E27 -

Aaron Ross Powell & Peter Suderman come back on the show to discuss Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.

Landry Ayres
Senior Producer

Peter Suderman is the features editor at Reason magazine and Rea​son​.com, where he writes regularly on health care, the federal budget, tech policy, and pop culture.

Aaron Ross Powell
Director and Editor

Aaron Ross Powell is Director and Editor of Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, a project of the Cato Institute. Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org presents introductory material as well as new scholarship related to libertarian philosophy, theory, and history. He is also co‐​host of Libertarianism.org’s popular podcast, Free Thoughts. His writing has appeared in Liberty and The Cato Journal. He earned a JD from the University of Denver.


In 2019 Los Angeles, Deckard is a blade runner who is tasked with the job of hunting down humanoids known as “replicants” who are illegally on Earth. Fast forward to 2049, when Officer K is a new blade runner who discovers a well‐​kept secret that leads him to Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years.

What is the difference between being “born” and being “created”? Who gets to decide whether or not robots or humanoids have rights? How do you know your memories are yours and not someone else’s?


0:00:03 Landry Ayres: Welcome to Pop & Locke, I’m Landry Ayres.

0:00:05 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:07 Landry Ayres: Today, we are going to zoom in and enhance our understanding of some of the finest science fiction of all time, the world of Blade Runner. Here to discuss both Ridley Scott’s original and the 2017 sequel 2049… Keep up folks, are two very special returning guests. Features Editor at Reason, Peter Suderman.

0:00:31 Peter Suderman: Thanks for having me, guys.

0:00:32 Landry Ayres: And the Sultan of SWAT, the king of crash, The Colossus of Clout, the Great Bambino, Director and Editor of Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, Mr. Aaron Ross Powell.

0:00:46 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for having me back.

0:00:46 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, y’all. Let’s put our cards on the table. Can you both give me your two‐​minute thesis on whether or not Deckard is a replicant?

0:00:57 Aaron Ross Powell: I’ll start. I guess my answer is, I don’t know and I don’t care. I actually don’t think that him, being a replicant or not, does much as far as my interest level in the movie or the narrative and doesn’t seem to change it much in my mind. I think that the… Especially the director’s cut, makes it very clear that he is. I think there’s stuff in the first one that makes it pretty clear that he is, but they can all be kind of written off. The second movie complicates it a bit, and I think the second movie makes it more likely that he’s not, but by and large, I don’t take a strong position because I find it to be, I guess, one of the less interesting aspects of both films.

0:01:44 Peter Suderman: I suppose I do find it an interesting question, but the answer to it, I think, first of all, doesn’t… Whichever answer you come to it, doesn’t change my enjoyment of the films of both of them, both these movies I love so much. The other thing is that I think it depends on which version of the movie you’re watching, and different versions of the movie are different texts and should be interpreted different ways. And so the theatrical cut that was released in 1982, and then the TV versions that are based on the theatrical cut, none of them have the unicorn dream, that was the big insertion that Ridley Scott added into the director’s cut that was released in 1992 and has remained in all of the subsequent cuts, up to the final cut, which is now sort of considered the standard version at this point. Once you get the unicorn dream into the original Blade Runner, it’s very hard to make a case that he is not a replicant because what that unicorn dream is telling you is that Gaff knows what’s in his head, is that those memories are implanted and that he has been through the replicant, the Nexus‐​6 process that gives you fake memories, that make you feel like a person.

0:03:00 Peter Suderman: In Blade Runner 2049, well, of course, he’s still around, which means he didn’t have the built‐​in lifespan if he was a replicant, but I think it’s sort of interesting the way they deal with it, which is by not dealing with it, and instead they asked a question, they just sort of put a question into the movie about his dog. Is the dog real? And the response you get is, who cares? And that is, I think, it’s one of my favorite moments in that movie, because what it is doing is saying to all of the fan boys who have just obsessed over this one little aspect and made it the defining thing about this, about both of these films, which are just so multi‐​layered and so interesting, completely independent of this kind of puzzle box of, is he or isn’t he a replicant, they’re saying that’s not what these movies are about, like it’s an interesting question that is of course embedded in the narrative and in the text, and in some of the clues that are in the film, but it’s not just a little mystery about whether Deckard is or isn’t himself a replicant. The movies are about a whole lot more, and if that’s all… If you’re treating them as just that, you’re watching these movies wrong.

0:04:04 Aaron Ross Powell: I’ll just add, I think that the unicorn scene is not as dispositive as it’s made out to be, and I think that it is not the key piece of evidence of Deckard being a replicant. In fact, the key piece of evidence exists in the the theatrical cut, and that is the moment, the glowing eyes because that’s a very clear signal throughout all the movies. And Harrison Ford, I know he said it was an unintentional glowing eye in the theatrical cut, that it was just light, meant to be reflected into Sean Young’s eyes caught his, but these movies are so obsessively made and especially obsessively lit that I find that difficult to believe.

0:04:47 Peter Suderman: Also, Harrison Ford, there’s always been this divide between Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott, where Ford wants to believe that Deckard is not a replicant, and Ridley Scott is pretty determined to make Ford, to make Deckard definitely a replicant. And so again, that’s one of the ways that… One of the reasons why 2049 deals with it by enlighting the issue through the dog question.

0:05:09 Aaron Ross Powell: I think, though on the unicorn, that can be read in ways that don’t point to Gaff, knowing Deckard’s memories. One of them, I think, is simply that both of them are blade runners, both of them know about the way that replicants are made, they know about implanted memories. If Gaff knows about that implanted memory, the unicorn thing, being a memory that replicants have, then it stands to reason Deckard might as well. And Deckard has just interviewed Rachael. He has just gathered up the photographs from the snake lady’s house, so he’s been thinking about replicants and memory, and if the unicorn thing is just a running metaphor or a joke between two partners about replicant’s manufactured memories, then it could be… That running joke could be the thing that causes both Deckard to be thinking about the unicorn and Gaff at the end to be making a unicorn origami.

