Blade Runner. Not So Much.

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I watched Blade Runner for the first time a few weeks ago.  Knowing that it’s a sci-fi cult classic, I was very interested to see if I would hold it in as high an esteem as so many other people seem to.

I’ll admit that up front, I was impressed with the movie.  I watched the newly remastered copy.  The effects, dark color and ambiance, and the sophisticated visual style of the film are amazing considering it was produced in 1982.  Visuals are the first indication as to whether or not I will tolerate watching a film.  A film that’s just plain ugly to look at won’t likely hold my attention no matter how great the plot is.

Plot.  This is my none too subtle segue into what I really thought about Blade Runner.
It has taken several weeks of letting what I watched of the movie marinate in my mind, of sloughing off my first impressed impressions and allowing the full weight of the story to settle, before I could sufficiently make up my mind about my feelings about this movie.
In short, I don’t like Blade Runner and I will probably never watch it again.  Let me tell you why.

I will begin by stating what is probably already obvious to many of you.  Blade Runner is based on a book authored by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  I haven’t read the book in its entirety yet, but I believe it is safe to say that the movie takes liberties with the original plot.  With that said, the book may very well be far more enlightened than the film.

Blade Runner is a dystopian tale set in the future (2019 Los Angeles) where most of humanity has moved to off world colonies.  Replicants (androids that are almost indistinguishable from human beings) have been created and mostly work in mines off world.  It is illegal for replicants to come to Earth due to a past replicant rebellion.  Replicants only have a expiration date of four years because it is determined that after that point they develop emotions and become somewhat unstable.

In the opening of Blade Runner we learn that a group of the newest model of replicants, the Nexus 6 models, have come to Earth to find their creator and to find a way to extend their lives.  As this is illegal and as they are not distinguishable from the general population there is a great deal of concern with tracking them down.  Deckard, a cynical and bitter blade runner (bounty hunter employed by the police) is commissioned to search for and retire (execute) three rogue replicants.  He is the best in his field and a pro at administering the Voight-Kampff test which is a test that measures empathy, a trait that the Nexus 6, unlike human beings, do not possess.

Deckard meets with Tyrell, the head of the Tyrell corporation with the purpose of determining if the Voight-Kampff test is sufficient to expose this newer model.  Rachel, his first test subject and control, is Tyrell’s niece.  After much scrutiny, Deckard realizes Rachel is in fact a replicant.  The catch is that Rachel is an experimental model and is not aware that she is a replicant.  Tyrell had her programmed with a series of memories originally belonging to his real niece who I presume must be dead.

The rest of the movie follows Deckard as he investigates and eventually retires the three replicants he is in search of.

In my opinion, the bones of the story are interesting; a bunch of androids who have developed emotions and who want to live (like any other human being, right?) and who desperately struggle to find a way to do that.  And on the other side, human beings who, afraid of the unstable nature of said androids, seek a way to eliminate them.  Simple and smart, there are innumerable directions this story could take from seek and destroy to exploring the spiritual nature of human beings our failures and our ultimate arrogance at thinking we could recreate a creation of God and our ultimate failure.  And, I do see glimpses of that deeper meaning stuck in the hidden nooks and crevices.  You name it, this story can go there.  But it doesn’t.

While I am typically able to overlook some flaws in books and movies, as suspension of disbelief is necessary especially in SFF, there are two flaws that stood out, and that are deal breakers for me.  The treatment and portrayal of women and the utter lack of people of color in 2019 Los Angeles.

There are three women of consequence in Blade Runner, Pris and Zhora both of whom are replicants and Rachel.

Pris is described as a “pleasure model”, which alone should say enough about her.  She is shown in the movie in various modes of partial dress (or undress), is considered pretty, and who I believe, also poses as a prostitute.  She is attached to Roy, a fellow rogue replicant.

Zhora, is described as a super soldier type.  Since landing on Earth, she has been living incognito as an exotic dancer.  Right.  Once Deckard manages to track her down, she leads him on a chase through the streets.  She is fast and agile and deadly and dressed in what can only be described as a combat bikini and a see through raincoat.

