Androids have long been a useful
device for exploring questions about what it means to be human, our
interaction with technology and what defines consciousness in contemporary fiction and film. The term
android itself has become somewhat interchangeable with robot, but
uniquely refers to machines taking a distinctly human form. The word was
coined from the Greek root ἀνδρ- 'man' and the suffix -oid 'having the
form or likeness of'.
In films such as Westworld (1973), Alien
(1979) and Prometheus (2012) Androids have been depicted as
untrustworthy instruments of corporations with an agenda. In contrast, they've also been
presented as benevolent, almost childlike machines seeking to develop
consciousness and morality - such as the Data character from the
television series Stark Trek TNG (1987).
Man & Machine - Yul Brynner
Dave 8 - Prometheus
The Swedish TV series, Äkta Människor (2012) aka 'Real Humans' takes place in a parallel present where Hubots (a fictional brand-name synonymous with android) are consumer goods (a cheeky nod to Sweden's famously mass produced Ikea) which take on almost every role imaginable. It's a great platform from which to explore 21st century issues - androids as servants and factory workers (organised labor) or partners and lovers (human rights).
There's also a back story reminiscent of Blade Runner, as a select group of Hubots seek answers to their own limitations and apparently unique abilites (one android longs to be a wife and mother) and mortality.
Part of the success is the subtle use of makeup but also the effective method of the actors in portraying the Hubots. It's an echo of a similar 'plastic' aesthetic seen in Manga and elsewhere. I've started to wonder, if it's possible for androids to dream of being human, could the converse be possible?
The recent Channel 4 documentary 'Secrets of the Living Dolls' was an eye-opening "WTF?" expose of a little known contemporary lifestyle. The show introduces various men (there is definitely a sexual component here) in the US and UK who engage in 'Masking' - which can only be described as wearing full female body suits. Putting aside the psychological aspects, which mostly seem benign, I was struck by the intentional artificiality of the face masks...and immediately thought of Hubots.
Real Humans is in it's second season on SVT and season 1 has screen on SBS television in Australia.