0:06:08 Peter Suderman: I think that’s plausible, but it’s a little bit extra textual since there’s no discussion of unicorn dreams prior to the unicorn dream in the movie.

0:06:17 Aaron Ross Powell: I agree. I think it could be a stretch, but I think it makes it so that there are other ways to interpret that scene that I think don’t necessarily point to replicants, so that if you are a person who rejects the Deckard is replicant thesis entirely, you have wiggle room to get out from underneath it, except for the red eye.

0:06:38 Peter Suderman: Pretty fair, but even the red eye. Even the red eye, I actually don’t find dispositive, it doesn’t solve the question for me though it’s suggestive, certainly. Both of these movies are in their own ways, movies about shared humanity, about the sort of sense that all living things and perhaps, even some things that aren’t living but are conscious in some way are connected, and that moment to me is, in the first film when he sort of backs up out of the kitchen and his eyes start to glow just like the replicant’s eyes have glowed throughout the film, it’s not necessarily saying he is a replicant that was created by the Tyrell Corporation. What it’s suggesting is just this… It’s using the tools of cinema, a little trick of the light to show the ways in which we’re all kind of on the same continuum of existence, and it is one of Ridley Scott’s themes throughout his work, is the shared humanity of people trying to survive in a bleak world.

0:07:47 Landry Ayres: The world is something that you bring up Peter, that I think is very, very interesting and distinguishing between these two movies, and I think something that you have made note of is Scott’s original presents a bustling world of people crowded, cramped on top of each other, juxtaposed against the rather empty sort of desolate and brutalist production design of 2049. What do you think is the significance of the choice to pivot in that direction? Is there some sort of story that is hinted at? Is it simply trying to present the world in a different light? What does that mean?

0:08:29 Peter Suderman: Well, part of it is just that these two directors have very different design philosophies and design interests, and really, Scott comes out of a commercial advertising background. He was still… I believe Blade Runner was only his third feature after the Duellists and Alien. And he’s an art guy, he is someone who is quite good draftsman himself and so he’s just obsessed with density of detail, especially back in his earlier work. You look at Alien, it had this similar sort of incredible density of detail in the design of the spaceship, of the world that they end up landing on, of the alien itself, and so that’s just a kind of a personal predilection. That’s where it starts. And then you have Denis Villeneuve, who was working with cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was kind of an all‐​time legend, came out of working with Coen Brothers, he’s the guy who shot the Shawshank Redemption and gave us that great overhead shot of Andy Dufresne, standing in the rain, finally a free man, and both of Villeneuve and Deakins, really love these stark, simple, silhouetted images. And that’s their whole kind of design aesthetic, their visual aesthetic that they bring to…

0:09:46 Peter Suderman: They’ve worked together before, they worked together on the film Prisoners, but you see that in Deakins’s work, even outside of when he’s working with Villeneuve, film like, No Country for Old Men or Sicario, relies a lot… I guess, Sicario’s also a Villeneuve film, but they rely a lot on these really stark, quite simple silhouetted images. And so to some extent, it’s just a reflection of who is making these films, but I think there’s also pretty clearly a story here and there was a bunch of ancillary material that went with Blade Runner 2049 that talked about the social collapse that had happened in between the two films, and I think Villeneuve didn’t want to simply replicate the world that Ridley Scott had built. He wanted to create a world that flowed from it, followed from it, that looked at it 30 years later and I think it’s a really interesting way to think about film making and to also, to think about urban design and sort of how societies evolve. If you went to Times Square 30 years ago and then went back, well, let’s say, at the beginning of 2020, you would find two very different places. Cities evolve and they change, and even over the course of a couple of decades, even though the course of… They will change radically, just in the course of a single lifetime. Our cities have changed a lot just this year, and that is reflected in both of these movies.

0:11:15 Aaron Ross Powell: I think, too, you can look at it or you could frame it as attempts at inventing the future, because in 1982, like Blade Runner basically invented what the future looks like in the public consciousness and change the way that science fiction films look. There’s that story of William Gibson was, I think, working on Neuromancer, which would create the cyberpunk genre and saw, which came out two years after Blade Runner, and went to see Blade Runner and was just shocked because up on the screen was like the world that had been inside his head.

0:11:52 Peter Suderman: And he later used the word blade runner, he turned it into a verb, and at least one of his novels, he’s got this is a great idea that things have just been blade runnered all over the place, and you know exactly what he’s talking about because it’s just so… It’s so distinctive and clear, a design philosophy and a way of thinking about urban social organization.

0:12:13 Aaron Ross Powell: And so I think that given that, given that it’s become so ingrained that I think we just post that movie when we imagine the future and we’re not imagining it with spaceships and Star Trek sort stuff, it looks like Blade Runner. And so if then you’re coming at it to make the next movie and you want to invent the future, the future has to… It’s like Blade Runner’s, future is now our present in a way that I think Peter just described the Time Square, coming to take on a lot of these characteristics. But it’s also just like our assumed familiar future and so if you want to present us with a new future that is unfamiliar, you have to move away from that and you have to go in this different direction, and I think in this case, it is this quieter, more stark, more melancholic, both tone and aesthetic, whereas it would have felt, if you did exactly the same thing as the first one, it wouldn’t have felt like it was decades in the future.

