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Blade Runner 2049: White Slavery

[1]3,496 words

Blade Runner 2049 is a deep and interesting film fueled by visual spectacle and cleverly-handled ambiguity. The film’s dialogue is sparse and carefully weighted, and the intricate plot resolves itself fairly satisfactorily (even though the film takes its sweet time getting there). Nonetheless, it fails to live up to its predecessor. It struggles to make headway with the theological commentary of the original – lines about Replicants being “angels” are unjustified, and are thankfully marginal. The finale falls flat, as there is no powerful concluding message nor poetic similes from the wiry wage-slave that Ryan Gosling embodies as Officer K. Roy Batty’s confrontation with his maker (“Father”) and his own mortality leads to maturation and egolessness, implicit in the immortal “tears in rain” lines. 2049 offers no such equivalent and the ending is understated, ambiguous, and anti-climactic, unfortunately ripe with unexplored implications that could undermine the character development that led to it.

With no such “wow” factor getting audiences abuzz, 2049 relied commercially on franchise nostalgia, such as Harrison Ford’s reappearance as Deckard and the chance to revisit the floundering future of a multiracialised America. The emphasis on rehashing both the iconic flying cars and oppressive, anonymous megapolis indicates the film’s real strength: Ryan Gosling’s experience of a commodified world, the nightmare dystopia that will inevitably result from the intensification of immigration and ecological trends with which whites are already intimately familiar. In its target audience, content, and casting, Blade Runner 2049 is a film for white men and women about their role in the future.

The conspiracy-minded who believe that Hollywood films exist as a way of telegraphing to the masses what is planned as their ultimate fate are somewhat vindicated by 2049. The opening scenes show Officer K’s confrontation with a rogue Nexus-8 Replicant, Sapper Morton, who has eked out a new life as a protein farmer – “protein farm. Wallace design” (referring to Niander Wallace, the Tyrell’s industrialist successor and the film’s principle antagonist). Morton grows what appears to the casual viewer to be maggots or leeches, but which are, according to the bugmunchers, palm weevil larvae [2] (a palm weevil being a type of palm tree-dwelling beetle, for those not up to speed with their government-mandated insect diets). Barely a few minutes in, the audience has been implanted with the idea that an impending ecological collapse means they will have to live in an airtight home and eat insect spawn. K is disgusted. Garlic is implied to be a rarity, and the tree outside the dwelling is dead and quite possibly fake; real wood commands extraordinary market value due to its scarcity. In his confrontation with K, Morton condemns him for “killing your own kind” because he’s “never seen a miracle.” In K’s spinner (his flying police car), we get the first indication that K is viewed as property, and nothing more: “You’re hurt. I’m not paying for that.”

2049 shows the internal logic of liberalism unwound to its nightmarish end. The rationale of the greatest utility for the greatest number has consumed the world. The sprawling, desolate landscape of what was once California is littered with industrial farms. San Diego has been repurposed as a garbage dump and is buried beneath scrap metal, overturned satellite dishes, and refuse (presumably the ocean is clogged to the point of being useless as a means of waste disposal). The architecture of 2049 is huge, brutalist, and impersonal – the narcissistic ziggurat of Tyrell Corporation has been adopted by Niander Wallace; everything else is either a decaying monument to the previous civilization or an outburst of the unfettered, viral commercialism that destroyed it. Street lighting is sparse and garish. A lack of domestic lighting in the standing ruins of Los Angeles suggests the “Blackout” event around three decades prior has resulted in a thinning of the population and the abolition of prosperity. Individual landowners and small ventures have been squeezed out of existence, leaving only the monolithic bug-future of universal overcrowding, labor rendered disposable by de-skilling, and all necessities and consumer wants are satiated through immediate service. The greatest number is ever-increasing, and the system keeps pace with demand by affording them the small pleasures of prostitution and gimmicky electronic products.

