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How ‘Blade Runner’ and Sci-Fi Made Everything Dystopian

Science fiction, especially Blade Runner, has spawned so many dystopias that dystopia itself has become banal. We need a new utopianism that embraces the city.

Robert Owen’s utopian vision for a radically egalitarian society in New Harmony, Indiana. (Library of Congress)
Robert Owen’s utopian vision for a radically egalitarian society in New Harmony, Indiana. (Library of Congress)
Manu Saadia

Utopia, the work of inventing a better future with the powers of imagination, has never looked so out of reach and yet so urgent.

We live in difficult times. Technology, once heralded as an agent of human liberation, has only brought upon us rampant economic inequality and a dreadful resurgence of fascist filth. Runaway climate change, the bitter fruit of our industry, is consuming forests and melting glaciers and ice caps. Coral reefs are dying; heat waves are desiccating arable lands; cities and islands are drowning. Civilization is staggering on the edge of a precipice.

Our present is dystopian. As for our future—Leonard Cohen, pithy and savage, sang back in 1991, a lifetime ago: “I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder.”

It turns out it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine utopia. And the culprit is science fiction. Science fiction killed utopia. Science fiction failed us.

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Nowhere is that failure more glaring than in Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, loosely based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It is rightly hailed as a landmark, the prototype of modern dystopia. The movie takes place in a nominal now, in November 2019 in Los Angeles. It depicts a gritty, neo-noir, post-industrial urban landscape strewn with gaudy advertising displays that float in the air. Acid rain pours over street food stalls, and ambiguous androids are in the throes of an existential crisis. There are hints of off-world colonies, not doubt as wretched and insalubrious as Los Angeles.

The entire city has devolved into a sprawling oil refinery, a network of grimy conduits and pipes. It lights up the permanent sooty night with its gas torches and chimneys. Overlooking that derelict, toxic chaos sits the man at the top of the megacorporation, alone with his tremendous powers and his inscrutable schemes-within-schemes.

Blade Runner’s aesthetic of terminal degradation and ecological catastrophe was famously inspired by 1970s Hong Kong. Its influence on subsequent movies, and visual culture writ large, is seminal. No recent work of art has done more to define our imagination of the future city: a squalid, overcrowded, polluted, crepuscular wasteland.

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, and Jennifer Lawrence in the dystopian The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (Murray Close/Lionsgate)
Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, and Jennifer Lawrence in the dystopian The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (Murray Close/Lionsgate)

Read on >>>> Source: CityLab How ‘Blade Runner’ and Sci-Fi Made Everything Dystopian

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