14 Mar 2017 12:00pm - 1:30pm Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building


Brainwashing the Cybernetic Spectator: The Ipcress File, 1960's Cinematic Spectacle and the Sciences of Mind

Dr Marcia Holmes (History, Birkbeck)
Discussant: Dr Dan Larsen  (History, Cambridge)


This paper argues that the mid-1960s saw a dramatic shift in how 'brainwashing' was popularly imagined, reflecting Anglo-American developments in the sciences of mind as well as shifts in mass media culture. The 1965 British film, The Ipcress File (dir. Sidney J. Furie, starr. Michael Caine) provides a rich case for exploring these interconnections between mind control, mind science, and media, as it exemplifies the era's innovations for depicting 'brainwashing' on screen: the film's protagonist is subjected to flashing lights and electronic music, pulsating to the 'rhythm of brainwaves'. This paper describes the making of The Ipcress File's brainwashing sequence, and shows how its quest for cinematic spectacle drew on developments in cybernetic science, multimedia design and modernist architecture (developments that were also influencing the 1960s' psychedelic counterculture). I argue that often interposed between the disparate endeavours of 1960s mind control, psychological science, and media was a vision of the human mind as a 'cybernetic spectator': a subject who not only scrutinizes how media and other demands on her sensory perception can affect consciousness, but seeks to consciously participate in this mental conditioning and guide its effects.


(Dr Holmes's paper will be pre-circulated and may be read in advance. You can receive a copy by emailing lsp33@cam.ac.uk)


Coffee and tea will be served after.  

Part of Cybernetics and Society Reading Group, series.
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