Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ctritical Perspectives: @Phil: In need of feedback for essay's main body

This is what I have so far.

Essay Title: Blade Runner and the Hyper-real

 The broad term ‘Post-modernism’, widely accepted to have been coined near the end of the late 19th century and near the start of the 20th century, has its roots as an answer for the open-minded attempts to annotate reality. It includes many different subjects, including fiction, economics, art, literature, architecture and philosophy. Post-modernism is often considered to be a very controversial subject as there is no widely accepted single definition of the term. What the term means, fundamentally, is the concept that the understanding of reality is not fixed as we humans see it. Instead, our perception of reality is created through our own, modern-culture influenced biases. Therefore, skepticism is wide-spread, particularly against theories which assert themselves to be accurate for everyone and everything. Instead, postmodernism seeks out the objective realities of each individual. How each person views reality is what Postmodernism centers around. It depends on evidence from experience rather than indefinite conventions and how one person’s view on reality is not be the definitive, universal truth.

Post-modernism argues that the realities that many people abide by are constructed by social concepts which are constantly changing and attempts to explain that how many see the world is not objective fact, but is, instead, subjective and that it also affirms action based upon beliefs and ideas from power relations and language. Such subjects that it attacks is the use of ‘fixed’ divisions in semiotics and social language like the use of male verses female, white verses black straight verses gay and how one will always be seen as superior to another, but is relatively plural and how it relies on the group involved. The views of the post-modernist mind think accordingly about how society’s social concepts like hierarchies of power can influence how humans perceive the world and how the results of this can affect the distribution and creation of knowledge.

As well as many other types of media, post-modern film is often inspired by and is subject to critical analysis by the audience. Much like the post-modernism consensus, the films relating to and of the new post-modern era are a response to the predictable tendencies of modernist cinema and even go so far as to parody these tendencies. The "Scream" saga, a series of slasher films dating from 1996 to 2011 directed by Wes Craven, is a good example of this. In a quote from the the opening scene of the original Scream, Casey, the first victim played by Drew Barrymore, mentions her disdain for old slasher movie clichés, unaware she is talking to her killer over the phone. "They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who's always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting." (Drew Barrymore, "Casey", 'Scream', 1996) Not too long after, she is faced with the killer and then proceeds to run up the stairs herself. The film questions the previous cliches from the slew of slasher films that came before it, taking the predictable clichés of old and mixing self-aware humor with them. Much like the post-modernism consensus, the films relating to and of the new post-modern era are a response to the predictable tendencies of modernist cinema and even go so far as to parody these tendencies.

Post-modern films often share many similarities between one-another which distinguishes them from modernist film. These include the amalgamation of many different genres and/or styles to create a pastiche; the exploration of different styles and genres in order to create uniqueness is a comfortable position for the post-modern film genre to be in, as well as the melding of definition of art styles by mixing and merging texts, techniques and high to low art styles. This once again touches upon the technique of mixing to create pastiches. This is usually accompanied by the merging of techniques which come from different places in culture. Finally, the idea of contradiction and paradox within concepts like values, technique, styles and methods conflicts with many ideas of modern cinema, but is very important to post-modern film. Post-modern film-makers must be willing to take on the idea of paradox such as Michael Haneke who directed the horror film "Funny Games", released in 1997 and its identical remake in 2007. He uses this technique to break existing tropes in the horror genre. Usually within this genre, children are safe from harm from the killer. However, in Funny Games, the family of victims witnesses its first causality in the film: the child. This creates a paradox and breaks modern horror traditions. These traditions are what we have been exposed to in order to create a world that is organized and tradition-based, creating a representation of our world. This is something which Post-modernists call 'Hyperreality'.