0:13:20 Peter Suderman: There’s a sense to, I think, in which 2049 feels weirdly prophetic right now, just because it projects a kind of emptied out urban landscape in which people don’t go out as much, in which something has happened to clear people out of these cities that had been super densely populated and now, they just look like they’ve sort of been sitting there, not with no one in them, but with few people in them for a couple of decades, and it’s a little bit eerie to go back and watch that now, as a version of that has happened to our cities.

0:14:00 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s also interesting the way that both of the movies… Both of them are claustrophobic movies. If they were video games, the draw distance and both is pretty short. And in 1982, in the first one that’s achieved by… There’s lots of stuff, so there’s lots of stuff obscuring your vision of… There’s no horizons because there’s buildings and trucks, and cars and spinners, and people with glowing umbrellas in the way. In 2049, you’ve… For story reasons that are given in the little vignettes that they put out between the films, things have cleared out a bit, but instead we get the haze, we get the snow, we get whatever it is that’s turned Las Vegas orange, that it’s like there isn’t stuff obscuring it. It’s just like the very atmosphere doesn’t let us see past our noses still, but it achieves that same kind of like the entire world is closed in on you effect.

0:15:03 Natalie Dowzicky: We’ve been talking a lot about world building and how the two films kind of identified a future, but I think another thing that hasn’t come up yet, interestingly enough, is the role of government and these films or I would say, the absence of government, and I was wondering if you all thought that was an intentional absence or if you thought that it wasn’t necessarily having a government exist in a sense or isn’t necessary to the films.

0:15:39 Landry Ayres: My first thought immediately that comes to mind is the really only government sort of imagery that we get other than the sort of idea that corporations are extremely powerful and perhaps might be involved and entangled with them in some way, are really, the only people are police that you see, and you don’t see other than blade runners or Robin Wright’s character in 2049 and a few other investigators. There are very few that you actually see. You get a lot of their cruisers flying around and the sort of Big Brother as voices, but you have these constant swooping spotlights that are dancing around the city, constantly peering into buildings and sort of shining a light through slats and into windows that sort of gives this panoptic sort of ever present eye, but there’s a huge distance between it so to me, it makes it seem like maybe the message of the absence or what is perceived as an absence of government really is just sort of a distance between the people on the ground and the people that are in power, such that there’s very little interplay between them, except for in a downward motion.

0:16:58 Peter Suderman: The first Blade Runner, in particular, is also a picture of a depopulating world, and it’s not super explicit in the text of the film, though you do get this at the very beginning the big advertising blimp that’s flying over that says, “Let’s go to the colonies and build a new life.” If you’ve read the novel, the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , that the movie is based on, it’s much more explicit in that book, that Earth has become kind of uninhabitable and that people are moving out to colonies on other planets, and that Earth is sort of slowly decaying. And there’s just this real sense of kind of civilizational and interpersonal decay that’s built into that book that you see some of come out in the movie, and part of that is, again, a thing that’s in the book that is only vaguely referenced. You can sort of pick it up if you know what to look for in the movie, is that in the book, most animals have died and so that’s why there’s a premium on real animals and people have taken up all of these fake animals, replicant animals as pets, as kind of comfort animals, therapy creatures, whatever, that sort of thing.

0:18:16 Peter Suderman: And so my sense of it has always been that government is just kind of on the decline because this world is no longer worth governing. It’s worth policing a little bit, but people are moving out and they’re going elsewhere, and this was in some of the earlier versions of the scripts. Initially, they were supposed to be a scene in which the replicant group was looking at Earth from, I believe it was from the moon, where they had been… Where they’ve been working or something, and this was just after their escape, after they killed some humans. And so that was built a little bit more into earlier versions of the script and it just didn’t appear in the final movie, but you see this world that has been depopulated, even though it looks very crowded in some places, this world that is in a state of decay and as part of that, government just kinda isn’t there anymore.

0:19:10 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, and they stand in for the big powerful things, it’s not the cops, it’s the corporations in these movies. Tyrell and then Wallace, but both of them aren’t even really focused on earth, their attention is elsewhere, that they’ve kind of given up on this planet and they’re making replicants in order to facilitate more stuff on the off‐​world colonies, and then Niander Wallace’s scheme is to go even broader, he just wants to radically populate the stars. Although, we do get the bit that he came to power because he figured out how to at least keep the people on earth a little bit longer by teaching them to grow grubs that he owns the patents on, but there does seem to be this sense in which all of the power centers that we typically think of have just turned their eyes elsewhere.

0:20:05 Aaron Ross Powell: And I think that goes with like, even when these movies are at their most bustling, they’re both deeply lonely films, and what… There’s very little in the way of authentic personal connection in them, or meaningful relationships, or the meaningful relationships that are there seemed to be corrupted or not particularly healthy, but there’s just a real sense in both of these of like the attention and the future has turned away from these places from Los Angeles and from the world in general. And it’s just the little guys with their food trucks or their black market animal dealings, just trying to get by, but no one’s heart is in it anymore.

0:20:58 Peter Suderman: That’s very much built into all of the material in the first film with the JF Sebastian character who is literally, he just says, “I make my friends,” and he is living in this giant empty kind of cobwebby place with a bunch of semi‐​intelligent dull creatures that he has created to keep for himself. And it really is a movie about loneliness and disconnection in a lot of ways, as much as it’s also about the shared connections that we all have. But in some ways, what it’s saying is the thing that we all share is we’re all kind of lonely.

