Of Androids and Fossils: (Re)Producing Sexual Identity in Blade Runner and Jurassic Park
With the shift from industrial to postindustrial capitalism, our culture has become increasingly concerned with the problem of how to represent subjects in a technologized world. Traditionally, dominant conceptions of the subject have relied on Western metaphysics; naturalized monolithic categories arranged in hierarchic binary oppositions: male/female, human/machine, subject/object, etc. In this system, the discourse of science maintains an isomorphic and mutually reinforcing relationship with the discourse of heterosexuality, since each posits an active, masculine subject and a passive, feminine object. However, the sciences of contemporary capitalism are marked by technologies of reproduction and simulation which transform the world into a web of interconnected, overlapping information codes, asking us to reconsider our “natural” binary distinctions. While these questions have sparked a lively debate concerning technology and the representation of “naturally” gendered bodies, there has been less discussion about the specific ways in which the term “reproduction” links the discourses of science and gender. Reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization, test tube conception, and genetic manipulation challenge our concepts of human reproduction, transforming bodies from unified organic units to strategic and manipulable systems. Furthermore, these new ways of thinking about human bodies undermine the biological justification for traditional heterosexual gender identities: if all reproduction is redefined as technological, then normative or “natural” gender roles must be reconsidered as well.
Understandably, this denaturalization of bodies provokes a great deal of both hope and fear about the status of gender relations. Borrowing from Donna Haraway, I argue that contemporary narratives explore this ambivalence though the metaphor of the cyborg, the part-organic, part-technological creature whose hybrid body marks it as a “signifying monster.” This monster occupies a “destabilizing place in the great Western evolutionary, technological, and biological narratives” precisely because it reminds us that identity itself is a mere construct, something which is performed rather than essential. Furthermore, by ...
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...e romantic plots, to consider the ways in which gender positions, especially as linked to “biology,” are cyborg artifacts constructed and naturalized by discursive structures.
Finally, I briefly consider these two films vis-à-vis the larger problem of identity and agency in the postindustrial era. To a certain extent, both Blade Runner and Jurassic Park leave their viewers at an impasse: while the newer discourses of technological reproduction reveal the limits of gender identity as prescribed by biological narratives, they offer neither new identities nor new forms of agency to replace our old models. Unlike the films’ protagonists, we do not have the luxury of retreating from the postindustrial world; how, then, are we to re-imagine our relations within it? While neither Blade Runner nor Jurassic Park offers answers to this question, I caution against dismissing them as merely ambivalent embodiments of “postmodern angst.” Instead, we must acknowledge them as genuine efforts to speak the complexity of cybernetic existence, and, as cyborgs ourselves, use them as a starting point from which to read -- and perhaps reweave -- the cultural webs of power.
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