The most disturbing thing about Blade Runner is the very first frame, when it says ‘NOVEMBER, 2019’. We’ve been living in 2019 for three years now. What the fuck.
We live in the future and it’s not even sexy-miserable. It just sucks.
Science fiction is increasingly irrelevant as we enter the future it dreamed up. Back To The Future II was set in 2015. Space Odyssey was set in the eponymous 2001. William Gibson started writing science fiction in the 1980s, but now he just writes about the present.
He said: “Without a sense of how weird the present is it became impossible for me to judge how much weirder I should try to make an imagined future.” He continued,“With each set of three books, I’ve commenced with a sort of deep reading of the fuckedness quotient of the day. I then have to adjust my fiction in relation to how fucked and how far out the present actually is.
What’s so weird about the future is how utterly banal it is. We’re fucked but not even in an interesting way. We’re just fucked. There’s a global plague and White Empire doesn’t react just cause they can’t be bothered. There is an evil empire but we don’t even talk about it, let alone fight it. The world is ending and the geriatric emperor tells people to pump more oil.
You would never write a dystopia like this because it’s just stupid, boring, and frankly unbelievable. Yet here we are. In the most dumbass dystopia imaginable.
Instead of flying cars we got electric cars, and instead of robots we got boring corporations, all of which existed centuries ago. We’re even rebooting the same movies. They made a new Blade Runner and called it Blade Runner 2049. They’re not even trying to track this timeline anymore. Even our dreams have abandoned us.
The real science fiction today is science itself. If we want to read about a dystopian future we can just read countless UN reports. Of course we don’t, we just read reviews of them, so we can look smart. Science might as well be science fiction, something we hear about when the movie comes out.
When the ‘movie’ does come out it’s in the news, as actual climate disasters. Unfortunately, climate disasters are usually foreign movies, boring unless they’ve got a white hero. So they get Leonardo DiCaprio to take a jet to an iceberg, to tell us what indigenous people already knew. Then David Attenborough flies in, to blame colored babies and overpopulation.
We want science to be the hero, to ‘follow the science’, but science is really the villain. What do you think fossil fuel extraction is? It’s geology, it’s physics, it’s chemistry. It’s science. For every scientist screaming ‘STOP!’ there’s a dozen better-paid ones finding faster ways to ‘DRILL BABY DRILL’.
Ridley Scott’s titular Blade Runner ended sentient life professionally and that’s what most scientists do. Science was always bound to imperialism and capitalism. Have you not watched Avatar?
White Empire understands stuff just enough to take it, not to actually understand deeply, and leave well enough alone. They might write a report about how bad they feel later, but they’ll do the dirty right now. Science is just another tool in the arsenal of Empire. Even though it has a claw-end for pulling nails out, all we’ve seen is the hammer, crucifying the living world.
Real Science Fiction
Hence we face a problem much like the plot of Blade Runner, where we’re embedded among the bad guys, trying to figure a way out. In this way, science fiction comes closer to reality than science ever does. It tells us the emotions of these times better than any report can, and a big emotion Blade Runner captures is the helplessness of individuals.
In Blade Runner, Deckard can’t do anything about the world around him. His job sucks and he sucks, all he’s really got going is Johnnie Walker. He can enter the pyramids of power, but they’re far too big for him to ever topple.
All he can do is fall in love and run, and even that is ultimately hopeless. Those are about the choices available to us now.
As much as scientific reports include caveats about ‘limited time to act’ and ‘concerted action’, that shit ain’t happening. Only China is remotely progressing on industrial climate action (still something of a contradiction) and indigenous land defenders are being brutally beaten back.
The truth is that our world is as fucked up, unequal, and unjust as the world of Blade Runner, without the comfort of at least looking cool. We don’t get to eat ramen in some neon cityscape, we get delivery and eat by ourselves, out of mounds of plastic. We live in the future and it’s just lame, adding insult to injury. On screen we’ve seen much more interesting dystopias, only to end up in this dreary one. As the replicant Roy Batty says before the end of Blade Runner:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time to die.
And so Batty saves the derelict, mute Rick Deckard (the stand-in for the audience) and returns us all to the dismal real world. Then we stride out of the cinema blinking in 1982, or just close the laptop screen in this eternal 2019. We can learn emotional lessons from science fiction and we can learn physical lessons from science, but in the end, it’s all lost to us.
Like tears in the rain.