0:21:36 Aaron Ross Powell: And that seems to be picked up from its noir influences, ’cause that’s a strong theme in your hard‐​boiled detective novels and films are about in the midst of large cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York, you’re just alone, and people drift in and out, but most of the time your hero’s job is to lock them up or shoot them, and then move on to the next kind of empty one‐​off relationship, but that loneliness just comes through, and it comes through in the way the films are lit and shot, the closed‐​in‐​ness of both K and Deckard’s apartments, their kitchens are astonishingly narrow, and just like that’s… Everyone’s just completely cut off and there’s just walls between them. And I think that also then ties into that claustrophobia of the setting of not being able to see very far, you can’t even see the broader world that you’re a part of.

0:22:34 Peter Suderman: Yeah, that noir sensibility was really what Ridley Scott was trying to capture. His initial sort of interest in this was just like, “Oh, I would like to make a classic Hollywood noir, but set in the future,” and even to the point where he apparently had originally planned for Deckard to wear a fedora, and then only scrapped that plan once he saw that Harrison Ford was wearing a fedora in Indiana Jones.


0:23:04 Landry Ayres: Here’s a question that is kind of a hypothetical, but I have just been curious about in a lot of these stories where we have humans that end up in this sort of Promethean way, giving life and sort of imbuing intelligence upon usually robots, your West Worlds, and now your Blade Runners…

0:23:23 Peter Suderman: 2001 Space Odyssey.

0:23:25 Landry Ayres: So many classic movies, but rarely do we get the chance to have such a distinct discussion of when does humanity at a certain point define why those creations that become so life‐​like do not get the same rights that they do. And it’s really interesting to me, specifically, one thing that gets brought up in 2049 is the thing that Joi says to K, Ryan Gosling’s character at one point, she says, “Born, not made,” which specifically itself is a callout to the Nicene Creed, the statement of belief in Christian philosophies that basically says that Jesus was born, not made, and the fact that he was born, not made sort of goes against this classical liberal idea. I immediately went to Thomas Jefferson, “All men are created equal.” And the distinction between being created and being born, that is so inherent in the second movie, I’m always curious as to how the people in these worlds come to the conclusion that their creations are less than human, and how is that reflective of the world that we live in.

0:24:48 Peter Suderman: To me, so much of this comes out of the early and mid‐​century science fiction debates about robots, and about what they were going to be. And Isaac Asimov is the sort of godfather of robot fiction, he wrote three laws for his robots that were pretty much built in, that cast them effectively as tools, that were not even servants, but just as tools of humankind, and all of his robot fiction was about kind of robot morality and how those logical rules would produce differing results and could create complications for the code, because Asimov was a humanist who thought that robots just couldn’t and wouldn’t ever have rights, that they were literally only tools. They might be interesting, they might be conscious enough to be your friends, but they would be tools. And this is how he talked about them. And he’s talked about them about being sort of proud of this innovation in thinking about how robots would interact with human society.

0:26:03 Peter Suderman: And then of course, because he was so influential when it came to robot fiction, a lot of science fiction writers started to toy with that idea and also to sort of push back on it. And I think you see Blade Runner in a lot of ways is a, rebuke is maybe not quite right, but it is an argument with Asimov about what kind of rights robots, sentient machines would have, whether they are fully human or not, and it very much comes down on the side that for all practical purposes, they are human, they are like us, and it is as you said, it is a movie whose philosophy is about the extension of rights and the extension of humanity as wide as possible.

0:26:51 Aaron Ross Powell: And I think too what it does is when people in the movies are debating this issue or thinking about this issue of the rights of replicants or the humanity of replicants, they search for these external signifiers of… So the born, not made, or replicants don’t have a soul, human to do, like some sort of yardstick that we can use to judge that, but then the films basically push away those yard sticks and tell you that they don’t answer the question and they don’t much matter. So you have, particularly in 2049, you have, say, K who becomes convinced that maybe he was born. And watching it this time, I caught that the reason he becomes convinced of it, or the initial idea is given to him by Joi. So the computer program puts the idea in his head that maybe he was… He’s not a computer program himself. And then he has suddenly all of this meaning in his life. So all of the stuff that we would think is the core of humanity, he starts imagining in himself. And so it’s really there, but then of course, he was made.

0:28:06 Aaron Ross Powell: We find that out at the end that he is not a child. And he has a moment of losing meaning, but then finds it somewhere else, finds it in, I think, is it Freya, is that her name, the the leader of the replicant resistance tells him about dying for the right cause is the most human thing, and he re‐​establishes that meaning. And also this born, not made gets interpreted in multiple ways because the resistance leader says, “Look, if we can be born, then we are fully human, and we’re told more human than human, that’s the thing that will make us human, but when… ”

0:28:52 Peter Suderman: Like Rob Zombie says.

0:28:55 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes.


0:28:55 Aaron Ross Powell: But when Wallace is explaining his plan, I think at the scene where he kills the replicant who comes out of the Ziploc bag, he says there that if replicants can be born, that makes them more effective, better slaves. That’s the thing that will allow us to even further exploit them, is if they can be born, because then we can make a lot more of them and they just self‐​replicate. So that signal is complicated in the movies, kind of tossed away, misinterpreted, but doesn’t seem to have much meaning in the end.

0:29:32 Landry Ayres: Right. Well, the thing that stood out to me and made me think about it in particular was once we find out that K is not this sort of chosen one messianic symbol, the lone child that was born and not made, you eventually figure out that it was indeed, or it’s heavily hinted at that it is Ana, the woman that lives in the bubble and designs the dreams. And it’s just barely hinted at when he’s looking at the two genetic codes that he finds when looking deep in the records, and he’s actually looking at DNA sequences, the things that make humans human, that before they mix them up, they did find that one of the twins died of something called Galatians Syndrome, which itself is sort of a reference to the Methuselah Syndrome that JF Sebastian has in the first film, Methuselah, a biblical figure who lived to be almost 1,000 years old and is very much a symbol of longevity. Even though he was in his 20s, he looked much, much older because of a genetic syndrome that he had. Whereas Galatians Syndrome is not a real condition as well, but the Book of Galatians is very, very heavy on the message that the belief in Jesus in particular, as the Apostle Paul is writing to the people of Galatia, that the belief in the grace of God is the thing that will save you and not the law or the doctrine of the Jewish people.

