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January 16, 2019

Which Dystopian Society Most Represents Our 2019?

The beginning of every new year comes with such promise. A new beginning. A chance to find happiness and rein in vices that have caused great pain. We are bombarded with commercials that offer guidance to lose weight or quit smoking. There is finally that chance to make a better version of you. In the year 2019, our fictional stories have delivered some measure of truth to our way of life. While we might not have hover cars, a quartet of past sci-fi films set in the year 2019 showcase technologies and ideologies that exist in our current reality.

Based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner (1982) depicted a future with giant billboards, hover cars, and lifelike androids known as Replicants. The Replicants were made with the intention of using androids instead of humans for slave labor, but as humans gave the Replicants enhancements they never stopped to ask if they were enslaving the Replicants. At the center of the story was a Blade Runner (Harrison Ford) who was tasked with tracking down and eliminating rogue Replicants. It is the hubris of man that we made machines to eliminate menial jobs, but in return, we’ve made an ethical mistake — a mistake that also causes more damage and work to fix. Most of the technological advances humans made in Blade Runner are the vehicles that line the skies, body enhancements that lead to the creation of the Replicants, and incredible advancements in artificial intelligence. Most of Blade Runner remains a fiction, but as our own advancements in medicine and artificial intelligence continue, that fiction might become a reality. Some of the Replicants in that exist in the Blade Runner universe are companions. As the news shows, we already have sex doll brothels opening in Canada. One such company, known as Bella Dolls, promises “the world’s most alluring silicone ladies.” If sex dolls aren’t your thing, every day we make enhancements to artificial technology. As the Amazon Echo continues to learn from the millions of commands that it learns every day, Amazon will be able to create an algorithm that could be the most advanced consumer product ever created. If it’s something to do with robotics or artificial intelligence, we are probably already working on it.

Each of the four films shows an Earth that has been desecrated. It is because of humans own untethered ambition and greed. Whether it is some large corporation, societies negligence, or the military, humans are often the fore-bearers of their own destruction. Akira (1988) takes place after World War III, leaving Neo-Tokyo in an endless panic for protection and military prowess. This military presence comes in-contact with a biker gang led by Kaneda and his friend, Tetsuo. During an accident, Tetsuo acquires telekinetic powers that the government plans to use. It is important to understand that the government operates without sanctions and with the utmost power.  These experiments could very well lead to their downfall. Dystopian societies have rulers that lead with a fascist regime and often have their own ideas that will lead society. Most the concerns in Akira come from the merger between organic and machine. What I’m talking about is cyborgs. We’ve seen robotic enhancements in other science-fiction properties and even superhero features, but real-world examples are few and far between. Elon Musk once suggested that humans must merge with machines, otherwise, we will face irrelevance. Machines have the ability to operate millions of times faster than humans. In 2019, augmentations such as cosmetic surgeries or genetic interventions (like gene therapies and designer babies, think 1997’s Gattaca) are more likely, as well as, prosthetic enhancements for amputee or congenital patients. 

The Island

On the other side of the spectrum, The Island (2005) is a sterile paradise where humans exist in harmony. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) live among selected residents and lead a structured and fulfilling life. They are told that this residence, along with a tropical island, are the last places humans can live due to contamination to the outside world. What they eventually learn is that The Island is a place they go to have their organs harvested for the wealthy. Similar to using Replicants for slave labor, the organization in The Island uses clones for replacement organs and manipulates these clones into believing something that is false. Networks and media conglomerates in 2019 do their best to influence the masses whether the information they are delivering is accurate. It is easy to manipulate a willing participant. Michael Bay’s dystopian vision follows the idea of futurist vehicles and cloning as the big technological advancements in 2019. The closest we’ve come to hover vehicles is a prototype from Uber that would allow for a flying car taxi service. The reality of floating highways won’t be real for a long time, but we’ve seen experiments in cloning throughout the last decade. That’s probably the closest that The Island shows us of our world today.

On the surface, The Running Man (1987) is a light action film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an ex-cop fighting for his freedom. He takes down an array of increasingly stronger villains and shows why his charisma was a box office winner. Looking at it with a lens towards its depiction of 2019, it is terrifying how close this feature comes to showing some of the worst of our world today. It highlights some hot button topics such as wrongful incarceration, discrepancies between the poor and the rich, a militarized police force, and television shows that generate ratings based on the discomfort of the contestants. Most of the villains in The Running Man look like they could’ve come straight out of Fox’s hit TV show The Masker Singer. One of the biggest parallel’s of all is that the most powerful man in the country is a crazy man who happens to be a game-show host.

The 2019 in these films is not a reality. While there are advancements in cloning, artificial intelligence, and an over-reliance on reality TV in our day-to-day life, there are other elements that just aren’t. There is no way to zoom into a picture to get a better quality image by saying “enhance.” Our motorcycles do not leave light trails behind. There are no cloning facilities that harvest organs (that we know of). And we don’t have fights to the death on our TV screens. That game show host though? That’s another story.

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