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Chaos and Control

The Critique of Computation in American Commercial Media (1950-1980)

Steve Anderson, Author

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Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

In the Roger Corman-produced cult exploitation movie Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), golden bikini-clad female robots are extruded from room-sized supercomputers like pizzas emerging from great ovens. In addition to endowing them with physical beauty and skimpy, metallic outfits, Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent Price) and his sidekick Igor (Jack Mullaney) program the Bikini Machine to create artificial women who are ideal companions for the world's wealthiest and most powerful men, transferring knowledge of their fields (music, art, medicine, politics) from computer tape drives directly to the brain via a halo of electrodes. They are then sent out into the world to seduce the men and obtain their fortunes by any means available.

Although readily dismissible as exploitation genre camp, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is notable for its aggressive inversion of the gender roles that existed in the early 1960s computing industry. In Dr. Goldfoot, women are programmed by rather than programmers of mainframe computers. The resulting fembots are mostly docile and robotic but periodically burst into spontaneous dance moves in defiance of Goldfoot's orders when music is played. Once endowed with the combination of ideal brains and beauty by the computer, the fembots become difficult to control, frequently exceeding the limits of their programming to follow their own desires. One of them develops humanlike feelings for her target that divert her from her originally programmed goal of strictly instrumental gold-digging. As a result, Dr. Goldfoot appears continually on the brink of losing authority over the unruly group of fembots and must resort to increasingly violent measures to assert his control. At the film's darkest extremes, Dr. Goldfoot, who was transparently modeled on the previous year's James Bond villain Goldfinger, is shown torturing the women with prolonged electric shocks and threatening them with dismemberment if they are unsuccessful in their missions. The admittedly cartoonish but highly gendered power dynamics expressed in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine may be understood as a cultural response to the perceived threat of women's emancipation from the home and from male control through their work in the computer industries.
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