I’m going to wander off topic here for a sec and address something that bothers me immensely about movies that seem to make a special effort to exploit the female form for entertainment.  No woman with the option and in her right mind in a situation of imminent danger, such as combat, would wear clothing that would expose her to the elements or fail to support her.  Take for example Ada Wong in Resident Evil.  High heeled pumps, and a floor length evening gown… while being chased by and fighting zombies.  Really?  No doubt some idiot man’s sick fantasy, but definitely not practical, reasonable, or smart.  End of diatribe.

Lastly, there is Rachel.  She is different than Pris and Zhora for the obvious reasons.  She’s always believed that she was human and learning that she isn’t is a blow to her sense of self.  She turns to Deckard, who has been ordered to retire her but does not.  I skipped the scene, but it is fairly obvious that she becomes his love interest.  Whether human or replicant, Rachel is an enormous disappointment of a character.  When she first appears in the movie, Rachel is a cold buttoned up character (like she stepped out of some 1950s movie with her big tight hair, huge shoulder pads and pencil skirt) with an attitude and little else in terms of emotional depth.  That said, this did make her a mysterious kind of character that made me want to know more about her, especially after learning that she was a replicant.  However, from that point forward she proved to be a rather stiff and emotionally fragile in a schizoid way.  Much less mysterious and way more annoying.

To sum it up, the women in this movie are either half-naked replicants or wimpy weepy creeps.

Now to address the lack of people in color.  Let me reiterate that this movie takes place in Los Angeles in 2019.  According to the 2010 census there were 3.8 million people in LA, half of which are white, the other half are not.  Why is it that all but two people (Asians at an outdoor fast food joint) in this movie were white?  Deckard ran through the crowded streets of LA and not one black or hispanic face in sight.  How likely is that?

I’m more upset about the women though.  I’m sick to death of watching movies and reading stories where women are merely pretty, silly, place holders.  Had I known, I would not have started watching.  Once I realized this, I could not finish the movie.

Meh.  Cult classic to some, but I’ll leave it.

Something Entirely Unique In Gameplay

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I play video games with my children.  I think it is important that I do, that way I know what they are playing and thinking and what interests them.  We talk about the games and together decide what is appropriate.  We also have fun.  While I play games, I am no gamer, which means I pretty much suck, but that has never stopped me.

I prefer first person shooter type games with unique story lines and non-default titular characters.  In fact, few things annoy me as much as being forced to play as the default white guy.  Actually, no one can force me, I’ve just decided that I no longer will.  I appreciate games that allow me to customize my character.  EVE, a new online game sounds pretty interesting and customization seems limitless, but alas, my three year old laptop can’t handle the graphics so that game is off my list.  I still haven’t completed Mass Effect.  The storyline is complex and smart.  There is a challenging little mystery that keeps you intrigued and interested.  Even better, Commander Shepherd, the main character, can be customized as a male or female.

I imagine that the cost in time and and dollars is far greater when it comes to games that allow customization, which would no doubt influence the creation of such games.  Additionally, it may be critical to the plot of the game that the character not be customizable.  I can understand this, but I am averse to the same old tropes…muscle bound white guy with attitude rides in to save the day.   It’s just that it’s been done, over and over and over again.

There is one game that is a favorite among the women in my house.  Mirror’s Edge.

This game is sheer beauty to behold with its sweeping clean lines and bright primary colors.  The art is simply stunning and you probably won’t see anything remotely like it in another game.  The plot is unique to games but is one we know well from books.  Think Orwell’s 1984, or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in an unnamed dystopian city[21] where life is comfortable and crime almost non-existent. But the city’s state of bliss is the achievement of a domineering and totalitarian regime[22]which monitors all communication, controls the media, has policies which include the outright illegalisation of smoking, and, it is strongly implied, operates sham trials and a sham democracy. Eighteen years before the events of the game they had opened fire on a protest against their rule, killing many civilians… (Wikipedia)

The titular character, a woman named Faith, is a runner.  By runner, I mean to say that she spirits around her city using amazing parkour moves.  Check it out.

She is nothing to joke with.  She can fight, dodge, and deal like the best of them.  Besides the fact that Faith is a woman, a characteristic not all that uncommon in games, she does have three very unique qualities you’d be hard pressed to find in games today.

  1. Faith isn’t hyper-sexualized and dressed in a combat bikini or strategically ripped, body hugging gear that ignites the fantasies of young men and anorexia in young women.
  2. Faith isn’t comic relief, the ditz in need of saving, or the sidekick.
  3. Faith is Asian.

Why does it make a difference?  I suppose for some people it doesn’t, but for people like me and my daughters it makes a world of difference.  Why should we feel consistently marginalized by our literature and our art and our games?  Let me rephrase that.  Literature, art and games that consistently marginalize us don’t belong to us, the us that wants to see characters that are whole well drawn representations of the real people who live in this world.  We aren’t all white, or men, or hoochie warrior hoes, or comfortable stereotypes.

I would posit that such homogeneous representations don’t just harm the marginalized, but they also harm those who exist as members of the accepted inner circle.  How can we hope to connect with our fellow human beings if we’ve managed to erase them from our collective works of art and by extension our consciousness?

I highly doubt such exclusions are intentional (I pray they aren’t) but I do think that its probably easier to pretend the others don’t exist.  That means less effort on the part of game developers, right?  Well, if there are more people out there like me, that means less dollars in their pockets too, because I’m not buying it.

Pretty White Girls

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I took my eleven year old daughter to the Half-Price bookstore today.  She already knew which book she wanted before we arrived, Eragon by Paolini.  We had a copy of it somewhere around the house from when my twenty-one year old read it many years ago but we couldn’t find it.  Even though she already had her book choice in hand, we freely browsed the “teen book” section for other potentially interesting titles.  My eldest daughter, nineteen years old, also along for the ride, decided on a whim to randomly choose books to pull from the shelf.  She would read the title then show me the cover.  She did this with about ten books before finding one that seemed unique.

Me

Aidarile via Compfight

What made that eleventh book unique?  It did not feature the ethereally glowing face of a pretty white girl (PWG).

I imagine that this is what sells, books with pictures on the cover of thin, wispy, fair-skinned beauties, especially in this Twilight era, but who are they selling to?  While on the face of it there is nothing wrong with a cover that features a white girl, the absolute overabundance of these covers says many things to this mother of two dark-skinned daughters.

Pretty Girl in the Cherry Blossoms

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

  1. Your daughters aren’t beautiful enough to feature in stories nor to grace the covers of YA books.
  2. The interesting stories don’t include girls who don’t fit the cookie cutter mold.
  3. Publishers and authors don’t care enough about “the rest of us” to make the effort at providing lasting literature that is inclusive.  (By the rest of us, I mean short girls, chubby girls, Asian girls, Black girls…)
  4. Something must be done about this.
Ethiopia

Steve Evans via Compfight

What’s worse is that when grouped together none of these covers stands out as unique or interesting.  Is this a reflection of publishing, the writers, or the readers?  Perhaps all?  And if so, what the hell is going?  Have we become a nation of dumb drones?

My nineteen year old, an artist, has said on many occasions that she likes “different” faces.  She means the faces that are slightly imbalanced or that have a unique feature.  I couldn’t agree with her more.

The thing that bothers me most however, is not the message these covers send me, but the message it may send my eleven year old, and any girl her age or older for that matter.  She  is at a most precarious age where her reading level has far surpassed her level of maturity and sophistication.  The subtle and not so subtle messages these monotonous covers sends is dangerous and downright injurious to her sense of self.  If the covers can potentially do such damage, then how could I even trust the content?  If the covers are all essentially the same, can’t I make that same judgement about the content of the book itself?

The covers, I suppose, have their place as part of the whole.  But these PWG covers don’t appear to be part of the whole, but instead pretty much the whole shebang.  I know that I am not supposed to but, I judge books by their covers.  And since publishing obviously feels that they can make more sales with the PWG on the cover, then apparently most of America does too.

These aren’t the kinds of girls walking the halls of your local high school.  The girls at the local high school aren’t all 102 lbs with glossy red ringlets and flawless alabaster skin.  Put the girl from the local high school on the cover of a YA book and that is the first step toward convincing me to crack the cover to see what the book is about.

Check out these post on the same topic:

Why the Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs to End

White Folks Star in 90% of 2011’s Young Adult Book Covers

Ain’t That a Shame and Race and Book Covers: Why is There a White Girl on the Cover of This Book About a Black Girl? — Updated

Uncovering YA Book Covers 2011