Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Bladerunner future? Art reflects life

The cyberpunk architecture of downtown Shibuya, Tokyo - photo guwashi
by Gregory Saville

Last week the sci-fi film Bladerunner 2049 opened worldwide to rave reviews. In artistic circles, this is known as exceptional neo-noir filmmaking, or more accurately 80s style cyberpunk. Bladerunner 2049 follows the original Bladerunner film from 1982, now considered a masterpiece. It is based on a book by award-winning sci-fi writer, the late Philip K. Dick.

Dick’s themes included dystopian futures, authoritarian corporations, and government conspiracies. Bladerunner occurs on a future Earth poisoned from environmental collapse where cops (Bladerunners) are assigned as bounty hunters to search and eliminate a minority group of human-like androids called Replicants. Written 50 years ago, Dick’s tale foreshadows the environmental crisis, immigrant-purging, social turbulence, and police violence on our streets today. In short, he nailed it!


For evidence, take a look at the street architecture of the future Los Angeles in Bladerunner and compare that with what is emerging in our biggest cities. Art, clearly, reflects life!

The neo-noir electrification of New York's Times Square - photo DB Desktop Background

Very seldom are artistic and cultural movements restricted to galleries and magazines. Even the most outrageous art and music seep out into politics, daily life and, most importantly, ways of thinking. That is because artistic and cultural movements do not arise on their own; they are a reaction to - or against - current affairs. That is why they are a barometer of things to come.

Consider how 1960s counter-culture morphed into environmentalism, civil rights, and equality for women, concepts in common parlance today. Or consider the artistic movement called modernism in the early 20th Century that evolved into the International Congress of Modern Architecture and the global planning disaster we now call urban sprawl.

Pruitt-Igoe, the 1960s modernist housing disaster in St. Louis became a rallying cry by
Oscar Newman and Jane Jacobs against crime and modernism in urban planning
- photo US Geological Survey

Bladerunner is art that tells a story: Philip K. Dick’s cyberpunk story of urban dystopia! For real-life examples look carefully at the cores of our most modern cities to see the worship of architectural cyberpunk.

If this analogy holds, then what about last week’s horrific mass murder in Las Vegas, the on-going trouble with police shootings, political turbulence, and environmental disasters of late? Are they signals that the Bladerunner story is unfolding as predicted? Never has there been a more appropriate time for a better model of neighborhood safety and urban growth.

Dundas Square, cyberpunk in Toronto
- photo by Pedro Szekely CC by 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons