The year is 2019 and Los Angeles is covered with artificial light and acid rain. Industrial smoke stacks pour black clouds and flame into the air above the city. In the distance, the pyramids of the wealthy stand tall next to the dark towers of an ever increasing police force. A ship zips by through the air as we draw ever closer to the massive Tyrell Corporation building. The view swoops in to the citadel’s face closing in on the room where Voight Kampf testing of the new employees is taking place in hopes of finding the android fugitives. We draw closer still, until, finally, crashing into the office, we enter the world of Blade Runner.
The opening scene of Blade Runner paints a visual of a dystopian mega city. It’s a world where the wealthy have access to every resource and have solved the problem of what to do with the poor. There is no middle class in this city and certainly no wealthy persons that aren’t white. Money and affluence dominate while the poor struggle to survive through peddling, crime, and grinding hustle in the dark rainy streets beneath the ivory towers of the rich and powerful.
Flying cars, high powered matter erasing guns, and android Replicants of humans are classic examples of science fiction. But, what is striking, as we come closer to the year 2019 ourselves, is just how close we are to becoming this world in every other regard. Our world is barreling toward the ends shown in this film and we might look to it as reflective rather than prophetical. In his work, What Do Pictures Want, W.J.T. Mitchell says that pictures are products of poetry and that “ The question to ask of pictures…is not just what they mean or do but what they want- what claim they make upon us, and how are we to respond” (Mitchell xv). What then does Blade Runner ask of us? And just how does it poetically reflect our world?
By visual standards alone, our cities look quite like the Blade Runner Los Angeles when they are lit up at night. Other than the burning furnaces, our cities are almost copies of that Los Angeles. One of the most iconic images from the film is the building size video advert with Coca-Cola emblazoned on one of the structures sides and the looped clip of the Asian model selling, by a best guess, some sort of candy product. But this image is no longer science fiction. It is now a scientific and social reality. While New York has had smaller but eerily similar screens for years, Beijing developed a real advertising wonder for its hosting of the Olympic Games. In its Beijing Wukesong Cultural and Sports center lies a basketball arena, hotel, shopping mall, and a 10 story high screen with four faces made of LED screens that will not only advertise but provide coverage of news and the events within (Broudehoux 89). But scenes like the Beijing construction aren’t enough to compare the real world to the film with any significant meaning. While we are overrun with ads like the film’s Los Angeles, deeper, more sinister ties to the film remain.When laid against the Blade Runner film, our world bears a striking resemblance to what must have been the seminal city of Ridley Scott’s vision. We are continually moving toward an increasingly urban landscape in which the affluent and poor are separated by population growth and density, housing and reactionary security measures, the penal system and its privatization, and emerging service industry technologies that shape urban areas and demographics to widen the gap between the two. In Evil Paradises, a collection of essays compiled by Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, they propose to answer a direct question with their work: “Toward what end are we being lead by savage, fanatical capitalism” (Davis ix)? I believe that that end is the world of the dystopian Blade Runner film. The aim of this work is to demonstrate through population figures, the wealth gap, housing and security, privatization of prisons, and finally emerging service industry technologies, that our current world is steadily becoming the Los Angeles of Blade Runner.
The world’s population is exploding at an alarming rate. In 2005, the United Nations estimated in a population study that the world’s population is expected to rise from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050 (BBC News). The rub is that the population of developed countries is predicted to stay stagnant at 1.2 billion according to the results of the study. This means that the majority of human beings on the planet will live in nations that are the most underdeveloped with the widest margins between wealthy and poor in terms of access to resources like water, electricity, and adequate housing. Essentially, the poor are populating faster than anyone else. On a list compiled by Tamm vom Hove of Citymayors.com, the top one hundred most populated cities by 2020 based on current population growth, shows that the top nine will have more than 20 million inhabitants. Three of those cities will be in India. In the top fifteen, one city will be from Bangladesh, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines respectively. Each of those nations have significant amounts of poor populations and vast swathes of undeveloped areas of habitation that hardly qualify as “modern” if not liveable. Only two U.S. cities appear on this list; New York and Los Angeles.