0:31:09 Landry Ayres: It is the belief and faith in that idea that will save you. So perhaps Ana, the person with Galatians Syndrome, sort of providing the idea to these replicants, or even to Ryan Gosling’s character that is just possibly the idea that they are fully human is a way to bring them up and allow them to rise up rather than just live their lives as creations, as slaves.

0:31:37 Peter Suderman: You see that in the first film as well, with the whole idea that they couldn’t quite figure out what to do with themselves until the memories were… They had memories implanted. And they needed that sense of history, that sense of themself. Whether it was real or not didn’t matter. What they had to have was a belief that they were real, and that the belief was… The foundation for that belief were these memories that were implanted so that they had something to grip on to, some sense of a world beyond themselves that allowed them to think of themselves as real and useful and allowed them to function and sort of go forward in the world, but also then created complications where they felt like their limited roles as android servants were not enough.


0:32:30 Aaron Ross Powell: If both of the movies are pushing back hard on the idea that because replicants are created creatures, they don’t have rights or don’t have the internal lives that we would think would be meaningful, and that they should be treated as we would treat other humans, what do we make of the quite uncomfortable sexual assault scene in the first one? And because it’s hard to know if that was just a product of a different time, in the way that when you watch a lot of movies from the ‘80s, there’s stuff that can sometimes be kind of shocking to modern sensibilities, or if there was something intentional going on there that we were supposed to get more meaning from it other than just like, Harrison Ford probably should have respected boundaries.

0:33:24 Peter Suderman: Yeah, just from a production aspect of it, I think first of all, the scene was written in a way that reflected the sensibility of the time, which was much more accepting of male physical aggression in some ways, not just accepting, but thought of it as kind of sexy, as kind of a thing that desirable men would do to women. But also during the production, famously, Harrison Ford and Sean Young did not get along, they really didn’t like each other, and Ford just let loose in that scene in a way that was not planned, and that people did not know it was gonna happen until it happened. And so that probably does not reflect well on Harrison Ford at this point.

0:34:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Not great, not great. [chuckle]

0:34:16 Aaron Ross Powell: Not cool.

0:34:18 Peter Suderman: But at the same time, part of what that movie is doing, just if you wanna read the text of it rather than the production and the era, I think that part of what that movie is doing is it is quite concerned, as Ridley Scott always is with the ways that humans or human‐​like people can be brutal to each other. He does not view people… He’s a humanist who views humans as sort of like the closest thing there is to a good in the world, and human life as the closest thing there is to a good, and rights as good, but at the same time, his movies are very much about the ways in which humans are simply awful to each other. And if we are going to… If you’re gonna make a movie about how robots are people too, then part of it is gonna… One of the things that if you’re Ridley Scott, you’re probably gonna wanna say is that robots can be awful to each other as well, and that just because they’re human and just because they have rights, and just because they have worth and deserve to live, doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be cruel to each other, that they’re not going to be brutal, and that they’re not going to take advantage of each other as we see it.

0:35:31 Landry Ayres: Yeah, they use the line “More human than human” a lot of times to describe themselves, and I always sort of questioned, I was like, “That’s another interesting yardstick that they used to describe themselves, because what does it mean to be more human than something other than perhaps, say, more flawed?”

0:35:51 Aaron Ross Powell: That then doesn’t address how the second movie, I guess, fails to address that scene, because the second movie doesn’t seem to acknowledge that aspect of their relationship, and implies that it was a perfectly loving relationship, Deckard is made out to be the kind of doting boyfriend who had to go away for reasons, but it feels like if that were the message that the first one was trying to convey or a way to read that, it’s the absence of… That aspect of it is pretty stark in the second one.

0:36:30 Peter Suderman: Isn’t that though partly because the movie, the second film gives us Deckard’s perspective on his life? And people in their old age, as time goes on, the rough edges of the past get filed off in many cases, and you don’t remember yourself in many cases as a monster, even if you were one, and things sort of become romanticized. And I think the movie is, one way of reading it, I guess I could say, is not that it is just reading that out of the story, but that it is telling you that Deckard now reads that out of the story, that that’s not how he sees it, not how he remembers it, because he has a romantic view informed by nostalgia and time.

0:37:20 Landry Ayres: He also… I don’t think it totally sort of shaves off the rough edges. It certainly leans into that reading, I think, Peter, but when he’s sitting down at the bar with Ryan Gosling and they’re discussing what happened with the kid and why he had to leave, I believe he says something like, “Well, that was part of the plan, is I had to leave.” And at first, I thought it was something to the effect of like, that this was part of the plan of creating this child, and then being the first one of this, but I think you could also read it as, I was wondering, maybe like the human‐​like things that they are, you realize that it did not work out between Rachel and Deckard, and perhaps Deckard continued to be abusive, and it was truly better for him to leave her and the child and give them a chance to be on their own, and maybe they met up with Sapper for instance, and he helped take care of them because Deckard was not the person that he needed to be, and that this sort of plan he’s talking about is something much more omnipotent or divine that he’s referencing rather than any actual plot of people.

0:38:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Right, so you’re suggesting almost that Deckard is taking himself out of the equation in order to save those who he loves.

