David Barnett on the Fiction and Reality of Blade Runner @BBC_Culture @davidmbarnett

David Barnett notes that we are now living in the month and year of Blade Runner‘s fictional “now,” and asks how much of it is real. In an article for BBC Culture, he writes in part,


The world of Blade Runner is one in which the fictional Tyrell conglomerate dominates alongside other, real-life corporations, that feature on some of the film’s massive neon advertising hoardings – tempting fate as to whether the businesses active in 1982 would still be going in 2019. Coca-Cola was a fairly safe bet, but PanAm, whose logo we glimpse in the opening scene, wasn’t; the airline went out of business in 1991.

On the other hand, we are still catching up with much of its technology, of course – though some elements are now not far beyond the bounds of possibility. A German company, Lilium, announced last month that the flying car it is developing could be in use as a taxi service by the year 2025. We don’t have artificial humans, but we have been making huge strides in gene-editing, causing concern in some quarters. And we don’t need the Voight-Kampff test yet, but how many times have you been asked to mark all the traffic lights on a grid picture to prove you’re not a robot, and gain access to a website?

He notes that unfortunately, some of the politics and political atmosphere, as well as the (literal) toxic environment, is with us. As to sf and Blade Runner‘s predictive qualities, he quotes some scholars. One, Mary Robinette Kowal, says, she is “‘less interested in the genre’s literally predictive qualities than in the opportunities it offers as “a playground for thought experiments. It allows us to tip our world to the side and look at the interconnected tissues and then draw logical chains of causality into the future. The best SF remains relevant, not because of the technology in it, but because of the questions it forces us to ask. Blade Runner, for instance, is asking about the morality of creating sentient life for the purpose of enslaving it.'” Michi Trota finds that “science fiction’s real potency lies in the wider philosophical issues it explores. ‘It can often be about the future, it can be ‘predictive’ but those predictions are also very much reflective of our grappling with present day issues, as well as our past. If there’s any ‘job’ that science fiction – and fantasy – has, to paraphrase authors Ijeoma Oluo and NK Jemisin, it’s to help us imagine entirely new ways of being, to move beyond reflexively recreating our past so we can envision other ways of living outside the systems, oppressions, and societal defaults we’ve internalised and normalised.'”

For more on the topic of Blade Runner and predictive science fiction and law, here’s a short bibliography.

Shulamit Almog, Dystopian Narratives and Legal Imagination: Tales of Noir Cities and Dark Laws. 

Shulamit Almog, When a Robot Can Love: Blade Runner as a Cautionary Tale on Law and Technology, Human Law and Computer Law: Comparative Perspectives 181-194 (2013).

Robert Barringer, Blade Runner: Skin Jobs, Humans and Racial Coding,  41 Jump Cut 13-15 (1997).

Giuliana Bruno, Ramble City: Postmodernism and “Blade Runner,” 41 October 61-74 (Summer 1987).

Christine A. Corcos, “I Am the Master”: Some Popular Culture Images of AI In Humanity’s Courtroom, 5 Savannah Law Review 45 (2018).

Christine A. Corcos, Visits to a Small Planet: Rights Talk in Some Science Fiction Film and Television Series From the 1950s To the 1990s, 39 Stetson Law Review 183 (2009-2010).

David Desser, Race, Space and Class: The Politics of the SF Film from “Metropolis” to “Blade Runner,” in Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 110 (Judith B. Kerman, ed., 2d.,  University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).

W. Russel Gray, Entropy, Energy, Empathy: “Blade Runner” and Detective Fiction, in Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 66 (Judith B. Kerman, ed., 2d.,  University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).

Peter J. Hutchings, From Offworld Colonies to Migration Zones: Blade Runner and the Fractured Subject of Jurisprudence, 3 Law, Culture and the Humanities 381-397 (October 2007).