The facts are fairly clear in this regard. The world is getting smaller and cities are getting crowded. One only has to look at a few shots of Tokyo at night to feel the same effect as watching the streets of Blade Runner on the screen. Traffic fills our busy streets and swarms of citizens move on foot through the downtowns all over the world. Ensnared in a swirling mass of beings and brightly lit ads, the urban parts of the planet are becoming decidedly cramped and filled with an exponentially increasing impoverished populace.
The Wealth Gap
The United States is typically regarded as one of two things: a bastion of freedom and enterprise where any hard working person can live well and, in other cases, as a tyrannical economic imperialist hotbed for moral and social depravity. So, a little bit of a separation between the two views. But, if one is to look at the sheer facts, the United States stands as the perfect example of both views being true for different persons based upon access and affluence. If any nation should set the standard for understanding how the film in question portrays the quickly approaching future, the U.S. fits the bill perfectly.
The widest income gap in the history of the United States became reality in 2009. That year, the top 20% of earners in America, making more than $100,000 per year, brought home 49.4% of all income generated while the bottom 20%, who fell below the poverty line, raked in a meager 3.4% (HuffingtonPost.com). Some of the highest margins of gap discovered were in cities like New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta. The smallest gaps occurred in rural states like Alaska, Wyoming, and Idaho (HuffingtonPost.com).. Knowing that cities are the center of capital wealth and economic on goings, it is easy to see that the money and perceived opportunity leads to population proximity which necessarily yields high concentrations of poor inhabitants. This does not correlate, however, to better opportunity or access to said capital. More Americans are on welfare or filing for it than any time in recent memory at a clip of 11.7 million in 2010 which is the highest level on record to date (HuffingtonPoat.com).
Capital, specifically money, is concentrated in the pockets of the few, especially in the United States. Mother Jones Magazine reported in its March/April issue this year that, “A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244” (MotherJones.com). Couple that with the fact that one in every two congressmen are millionaires and you have the anticipated outcome of governance in favor of affluence.
The situation is even worse in places like South Africa. IRIN, a news source and resource courtesy of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported this year that UN-Habitat figures show South Africa’s urban population is now at 58% and 33% of those persons are living in slums and squatter camps with little to no water or electricity in their area (irinnews.org). The study further notes “Of the 1,409 households surveyed in the third quarter of 2007, just over half (51 percent) earned below US$230 per month, and one in five people had no income at all. This contrasts with the wealth of the northern suburbs, where behind high walls are swimming pools, private schools and German luxury cars parked in double garages” (irinnews.org). Just in Johannesburg, for instance, one of the world’s highest margins of urban inequality can be found where the wealthy suburbanites can hide behind walls that are three meters high with razor wire and their surveillance cameras (Bond 119). Situations have become so bad world wide that groups like World Bank, created to find and fund solutions to the problem, describe the urban landscape as one of institutional inequality stating, “The vulnerability of the urban poor is exacerbated by the inadequate provision of basic public services, as well as by policy and regulatory frameworks that govern land and housing supply and property rights” (web.worldbank.org). With so much emphasis on separation and a booming population, where will all the people in cities live?
The resemblance to the world of Blade Runner is startling. People are packed into small areas with the poor on the ground in the rain while the rich live in luxury towers or gated communities and have access to the resources that the impoverished dream about. Our world is becoming more urban each day and there is, quite frankly, not a lot of room left. It has never been an easy question, but the answer to where the lower classes should live has always been a hot debate. One could surmise, however, that the affluent don’t care as long as the poor aren’t seen, heard, or cause a “scene”. The sentiment can be summed up well in looking to the aftermath of a natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Shortly after the storm, Richard Baker, a Republican congressman from Baton Rouge, stated “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans…we couldn’t do it, but God did” (Hirsch 244). Obviously, this caused a bit of a stir in the poor and black demographics respectively but it didn’t change the fact that a new struggle over rebuilding and where to “put the poor” was a very real consequence of the disaster.