0:38:50 Landry Ayres: It may not even be to save who he loves, it might have just been he was so bad and he got it right one time and was like “It’s better for me to leave”, but, I don’t see it as a way of him being like, “And now I’m absolved for everything because I will let you be on your own.” It was just him being like, “I have a lot of problems obviously, because for my entire life I lived as a human and hunted the people that I now suspect are my kin.” And he has to escape that somehow, perhaps.

0:39:23 Natalie Dowzicky: All right, all right, I can buy that. I guess part of me thinks that because both these movies honestly feel like really devoid of human emotion on behalf of humans and replicants, and I think that’s totally intentional, but I guess… I don’t think there was that much thought into why Deckard would leave them or the continuing of their relationship. I think the scene that Aaron brings up is certainly problematic if it were to be presented, especially in a movie today, but I don’t think… I think I’m in Aaron’s camps here where I just don’t think they gave any lip service to that scene in the 2049 version, and not that there needed to be a lip service towards it, but it does leave a giant question mark in my brain about what their relationship looks like. But then again, I don’t think it’s central to what I take away from the movie. It doesn’t ruin the movies for me. So we’ve been bringing up this idea of memory a lot, and as Peter was speaking earlier, I was thinking about how… We were talking about well, maybe Deckard doesn’t… Maybe he romanticizes his memory of how things went down, or he glosses over unsavory parts of his memory, and I just thought it was ironic that we were talking about it in this way, because the whole idea is that all of the replicants are given memories that are not theirs.

0:40:52 Natalie Dowzicky: They don’t actually belong. They don’t actually… They’re not their memories and they don’t belong to them. And I thought of this idea I was like, if you’re perceiving your memories not belonging to you, are you perceiving your past just differently? And I think throughout whole… Through the first movie and the 2049, there’s this idea that memory is so central to who you are as a human, and I was wondering what you guys… [chuckle] This is a very hypothetical question, but what would happen if you essentially found out you’re an uploaded copy and your memories don’t actually belong to you, because that’s what this realization that all the replicants are happening. What would be your reaction? I don’t think you just go on, go on like, “Yes, I have a cause now”, I think… [chuckle]

0:41:40 Aaron Ross Powell: But it’s interesting in the movies with a handful of exceptions, so with Rachel and then perhaps with Deckard. Everyone else… All the other replicants know that they’re replicants and they know that their memories are fake.

0:41:52 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. They have like self awareness. Right.

0:41:56 Aaron Ross Powell: But they understand that they have these memories because without them they would be non‐​functional, but they at the same time know that they’re fake, but that doesn’t seem to faze them. They still are arguing that I’m just as much a human as you are, and I think that’s probably… If you found out the same thing, on the one hand, it would throw you for a loop, and it might put you into a funk and all of that, but in the end, I don’t think that there’s that much difference. The memories are memories and there’s not… There’s not a meaningful… This is similar to my feelings on the free will debate. Whatever the answer is on the free‐​will debate doesn’t matter, because you would continue to live the same way that you live and your experiences will continue to be the exact same as they are, and the world would continue to function the way that it does. And so I just… I think that in that case, the way that the replicants respond to already knowing is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of how the rest of us would deal with the same issue.

0:43:00 Peter Suderman: Memories are always in real life constructed and shaped, and you lose some of them. And some of them, you remember in mistaken ways. They’re not very reliable guides, if you’ve ever studied Eyewitness testimony in courts. It’s actually quite unreliable. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be using it. But there are real limits to it. And people’s memories play tricks on them, not because they’re lying, not because… Not even because they are particularly obviously motivated in some cases, just because memories are not perfectly reliable, they’re malleable. And our brains do stuff to our memories that we don’t always know is going on.

0:43:42 Peter Suderman: And sometimes you are then faced with reality. I have a distinct memory, which I think is true, of meeting someone who I had long admired and had an email correspondence with and known… This is a person with a public persona, and I’d known this person that way for a while, and I met this person for the very first time in a bar… Actually right next to the Cato Institute, and was so excited to finally meet them, and the first thing they said to me was… I said, “Hi, it’s so great to meet you.” And this first thing this person said to me was, “No, actually, we’ve met before,” and then went on to describe a monologue that I had delivered in a car ride 10 years before, because that person had been an intern at a job that I had worked at very early in Washington DC and I just hadn’t remembered the interns and saying stuff to them, and this sort of thing happens all the time to us.

0:44:44 Peter Suderman: Whether we realize it or not, it’s that the connections that we… In our filing cabinets, in our brains, just short out, we forget “Oh wait, my goodness that’s there”, and it can be brought back. It also sort of gave me appreciation for that sense that some people have it of… I don’t know if you guys have read about the repressed memories and all the kind of stuff that goes on with that, where most of the repressed memory stuff turn out to be not true. They’re in some cases, even intentionally‐​ish implanted by the therapists who are working with these people. A memory is just a weird thing. It’s weird for humans, it’s weird for robots, it’s weird in movies. And I think if I found out that my memory was not what I thought it was, I would just sort of end up realizing, that’s… It’s always not what I think it is, I mean it’s always, to some extent, an unreliable guide to who I am because it has been shaped by a million factors that are knowable and unknowable.

0:45:46 Landry Ayres: Anna even says, they think it’s more about when they ask her, “Why are you the best at creating memories? Why does Wallace employ you so well?” She says, “They think it’s about the details, but it’s not like that. We recall with our feelings anything that’s real should be a mess.” And that’s true, your memories are embedded in your body, in the way you felt things and smells and sense memory, and they can be manipulated and changed by the things that you want and desire or that happen to you over the course of the period of time. But they are not the clear stories like frames in a movie that we imagine them in our heads as they are flowing sensations, and weird, malleable. It’s more like the paint hasn’t dried yet constantly, and they can constantly be smooshed around and repainted, and like a palimpsest it could be scraped clean, but there’s something left underneath, it’s not locked in place like a piece of film.


