E17 -

Jessica Flanigan and Chris Freiman join the show to talk about the 1997 box office flop turned sci‐​fi classic, Gattaca.

Landry Ayres
Senior Producer

Jessica Flanigan is the Richard L. Morrill Chair in Ethics and Democratic Values at the University of Richmond, where she teaches Leadership Ethics, Ethical Decision Making in Healthcare, and Critical Thinking. Her research addresses the ethics of public policy, medicine, and business. In “Pharmaceutical Freedom” (Oxford University Press, 2017) she defends rights of self‐​medication. In “Debating Sex Work” (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) she defends the decriminalization of sex work.

Flanigan has also published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, The Journal of Business Ethics, Leadership, The Journal of Moral Philosophy, and the Journal of Political Philosophy. She is currently writing a book about the ethics of pregnancy and a book about language and ethics. She is a proponent of effective altruism.

Chris Freiman is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary. Dr. Freiman’s areas of specialization include normative ethics, social and political philosophy.


Gattaca highlights a the future where eugenics is common. A genetic registry database uses biometrics to classify those so created as “valids” while those conceived by traditional means and more susceptible to genetic disorders are known as “invalids”. In this world genetic discrimination is illegal, but valids qualify for professional employment while invalids are relegated to menial tasks and jobs. The main character, Vincent, is an invalid and hopes to break the system where the genetically enhanced run the show.



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

0:00:06 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:08 Landry Ayres: Fire up your gene drives and hop in your space suits, because today we are blasting off into the 1997 artsy sci‐​fi box‐​office flop turned cult classic, Gattaca. Joining us today are Associate Professor of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary, Chris Freiman.

0:00:27 Chris Freiman: Hi, thanks for having me.

0:00:28 Landry Ayres: And the Richard L. Morrill Chair in Ethics & Democratic Values at the University of Richmond, Jess Flanigan.

0:00:35 Jessica Flanigan: Hi.

0:00:36 Natalie Dowzicky: So given that Gattaca is set in the not to distant future and was released in 1997, does anyone think we’re close to making Gattaca a reality, and would that be a good or bad thing?

0:00:49 Chris Freiman: I don’t know how close we are. I don’t know if we’re as far away as we might think. I could see it happening in my lifetime, perhaps. And I guess I would say depending on how genetic enhancement is actually used, I think it could be a good thing on the whole to make people healthier and happier. I think that the movie raises some important moral questions about enhancement, but I don’t think it’s all that different from medical treatments that we use to do things like treat polio, that sort of thing. And I do have to say, I didn’t realize this was a box‐​office flop. That kind of makes me sad too, ’cause I really like this movie.

0:01:30 Landry Ayres: Yeah, actually, this movie did not do very well at the box‐​office. I believe it had a budget of something around 36 million, and it only made, throughout it’s whole theatrical run, I think just a little over 12 million. So it only really made back a third of it’s budget production‐​wise, so not very good investment‐​wise for a movie, but it’s since gained a cult following for sure.

0:01:57 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, if the question was just about the technology, I think the barrier to making this a reality isn’t the gene editing technology. If anything it seems like our gene editing technology is more advanced than it was in the movie because it looked like in the movie they were doing pre‐​implantation genetic selection, but now we have CRISPR. So you can actually affect the genomes of a future person directly without doing just the screening, where it looked like before they were doing screening. But the barrier is just the knowledge about how genes will translate to these different types of traits. And so they were assuming that they understood how genetic information could translate to a bunch of behavioral traits like ADHD and stuff, and we just don’t have a good enough understanding of how the Human Genome works to know if that’s feasible or if that’s even how genes would work. Plus there’s epigenetic factors that would matter. So the science isn’t quite there, which is understanding how genes work, but the science is farther than they are when it comes to being able to modify the genes of future people.

0:03:02 Natalie Dowzicky: So in the very first scene, or within the first few minutes of the movie, we get a scene where two parents are meeting with what would be the equivalent of a fertility doctor and they are given a picture with cells… Or I guess they’re zygotes, right? And they’re told, “Oh, do you have preference over boy or girl? And we already pre‐​screened for all of these different anomalies and/​or different traits that they could want their children to have, and the parents make this comment about, “Oh, can’t we leave some things up to chance?” And I was interested, since both of you are parents, if you would want to choose some of those traits, or if you would like to leave some of those traits up to chance. Now, I’m not talking about any sicknesses or that kind of stuff, like serious disabilities, I’m more talking about things they were talking about. They talked about eye color and hair color, and I was curious what you guys would do in that situation.

0:04:07 Chris Freiman: Yeah, I think this is an interesting question. I think it’s nice to leave some things up to chance. So, if you have one of these situations where, what do they call it? It’s like a Christmas gift exchange where you’re paired with another person, you exchange gifts.

0:04:22 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, like a white elephant?

0:04:23 Chris Freiman: White Elephant.

0:04:24 Jessica Flanigan: Secret Santa.