The term 'Hypereality' is used in post-modern culture and philosophy to give a name to the conscious inability to differentiate a synthetic and constructed reality to true reality. This most prominently happens in technology and in the society of technologically advanced countries. Hyperreality identifies the characteristics of what we see as 'real' in societies which can manipulate our definition of the truth and the simulated. The philosophy of Hyperreality is frequently applied to post-modern film when dealing with the subject of a manufactured reality. Perhaps the most well-known and studied of these films is the Matrix Trilogy spanning from 1999 until 2003, directed by Laurence and Andrew Wachowski. The main story line is that machines have taken over mankind and use them as batteries, all the while immersing them to an artificially constructed virtual reality where they live their lives, unaware that they have been enslaved. ‘Neo’, played by Keanu Reeves, becomes aware of this and the code that makes up the Matrix and breaks out with the aid of other ‘enlightened’ humans. 

This leads us on to the Simulacrum. A simulacrum is a copy of the real, which eventually evolves its own sense of reality, ultimately becoming more real than reality to those who have spent more time in a Hyperreal environment. It is a process in which events, worlds and even living beings are substituted with virtual, digitized or electronic versions of the former. The simulacrum is most often discussed and has the most attention around simulations of human beings and simulated realities and the theories surrounding simulations are closely related to hyper-reality, linking comfortably with the notion of constructed realities and constructed life-forms, particularly human or humanoid ones. The result of a simulated or artificial human can be a result of the Hyper-real environment that one has inhabited or the Hyper-real, commercialized society it has been exposed to. This is heavily used in many films as a plot element or is used to pitch a unique style of world to the viewer and the use of such appears to be successful. Using another film as an example, “The Truman Show”, released in 1998, has effectively created a partially artificial man in an artificial which he has lived his life in. It’s a world created by a professional media team without his knowledge. Arguably, this conditions the main character’s mind into a simulated, influenced one rather than one which has freely developed in the real world, which leads him to almost become a simulacrum. The world in which Truman inhabits is constructed around him without his knowledge: it is a simulated reality. However, both the elements of simulacrum and hyper-reality come into play within some movies, especially in 'Blade Runner', directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1982.

Blade Runner combines both hyper-reality and simulation and integrates it into the plot and the unique architecture of the film, presenting the viewers with many deep meanings, particularly in the overall style of architecture used in the futuristic rendition of Los Angeles. In his online article entitled: “Dreams of Post-modernism and Thoughts of Mortality: A Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Retrospective of Blade Runner”, David C. Ryan mentions the architecture when talking about the integration of a hierarchy system in the designs of the buildings.

“Initially, these contrasts may seem like capricious juxtapositions that exist as part of an aleatoric post-modern system that favours randomness and chance, but scrutiny reveals that the mix of ancient, contemporary and futuristic designs not only imposes a sense of hierarchy and majesty, but creates a synthetic environment that links the past, present and future. This particular post-modern vision not only represents a symbolic culture composed of and strengthened by diversity but also helps develop the thematic issues of temporarily and spatiality.” (David C. Ryan, 2007)

What Ryan attempts to explain here is that, at first glance, the varying style of buildings is merely an effort to differentiate itself from other sci-fi movies by randomizing the types of themed buildings in this future vision of Los Angeles, originating from the different cultures in the time period the film takes place in that humanity has come to embrace, but in actuality, the architecture reflects a hierarchy in social development through human history and how diversity in culture has bettered the human race. For instance, the Tyrell Corporation's spacious building is reminiscent of a Mayan temple, reflecting its god-like influences on Los Angeles. In opposition, the cramped skyscrapers littering the city reflects the social bitterness surrounding apartment complexes, their living conditions and how they are, architecturally, purposed for fitting as many people in one compact space. What Ridley Scott wanted to do was to with this reflection between buildings was to create a relationship between its population and its architecture and how highly commercialized this multi-cultured society has become, simulating what could happen to societies in real life, almost like a constructed, fictional reality. The reality in Blade Runner even goes as far as to construct beings to inhabit it and to live among others who also live in this commercialized society. In the Blade Runner universe, these are called replicants.