0:47:00 Landry Ayres: These movies, Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 depict capitalism and corporations in a pretty distinct way, I think that set the tone for a lot of other science fiction media before. I would say… It’s very interesting though, and something Peter made note of before we recorded, do you think they are pro or anti‐​capitalist in any way?

0:47:29 Peter Suderman: I think you can read them as anti‐​capitalist if you want, the Tyrell Corporation, the Wallace corporation, seem like large companies that have a lot of control over individual human lives and the future of humanity, they don’t seem to be governed, the government like we said, seems mostly out of the picture, at the same time, there is this real sense, especially in the first Blade runner that I just love about it, that there is… That humans are kind of inescapable creatures of commerce, that commerce is the main way in some ways, in which we deal with each other and survive, and I think we’ve talked about how Blade Runner has given rise to Visions of the Future.

0:48:17 Peter Suderman: It was at the time, I think still you look back on it, considered this very grim, dark, gritty, futuristic vision, but if you look at the way that places like Times Square and the big commercial centers in London and all over the world, all of the Hong Kong, all of these big commercial urban centers, what they’ve done in some ways, is adopt a blade runner like aesthetic but happier, but like not dark and grim, and gritty you go to Times Square and it’s like, Oh, this is sort of… It’s kind of like Disney World, it’s fun. It’s not… There’s something a little bit sort of hectic and over the top about it, but there is this real sense in that movie in which that a good way for people to live and interact is to just be on top of each other all the time selling and buying and trying…

0:49:06 Peter Suderman: And setting up shop and eating weird food and whatever it is off the streets and making animals, and it’s just sort of like… Actually, it’s a weirdly… To me, I look at it and I think of it as, on the one hand, yes, this is a grim and bleak vision, and on the other hand, this actually seems to get at the way that humans interact in a commercial manner, so much better than other science fiction movies, because it really sees commerce as being at the center of human life and human existence.

0:49:47 Natalie Dowzicky: I also think, going off Peter’s point here that it’s interesting that… Again, like we were talking about… You’re talking about commerce and you’re talking about how humans interact and Aaron had said earlier about how there’s not a lot of fabulous relationships in these films, and it also goes back to me thinking like if we’re talking about how individuals interact, we don’t necessarily see a lower class other than people who aren’t the head of corporations. So the corporations are kind of looking down on… Looking down on the people in LA, and I just think it’s so interesting that with this idea that Peter brings up that it’s not necessarily grim in that aspect of commerce and how we interact with one another, I just don’t see any human emotion. I said this earlier, there’s just a lot… It just, this movie just makes me sad, I guess that’s my conclusion of it, but…

0:50:42 Peter Suderman: I don’t know, I wanna live in that version in Los Angeles 2019, that is an Urbanists vision… Great vision of the future with that… Like a little less smog and a little more light, but that is what the Urbanists want, is like walkable streets, food trucks at every corner. If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, that’s actually what parts of Hong Kong really are like, is just this mess of stuff being sold everywhere, and there’s so much of it, and it’s so wonderful and it’s kind of like… Some of it’s scamming, some of it’s a little scuzzy, the food is so delicious. And it’s just like, here’s people making stuff for other people and engaging in trade, and it’s actually… I don’t know, there’s a part of it, again. I don’t wanna push this interpretation too far because Blade Runner is definitely not a movie about how things are great and wonderful.

0:51:36 Natalie Dowzicky: No. No optimism.

0:51:37 Peter Suderman: But there is a sense in which the world that it depicts is one in which humans have figured out how to muddle through and how to interact with each other. And how to survive. And that’s a thing you see in Ridley Scott’s fiction a lot, from the Alien to the Martian, right? Here is somebody who thinks, “Well, the world is… Living is a hard thing to do. Surviving is a hard thing to do, but you know what, we can and we will. Because we’re humans. And that’s what makes us human.”


0:52:05 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we get to share all of the other pieces of media that we’ve been enjoying while we have been at home. This is, Locked In. Aaron, what else have you been enjoying other than reliving the Blade Runner glory days.

0:52:21 Aaron Ross Powell: Well, being locked in has made me feel somewhat escapist, and the way I have been doing that is by spending too much time in shared world fiction, so most of my reading lately has been either Warhammer 40,000 novels, which I guess is imagining a place even more grim than the one were in at the moment…

0:52:39 Peter Suderman: But with cool robots…

0:52:42 Aaron Ross Powell: And I have also just recently started reading Legend of the Five Rings novels because there’s a new series of those out and Samurai fantasy stuff. So nothing high brow. Nothing to be proud of. Just escaping into other worlds.

0:53:01 Natalie Dowzicky: How about you, Peter?

0:53:02 Peter Suderman: I’ve also been escaping into a video game, Wasteland 3, which came out at… A few months ago, it is an isometric turn‐​based squad‐​based role‐​playing game, across between Diablo fallout, mass effect, top down kind of Xcom style combat. Its story and dialogue, have a emphasis on choice and consequences as well as tactical combat, but also on goofy and dark political humor, so you play as a group of rangers and you have to build a squad in a post‐​apocalyptic Colorado, far in the future of the… After the United States has collapsed, and your mission is to help out the local ruler who is known as the patriarch, whose children, all of his heirs have set up little fiefdoms that are competing and combating with each other and with him all over the states.

