597 hyphe nation - blade runner, replicants & humans


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597 hyphe nation - blade runner, replicants & humans

  1. 1. Blade Runner 1 Running head: BLADE RUNNER Anxiety, Dependency & Dehumanization: Blade Runner Paints a Pretty Picture of the Future Joanna Wiebe University of Alberta
  2. 2. Blade Runner 2 Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) presents a bleak vision of the social quality of human life in 2019 Los Angeles, the film’s microcosm of the future cybernetic world. A narrative of postmodern origins grounded in modern anxieties (Yu, 2008), Blade Runner is a “fundamentally realistic reflection of contemporary trends” (Yu, 2008, p.55) and a reiteration of an enduring philosophical question: what does it mean to be human? Where other science fiction may imagine a utopian future of hegemonic-control-spawns- ignorant-bliss, with silvery suits for all, Blade Runner entertains the possibility that the not-so-distant future is rather a dystopia of hyperbolized contemporary issues—where humans are dehumanized and made nearly indistinguishable from the ‘flesh-culture’ androids that are Replicants; where humans are both dependent on machines and fearful of them; and where anxiety of the Other damages nearly every interaction. The film opens on Los Angeles, a menacing if not apocalyptic setting that forces a break from contemporary imaginings of human life; one cannot perceive life in this setting of towering buildings, floating billboards and Asian street vendors who shout through ground-level smog to be a life designed for humankind. Living in continual dark. Consorting in dismal spaces, where the extent of human interaction is summarized in a [Replicant] stripper’s seduction of a snake. One feels separated from humanity, “one is lost in the setting, one is unable to discern the difference between the cyborg and the human” (Pope, 2008, p.13)—and the effect is a disruption of what it means to be human in a cybernetic world. With the introduction of the problem that is the escaped-and- dangerous Nexus 6 Replicants, it becomes clear that, in the process of creating androids intended to improve the quality of life for humans, humans have become dehumanized (Bosnak, 2001, p.86).
  3. 3. Blade Runner 3 Designed by god-figure Tyrell, Replicants are androids, made of flesh and created to work—specifically, to colonize planets in order to make them habitable for humans. Nearly identical to humans, Replicants are superior in strength, intellect and beauty, with their key distinction from humans being a built-in inability to respond emotionally; Replicants are technical and, in turn, emotion-free (Bosnak, 2001; Pope, 2008). According to Loren (2004), Replicants pose three threats to humans: physically superior, Replicants present a bodily threat; increasingly aware of and angered by their four-year life span, Replicants present a threat to order; and, as time passes and Replicants develop the ability to respond emotionally, Replicants threaten the very definition of being “human”. Blade Runner positions humans against artificial beings and establishes “certain difficulties in determining alterity” between the two (Loren, 2004, p.173). The overt question Blade Runner asks, as the Replicants become “more human than human” is what is the difference between being human and being Replicant; the subtext of that question is do we differ from the machines we create, and what is the relationship between humans and technology? If Blade Runner offers an answer to these questions, which challenge the essence of humanity, it is that humans are not dehumanized by technology but that the “human essence must be open to the essence of technology” (Pope, 2008, p.7). By way of example, the protagonist of the film, blade runner Deckard, ostensibly a human, is arguably the one character most disconnected from both technology and his emotions, although he is the one who ought to be most capable of emotional response. Society’s fear of technology—that is, of the Replicants that society has created and depends on— and Deckard’s role as the slayer of renegade Replicants effectively neutralize Deckard
  4. 4. Blade Runner 4 emotionally and keep him closed to the ‘essence’ of technology. Further, Deckard is almost robotically dedicated to his blade runner tasks; because uncertainty is an indicator of one’s humanity, Deckard’s certainty with regards to killing Replicants, as Slavoj Zizek argued, separates him from humanity (cited in Pope, 2008, p.12). Deckard, the human, is dehumanized. In fact, it is only at the moment of his first encounter with Rachael, a Replicant with whom he falls in love, that Deckard begins to respond emotionally, unearthing his long-buried emotions and evolving “from the callous, officious copy to an understanding and empathizing human” (Bosnak, 2001, p.87). This significant turning point for the character parallels a significant turning point for viewers who begin now to accept that “humans are themselves Replicants who just do not know it yet” (Pope, 2008, p.11) and to view the relationship between humans and technology as a dynamic one where humans both create technology and, as Deckard demonstrates in ‘becoming human’ by responding to technology, are created by it. Blade Runner also addresses the theme of dehumanizing humans in its portrayal of the quality of life of the Replicants, who become simulacra, resembling humans more and more as the film progresses. As unpleasant as life on Earth appears to be for humans, it is that much worse for Replicants, who are the ultimate marginalized Other—banished from the Earth, enslaved on foreign planets, given no agency over whether they live or die and denied the right to a voice, or the democratic right to speak with those who wield power over their lives (e.g., Tyrell). The identity of each Replicant turns out to be a lie, “to be no more than a conglomeration of images and memories implanted in ‘little’ beings or irresistible tasks that they have to carry on for survival” (Bosnak, 2001, p.81); where society would not expect humans to endure the injustice of a life built on lies,
