Wall Street and Blade Runner: Luddites & Cyberpunks

Unfortunately (for some, not all) Wall Street is not the dystopian image of a far off future created by rich white men, but actually a rather exaggerated depiction of the capitalism during the 1980s. When I say “rather exaggerated”, I mean that the movie does portray the world of Wall Street in a some-what informative, yet overly romanticized way. Ultimately, it's just a movie and not a documentary of 1980s stock trading, although reality is never too far away. On the other hand, the movie Blade Runner is a dystopian movie released in the early 80’s about the not so far off future of 2019. While these two films are very different they both have similar aspects to them that suggest or lead the way for one to speculate that the influence of technology over human life is growing and that this relationship can be very unhealthy for them and the environment, which leads to the exploitation of technology by the powerful in order to maintain the status quo. Both of these narratives are heavily rooted in the techno-cyber transformation experienced during the 80s and afterward – the ideas of alienation, disease, isolation, and capitalism are all expressed.

In Blade Runner technology is at the very heart of those who maintain control over the population. The Tyrell Corporation has transformed genes into corporate property, managing and providing these resources as commodities. In this world, capital is in charge and nation/states have been completely broken down by the capitalistic monstrosity. “Replicants” are the very human-like robots the Tyrell Corporation creates in order to tame the harsh environment of other planets and other perilous activities. According to the movie, these Replicants are “more human than human” (Rob Zombie anyone?) and do the dirty bidding of the elite until it is finally time for them to self-destruct into a pre-programmed death, in order to save the creators from the created, as the older Replicants began to show signs of rebellion.

In the 1980s the technology of Wall Street was quickly becoming more advanced and the implementation of computers, the internet, databases, and other electronic devices became more wide spread. Through the movie one obtains a look inside the financial district of the Lower East Side of New York City. There, the limits of greed and plunder know no borders in order to make a profit, as the few with a vast supply of capital, control and make the choices for those they have never met, or even care to meet.

This is the brutal world of the stock market where "white men with grey hair in black business suits" use technology in order to gain monetary profits over each other. Many believe that capitalism is the all answer truth to every problem, especially in the area of technology. Technology is manipulated and in turn buys businesses, corporations, and other financial estates in order to make profits at any cost. In reality, leaving the decisions that effect everyone up to a small, closed group of people.

During the 80s the Internet was mainly limited to educational and governmental institutions, sharing delicate information over the web. As time went on the Internet soon became another marketplace for consumerism and capital, turning the Internet into a public mass market of sorts, which has only continued to develop.

Blade Runner is considered to belong to the “cyberpunk” genre, which many consider to be one of the best expressions of post-modernism. Nathan Cobb, in his work "Cyberpunk: Terminal Chic” says that cyberpunk:

“[I]s now more commonly a handy term for combining the related cadres of techno-bohemians-primarily hackers, crackers and phreaks – who populate the computer underground. But the word is also used to describe the trappings of this cantankerous, decentralized, and antiestablishment subset that have surfaced in popular culture."

Thus, while some think cyberpunk is dead, many believe that cyberpunks are the new mass monks of our worldly ghettos filled up as “trash dumps with gas pumps”[4]. If one considers those who use technology as a means of resistance to the dominant system, like computer hackers then it seems cyberpunk is still alive and well; the only thing that died was their old 1980s computer.

Blade Runner and Wall Street suggest that our future will be driven and controlled by those with the mastery of technology. Mary Jenkins in her essay, The Dystopian World of Blade Runner: An Ecofeminist Perspective writes:

“Mastery within nature is where ecological problems lie: in the domination and oppression of non-human nature by humans, and of humans by other humans who are unable or unwilling to recognize relationships and interconnectedness.”

While the powers that seek to maintain business as usual and profits at any cost, there is always a resistance that is a brew. Retracing out steps from the 1980s; if one were to buy (or obtain by other means) Captain Crunch Cereal, one might have found a Captain Crunch whistle that when blown produced the frequency of 2600 Hz, which could be used to access phone networks for no charge. This is one of the earliest examples of “phreaking” or exploiting telephones through the use of technology. I point this out because there is an enormous world-wide culture of hackers, as seen in the recently organized Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) Conference #6 (Summer 2006), which was largely organized by the folks over at the magazine, 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. [re: yes, this text is from 2006 and hacker culture has exploded since then, forgive me for this brief dusting of the surface. A lot has changed since then, only years ago – ie, Wikileaks, anonymous, Lulz Boat, anarchist super hacker Jeremy Hammond with Strafor, etc, etc]

A growing number of anti-authoritarian movements throughout the world have mobilized and used technology in order to disrupt business as usual, a famous example being the Battle of Seattle in 1999 during the World Trade Organizations conference. These “cyberpunks” armed with desire managed to successfully surprise attack the very things that Wall Street romanticized, the world trade of capital and the forces of globalization. In this sense, it is like the neo-bio-forms of Blade Runner have come back to haunt Wall Street, however it also seems that the world of Blade Runner is ruled by a more extreme and ruthless form of capital than the 1980s Wall Street.

Blade Runner seems to suggest a sort of resistance to technology through its ecologically destroyed, dark, polluted environments, in a sense relapsing to the dark ages, yet at the same time promotes what Scott Bukatman in his book Blade Runner calls, “decadent sleaze with decadent opulence.” This is the future as suggested by them.

The future that is represented in these two films is one of computers, corporations, and capitalism. Globalization, urban/sub-urban sprawl, deforestation, pollution, crime, destruction, and everything that is the end of the world seem to be rooted in the general themes of these movies. Society is one large garbage bin, which no one cares to take out because they are too busy caring about themselves and those who might have more altruistic tendencies are already too busy, fighting for their lives. It is the dream of capitalists everywhere to live in a world without financial borders or laws that cut back their profits similar to the world of Blade Runner. The movie seems almost prophetic, yet is the world of Blade Runner the desire that is what the stock traders’ of Wall Street hope for?

Blade Runner and Wall Street, while two entirely different movies, have a lot in common with each other in a way that might lead one to think of the world of Wall Street eventually leading to the dystopian world of Blade Runner. In both movies, technology is manipulated by some in order to seek the profits of capital, which in turn leads to a large disparity between “those who have, and those who have not.” While, Wall Street is not a dire warning against the evils of technology, it can be seen as a movie that exemplifies what can be done when technology is in the wrong hands, or as the luddite might say in any hand at all. Blade Runner shows technology in its most human like form and to many this is extremely dangerous, as these “Replicants” sometimes “malfunction” after learning the ways of the world. The Tyrell Corporation is the symbol of the technology corporations of the present that are traded daily on the stock market.

Over time these computers, corporations, and capital take a strangle hold over the populace as the city begins to appear everywhere. The present-day-Luddites, anarchists, and other critics of technology have said a lot about the effects of technology upon humans. Just last year, someone died from playing video games for days on end and daily people are sat down behind computer screens in order to perform certain tasks that will allow them to eventually garner capital, in order to survive within a self-destructive, yet so far some-what sustaining capitalist system (depending on your viewpoint of course: is the ship sinking or still afloat in the storm).

[1] There is some debate where the location is, Los Angeles, CA or New York, NY
[2] “Ideas are bulletproof” – V for Vendetta (ideas change, ideals remain)
[3] Philosophy has shown that there is no such thing as truth
[4] Deltron 3030 – Virus from 3030 album
[5] The term hacking is often loaded, Black Hat, White Hat, & Grey Hat are more concise
[6] What the fuck?! Sorry for making you read this footnote, footenote champion. Also sorry about all the commas, period. also srry for note actually having footenotes.

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