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Chaos and Control

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

Steve Anderson, Author

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How to Frame a Figg (1971)

Even though the mainframe computer in How to Frame a Figg (1971) bears the ponderous acronym LEO (Large-capacity Enumerative Officiator), it is used for little more than simple mathematical calculations in the hands of a deliberately incompetent accountant played by Don Knotts. In this lightweight comedy, Knotts unwittingly uncovers a plot by city officials to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds after buying a supercomputer to cover their tracks. As with most room-sized computers in the cinematic imaginary, pressing the wrong button or series of buttons on the interface causes cards to erupt uncontrollably out of the machine. The prevalence of this trope suggests that the dramatic spectacle of physically malfunctioning computers seen on film and television, often accompanied by flashing lights and smoke, made real-world computer errors seem mild and manageable by comparison.
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