Energonomics and Pop-Culture

24 September 2009 at 1:03 am 1 comment

I have encountered a handful of instances where the idea of energonomics, or energy management, plays a pivotal role in pop-cultural contexts.  I believe this signals an emergent sensitivity to the need for humankind to pay attention to energy flow at all levels, especially the global but also the personal and local.

My first example is simple enough:  two very popular CCGs (“collectible card games”) have cards to represent the energy required to take action in the game.  The CCG that put CCGs on the pop-cultural map, Magic: The Gathering, requires the dueling wizards to draw their energy or “mana” from various land forms:  mountains, water, forests, swamps, or plains.  Pokemon cards are even more blatant:  their cards are simply labeled “energy.”

The second example comes from a Disney movie called Atlantis: The Lost Empire. This movie features a great blue Crystal dangling from the hidden city of Atlantis.  This crystal, the “Heart of Atlantis,” is an energy source that powers the city and citizens of the realm; without the Heart, the city and the citizens, who all wear blue gems that seem to be shards of the great blue crystal, would die.  Bad guys are trying to steal the power of the Heart.  The crystal was hidden away because it was used for warfare… Are you thinking nuclear energy?

The third example comes from a more sophisticated, popular movie called The Matrix.  The revelatory moment comes when tells Neo that (spoiler alert!) the Machines have created a computer-generated dreamworld  to control humans in order to change them into batteries:  “the human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 5,000 BTUs of body heat.”  After humans “scorched the sky” in the war with the AI machine/s, it was thought that the machines wouldn’t have enough energy, since they derived most of it from solar energy.  But they managed to grow humans for the purpose of providing their energy needs…

My final example is from a set of fantasy novels by Christopher Paolini.  The first is Eragon.  In these books, magic requires the energy of the spellcaster to fuel its effects, and if a spell isn’t worded properly, the spell will burn up all of the caster’s energy and kill him or her.  Late in the third novel Brisingr, Eragon learns of the heart of dragons (or “Eldunari”), which can store energy.  Dragons can transfer their consciousness to this Eldunari.  While Eragon learns of this, he asks, “how do they produce the energy he [Galbatorix, the main baddy] uses? Every living thing eats and drinks to sustain itself, even plants. Food provides the energy our bodies need to function properly.  It also provides the energy we need to work magic. . . .How can that be, though, with these Eldunari?  They don’t have bones and muscles and skin, do they? They don’t eat, do they? So then, how do they survive? Where does their energy come from?”  The answer:  from magic–“If one defines magic as the manipulation of energy, which properly it is, then yes, magic.”

Do you know of any examples from pop culture that we can add to this list?


Entry filed under: energonomics. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Cultural Evolution: Energy and Information The Poetry of Psychoenergonomics

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mark  |  1 October 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Great post. I don’t have examples from popular culture exactly, but will observe that the stated aim of liberal democratic capitalism was to unleash human energy. (I have many quotes to support this which I will refrain from adding.) In my view our whole society is an experiment with human energy – how to unleash it but retain security and focus. It seems to me that we have pretty much abandoned virtue as a cornerstone ambition for society and replaced it with the release of energy, guided, perhaps (and supported ideologically) by the idea of utility. It would not be surprising, therefore, to find in pop culture references to energy. Of course non-human energy is a matter of interest as well, but in a sense non-human energy is just used by us to further the efficacy of our own energies. This is a bit of a rave, but I do think there is something to the idea that encouraging the release of human energy is a key to modern mass political systems. (Um, I can’t quite work out whether what I have said here is utterly banal or not!)


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