Notwithstanding the soundness of the line of critique summarised in my previous blog post, I suggest that it falls short insofar as there is a lack of critical interrogation of what I perceive to be the tacit liberal logics of ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ at work in referring to the whiteness of casting roles and the attendant lack of non-white representation in such media productions.
Consider again Maloney’s concerns about ‘tales’ told by white men as heroes and villains becoming ‘metaphors for the real thing’ in dystopian narratives ‘rather than simply putting the real thing [that is, non-white/black slaves/colonial subjects] in the story’. Perhaps metaphor, suitably reinterpreted from the standpoint of the ‘other’, can do useful critical race theoretical – even decolonial – work in terms of pointing to the need for ongoing contestation of whiteness, whereas ‘putting the real thing in the story’ might result in a co-optation of the ‘other’ into a liberal inclusion/diversity narrative of the kind I have suggested might already be tacitly functioning in the background. What if, for example, the dystopia that is Blade Runner simultaneously depicts a white utopia in the sense that it functions as a veritable ‘call to arms’ for the purposes of maintaining global white hegemony? Stated slightly differently, and drawing on recent work exploring the entanglement of race – more specifically, whiteness – and Trans-/Post-humanism (Ali 2019, Forthcoming), I want to argue that analyses such as the above fail to consider how dystopian narratives might simultaneously function, albeit in somewhat ‘masked’ (veiled, codified) form, as ‘prompts’ for the refinement of whiteness and maintenance of white hegemony under non-white contestation, viz. (white) dystopias as utopian ‘White Crisis’ discourse generators. In short, Blade Runner might be read as a liberation narrative, but it might also be read as re-affirming domination.
Engaging this possibility takes me to the scene in Blade Runner 2049 that has inspired this piece – ‘Sea Wall’. Briefly, this involves a long physical struggle to the death between two replicants, male LAPD cop (‘blade runner’) Agent K and female right-hand of Niander Wallace, Luv, set against the backdrop of a rising flood of water in the Sepulveda Sea Wall. According to an entry on Off-World: The Blade Runner Wiki (Off-World n.d.),
Due to the rising oceans in the world of 2049, Los Angeles faced flooding and eventual annihilation without some way of stopping the sea levels from affecting the city. Thus, the Sepulveda Sea Wall was constructed to prevent this catastrophe. It resembles a mix of large, defensive fortifications of the past combined with more modern dams on an immense scale.
The same entry also states that:
On the way to the Off-World colonies to torture [human fugitive blade runner Rick] Deckard on the whereabouts of his child and the location of the replicant resistance movement, Luv and a couple of escort spinners fly above the sea wall towards LAX, now a spaceport. K intercepts them and shoots down all three vehicles, and engages in a fight with Luv when her spinner crashes where the wall meets the ocean … The waves nearly destroy the spinner and drown Deckard until K finally overcomes and kills Luv, saves Deckard, and swims back to the base of the wall before taking Deckard to his daughter.
I want to draw attention here to the naming of the sea wall as the Sepulveda Sea Wall which, from a critical race/religion perspective, points us to the figure of Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1494-1573 CE), a Spanish Renaissance humanist, philosopher, theologian, and proponent of colonial slavery. Sepúlveda’s importance lies in his position in the infamous Valladolid debates of 1550-1551 CE, where he argued against Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas that the ‘New World natives’ encountered by Columbus in 1492 CE were not humans, but rather animals and therefore should be treated as chattel. (For the record, las Casas argued that the ‘New World natives’ were human and potential Christians and therefore should not be enslaved; writing in 1515 CE, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies although he retracted this position later in life.) The relevance of the Valladolid debates lies in their entanglement with the transition from ‘religion’ to ‘race’ (proper) as a means by which Christians cum Europeans cum ‘Westerners’ were to establish and police the line/boundary/border of the human – the issue of borders clearly being of central importance to contemporary debates about migration and its limits. Which leads me to ask whether the Sepulveda Sea Wall, the function of which is to hold back the rising sea levels and stave off the possibility of flood, has been so named, intentionally or otherwise, with a view to its functioning as a metaphor drawing attention to the need for the extant (white) power structure to once again push back against the ‘dark hordes’, the ‘barbarians at the gates’ as it has attempted to do in past ages. In this connection, it is rather telling that the entry on the Blade Runner Wiki states that the wall ‘resembles a mix of large, defensive fortifications of the past combined with more modern dams on an immense scale [emphasis added].’
To be continued…
Ali, S.M. (Forthcoming) Transhumanism and/as Whiteness. In Transhumanism – The Proper Guide to a Posthuman Condition or a Dangerous Idea? Edited by Hans-Jorg Kreowski and Wolfgang Hofkirchner. Berlin: Springer.
Ali, S.M. (2019) ‘White Crisis’ and/as ‘Existential Risk’: The Entangled Apocalypticism of Artificial Intelligence. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.
Off-World (n.d.) Sepulveda Sea Wall. Off-World: The Blade Runner Wiki. Available at: http://bladerunner.wikia.com/wiki/Sepulveda_Sea_Wall (accessed 16 November 2018)