Sensor Scan: Blade Runner

People are going to argue with me, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say Blade Runner marks the beginning of cyberpunk in Western science fiction, at least in terms of mass mainstream pop consciousness. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say Blade Runner is likely the film that codified at least the visual style and iconography associated with the genre and is even probably what most people think of when they think of science fiction in the 1980s (well, this and Tron).

And although the anime, which defined much of the look and feel of the franchise, wouldn’t debut for another two years, the fact is we’ve already covered a great deal of Blade Runner‘s most important innovations by introducing Dirty Pair in the last post. Yes, Dirty Pair owes a great deal to Golden Age science fiction too, but by virtue of the specific tradition it comes out of it is very much what we’d now call cyberpunk. Which means that, from my perspective at least, going from “The Case of the Backwoods Murder” to Blade Runner does feel like something of a rather large step backwards. But this is not entirely fair, given the fact that even though they’re in some sense comparable, the fact is these two works ultimately come out of two different cultures and traditions.

Blade Runner is of course loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but I’m going to leave Dick’s work out of the analysis here for the most part largely because it has nothing to do with it. Dick’s stories were famously extensively altered before they were adapted into movies, and Blade Runner is no exception: The original novel was an exploration and defense of empathy, while the movie, well, isn’t, mainly. The one major theme of Dick’s the movie leaves more or less intact is his exploration of the Self and personal identity theory-We talked about this a bit in the context of “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, but as this is pretty much the single thread Blade Runner‘s entire plot hinges on, it’s worth talking about again here. Breaking the issue down into its component parts, we get two horns: “The Self” refers to theories about what, if anything, we fundamentally, essentially are, which is oftentimes liked to the idea of consciousness, while “personal identity” refers to more to how these said essential personalities persist over time and how that can be used to categorize and describe us.

None of the works we’ve looked at so far that have tackled personal identity have handled this exceptionally well: Gene Roddenberry’s big rebuttal to the persistence of the self argument and why the androids in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” (namely Doctor Korby, who beamed his consciousness into an android body) shouldn’t be considered sentient extant beings basically amounted to “because robots”, but thankfully Blade Runner gives us something a tad more nuanced-The Tyrell Corporation’s main argumentative premise, and the one Deckard initially holds to, is that Rachael’s memories are inauthentic; implanted into her positronic matrix to maker her more human-like and thus more controllable (this, incidentally, brings up another interesting train of thought in regards to both corporatism and transhumanism, but I honestly don’t think the writers thought the ramifications of these motifs all the way through).…

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