Like parts of Western Europe and the decaying cosmopolitan America envisioned in Tito Perdue’s The Node, the streets are swamped with prostitutes, black marketeers, drug dealers, and listless refugees awaiting white saviors providing new hostels to vandalize. K is one of the few feds maintained to keep a lid on things. The sky is leaden; one can only speculate that Bill Gates’s attempts to blot out the Sun with geoengineering were successful. Everywhere within K’s residential block, vagrants congregate and yell abuse; what is public has fallen into disrepair as the population is a chaotic, teeming mass of individuals, none with any stake in the future or each other’s welfare. (Christianity, which prioritizes the individual’s relationship with God over social ties and ancestral knowledge, has this individualism implicit in it, and transposed into secularism, it becomes a “spiritual journey” of freedom of movement and consumption. The atheistic slum-hive that 2049 supposes is, ironically, the result of immanentizing Christian mythemes). It is suggested that, similar to Philip K. Dick’s original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [3], Earth’s population has mostly disappeared offworld, leaving only the useless, the foolhardy, and the insane huddled around the few remaining urban centers, like swarms of refugees crowding a North African port. Offworld is talked about in reverential tones, but never shown; it is entirely possible the spaceports are simply launching people into the Sun in a last-ditch attempt to curtail the population explosion. Such deceit is not new to contemporary science fiction: In the introspective and puzzling Moon, Sam Rockwell sees his predecessors settle into a plastic coffin for “cryosleep” and a long “journey to Earth,” only to be vaporized after a soothing pre-recorded message.

The film excels through Gosling’s mastery of nuance; the most engrossing scenes all play on K repressing his emotions or losing his composure (or, when he meets Deckard, letting it slide). Boredom and impassivity is prized in his “Baseline” test; a post-traumatic test of his ability to neuter his desire to lash out at his masters and establish a dignity beyond merely being useful. The baseline test is, titularly, a test of meeting a baseline measure of compliance. A harsh voice barks out from behind a white wall, as shown by a close-focusing camera:

Tester: Have you ever been in an institution? Cells.
K: Cells.
T: Do they keep you in a cell? Cells.
K: Cells.
T: When you are not performing you duties, do they keep you in a little box? Cells.
K: Cells.

The test concludes:

T: What’s it like to hold your child in your arms? Interlinked.
K: Interlinked.
T: Do you feel there is a part of you that is missing? Interlinked.
K: Interlinked.
T: Within cells interlinked.
K: Within cells interlinked.

This is just a ratcheting up of the humiliation of economic serfdom that whites already experience; the inability to assert oneself against a domineering employer and having to repeat nonsensical, offensively personal and degrading talking points to secure a living space and basic amenities. The fact that K is a “Replicant” is merely a veneer on the existing disposability of the white middle class, something pursued as policy as a means to subjugation, humiliation – and eventually, brutalization – “Scan said you didn’t look like you inside – miles off your baseline. You know what this means . . . You should have been retired right there on your feet.” K trembles slightly despite himself, being inches from execution. Perhaps he saw some glimpse of the past, or modelled his virtual girlfriend too closely on a bygone age where one could stand against capital as an individual: “The faces fascinated most. They seem to reflect a certain hautuer, as if the people of those times saw themselves as sovereign entities entitled to make decisions on their own.”[1] [4]

The ugly, borderline unnecessary, and repulsive birth and murder scene of a female Replicant (a woman, or do we accept the film’s designation of whites as mere mannequins?) at the hands of industrialist Niander Wallace only serves to reinforce the reign of quantity as society’s underlying goal and mechanic: “Every leap of civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce.” But what civilization? No one human is civil to our protagonist (save for a negroid merchant). There are no grand, collaborative projects to speak of, nor shared civic culture or even language: Spoken Russian clashes with Somalian; advertising hoardings blare out messages in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. There is just a self-perpetuating economic system. “The profit motive has destroyed the environment . . . yet it’s beautiful,” applauds TIME magazine [5]. The pursuit of self-replicating Replicants is not derived from a desire to create a great race, but a great profit: “I cannot breed them. I have tried, so help me” (Niander). “We need more Replicants than can ever be assembled. Millions so we can be trillions. More. Worlds beyond worlds . . .” New worlds, mined and farmed by new Replicants, in order to create new markets. Niander will no doubt be interpreted elsewhere as just another evil white colonialist plying a slave trade with “Replicant bodies,” but he is a sadistic monster not because of racialism but in spite of it. He is wholly deracinated, caring nothing about the populace or the planet. He is festooned with robotic implants and gazes about with dull, dead, metallic eyes. Wallace is not a man who makes use of capital. Capital makes use of him; his body is colonized by technological products, and he has become their agent.

