February 14, 2018

Blade runners and replicants

Just recently I decided to watch the old Blade Runner (1982) again. The only things I remembered from the first time I watched this cult film ages ago were the sinister mood and the magnificent music, along with the fable-like, nearly childish moral about what it means to be human, in the ethical sense of the word. Indeed, the film is largely remembered by its critique of our reality through a dystopian world, its reexamination of what the notion of humanity means, and the uncanny visual language and narration of the story. Love, as in many other stories, serves as the driving force behind the revelation, and its two players are the blade-runner Deckard and the replicant Rachel. However, from today’s perspective, I felt there was something suspicious, in the least, with this plot. I will recount the main love scene so that you can understand why “suspicious” is the word I’m using:

Rachel saves Deckard’s life, and disquieted by the thought that she herself may be a replicant, comes to his house. He tells her the truth and promises not to hunt her down and eliminate her. He, covered in mansweat and injured, lies down on the bed with his shirt unbuttoned, while she demonstrates gentle finesse by playing the piano in his room. At a certain point she lets her hair down, Deckard sits next to her, they look sadly and tenderly into each other’s eyes and he leans in to kiss her. She gets up to leave and rushes towards the door. Deckard follows her, stands by the entrance door and slams it closed with his fist. Rachel gets upset, but with a fierce look in his eyes he grabs her by the shoulders and violently smashes her against the window with the blinds behind her (all the while there is disquieting music in the background). He threateningly tilts towards her while the camera zooms in on her frightened face… and all of a sudden we hear the howl of a sexy saxophone while Deckard kisses Rachel. Then he gives her a stern look and tells her: “Now you kiss me”, and she protests, half-crying: “I can’t rely on…” Yet, it’s not very important what Rachel is trying to say because Deckard interrupts her with the command: “Say KISS ME”. She whispers “kiss me”, and then after they kiss, he tells her “I want you” and makes her, whose voice is broken and trembling, say the same thing twice”. “Put your hands on me” is what she says herself in the end. You can find this scene on YouTube under the title „Rachael and Deckard, romantic scene from Blade Runner”.

Changing the awareness is not a fun process. When we do it, people say that we are party poopers without a sense of humour. Even more so, they get angry at us for stepping on their firmly erected values which they have fostered since their childhoods, values that are perpetuated through films such as Blade Runner, where the romance between a man and a woman is effectuated through the male lead’s violent behaviour, where “no” does not mean “no”, where it is fine to smash a woman against the wall in order to let her know that you like her and where giving orders to a crying woman is supposed to be perceived as sexy. Let’s ask ourselves: Do we remember this scene from Blade Runner as something out of the ordinary? The answer is probably “no”. Because it appears that it is socially acceptable to smash a woman against a window. She must want it, doesn’t she, she’s only too embarrassed to say it, or she simply doesn’t know what she wants, so the man is here to do it in all his sternness. That’s the way we’ve been raised to reason things, both men and women (I’m finally using this phrase without trying to be politically correct), nourished with values that teach us that male aggression is desired; that violent discipline is nothing but care and willingness to show confused women the right way; and that finally, women’s discomfort is in fact “playing hard to get”. It has all been normalized to such an extent by the unwritten norms of patriarchy that we fail to even notice it. In Blade Runner, for example, we only remember Deckard’s humanity, the danglingtongue of the dead android Pris in a sexy gymnast’s costume, and the Aryan android Roy’s tears in the rain.

People will resent me for ruining the naïve Blade Runner for them, that’s for sure. Many got offended when their Hollywood childhood and youth idols turned out to be sex predators, so it was easier for them to accuse the victims of lying and of “manipulating with their sexuality” (I’m quoting this as I often get it as an absurd and primitive argument against the #MeToo movement). Simply, it turned out that a large number of my friends and acquaintances got more annoyed when it emerged that some of the idols of their youth, such as Dustin Hoffman, had assaulted their daughter’s high-school friends, than believing one of their own friends that she had been sexually abused at school, at work, or at university. They are more affected by Dustin Hoffman’s downfall than by their friend’s suffering. Why? Because they have never heard their friend’s story. Because women’s stories are so marginalized in society, that a vast majority of men have no ears for them, don’t trust them, let alone understand or empathize with them. This became evident with the surge of dim-witted jokes in #СегаКажувам (the Macedonian version of the MeToo campaign), as well as the army of mansplainers who were in fact trying to make us manderstand what actually is the right way to do something.

Let me ruin another film from those times for you — Saturday Night Fever (1997). How many of you remember that the film in fact ends with a gang rape of the female friend in Tony’s (John Travolta) boy gang?How many of you recall that the nice Tony tried to rape his dance partner, Stephanie, in the previous scene? However, Stephanie is a “self-respecting” woman with “integrity”: she doesn’t drink and confronts Tony, and after she hits him, she manages to escape. Annette, who is a part of the boy gang, on the other hand, is “immoral” and has “no self-respect” – disappointed with the fact that Tony is interested in Stephanie, she gets drunk and starts flirting with his friends in an attempt to trigger Tony’s jealousy. They all enter a car together where Annette ends up being raped by two of her friends, although she cries and fights back, while Tony angrily ignores the entire situation. All of a sudden they reach the bridge where the male gang often do their cable-climbing antics: the rapists get out of the car (one of them still with his pants down after the rape – they are all drunk, but this is not immoral when they are in question). Tony and Annette stay in the car. Annette starts to cry and Tony turns to her: “Are you satisfied now? Is this what you wanted? All right. Now you’re a cunt.”

In the meantime his friends are doing their usual antics on the bridge, but their unfortunate friend Bobby falls from the bridge in what can loosely be interpreted as a suicide. All of a sudden they all forget that the crying Annette was raped: her rapists even go and hug her, all of them traumatized by their friend’s death. And this is where Annette’s story ends: just another thing that happens to drunk women “who are asking for it”. Tony roams the streets of Manhattan all night, and when the morning comes he goes to Stephanie’s to fix things and make amends, even though he tried to rape her just that previous night.

There, those are the pop-narratives that we have been raised with – stories which only serve to prove that aggression and sexual violence are normal things that needn’t be discussed. Fed with this kind of violence for generations, we fail to even notice it: in a film like Saturday Night Fever, we see a scene with a brutal gang rape, but the only thing we remember it by is John Travolta in a white suit getting his groove to the Bee Geez tune.

I’ve used these two recognizable tropes from popular culture, which most of us have been fed with while growing up, to show you what the values that society has served us are. Male violence and female voicelessness have become so normalized that we’re failing to even notice them. And we feel quite uncomfortable once we actually see them, because they ruin our nostalgic feelings about the uncomplicated past where things just happened spontaneously — a demise which hurts. That is why it is so painful when we hear the stories from #СегаКажувам – not only because they are traumatic and indicate the fact that we have a very real systemic, as well as interpersonal problem – but also due to the fact that getting out of tradition’s comfort zone is a painful and cumbersome process. Finally, I would like to remind the generation that was probably most eager in calling out against #СегаКажувам by quoting one of their rock-idols: “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand – for the times they are a-changin’”.