Replicants, in the Blade Runner universe, are flawless replications of human beings, thus a great example of the simulacra; they are a merging of originality and the simulated. However, the narrative of the humanoid simulacrum has been used many times in the past prior to Blade Runner. Take Der Sandmann, a short story written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffmann, as an example of this narrative and can be easily be used to study Blade Runner's replicants. One of the most significant examples that metaphorizes the simulacra, the story focuses around Olympia, an android who appears so perfectly human that she is mistaken for the human daughter of the inventor who created her. Nathaniel, the story's protagonist is captivated by her and falls in love. However, it is revealed that Olympia is, in fact, an android, resulting in her destruction. In his book, “Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner”, Giulianna Bruno mentions this story in relation to the replicants, stating:

“In Hoffmann's time, replication is still a question of imitation, for the real still bears a meaning. The replicants of Blade Runner are, on the contrary, as the name itself indicates, serial terms. No original is thus invoked as point of comparison, and no distinction between real and copy remains.” (Bruno, 1987:68)
He appears to explain that during the time that Hoffman wrote Der Sandmann, when looking into the concept of copying, it was simply an issue of trying to create the copy as close to the real thing as possible. However, whether or not it looked, felt or moved like its living, breathing counterpart was not of any concern. However, in the Blade Runner universe, replicants are to be seen as such: perfect replication of human beings which move and act how human beings do. However, the artificiality of the replicants is exploited by man's drive to seek power, which ultimately turns again him.

This is increasingly made apparent in the film when they become more self aware of their slave-like role in society, used as tools and weapons for man's own desires. It is in Annette Kuhn's book, “Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema” that she explains this power within the society of the city.

It is, indeed, in simulation that the power of the replicants resides. Since the simulacrum is the negotiation of both original and copy, it is ultimately the celebration of the false as power and the power of the false. The replicants turn this power against their makers to assert the autonomy of the simulacrum.” (Kuhn, 1990:188)

The concept that Kuhn could be explaining here, in essence, is that because the replicants are both a merging of humans and manufactured, hi-tech machines, they, for example, have more physical and aesthetic power than a human being. This is further backed up by her latter sentence in which she explains that they can take advantage of their artificiality and, in the film for example, cause the main male protagonist, Rick Deckard, to become infatuated with the artificially perfect replicant, Zhora who is a simulated human woman in appearance It could also be backed up by the sheer super-human strength of the main antagonist, Roy Batty and how he uses it as a weapon against Deckard during the climactic battle between the two. Both Zhora and Batty are classified in the Blade Runner universe as having 'A physical level' attributes, meaning that they have super-human endurance and strength. This also means that these two were created with these attributes in mind. Thus, their falseness as real humans, whom lack these super-human qualities, becomes their power.

Any kind of feedback would be appreciated. : D


  1. Hi Tom,

    I'll return to this tomorrow when my brain is less 'Sunday night' :D BUT at first glance, I think you've got a deficit of supporting evidence scaffolding your paragraphs - especially in the early stages. It's clear that you've got a good understanding conceptually of Postmodernism - and you're writing about it with confidence, but all of those paragraphs would be enriched in terms of their academic credibility if you were to identify a sequence of supporting quotes for each of those paragraphs... It doesn't have to be as mechanistic as 'one quote per paragraph', but in terms of structuring an 'evidence-based discussion' you certainly need more critical voices accompanying your own...

  2. Hi Tom - okay, last night I was tempted to suggest that you needed to look again at those opening paragraphs about postmodernism generally, and perhaps bring them in line with the true focus of your essay, which is Blade Runner. That said, I think if you construct your introduction to reflect the time spent on 'postmodernism in general' and clearly state how this general over-view is essential to the subsequent analysis of Blade Runner, then I think your structure is okay - but, in common with my comments left yesterday, you do need to scaffold those opening paragraphs with supporting evidence and make your overview more textured in terms of analysis and critical 'voice'. This is clearly not about your understanding of the concept, but rather feedback in regard to your execution of an evidence-based assignment.