Posts Tagged 'surveillance culture'

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Precogs don’t have an easy time of it in Philip K Dick novels. Their awareness of the future is inevitably bound with the tragic realisation that they can’t do a thing to change it. Take the protagonist in The World That Jones Made. He has the miraculous ability to see one year into the future, but this ultimately leads to the bleak reality of living the last year of life with his own assassination sprinting down the timeline towards him. Thankfully, precognition isn’t something that has come to pass in the real world, but a disturbing level of PKDickian premonitions are still manifesting.

Previously, here on Drozbot, we’ve touched upon the burgeoning Internet of Things, and how this is analogous to many of the computerised devices in PKD’s universes. Admittedly, the semi-sentient status of his machines is a far reach from your fridge reordering milk, but there’s an ambivalence to them that highlights a healthy distrust. Giving too much control, or too much data, to the machines, the marketers and the government, is unwise.

Another device that appears repeatedly across many of the author’s stories is the Johnny Cab. Self-driving vehicles that, once again, tend to exhibit more humanity than some of their human passengers. Google’s driverless vehicles seem a far shout from this proposed future, but the convenience they offer remains part of a larger data system over which the end user will have little or no control. Again, technological advancement tempered by nervous unease.

Perhaps our machine overlords will be benevolent, much like the sentient, military killing machines in The Defenders who keep humans locked in their own bunkers for the benefit of the planet. Again, look to the fighter drones on any contemporary battlefield and PKD’s foresight seems even more incredible, formulating his ideas as he was in 1953. In this short story, as in The Simulacrua and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, another repeated trope appears, that of the robot being indistinguishable from its human counterparts. It’s an obsession that seems to have hooked Japan more than any other nation and, as a result, hardly a month goes by without another uncanny android being revealed.

Finally we come to A Scanner Darkly and the state sanctioned surveillance culture it presents. Of all PKD’s Sci-Fi futures, I find this one the most chilling. While scatter suits are the preserve of the military attempting to cloak large vehicles, the idea of our reality being obscured or even falsified by those in power (state, god or even reality itself) is a powerful one. Look into the black lenses of omnipresent CCTV cameras, especially those that resemble the prior civic forms of street lamps, and Dick’s informant culture seems just one sleepwalking step away.

Collectively, all this tech adds up to a predictive chicken and egg scenario. Is the future being mapped out as the influence of PKD’s ideas resonates with us, or was Phil simply a procog who could literally see the shape of things to come. There is evidence for the latter in that he wrote of foreseeing his own demise, slumped face down between a sofa and a coffee table. The stroke that led to his hospitalisation and subsequent death did indeed floor him in just such a position. A tragic procog then perhaps, but one reminding us to always be mindful of the futures we imagine for ourselves.

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1984

“A romantic reimaging of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.” Just one of the astounding media quotes being generated around Equals, Hollywood’s latest attempt to consume itself. Twilight actress Kristen Stewart has taken one of the lead roles in Big Brother: The Romcom, opposite Nicholas Hoult – best known in the UK for the edgy and smart teen drama Skins.

But let’s not be judgemental regarding any actor’s integrity accepting a script about which very little is known. Nor let us conjure images of John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton’s under-fed, naked forms cowering against a filthy window while the thought police kick down the door; no amorphous boiler suits for Miss Stewart and Mr Hoult I’m guessing.

Instead, let’s just return to that elevator pitch. A romantic reimaging of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. That’s something to think about when you spy your next CCTV camera, or watch your next reality TV show, or buy a lottery ticket, or get pissed to displace ill-defined fears about the ‘war on terror’.

Seriously, we’re not here to discuss the political implications of surveillance culture or data capture. The idea of sleep-walking into a police state is, well, just science fiction right? Ignore the customised adverts in Zero Theorem – harking back to the iris capture promotions of Minority Report. Disregard all of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta – regardless of what you might think about James McTeigue’s filmic version. Don’t dwell too long on the personality split of Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly and, whatever you do, don’t consider 1984 a cautionary tale about the interdependency of information and power.

Ultimately, why not make Sexcrime more… well, ‘sexy’ in order to resonate with the contemporary cinema-going demographic?

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