bush Administration's "War on Terror," which launched in Iraq just four months before T3 appeared in theaters.

Civilians allow a computer virus to take over the Pentagon

A virus in a civilian artificial intelligence system causes the Pentagon to lose control of the national defense network

from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Creator: Jonathan Mostow
Distributor: Columbia TriStar
Posted by Critical Commons Manager