In the case of Managua, after an earthquake in the 1970’s, it has been rebuilt in a way that the big shots of New Orleans only wished they had the power to do. The roads were built to create security through lighting and surveillance and major streets actually bypassed the poor neighborhoods altogether (Rodgers 137). This “Nueva Managua” the Rodgers points out in his piece of the same name is characterized by segregation and western cultural imperialism. The film itself shows this type of construction as the major modes of transport for the wealthy are vehicles that fly granting access to the highest buildings that the poor can not reach with their cars that are very much “tied” to the ground. In this way, the poor can effectively be right next to you and on top of one another without ever being able to touch you.
It has already been demonstrated that the poor populations are growing the fastest and imposing the largest demand for resources. As this becomes more evident, new ways of housing them have been developed to try and answer the problem of where to put the poor. New development ideas and urban re-purposing have come to the forefront as population densities grow. These developments mirror the landscape of Blade Runner in that they are a conglomeration of retail, housing, industrial, and multipurpose spaces. Much like in the film, these new areas are a culmination of years of growth, decay, and demand on a fixed area as it mutates and changes with current need. A few developments of note are described in an USA Today online article from 2006. One such method is called Brownfield. Brownfields are industrial sites along river banks, abandoned warehouses, near train depots and gas stations located on street corners that are becoming valuable properties because they are rare patches of build-able land within the urban landscape. Developers are cleaning up land contaminated by hazardous materials and building new housing. More than 50,000 brownfield sites have been converted for new uses over the last decade, according to the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a non-partisan research organization based in Washington, D.C (Nasser, USA Today.com). In this method, landscapes that were once part of an industrial boom that are now scars on the landscape can be used to house large numbers of people without the costs of major construction.
Another method being employed in recent years is Infill. Every abandoned strip mall, boarded-up row house or underused parking lot is a potential house or condo or apartment (Nasser, USA Today.com). Developers have taken out of use sites and abandoned buildings and transformed them into centers that serve multiple uses. “Malls outside Denver and Orlando and office parks in San Jose and Atlanta now are town centers combining residential units and office space, stores, theaters and restaurants” (Nasser, USA Today.com). Infill essentially plugs people into the empty spaces created by urban decay, effectively hiding them in plain sight. While this isn’t strictly for housing the poor, it does offer a very Blade Runner-esque solution to population growth.
And finally, vertical construction is meeting its golden hour in our time. According to David Scott, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, based in Chicago. “As the population grows, there is increasing demand for high-rise construction” (Nasser, USA Today.com). Both the poor and the wealthy are currently being housed this way, though the differences are quite apparent. High rise apartments that are designed for Section 8 housing in the U.S. are small, plain, and shabbily built structures made with the goal of cost efficiency and land conservation. The luxury apartments of the wealthy are anything but cost efficient being built with state of the art materials and technologies in the most expensive areas of the city.
Many “upper crusters” have moved into downtown luxury apartments that are located high atop the skyscrapers above the income and street levels of the poor. It isn’t the “off world colonies” we hear about in the film, but it is certainly a different world. According to a Newslite.tv article in 2009, a record-breaking apartment in Hong Kong sold for a staggering £35 million. The ridiculous price for the five-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels calculates to about to 88,000 Hong Kong dollars per square foot of space. The abode rests on the 68th floor in 39 Conduit Road, one of Hong Kong’s most exclusive areas and was purchased by an affluent Chinese buyer who asked to remain anonymous.
In addition to the new home, the owner will also be granted access to luxuries including an aroma spa, a gym and an outdoor room for yoga (Newslite.tv). Pictures of these apartments are like scenes from Scott’s film. The view from the large windows are reminiscent of the very same shot from Tyrell’s suite, wherein the splendor of the skyline is yours to enjoy at any moments whim.