  5. 5. Blade Runner 5 society demands that Replicants simply deal with it. The future cybernetic world dehumanizes Replicants. In reaction and in an attempt to access the basic human rights simulacra would expect, Replicants attempt to pass as human (Nishime, 2005) and to live alongside humanity rather than to eliminate it, “to plead with humanity to admit the other within—that is, to be recognized” (Pope, 2008, p.10). Failing that goal, the Replicants kill their creator not to appropriate his agency but to gain access to the social position—to the subjectivity—that society has denied them (Loren, 2004). Here, the technical desires assimilation with the human world into which we, its creators, thrust it; we, its creators, refuse to allow such assimilation (Loren, 2004), further dehumanizing the simulacra and, in a complicated turn, humans. Even with society’s fear of the technical, Blade Runner envisions a world in which humans are largely, in spite of ourselves, dependent on the machines we create in order to exist and thrive. Humans use Replicants “in off-world colonies as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets” (Bosnak, 2001, p.79) and would be incapable of colonization and progress without the aid of Replicants. So at the same time that the existence of Replicants threatens the status of “real” humans (Nishime, 2005), a lack of Replicants would also threaten humans. This dilemma suggests a social quality of life that suspends humans in a state of anxiety, where humans both fear and require the technical to live. This sense of anxiety is the basis of the third issue affecting the social quality of life for humans in the future cybernetic world: paranoia and anxiety of the Other. Fear of Replicants—specifically of Generation Nexus 6, which have developed emotions and started to rebel—spawned the law-enforced alienation of Replicants on Earth. With only
  6. 6. Blade Runner 6 humans allowed, Los Angeles becomes a scene of enforced hegemony based on both anxiety of the Other and high-tech paranoia. It is important to note that the Other in Blade Runner is decidedly different from the Other of contemporary Western cultures, specifically the “orientalized” Asian race; in fact, races have collapsed into one amalgamated race in Los Angeles in 2019, creating a combined language of French, English, German, Japanese and Spanish, and mixed-race marketplaces; interestingly, the White subject faces marginalization in these conditions (Yu, 2008). The Other has changed. Technology is now the Other (Pope, 2008). Technology, which facilitated the creation of androids or cyborgs, is the contaminating factor in humans, threatening “the sanctity that exists between the organic and the inorganic, the natural and the manmade, the body and the machine” (Gordon, 2007, p.81). In paranoid response, society alienates technology, cutting away its progeny “based on a perceived threat to these progeny” (Loren, 2004, p.179) to protect itself against potential violence. What complicates this point is that technology, or the technical, and humanity have become intertwined and indistinguishable from one another, with Replicants developing emotions and humans devolving to be disconnected from their emotions. In alienating Replicants and technology, humans are effectively alienating themselves. How positive can the social quality of life be for a society that alienates the part of itself that it doesn’t understand… simply because it doesn’t understand it and, in turn, feels anxiety around that which it does not know? Race theorists such as Edward Said and gender theorists such as Simone de Beauvoir might argue that the Blade Runner social quality of life would be very similar for women and minorities as the current social quality of life, speaking to the previously noted tendency of Blade Runner not to introduce new anxieties
  7. 7. Blade Runner 7 in its vision of the future but to hyperbolize contemporary issues. The ultimate truth as to the social quality of life for humans—and Replicants—in Blade Runner is that, in spite of efforts to appropriate technology in order to create a more superior human existence, we are all still mortal. Tyrell is as unable to reverse the aging process for Roy the Replicant as to prevent Roy from murdering him. In the end, Blade Runner is not a film about the science of androids but about disaster, or the destruction of “the age-old duality of corporeal and incorporeal existence in the life of humanity” (Bosnak, 2001, p.86). When they fail to consider human emotions, science and technology are more likely to bring about destruction to both creators and our creations (Bosnak, 2001). For the purposes of better understanding cyberculture, Blade Runner suggests that interaction—between humans, humans and Replicants, and Replicants—shapes human-technical experiences (Nishime, 2005) and fosters human emotional responses even in the face of virtual or machine-based experiences.
  8. 8. Blade Runner 8 References Boşnak, M. (2001, July). The nocturnal future as alienated existence: Blade Runner. Journal of Economic & Social Research, 3(2), 73. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database. Loren, S. (2004, October). What are the implications of the virtual for the human? An analytical ethics of identity in pop culture narratives. European Journal of American Culture, 23(3), 173-185. Retrieved July 17, 2009, doi:10.1386/ejac.23.3.173/0 Nishime, L. (2005, Winter2005). The mulatto cyborg: Imagining a multiracial future. Cinema Journal, 44(2), 34-49. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database. Pope, R. (2008). A cyborg's testimonial: Mourning Blade Runner's cryptic images. Film- Philosophy. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text database. Yu, T. (2008, Winter2008). Oriental cities, postmodern futures: Naked Lunch, Blade Runner, and Neuromancer. MELUS, 33(4), 45-71. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.