0:54:02 Peter Suderman: And so you have to decide which ones you’re gonna ally with, which ones you’re gonna just take down, and eventually, of course, you have to decide whether you are going to ally with or help or oppose the patriarch and his brutal rule over the citizens of Colorado himself. The game is close enough to a contemporary satire that it actually opens with a disclaimer, this is a work of fiction, ideas, dialogue and stories we created early in the development process have in some cases been mirrored by our current reality, it says. But there’s literally you, at one point, encounter a cult faction called The Gippers, who worship a Ronald Reagan AI that they then conscript you into turning into a real person, which I think would really go to our debates about whether AIs can be real and whether they’re humans or not. And of course, you have a choice whether to help them or… And exactly how, and it’s very…

0:55:01 Peter Suderman: It’s interesting narratively, just in terms of the sheer volume and complexity of the choices that it offers, and it’s also a really interesting game, not just in terms of the tactical combat being pretty good and well‐​designed, but in terms of the way that it shows how video games can deliver stories and can serve as effective cartoon‐​ish political satires, and the ways that they can be actually, I would say, just as politically relevant and do just as much interesting political comedy and commentary as a lot of our popular fiction and television shows. So highly recommended for folks, particularly if you like to follow out games or the Xcom games or Diablo, that sort of thing. It’s a pretty fun game.

0:55:56 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, speaking of games, I played my first game of Among Us, I was… Our daughter, our team now plays Among Us during the week, and I was not the impostor, but I still got voted off, so I’m still healing my wounds from that other than playing Among Us, I’ve also started finally Lovecraft Country on HBO. I’m only one episode in, but so far, so far it’s pretty good, the episodes are pretty long, pretty true to HBOs style, and then I also started a new book the… It’s called Life Undercover, it’s by Amaryllis Fox, and it’s about her experience in the CIA. I started that yesterday, and I’m only 10 pages in, so I really don’t know if it’s worth my time. But the only other thing I’ve been doing is listening to the second season of Dr. Death, which I mentioned on the last Pop & Locke, but those episodes… The first four are out now, they released three in the beginning, and then one once a week for the next three weeks, it’s very scary and makes me worried about going to the doctor ever again, but it’s also a really cool story. So take that for what you will. [chuckle]

0:57:14 Landry Ayres: I have, other than watching a lot of the Korean dramas on Netflix that my wife has recently gotten really, really into, and sort of walking in and out of the room as she exclaims things at the TV, as she gets shocked by the plot twists that go on, I have listened to a couple of podcasts, a lot of… One that I enjoyed is… You can just jump in with any episode, you don’t have to start at the beginning. Is produced by the BBC.

0:57:45 Landry Ayres: It is called No Such Thing As A Fish. It is a team of the researchers from the show QI, if you’re familiar with that show, so they’re all really bright, amazing researchers who try and find extremely obscure weird facts, and they just kind of sit around and are like, “Oh, there’s… Did you know that X is true?” There’s no such thing as a fish, which is one of the first facts that they discussed, and I have never learned so many strange things in a 45‐​minute period, and they’re just these brilliant people who will… They’ll be like, “Well, this week I was researching this and I learned this weird fact,” and they’ll tell a brief story or anecdote about history or science, or it could be anything, and that will leap‐​frog somebody else to be like, “Oh, well, that’s actually interesting because I learned something about this.”

0:58:38 Landry Ayres: So really bright people. If you want to just have something fun on in the background where you can learn stuff, I suggest, No Such Thing As A Fish. I also have been re‐​listening to some of my favorite episodes of Hello from the magic Tavern, which is a group of Chicago‐​based improvisers, and basically it is a fictional Podcast where the host is a gentleman that accidentally stumbled upon a portal behind a Burger King, and fell into the magical land of Foon where he befriended a shape‐​shifter in the form of a Badger and a wizard named Usidore, and they have guests on every week, and they basically started with nothing and they week to week improvised this world of this magical land that they live in and they bring in a new guest every week, and it’s like, “Oh, our guest this week is a talking sword.” And that person will just go with that and be like, “Oh hello, I was in a lake and… ” And… But they’re all extremely talented Improvisers.

0:59:44 Landry Ayres: Yes, you’ll actually… Would probably like it, Natalie, because Arnie Niekamp is the host of it and a few other people, and they all are also writers for the Jack box games.

0:59:56 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, I like that.

0:59:57 Landry Ayres: So that is another job that they do, is they write for those games, if anyone likes like those, you might like the type of humor in Hello from the Magic Tavern.

1:00:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Murder Mystery.

1:00:10 Landry Ayres: And I also have been re‐​listening to an album I discovered last year, actually just after I started this job, which is the band 100 gecs and their album 1000 gecs. It is… To put it in a way that was… I think really solidified it for me, it is the most Gen Z Internet music that you can think of, they basically were like, Let’s think of every fad type of music that has been popular around the Internet over the past few years and smash them together, but also be very, very good songwriters, so there’s like crazy dubstep mixed with SKA and pop punk hooks and chipmunk auto‐​tune vocals, you are either gonna love it or you’re gonna hate it.

1:01:04 Natalie Dowzicky: You just described everything I hate. [chuckle]

1:01:05 Landry Ayres: Yeah, you probably would hate it then, but I would say it’s done with a lot of care and actually really, really amazing song writing and hooks and structure, and they write great melodies, and they’re also very, very funny. They actually met and then their first performance was at a Minecraft festival, so they debuted their music at a virtual Festival in Minecraft, if that gives you any clues as to the kind of community that they arose from. So if you’re into that, you might like the band 100 gecs.


1:01:48 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you are one of the I’m sure many people that thinks we got whether Deckard is a Reliant wrong, make sure to let us know on Twitter at PopnLockePod, that’s pop the letter N locke with an E like the philosopher pod. Make sure subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcast, and leave us a review if you like to show. We look forward to unravelling your favourite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by me, Landry Ayres. As a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org, to learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.