The marginal “middle” class will keep trying to pave over the multiracial chaos below, whilst attempting to resist subjugation from above by purchasing more Replicants and fleeing to newly built areas with “better schools.” The Replicant is the ideal European to the system and its leading class of (Jewish!) international financiers: tireless and able to perform complex tasks, able “to take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, [and] die gallantly”[2] [6] – in service of the status quo that keeps him in a hive, that keeps him in a little box when he is not performing his duties (cells). He does so unquestioningly, due to lacking a racial memory and “retiring” his own group interest; due to believing he is not “born of woman, wanted, loved” but that he is without a soul, and “getting on fine without one.” Being manufactured, K embodies the perfect “rational man” of “humanity,” disconnected from social ties that would precede economics, he is “uprooted and superfluous”:[3] [7] a reflection of the massification that results from migration; of the rural to the cities and of the Global South to the “developed” (white) world. He is a man engineered to be an atomized consumer at the most basic level; his memories are scrubbed prior to his assignment as a police officer. In this aspect of Officer K, 2049 is in harmony with the critique of totalitarianism elaborated upon by the New Right: “A man without memory is of absolute plasticity. He cannot look behind himself, nor can he feel a continuity within himself, nor can he preserve his own identity.”[4] [8]

As such, the film focuses on K and his self-discovery (though later proven illusory), as encouraged by his female companion, Joi. Joi is a three-dimensional, lifelike holographic projection emitted from an overhead piece of television equipment, programmed and produced by the Wallace Corporation to be “everything you want to hear” and “everything you want to see.” One-time Counter-Currents author Gutenberg wrote [9] that Joi is partly “an otherworldly revelation of the inexhaustible fertility of pure feminine love.” The film very carefully makes sure that the illusion of Joi as a free agent is maintained in order to keep the audience immersed and guessing long after they have left the cinema. She even challenges K in times of crisis, instructing him to put her in an emanator (a mobile projector, so she can appear everywhere) and delete her static memory bank, despite how easily destroyed it will make her (“like a real girl”). Even Wallace’s assassin, Luv, walks a tightrope between sarcasm and delivering a flat reminder that K is simply fooling himself when she stomps on the emanator gimmick and crushes Joi out of existence: “I do hope you’re satisfied with our product” (and are excited for the next product). Yet the ambiguity about the sincerity of Joi’s emotions is a distraction from her true purpose. Whether her emotions are real and valid or not, she remains a ghost who has to borrow the flesh of Replicant hooker Mariette – whomst otherwise would be a companion, partner, romantic interest, and co-conspirator. Mariette is precluded from striking up a genuine relationship with K by Joi’s presence. Joi, as one would expect of a product from the Wallace Corporation, is simply a part of K’s prison (and, if historical wiretapping is anything to go by, a surveillance tool and psychological implement to access his innermost thoughts).

After deleting her memory bank in his apartment, K could have thrown Luv off his scent by dropping the emanator in the pocket of a passerby. Instead, Joi tells him to break the GPS aerial, alerting the monitoring Luv that he is attempting to make a break for it. We also do not have evidence that Joi isn’t simply lying when she makes claims about what she has said in the past. K is psychologically wounded from his overbearing and emasculating workplace, leaving him unenthusiastic towards any woman who isn’t programmed to be pleasing and obedient. For fleeting moments in the “dead tree” conversation, K seems pained that there is no possibility of things developing between him and the beautiful Mariette (“It’s pretty.” Gosling, with perfect stresses on each syllable: “It’s dead”). Yet his job allows him to assert himself outside of work: “Not gonna kill me, are you?” “Depends. What’s your model number?” Mariette has contempt for his lack of virility and has to hold back her anger: “Oh, you don’t like real girls.” She is rightfully resentful. The customizable Joi is an exploitation of men’s most primal desires for normalcy, security, and faithfulness. In supplying her, the technocracy has usurped women in the sexual marketplace and made them even more disposable. Infertile Replicant men have no families or need of marriage; no longer can the women make any demands of them or hold them to a standard of behavior. Total atomization means that the organized resistance of the female gender cannot be coordinated, where a RadTrad-TERF coalition would break into men’s bedrooms, murder their sentient television sets, and drag their silicone dolls into the streets and burn them upon a funeral pyre of painstakingly organized racks of high-definition pornography. That Joi is modelled to appeal to the most grindingly average heterosexual taste for domesticity and is not, say, a seven-foot illumination of Princess Celestia or a neon-colored anthropomorphic fox indicates quite consciously that capitalism preys upon men’s most sincere and masculine needs, and does so as a means of reducing both genders to mere commodities. Joi implies, in a damning critique of the female gender, that women’s most abstract and delicate traits – romantic sensibility and mystique – can be supplied more readily by a machine as a cloud service than by women themselves (who have an even more perplexing internal logic, confounded by the odd moment of sheer randomness). Was there ever any woman as deceitful as a hologram that pretends to her husband that a bowl of maggot stew is a delicious steak? Joi is quite literally calculated to do anything that will keep Officer K paying the subscription fee. That Jews are prolific in the pornography industry is no accident, and the deliberate use of pornography as a biological weapon during the Intifada suggests that Joi is a more insidious evolution of an existing social program – one designed to ensure a lifetime of social isolation and sterility.[5] [10]

As was established in the original Blade Runner, in 2049 what distinguishes Replicants from humans is not a lack of empathy, but a lack of memories. The majority of the film focuses on K seeking out the remnants of what he believes to be his childhood, working off the memory of a totemic wooden horse engraved with the birth date of a Replicant child – one that was born, not manufactured (it is implied that it is a racial memory common to Replicants, as Mariette recognizes it and says to herself, “That’s from a dream . . .”). Eventually, he discovers the wooden horse in an orphanage lorded over by a cowardly negro – an orphanage bizarrely home to a plentitude of white orphans (is this meant to reassure the audience that they won’t become extinct, and that despite everything they will still have a toehold in the future?). When he finds the horse, it unsettles him, as it validates the idea he is in some way marked out by historical destiny, that his life could have a greater meaning than meeting his end as a defective product. Being a child of a Replicant would make him a member of a race; it proves that Replicants could become a race apart from humans and live an independent existence relying solely upon themselves.

The masterful scene of K dealing with the grief of realizing that the memories are real shows a crushing responsibility settling onto him all at once: He can no longer deny that his father and mother made immense efforts and shouldered great pain to guarantee his safety, and that it will all come to naught if he allows his life to be to squandered or stolen. The realization sets in that he can no longer deny he was born to live as his own man rather than as an object to be dictated to. Being imprisoned and devoid of agency can be hellish, demoralizing, drab, and miserable, yet when illuminated by flickering electronic frivolities and fakery, it can be comfortable. Better the devil you know. But in knowing that “someone lived this, yes, this happened,” K confronts the horrific amorality of apathy. Predation upon us must be confronted, and we must hold onto our lives and spend them wisely; regardless of the pain to be managed, greater pains than could ever be imagined have been endured in getting us here.

Like K, inside every white person is the repressed knowledge that they are a greater thing than a mere laborer or police officer; that they were born to live unafraid of being “retired” by whichever mechanism the system is able to wield: poverty, ostracization, unemployment, or murder by a competing demographic. Despite the unceasing efforts to destroy it (just as the LAPD wishes to eliminate all trace of the child, or the domestic lives of Replicants outside their dominion), there is boundless proof that whites have come together to resist slavery before. Gosling’s grief, fear, and anguish are a fitting response to understanding how easily one’s personal failings can lead to monumental loss: Few things have comparable moral weight to millennia of racial struggle. We were born, not made; born from a long line of Europeans who knew what they were and what they were not; born “wanted, loved.” Our history is real. Our uniqueness is real. “I know it’s real.” As you realize what you are, you also realize what is being threatened, destroyed, and lost – in K’s words, “Godammit!!!

Notes

[1] [11] Tito Perdue, The Node (Charleston, W.Va.: Nine-Banded Books, 2011), p. 58.

[2] [12] Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (New York: Ace Books, 1988), p. 248.

[3] [13] Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality (London: Arktos, 2011), p. 171.

[4] [14] Alain Besançon, La falsification du Bien (Paris: Commentaire/Julliard, 1985), p. 183, as translated by Tomislav Sunic in Against Democracy and Equality.

[5] [15] “In 2002, the Israeli military force marched into Ramallah. After they did that, they took over the TV stations, which is pretty much standard procedure, but after they did that, something unusual happened. They started broadcasting pornography over the TV stations. Which leads you to a question of ‘Why were they doing that?’ I’ve given talks in Europe and Africa and in the United States, and in two of those three instances there were Palestinians in the audience who came up to me and said they were there when it happened and told me details that I didn’t know – for example, that there were snipers on the roof of the hospital in town, and post-curfew, if you went out, you got shot. So you had to stay in the house, and when you stayed in the house the only source of information you had was the television, and the television is now broadcasting pornography. First one station, then all but one, and the one station that didn’t get taken over was broadcasting that they had been taken over by the Israelis and that it was beyond our control.” “Libido Dominandi:  Lust, Power, and Control: An Interview with E. Michael Jones” (July 2007)