The trend in housing of this sort is real and exists in every major city in the developed world, and even in some of the poorest nations. Grand suites overlook the cityscapes with huge windows and fully adorned quarters. At the same time, life on the ground level continues to be a crime ridden struggle. However, these members of society living in the lap of luxury will never have to face intrusion by undesirable elements. Much like the members of the police force and the Tyrell Corporation of the film had secure towers to keep them from harm, the citadels of our modern world have security measures that only grant access to those with the proper credentials. Officers, cameras, keypads, eye scans, fingerprinting, and elaborate entrances all offer the feeling of safety for the wealthy. The wealthy have chosen towers and gated communities, armed guards and closed circuit television cameras, over coexistence. This isn’t isolated instance as the trend is a world wide phenomenon.
Constant observation and surveillance was a theme of the Tyrell Corporation building in the movie. The police even had special hunters to “retire” Replicants and cameras watched the building and surveyed the workers. The luxury suite of Tyrell, the boss man himself, was closed of by a high security personal elevator that was essentially invitation only in terms of entrance. This state of constant monitoring exist today. Its cause is fear. In his piece Beyond Blade Runner, Mike Davis reflects on this notion stating,
“ Is there any need to explain why fear eats the soul of Los Angeles? Only the middle class dread of progressive taxation exceeds the current obsession with personal safety and social isolation. In the face of intractable urban poverty and homelessness, and despite one of the greatest expansions in American business history, a bipartisan consensus insists that any and all budgets must be balanced and entitlements reduced. With no hope for further public investment in the remediation of underlying social conditions, we are forced instead to make increased public and private investments in physical security…Rebuilding L.A. Simply means padding the bunker” (Davis 43-44).
Investments in camera technologies has never been higher. Many of the major cities in the world now have vast networks of observation used to help deter crime, monitor traffic, keep trespassers out of areas deemed private, and simply to make the affluent feel like somehow these cameras can stop Islamic extremism.
Some notable stats stand out with regard to this new wave of hyper security. The USA Today reported that London’s subway touts more than 6,000 cameras in its underground and also has them on the major streets throughout the city to help eliminate crime. New Orleans has installed over 200 surveillance cameras of their own, mostly centered in poor and crime ridden areas. Baltimore is installing a $2 million network of 90 plus cameras in tourist and high crime areas as part of a Homeland Security measure. Chicago has gotten into the game as well and is adding 250 cameras in high crime areas that will link to the existing 2,000 that watch low income housing, transit, and public buildings which will also be equipped with audio to allow for recordings of gunshots and other disturbances. And our beloved real life Los Angeles has them in AT LEAST three neighborhoods. These California crime cameras were paid for by local businesses and the Motion Pictures Association of America to help thwart crimes such as bootlegging DVD’s and hanging out in groups while being dark skinned. The Department of Homeland Security gave $800 million to 50 U.S. cities in 2005, on top of more than $1 billion available in state homeland security grants to help push the camera and high security state initiative (Moore, USA Today.com).
Cameras like these exist in places like Johannesburg, Beijing, Budapest, Managua, Arge-e Jadid in Iran where, “The town has its own private police and a system of CCTV cameras to monitor activity in the street” (Forti 37), and a cozy little place called Palm Springs in Hong Kong. Palm Springs Hong Kong is a custom built gated community up on a hill that is designed to have the appeal of western affluence and the security to maintain that lifestyle. In addition to its cameras, it has its own armed guard that monitors the gate and patrols the streets of the neighborhood to correct any deviance; most of these men are mercenaries that were laid off by the British army in 1997 when Hong Kong was turned over to Chinese rule (Ruggeri 107). Again, as in the film, the wealthy live apart and above the poor who scurry around the busy streets beneath the citadel like community. In fact, there are now websites dedicated to helping real estate agents and wealthy buyers find gated community and high security luxury homes. These sites boast about having the best information on new and emerging markets for high security luxury living in gated communities just outside of urban and heavily populated areas. They even provide information on how to go about purchasing your second home in such a community (Sichelman, Gatedcommunities.com). Judit Bodnar, speaking about the new gated trend in her work Becoming Bourgeois, says that “the proliferation of private enclosures, of course, is part of a worldwide urban restructuring, whose features include the growth of social inequalities, the intensification of social polarization, and the fragmentation of cities” (Bodnar 145). Each of those elements of the urban restructuring lead our world nearer to the the Blade Runner model. The wealthy and well to do are watching you almost unendingly. They are obsessed with where the “other” is at all times so that they can make sure to be somewhere else. Segregation through housing and opportunity are obvious connections to the film. But what happens when you can’t keep out the “undesirables” but you can’t put them back into the slums? Well, if you live in the United States and you are a member of the local or federal government, you privatize your problem.
