Lovecraft Country Finale: STEAMpunk & Biomechanical Cyborgs

In Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” the concept of the cyborg is a rejection of rigid boundaries, notably those separating “human” from “animal” and “human” from “machine”. Although Haraway intended her concept of the cyborg to be a feminist critique, she acknowledges that other scholars and popular media have taken her concept and applied it to different contexts. I’ve applied it to science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM.

In the Lovecraft Country finale, Diana (Dee) discovers that her mother Hippolyta has created a cyborg arm for her. I translated the Greek mythological version (who wore a girdle) to the one played by Aunjanue Ellis; who, in my view, is a thinkerer (maker) as well as a polymath. Instead of a girdle Ellis’s Hippolyta wears a tool belt, which we see in episode 9 when she fixes the ‘multiverse machine’ and acts as its “motherboard.” After that she mentally traverses alternate realities to find Tulsa in 1921.

In the psychology and biological science world, there is talk of a new idea that our thinking takes place throughout our whole body. This concept is called “embodied cognition”, and recognizes that physical acts help us work out thoughts — something artists seem to have always instinctively known.

The term ‘thinkering’ is used to describe when we use our hands to engage with something — whether it’s putting together a toy, doing the washing up, or even playing with a fidget spinner. And by using this connection, we can find mindful moments in challenging situations. In Lovecraft Country the characters are always challenged to think outside of the box.

Near the end of episode 8 Dee loses her arm but before that we see her amazing skills as an artist. She can manifest on paper what is happening to her. Hippolyta is creative in a different way but both mother and daughter are thinkerers and doodlers. These characters represent something important in the education space. They demonstrate, for viewers, what making and STEAM could be for girls and women, especially from groups overlooked in the mainstream maker movement.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I taught a STEAM workshop at Lindbergh Middle School in Long Beach, CA. The title of the workshop was “Biomechanical Cyborgs” and students learned how different parts of the human body function in order to develop a cyborg prototype. They learned about fictional and real-life cyborgs such as Tempt1 and EyeWriter, Cyborg (Justice League) and Onyx Ashanti. They used found objects to build their prototypes and presented them at the end of the workshop.

Since then I’ve been teaching students remotely and this includes this week’s workshop with middle school girls in rural Calvert County, MD. I’m happy to add Hippolyta and Diana to my list of examples and I’m excited to see what the girls will come up with. While Lovecraft Country is fictional the STEAM workshops are very real. We (educators) have an opportunity to show girls (and boys) that they, too, can be thinkerers and technological doodlers:

Haraway calls for a reconstruction of identity, no longer dictated by naturalism and taxonomy but instead by affinity, wherein individuals can construct their own groups by choice. In this way, groups may construct a “post-modernist identity out of otherness, difference, and specificity” as a way to counter Western traditions of exclusive identification.

The time is now to think outside of the boxes.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.