“Retrofitting Blade Runner” Response (Marleen Barr Essay)

In her essay “Metahuman ‘Kipple’ Or, Do Male Movie Makers Dream of Electric Women?: Speciesism and Sexism in Blade Runner,” Marleen Barr makes some provocative claims about the presence and uses of animals, subhumans, and women in the film. In a very brief space, however, she skips past many of her most interesting points. For this post, I’d like to focus on the points she makes about women, since that alone could inspire a more robust paper.

The article starts off strongly: “This essay explores discrimination in Blade Runner by discussing speciesism as its subject and sexism as its unconscious component” (25). To hold up the intrigue in this idea, and particularly in the multi-level linking of speciesism and sexism as conscious and unconscious forces in the construction of the film, I’d like to see a revised version of the essay that goes deeper. At a scant four pages, it barely scratches the surface of some of its claims. Given the different aspects of the different kinds of attention the novel and book pay to women and to animals, and the way in which the title and the thesis hint at a direct link between the two, the essay does too much skimming and not enough connecting or deepening.

Barr links much of the dehumanization of women (and manufactured humans) to the film’s future and otherworldly setting. Her links to current, real world trends that shore up her claims – using women as sex objects in films, different manifestations of racism – are glossed over in some places and incongruously dropped in in others. Her point about Zhora and Pris both dying in front of manikins (30), for example, could be extended out to currents of sexism in American and/or European consumer culture and advertising, or linked to other films that dehumanize women (like Clockwork Orange).

One point in particular that I think she shortchanges comes at the end of an exploration of how the film “articulates Corea’s analogy between animal and sexual object”: “The male film maker dreams of electric women, women manufactured sex objects” (29). Such a claim involves the Dick novel’s title along with representations of women in the film. Were Barr to go deeper, she could expand this into a topic for a whole other paper. 

Barr also slips in a provocative comment on celebrity culture and mediation, one that the reference in the title would suggest might be teased out more carefully in the article. The comment is this: “In our world, we idolize replicants: film actors who make manufactured memories and identities appear real. The actors who play Batty, Pris, Leon and Zhora are replicants cast as replicants. Like the novel’s characters who dial prearranged emotions on a “mood organ,” we relate to the actors’ manufactured actions” (28). Here, she could invoke Richard Dyer or pull out comparisons to other metahuman movies. This point of Barr’s is just one of many that could be extended out further, and in its brevity ends up shortchanging itself.

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