Monday, January 09, 2017

The Future Is Now

In an attempt to maintain our Good Parents badge, my wife and I sat our son down over Christmas break and showed him Blade Runner. We showed him the Dirctor's Cut, if you keep track of such things. We do. One of the things we also took notice of was the setting of the film: Los Angeles, 2019. This set off a wave of conjecture based on just how much things would have to change in order to meet the conditions shown in the film. The crowded streets and polyethnic speech and pervasive advertising seemed to already have found its way to the streets of the City of Angels. The off-world colonization was still a bit of a stretch, as was the constant rain. Drought seems much more likely for the future of southern California, but we have to allow for a little bit of creative license. Like the existence of androids: Replicants.
The bottom line, for Harrison Ford's character is this, "Replicants are like any other machine. They're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem." Who makes this determination? We can assume it's the government, since Ford's character Deckard works for the police. His job is to "retire" machines that have become hazardous. Did I really just try and give a two-sentence plot summary for Blade Runner? My apologies, because where I am headed is this: We aren't as far away from 2019 and what the movie suggests as we might like to admit. Not in the "Skynet has become self aware" way or "the Cubs win the World Series in Back to the Future" way, but in a creepier, more uncertain way. The dystopian future way.
It occurred to me that a great deal of science fiction is written from the standpoint of where we all fit in together. Fear of being different shows up in an awful lot of dystopian futures. Fear of outsiders is just as prevalent. Welcome to the future. Deckard's job is not just getting rid of machines that become hazardous, but he also needs to find a way to discern those who are Replicants and those who are not. He uses the standard Voight-Kampff assessment, designed to elicit responses that will alter voice, respiration, and skin temperature changes. It measures empathy. The deal here is that Replicants may look like us, and for the most part act like us, but they don't feel like we do. 
I believe a prototype for this machine already exists. It is called Al Gore's Internet. Read your news feed on any given morning, and see what your reaction is. If you're not affected by the events that are going on around you, it could be that you are "more human than human." Like the pod people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or the domestic goddesses in Stepford Wives, it's sometimes easier just to accept the creepy homogeneous Replicants than to embrace the messy and sometimes smelly diversity of our workaday world. When President Trump holds his first news conference, I hope someone will have the presence of mind to ask him the following question: "You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?"
Trump, Tyrell. Republican, Replicant. It's not really that big a stretch, is it?

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