Privatization of Prisons
Privatization is the practice of taking a public service, venture, or property and either selling or turning it over to a private party for the sake of expense relief or greater efficiency. Of course, in some cases, its done purely as a favor for campaign contributions or future considerations. One of the growing areas being privatized, especially in the U.S. today, is the penal system. Once a service provided solely by volunteers from the local citizens, law enforcement and prisons were eventually provided by city governments and then at the state level. This, stunningly, may soon be a thing of the past. According to a 2008 Washington Post article, “More than 1 in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more…With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates” (WashingtonPost.com). With the high cost of operating the current system and having an alarming rate of “criminals” to incarcerate, officials are turning to private companies to house and maintain these prisoners. Private prisons are now holding roughly 9% of the total US prison population, up from 6% in 2000 (Economist.com). What’s more, this new system is a profit based operation. Boasting about the benefits of their services, these companies claim higher efficiency due to a rationalized structure and more cost effectiveness through a higher ratio of prisoner to guard. How do they make their profits then? Profit is made by the number of prisoners. Being contracted out, these penitentiaries are provided pay for each prisoner that stays at their high security crime hotel. With the highest rate of incarceration in the world and an increase in overall prison population each year this past decade, these businesses stand to make a good dollar; and they have. Like the Tyrell Corporation’s sway of the policing of the Blade Runner streets of imaginary Los Angeles, social engineering is becoming less about governance and more about profit and control.
One of the major players in this industry is the Corrections Corporation of America, or the CCA. Claiming to be in operation for more than 25 years, the CCA states on its official website that it is, “establishing industry standards for future-focused, forward-thinking correctional solutions. (With) a commitment to innovation, efficiency, cost effectiveness and achievement… (making) the company the private corrections management provider of choice for federal, state and local agencies since 1983” (CCA.com). The CCA is in charge of more than 75,000 prisoners in 60 facilities nationwide and they own 44 of those buildings outright. All three federal corrections agencies are partners with the CCA and they have a presence in more than half of the United States (CCA.com). And, as you may have guessed, they are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange making them fully committed, not to the prisoners or their rehabilitation, but to increasing shareholder value which is achieved through profit.
Another up and coming company in the prison market these days, the GEO Group has cornered the Florida prison market in recent years through a series of indirect “paybacks” for various campaign donations. In fact, according to an article by Steve Bousquest, the state budget now requires privatization to take place in southern Florida due to its housing the largest number of inmates statewide at over 101,000 prisoners and counting. Filling in the gap, the GEO Group currently runs two major correctional facilities including the largest private facility in Milton, Florida. They also control and operate five “state psychiatric hospitals, including South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines, which got its long-sought accreditation following GEO’s takeover” (Bousquet, tampabay.com). Their connections to city planning and regulation run deeper still. GEO Group has 16 well paid lobbyists in the capitol along with top transition budget adviser, Donna Arduin. A former trustee of the GEO real estate company Correctional Properties Trust, she is also the adviser to Gov. Rick Scott who received a reported $25,000 from the GEO Group as a campaign contribution (Bousquet, tampabay.com). Coincidentally, Rick Scott just signed a property tax bill that will cut taxes for landowners proportionally making the biggest slice in cost for those with the largest amounts of land. With two huge prisons, five hospitals, and several plots, the GEO Group seems to be doing just fine these days (Kennedy, southflorida.sun-sentinel.com).
