Philip K. Dick provided a powerful story titled, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, centering on a man working a menial job for survival within a devastated, abandoned, and irradiated future full of social rejects, artificial animals, and…well, just read the title for clues. “Blade Runner” streamlines the world-building and idiosyncrasies of the book and merges it with noir moviemaking styles…at least, when you watch the theatrical cut. The subsequent cuts of the movie give more room for the work to speak for itself in many ways, from the detailed sets and special effects, to Harrison Ford’s character Deckard being a not very good person. That last point is a surprise to some people for…some reason. Anyone who pays attention to the central plot (or at least is not intellectually dishonest) realizes that Deckard is not a hero before reading that great Tor.com essay by Sarah Gailey, but such is the power of uncritical hyperconsumption. Hyperconsumption that the latest movie, “Blade Runner 2049” and its promotional content furthers to our detriment.
No matter how much we explore the details of both the source material and the movie, through analysis or just making another creative work, none of it matters. We have failed these works, and have missed their points. We have appropriated their styles for video games and turned them into mere fashions one can purchase from a Hot Topic. The few who do heed the signs are dismissed and marginalized. We guzzle a so-called meal-replacement drink after another fucking dystopian sci-fi movie. We cozy up to accelerationism and say in smug tones that the election of Donald Trump is beneficial for radicalizing people towards whatever cause we hold dear, while not lifting a finger to help the homeless from a Hepatitis A outbreak or a the victim of a hurricane until it is too late. We accept the concept of inevitability and neglect our choices, while consuming the works of artists who see where we are headed and try to steer us someplace else. By merely consuming the beauty and brutality of, “Blade Runner”, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and now “Blade Runner 2049”, we fail them. The signs are in front of us. Its time we started doing something about them and stop making mere talk like pretentious dipshits.
So yes, I have issues with the concept of, “Blade Runner 2049”. The idea of a sequel to “Blade Runner” baffles me in spite of the praise it is receiving from critics, if only because of how strange, ugly and dangerous the original material is…or was. The entire project, as much as it may seem to be guided by the alleged auteurism of director Denis Villeneuve with the efforts of an extensive cast and crew, is basically borne out of a desire for a franchise made out of something that was intended as a one-off. Let’s not kid ourselves, the new feature-length movie has several rich backers, and with the amount of labor and resources dedicated to the project, of course we were going to be blasted with advertisements, promotions and hype up to the movie’s release. One would almost say that people are already primed to love it before they even saw the movie based on an expressed desire by many to relive the dystopian setting for its own sake, similar to the fanfare greeting, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. That and subsequent movies work towards giving twists to a certain famous film student and their group’s take on religion, moviemaking fundamentals and Science Fiction/Fantasy…while extracting the money of the fans who desire said twists. “Blade Runner 2046” may have big ideas, but it is also made for the fans to indulge in an extended simulacrum of the very bad future the movie warns us against while the moviemakers extract their money and attention through it and its rampant promotion.
Speaking of rampant promotion, I have seen the “Blade Runner” shorts that were uploaded online in September, and while I have misgivings, there is some good to be had there. The one online short I want to highlight is “Black Out 2022”, written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (don’t bother with the “Nexus Dawn” short starring Jared Leto, and I will say “Nowhere to Run” is pretty decent for showing Dave Bautista’s range and physicality) It is a brilliant continuation of the story on its own, using varied animation techniques to detail a story of humankind’s hubris and infatuation with itself, through a rebellion lead by just a few replicants that ends in a large scale terrorist attack on the city of Los Angeles. Says a Replicant voiced by Jovan Jackson, “We may live longer than old nexus, but life doesn’t mean living. I am for living. That’s what we fight for.” That pretty much says it all…doesn’t it? Not if you are unfamiliar with the source material or the movie adaptation, which the short for all of its brilliance only gives scant amounts of prep for in the form of title cards. But said scant bits of information, along with the movie’s pacing, mimics the live-action, “Blade Runner” in ways that demonstrates an understanding of how the movie did it and what the fuck the movie was trying to tell us. If, “Blade Runner” was a long trek centering on a cop hunting down living, enslaved reflections of humanity, “Black Out 2022” has those same reflections fighting back while being admired, maintained and feared by their makers. It’s a story that should give people pause about the march for Artificial Intelligence and driverless taxis while giving them time to reflect on how real-life manual labor is assigned to lower classes just to keep things running for everyone else, while said lower class is at best scorned and at worst repressed for standing up for itself.
