Nakama Britannia has been dormant for quite some time and I thought it was time to revive it from its slump into hibernation. What an interesting way to revitalise the blog than by awakening it from its electronic sleep than actually talking about electronic sheep. The inspiration behind this article is precisely to look at the recent American film ‘Surrogates’ and compare it to the anime which so obviously inspired it. Yet the films I reference all have their roots in the book ‘Do androids dream of electronic sheep?’ or its film adaptation ‘Blade Runner’.
‘Surrogates’ is a fascinating film concerning the proliferation of technology that enables humans to be exceptionally safe and free from harm’s way by way of providing, for its host, a shell they can go and roam around in. Essentially they are shells without ghosts actually inhabiting a brain case actually in the suit. Bruce Willis stars as an FBI agent who uses a surrogate to navigate his way through life, his decision hinged on the guilt of not being able to save his child from a terrible car crash. His child would have survived if it had used a surrogate.
The interesting thing about the film, and perhaps the whole genre, is the idea of exploring what exactly humanity is and what is the point. The idea of the surrogates is like a desperate mother trying to protect her child from anything that may harm it. This is the idea that surrogacy is stifling humanity from actually seeing the problem they are creating for themselves. There is, perhaps, too much cotton wool.
In ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ (GS:SAC) it is interesting to see how the world is changing but not in the sense that surrogacy has made the world. One ‘commentator’ from the introduction of ‘Surrogates’ believes that surrogacy is the next step in our evolution. ‘GS: SAC’, and the film versions particularly, make reference to the idea that technology is not the catalyst for evolution rather it makes it clear that it is not.
In SAC episode 8, ‘Missing hearts’, Motoko Kusanagi, the series’ protagonist, attempts to recover a set of organs meant for transplant patients. On her way she encounters the Jameson robot who is in fact the leader of a big Transnational Company involved in the growth of organs. Insinuating that the world’s population still believes that ‘upgrading’ themselves is not the way forward. In fact would that company not be making spare parts if it was chasing real profit? We could perhaps say that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is the Tachibana labs to the Knights of Surrogacy.
This has only really touched upon the physical part of being human however. It has not touched upon the emotional and mental part of humanity. The surrogates also represent something else. Not just a liberal dose of cotton wool but also allow their masters to be who they want to be. The film has a lot of middle aged characters, who’s puppets look very beautiful and youthful yet are in real life, who are not youthful and look wizened. Greer’s, the film’s protagonist, wife believes that her surrogate gives her the life she really wants to live. This film is more than meets the eye. Just like when we see the film we should not judge it on face value and look to the heart of it. The film is also talking about out inbuilt stereotypes and judgements that we label each other with and how that is wrong.
The film insinuates the concept of subtle subversion manifesting itself from a system built on our collective, at least in the west, stereotypes that fuels capitalist growth. The more negativity against a certain stereotype is rewarded by a way to escape that particular stumbling block. In ‘Surrogates’ the stereotype of being an old person is greeted not by a traditional eastern respect for the aged but rather by a need to escape: a way to be younger. Greer’s wife therefore detests her own body and the surrogacy offers a release from something she ultimately hates because that would encourage an outsider’s psychology to blossom in her because of the system of negativity built around that stereotype.
In contrast Kusanagi is the antithesis of this psychological system. The viewer does not know her age but what we do know is that she is very old and may not actually be a woman. This suggests that there is a difference in terms of attitudes prevalent in the making of the two stories. Kusanagi is gifted respect because of her great experience which could have only been yielded via years and years of work. Therefore this idea of a ‘job for life’ in Japanese culture polarises the two visions of the future.
In essence we could draw the fact that both stories explore a different view of human evolution but ultimately only one story has the real path to that conclusion. The climax of ‘Surrogates’ demonstrates a need for technology to remain in the background if humans are to dream of real sheep and not electronic ones.
In conclusion, and using another famous book, if we use ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ by George Orwell to assess both stories, which is the barometer of what happens when technology is used to create a human that is not quite a human because of the impact of technology within the science fiction genre. Orwell’s tale is perhaps more on a par with ‘Surrogates’ because of the fact that humans wish to grow a culture that suffocates humanity rather than ‘Ghost in the Shell’ which is dealing with humanity as it exists now but in the future e.g. the 2nd Gig’s refugee storyline and resolve what is wrong with this culture. ‘Surrogates’ is in a way a warning, like ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, about the future impact of technology upon humans. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ merely uses technology, like ‘Star Trek’ to prove a point.
As to whether ghosts dream about electronic sheep…always. They will always want to return to their orginal shell because flesh and blood is part of what makes a human a human.