Emerging Technologies in the Service Industry
Bigger than any other characteristic of the film, outside of the visual landscape, is the presence of a large robotic population. These robots range from basic toys to service machines to animal copies and finally life like human replicas called Replicants. The Replicants served in areas that humans felt benefited them not to participate. War, labor, and “pleasure” models were created to take care of the risk factor of such activities. But what isn’t directly dealt with in the process, is both the removal of the job in the service industry, typically filled by the lower classes, and the dehumanization of those classes through android replacement. As seen in the film, this leaves the majority of the population with the need to peddle and panhandle on the streets to survive. The wealth gap increases while the opportunity for economic and class improvement is effectively removed. While we do not have exact Replicants of humans that take the place of the ordinary being, we do have increasingly advanced technology that takes over for us in situations that are deemed better left to a machine.
According to OSHA (Occupation Safety and Health Administration), part of the U.S. Department of Labor,
“Robots are machines that load and unload stock, assemble parts, transfer objects, or perform other tasks. Robots are used for replacing humans who were performing unsafe, hazardous, highly repetitive, and unpleasant tasks. They are utilized to accomplish many different types of application functions such as material handling, assembly, arc welding, resistance welding, machine tool load/unload functions, painting/spraying, etc.” (osha.gov).
Machines like these already exist and have been steadily replacing human workforces for years. More and more, these machines require fewer and fewer operators. The car industry and other major assembly industries have laid off humans and installed high tech robotic eyes and arms to take over the issues of welding and construction of goods. Companies like the eerily named iRobot offer tools like the Roomba that now vacuum our floors for us, the Verro that cleans pools, and the Looj which takes care of those pesky gutters (irobot.com). Extending their reach to the military, iRobot says on their official internet home that,
“More than 4,000 have been delivered to military and civil defense forces worldwide… iRobot has developed the SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle), a robot for dismounted mobile operations and infantry missions… iRobot’s line of government and industrial robots also includes… a small, light, throwable robot for special operations… a surveillance robot for public safety professionals… a large robot that carries heavy payloads…and iRobot’s Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), perform a variety of missions for maritime researchers and military planners” (irobot.com).
Replacing humans in these military situations is both humanitarian and tactically more effective. But, in the service industry, things are getting a little shaky.
Recent developments in Japan have caused some buzz worldwide recently. Reported in a Mid-day.com article, developers in Japan from Kawada Industries and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have developed a robot model to help push research into the eventual use of robots for service industry jobs. They released an official statement on the matter describing their intent as, “develop(ing) robots that could carry out simple, repetitive works … in a bid to complement the workforce in a country that is rapidly aging with fewer and fewer children” (mid-day.com). In this way, the developers hope to eventually come up with a design that is so near to human that it could easily replace the person in the work place without altering the work place itself. Instead of a factory that must be rebuilt or re-purposed to house new technology and machinery, these androids would simply show up to work and start doing what the humans did, only faster and with no breaks or injury lawsuits.
The main issue with doing this wide scale lies in the inevitable consequence of job loss and further removal of economic opportunity for those already filling the positions to be taken. The constant desire to leave toil behind in the pursuit of their own affluence drives the poorer class to accept the measures put forth by the wealthy while the affluent understand that in doing so, they can both remove their dependency upon the lower classes for labor and place it squarely on consumption while simultaneously removing the human qualities of those persons by equating them with replaceable, personified machines. In his piece Elevation of the Laboring Classes, William Ellery Channing, speaking about the recent wave of American urbanization at the beginning of the last century, said, “ The city is thronged with adventurers from the country, and the liberal professions are overstocked, in the hope of escaping the primeval sentence of living by the sweat of the brow; and this crowding of men into trade we owe not only to the neglect of our agriculture, but, what is worse, the demoralization of our community. It generates excessive competition, which of necessity generates fraud” (Channing 316). We are living in the time of consequence for Channing’s observation. What is occurring with the rise of new technology now, is not just the aid of human activity, but truly the removal of it entirely. The less that humans have to do, the more they must seek new things to fill the void and their bellies.