Mr. Watanabe with Flying Lotus, the animators and others working on the short have done a tremendous service to the material they work from. And through animation’s potential to condense huge ideas into symbols and mere seconds of motion, they create a poignant and thoughtful punch that should be received as more than just a fan nod to a cult classic. But due to the way it is packaged and sold to its audience, it will likely only be received as just another commercial. Observe a few of the most uprooted comments for the video on YouTube, shown in a screenshot taken as of October 5, 2017:
People in this screenshot are discussing how familiar it feels to them, how much it is like other things they have consumed and how much they admire the production. What’s missing is any discussion of the themes the movie expresses through character action, motifs from the movie, and even notes from the musical score. This is a fundamental problem, and while it may be the fault of the viewer for not bothering to probe the surface of the work, the truth is that the work is presented in a context where such probing is not necessarily encouraged: on Youtube, with ads, swarmed by suggestions for other videos, and with the worst comment section in existence. When media is given to the viewer like a buffet, with little regard for education or encouragement for discussion, how is one supposed to take this whole, “Blade Runner” enterprise as anything more than a cynical cash grab at the expense of a thoughtful, heartfelt story by a man who dealt with a history of mental illness while writing? Those with intellectual honesty and basic literacy can’t.
But literacy has its limits. Who has solutions for a world that is approaching that of, “Blade Runner” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” in varying degrees? Many have read that great Sarah Gailey essay and there are multiple people on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites who are more than happy to talk your ear off about the making of the movie, the lives of its creators, who Philip K. Dick is etc. And there are people who just like the pretty colors but have criticisms about the movie’s pacing. But who are the people that heed the warnings of, “Blade Runner”, as opposed to either thinking of it as just a movie or overanalyzing the sets, cinematography and actors? I can name of just one collective called Labor Cuboniks with an ideological solution called Xenofeminism:
0x00 Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity. XF constructs a feminism adapted to these realities: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.
Essentially, we lean into these atomizing times of ours in order to generate positive change as opposed to taking a reactionary stance against all progress. This is elaborated further in the next few paragraphs.
0x01 XF seizes alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds. We are all
alienated — but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not
despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of
immediacy. Freedom is not a given — and it’s certainly not given by anything
‘natural’. The construction of freedom involves not less but more
alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction. Nothing
should be accepted as fixed, permanent, or ‘given’ — neither material
conditions nor social forms. XF mutates, navigates and probes every horizon.
Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological
norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural
order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer
us — the queer and trans among us, the differently-abled, as well as those who
have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy or duties connected to
child-rearing. XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism
reeks of theology — the sooner it is exorcised, the better.
TERFS, eat your fucking heart out.
0x02 Why is there so little explicit, organized effort to repurpose
technologies for progressive gender political ends? XF seeks to
strategically deploy existing technologies to re-engineer the world. Serious
risks are built into these tools; they are prone to imbalance, abuse, and
exploitation of the weak. Rather than pretending to risk nothing, XF
advocates the necessary assembly of techno-political interfaces responsive
to these risks. Technology isn’t inherently progressive. Its uses are fused
with culture in a positive feedback loop that makes linear sequencing,
prediction, and absolute caution impossible. Technoscientific innovation
must be linked to a collective theoretical and political thinking in which
women, queers, and the gender non-conforming play an unparalleled role.
And those are just the first few paragraphs of a long manifesto tacking subjects like the concept of rationality to pragmatism in the face of a world that automates, atomizes, and exploits on a daily basis. This a powerful statement and one that I am still going through and reflecting on as of this writing. But here’s the problem: this is just one solution I could point to. Where are the real cyberpunks? Where are the people who use the tools of today to help strangers while Google tries to make taxi unions obsolete? Who is out there tipping cam girls and befriending sex workers while confronting the bigotry trans folk and feminine-coded people face on the internet? Who thinks of Brazil, Jamaica, Venezuela and other countries under siege by neoliberalism? All I see is just talk and shallow moralizing over works of cyberpunk art.
All I see are people curating objects of consumption in their bookshelves and hard drives to show off how cultured they are. All I see are people distributing memes, symbols, and rhetorical bile. All I see are shallow reactions like racist white guys not masturbating to save their seed for some. “waifu”. Reactions like Anarcho-Primtavists who agree with the Unabomber of all people and are so fucking naive that they believe they won’t keel over from Tetanus when shit gets down. People trade humanity and nuance for blunt force. Blunt force that sooner or later gets turned into just another bumper sticker. Blunt force that is controlled by people who are clueless at best, self-serving at worst.
Again I ask: where are the real, humane, and savvy cyberpunks?
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.