Before Bender, Wall-E and even the Jetsons’ maid Rosie were sketches on a drawing board, animators have been putting robots and cyborgs through their automated paces. This practice is so hard-wired, in fact, that it was happening before the words “robot” and “cyborg” entered the English language. Animated depictions of machine creatures from the 1920s and 1930s privileged the “creature” over the “machine”, making them behave in ways that often revealed them to be more compellingly “human” than the characters that created and programmed them. One question emerges from all of this: if animation can make anything appear to be alive, why does it continue to make the distinction between “real” and “artificial” forms of life?
Rick Cousins is an instructor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. His most recent research and teaching have concentrated on animation and anthropomorphisms, including his recent doctoral dissertation Cartoons Ain’t Human: Reflections on the Uses and Meanings of Anthropomorphism in mid-twentieth century American Animated Shorts. Rick is a regular contributor to academic journals on a wide variety of subjects, including radio comedy, sound design in experimental theatre, and interactive shows in historic houses and museums. He was also the recipient of the 2017 Ann Saddlemeyer Book Prize from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research for his monograph Spike Milligan’s Accordion: The Distortion of Time and Space in The Goon Show.
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