However, this isn’t true for all classes of people. The affluent, like Tyrell in the film, can have things like robotic owls and elaborate columns, fine works of art to view, rare books, dinners with important people, and a long distance chess match with a worthy opponent. Laborers have no such opportunity. While the the rich have the access to do things with this new boon in time and freedom from interaction, the poor have nothing left. They have no fortune to rest upon.
The Ministry of Commerce in China, a nation with an urbanization rate now at roughly 50%, recently said that new jobs will be created by accelerating the development of the urban service industry. The household management service project will lead to at least 1.7 million job opportunities according to their new plan of action (english.peopledaily.com). Due to the new affluence of a more capitalist approach to economics, China has a new demand for service jobs. But if the technology becomes available to replace real people, this demand won’t last. If these jobs are replaced by machines in any capacity, the windfall of unemployed laborers from the lower classes will be in the millions in that nation alone.
In George Ritzer’s work The McDonaldization of Society, he outlines through the example of the McDonald’s franchise model what he considers to be the trend toward the rationalization of societal systems. Of his four major keys to rationalization, control through non-human technologies is the last. In an effort to control the uncertainties and variables created by human beings, more and more, those with power to do so replace those beings with technology when possible. According to Ritzer, “artificial intelligence…constitutes an enormous step in de-skilling. In effect, more and more people will lose the opportunity, and perhaps the ability, to think for themselves” (Ritzer 122). And, in light of the emerging technologies, they may also lose the ability to provide for themselves. Greater control over processes and people is the desired end of this practice which can easily be noted when watching Blade Runner. Harrison Ford’s character, Deckhard, is hired to reign in the renegade Replicants that have decided to choose their own function in an amazingly well written symbolism for our rebellion against rationalized systems today. Are we not being reigned in through replacement?
How Soon is Now?
In many ways, we are running full speed ahead into the noir film world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Our consumption has lead to an urban landscape that proves that you are what you eat (Tarr 276). However, unlike the film, our cities are not locked in time to forever replay the story of dark, rainy days. The future of cities will be determined by our dedication to green, human enriching technologies and planning, uplifting the lower classes, and rededicating our democracy to the people. While major corporations are on their way to achieving the Tyrell Corporation’s motto “More Human Than Human”, our motto must be people over profits.
It is not the urbanization of the world that has lead to the evils within. Individuals are responsible for the way they live and govern their interactions. The social contract between persons in a given habitat dictates that mutual benefit comes from equal opportunity, access, and provision. When this balance is interrupted, the society becomes something other than contractual. Such a society becomes restrictive, possessive, and oligarchical by default. It becomes Blade Runner. The notion that unbridled capitalistic opportunity is the only way to ensure true balance and freedom is contrary to the fragile social contract of a truly free democratic nation. When an individual or group is allowed to pursue such ends as dominating opportunity, hoarding wealth, dehumanization of the laboring class, and coercion of the governance through capital means, that nation wherein they are given carte blanche has ceased to be free.
James Baldwin once said, “ People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster” (Baldwin 175). I am afraid that innocence is gone these days. When you look at how populations are growing, the wealth gap is increasing, housing is changing, security has gone militaristic in the city and burbs, and how the human being is steadily being replaced by the machine, it is plain to see the world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is slowly becoming our own. Only eight years away, 2019 looms like a giant waiting to grind bones for bread. The bean counters are stalking us these days and the only way to level the playing field may be to trim the vine down that holds them aloft. But we can’t be mad at them for taking our cash cow for a bum deal. The choice to move beyond Blade Runner is ours. If we do not seize that opportunity soon, the giant of our future city will consume us. Fee fi fo fum.
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