[Do Toasters Dream of Electric Loaves?]
A free-form look at the (dis)respectable tradition of women created by men – from Pygmalion to that creepy sexbot of Scarlett Johansson that somebody built in their parents’ basement – Future’s Eve is a lot to process.
There are so many ideas and tones at work in Michelle Aitken’s one-fembot show: sentient toasters, the male gaze, the ethics of creating machines for sexual purposes (and the attendant problem of reinforcing rape culture). Future’s Eve comes across like a dystopian gumbo.
Even at a genre level, the show never feels tied to a specific framework: you get a talk show skit, a manic cooking segment, full frontal nudity and – in this reviewer’s case – the present of a very impressive balloon phallus.
At points, the show becomes a collage of media depicting robotic femmes, from movies (we get clips of the mechanical infiltrator (Brigette Helm) from Metropolis and Darryl Hannah’s Pris from Blade Runner), to dialogue (one scene is based around a monologue from one of the Stepford Wives). Aitken’s thesis is so slippery and multifaceted that it requires multiple avatars in order to be expressed properly.
Eventually the focus becomes clear, but there are beats where I questioned the functionality of Aitken’s conceit. Certain segments (like the breakfast episode) go on a minute longer than they have to, while other ‘sequences’ (the TV interview with a sex bot) are so reliant on the audio-visual elements that Aitken is literally a bystander in her own show. The latter segment features Aitken repeating the machine’s answers while the footage (and, disconcertingly, the audio) plays behind her. There are a few moments like this, where the show falls into ‘hat on a hat’ territory, where it could afford to lose a few of the more meta elements.
It is all very silly and random, like a brainstorm of ideas and images orbiting a central thesis that is still under revision.
That is not a criticism – Future’s Eve is trying to shine a light on an emerging technology at a point where its potential impacts are still relatively unknown. I don’t know if that makes for a better show, or a coherent review, but it is interesting to mull over the potential ramifications of this kind of technology, who is designing it, and for what purpose. Consider the ethical blind spots of Silicone Valley tech bros and social media organisations, and then extrapolate that to the commodification of sex. Throw in patriarchal privilege, the distinctions (and difference in power) between white and intersectional feminism, and the never-ending need to reaffirm the importance of consent, and the idea of humanoid machines designed for satiating human sexuality becomes – at best – extremely complicated.
Future’s Eve is always interesting, and occasionally hilarious. Its tone and theme do not always sync together, but it is such an odd mix of components it remains compelling.
Future’s Eve plays at The Basement until 1st September.