Blade Runner Market Liberalism and Social Green Philosophy
Blade Runner makes a social green argument that all living things have inherent value, and that increased development, technology, and economic threaten the environment. Director Ridley Scott warns that a market liberal’s globalization and environmental degradation risk turning cities into industrial hellholes. Blade Runner fears that future cities will be blighted with advertisements, gross overconsumption, and rampant inequality. As humanity degrades the environment, he also degrades his own identity, because globalization isolates people from each other and the environment. Ridley Scott argues that environmental degradation disproportionally impacts minority communities by populating Los Angeles’s trashed lower slum levels with handicapped individuals, ethnic minorities, and very poor citizens, while highlighting the Tyrell’s splendorous high-rise apartment and off world colonies. Blade Runner’s US theatrical cut, but not other final versions, end with an optimistic message of Deckard and Rachael leaving the blighted city for a pastoral green.
Blade Runner argues that market liberal inspired globalization and environmental degradation adversely impact all life. Blade Runner opens in a hazy industrialized city where city lights and oil production’s fire plumes provide the only lighting[i]. Advertisements for Coca Cola, off world colonies, and Chinese products coat every building[ii]. The ironic contrast between the hopeful and bright advertisements and the hazy and grim city lambast Capitalism for its profit centric outlook in the face of poverty. This social green outlook blames capitalism for exacerbating poverty (Clapp, 2005). In Blade Runner capitalism’s pollution and advertisements literally block out the sun creating an dark uneasy feeling emphasizing Deckard and Batty’s isolation. Blade Runner argues that market liberalism’s globalization dehumanizes people by treating them as consumers rather than individuals. Market liberalism compels corporations to replace people with machines, who ironically have more humanity than the humans.
Blade Runner’s world lacks biodiversity, because pollution has caused most animals’ extinction. Instead, humans replace animals with synthetic versions, just as corporations are replacing humans with Replicants. Only the superrich can afford to have real animals. Ridley Scott argues that by losing animals we’ve lost part of our humanity and empathy. The Voight-Kampff, an empathetic response test designed to identify a replicant, asks primarily whether an individual ought to help a wounded animal. To Ridley Scott, being human means treating animals empathetically. Most of the Replicants have connections to animals. Zhora dances with a snake and appears to have bloody bird wings when she dies, Rachel has memories of spiders and owls that make her human, and Batty associates with Pigeons and Doves. Globalization has removed humanity’s empathy towards animals, but Replicants, who have more humanity, still appreciate animals.
Market liberal policies condemn Blade Runner’s poor minorities to live in the pollution that richer individuals create. Rich industrialists live in idyllic off-world colonies or in massive high-rises thousands of floors above everyone else[iii]–[iv]. This parallels contemporary fears about white flight and suburbanization leaving cities as destitute and crime ridden. In Blade Runner’s slums, Chinese people make up most of the lower class and do most of the menial labor. JF Sebastian, a disabled inventor, failed the medical test required to live off world due to an aging disease. As a result, he’s forced to live in a derelict empty tenement alone except for his toys. Trash is ubiquitous in the city’s slums, and nobody except the superrich have the ability to escape it[v]. Ads promise the chance of a new life in a “golden land of opportunity and adventure” free from Earth’s blight and pollution on Earth’s colonies. Tyrell, a rich inventor who owns the police, lives in a massive sky rise insulated from the city’s anarchy below by a series of elevators. The police fly above the people they’re supposed to serve.
The US Theatrical version of Blade Runner ends with both Deckard and Batty transcending their conflicted ambiguous identities and embracing nature. After Batty saves Deckard’s life, he holds a real, not synthetic, white dove, which he releases when he dies[vi]. The dove flies into a hopeful sunrise not obscured by haze. Deckard and Rachel flee the urban wasteland for green mountains unscarred by industrialization and pollution. The movie opens with a cramped, dark, polluted industrialized city and closes with wide-open bright and free mountains[vii]. Blade Runner’s[viii] optimistic ending suggests that we can still escape globalizations dehumanizing isolation if we reconnect with nature.
Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Prod. Ridley Scott and Hampton Francher. By Hampton Francher and David Webb Peoples. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. Warner Bros., 1982. US Theatrical Version
Clapp, Jennifer, and Peter Dauvergne. Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. Print.
[viii] This ending is specifically in the US theatrical version. Different endings of the film end differently.