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Posted by on Sep 30, 2010

Blade Runner and the Allure of Poison

I will be the first to admit my bias here. I have never been a fan of Blade Runner. I always knew I was supposed to like it, like reading the Wall Street Journal, listening to certain kinds of jazz, Tom Stoppard, but alas I don’t. However, it was only due to this course (#ededc) and through the readings themselves that I am now able to articulate why and acknowledge, however grudgingly, that Blade Runner is indeed worthwhile, even if I don’t gravitate towards it as an exercise in consumption (just for fun).

My comments fall into a few different categories, all of which are dealt with to some degree or another in the readings.

Disconnect

This has quite a bit to do with juxtaposition of the characters and their environment. Throughout this film, the living organisms, the people/cyborgs themselves always seem foreign, as if they don’t belong there. A discoloration of skin, a piece of trash scuttling across the clean pavement, graffiti. The environment seems hostile to their presence, the network trying to eradicate obsolete data/functionality (a theme revisited in several of the Matrix movies).

I am reminded of A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy here in the analogy of the simple task of the cup of coffee (196). Every element had to be present, sequenced properly, and executed to deliver caffeine to the recipient’s nervous system. Life broken down into a series of precise actions and dependencies, a massive flowchart of mundanity. In Blade Runner, however, I see a disconnect. The “connections, relations, power relations and responsibilities for them” are purely insular in Blade Runner (197). The human/cyborg elements are merely circling one another, an intimate dance with obsolescence. The environment/network is not dependent on anything they do; in fact, they are detached from the complicated power structures at play within the network. An afterthought.

Network

Building on this network notion, that the environment presented in Blade Runner is the manifestation of the network (an obvious antecedent for the Matrix, once again), is the idea that the network consumes nodes, it surpasses any conscious human construct, anything consciously and deliberately created.

I am thinking of Hand in this scenario, where “Internet ontologies are not conceived as simple causal mediums of change” (Hand, 24). Networks are central to the transformations in national, transnational, and societal order. Not only do networks produce novel connections, they produce stronger connections than previously dreamed possible, much at the expense of human constructs (I am thinking of national boundaries here). As the network grows in strength and size, the potential authority of (post)humans to exert control over their own destinies is not only muted, but essentially removed. Beyond dystopian, this is just out and out grim. Blade Runnner, in my opinion, demonstrates that by making the human/cyborg characters almost like a foreign toxin playacting, a set piece that is allowed to exist by the network.

Aesthetics

Blade Runner is dystopian not only in theme, structure, and direction, but also aesthetically. It is always night, it is often raining, it is always dark. This is the simplistic part of my analysis, but I find the overwhelming weight of the scenery to be damaging to the overall presentation. The network, as manifested by the environment, presents itself neutrally. An organism that looks coldly for efficiencies, connections, and growth. However, the allure of the network lends itself to willing participation; we are encouraged to participate and do so willingly. Hence, the network is the endless sun, not the perpetual night. We are drawn to it, this magnificent construct so much more than ourselves. The environment in Blade Runner is one we find repellent, a cancer. A true dystopian presentation of the nefarious powers of the network would include the sweetness that hides the poison.

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