0:04:25 Chris Freiman: Secret Santa. But sometimes that happens where you don’t really know what the other person wants and then so you just ask them directly what they want, you give them exactly they want. Or they give you an Amazon gift card, or something like that. There’s no real surprise to it. That kind of takes some of the fun out of the gift exchange if you know exactly what you’re going to get. And I think you could make an analogous argument with kids. It’s probably good to leave some things up to chance, but like you said, I don’t think you want to leave everything up to chance. So certainly things that are relevant to the child happiness or overall well‐​being, I think you might have good reason to tinker genetically.

0:05:05 Jessica Flanigan: But anybody who’s been a parent will know that there’s so much stuff that’s already up to chance that has nothing to do with anything of this, that there’s already a lot of surprises and unexpected stuff, and some people are critical of pre‐​implantation enhancement because they think that that is a kind of parental hyper‐​agency. So Michael Sandel teaches at Harvard, so no wonder that he thinks this because he’s surrounded by a bunch of people who maybe did have hyper gentle caring happen there [laughter], but he worries that if we had parents that were able to do this in addition to 20 hours a week for travel soccer and SAT tutoring and stuff that it would make parents less accepting of their children and that parenting should have that what he calls, “Openness to the unbidden.” But, good parenting should have openness to the unbidden whether or not your kids were selected or not. His objection’s to bad parenting, not to genetic enhancement.

0:06:06 Jessica Flanigan: And there’s another philosopher, this guy Julian Solowski, and he has this analogy, the Wheel of Fortune analogy, where he’s like, “Imagine that you had two boxes and they’re both useful, spin a wheel of fortune and you could get some kind of pay off. Box A and B. But if you choose box B, then you also have a one in six chance of losing some money, like losing $100. And otherwise, the two are exactly the same. Of course you would choose box A because it still has a bunch of randomness involved, but it just doesn’t have this additional chance of some kind of thing that you would want to avoid. And so, choosing genes for disease states or something like that might be like this, to the extent that you see having a disease state or having even an undesirable non‐​disease state as a kind of thing you wanna avoid. That’s controversial because there’re disability rights advocates who are like, “Well, you shouldn’t want to avoid those things.” So we could talk about that later, but the point is there’s already a ton of chance and selecting against certain traits doesn’t eliminate chance in parenting or amount to hyper‐​agency or anything like that.

0:07:17 Landry Ayres: And I think that’s an interesting point that you bring up, Jess, because specifically the disability rights issue, I think would definitely view this film differently released today than it was released in 1997, which is… Oh, my gosh, over 20 years ago now.

0:07:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:07:37 Landry Ayres: That’s hard to think about. But specifically, I think with the character of Eugene and the amount of agency that he has, and I’m just kind of curious, if the film were to be released today, what do you see might be some of the differences in the reactions to it that we might have now. Do you think people would take it in a different way? Do you think they would… Is there other technology that seems to be more on the forefront and is… Or is more far‐​fetched than what is included in the movie?

0:08:14 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, I think our judgments always have a kind of status quo bias, and so this really reflects how people perceived the status quo of 1997, but now things are so much further along that it would maybe be perceived as more plausible today, because they’re a little bit closer to that.

0:08:35 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. I imagine that back in 1997, this was seen more like fantasy‐​based than people would view it today, had it come out today, especially with… CRISPR wasn’t around back in 1997, and we’ve obviously had huge advances since then just in the type of technology that we use, but I think that… Kind of what Landry is getting at, is the reaction would be more so like a techno panic than it was… At least I would argue back in 1997 that somehow this Gattaca society would be much worse off, and the benefits it also gave us, hypothetically.

0:09:17 Chris Freiman: I’m not one to say much about film criticism, but this is an interesting thing about the aesthetics of this film that it is supposed to be very futuristic, but it looks like it takes place in the 1950s.

0:09:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:09:30 Chris Freiman: It’s like it’s 1950s, but with electric cars and genetic enhancement, somehow. I don’t quite see what the significance of that…

0:09:37 Landry Ayres: Right.

0:09:38 Chris Freiman: Yeah.

0:09:38 Landry Ayres: A lot of retro futurism.

0:09:41 Chris Freiman: So maybe that’s supposed to key us in to the plausibility of this happening at some point within our lifetime.

0:09:47 Landry Ayres: Or I mean… I was gonna say, even in relation to perhaps sort of playing into the aesthetic of… I mean, when really did the eugenics movement die down? And that’s a genuine question. I’m not a historian based in that or understanding that at all, but I wonder if that’s a sort of aesthetic homage to a period where something like eugenics might be not quite looked down upon in the same manner as it is today, and sort of attempting to draw parallels between that. But I also know that the writer/​director this movie, Andrew Niccol, has also used similar aesthetic choices of retro‐​futurism in other movies that he’s made, including a similar movie that came out, actually I think just a handful of years ago, called In Time, which stars Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake, which has a great premise, I think, but isn’t a great movie in and of itself.

0:10:48 Landry Ayres: And it’s actually basically a complete remake of a short film from, I think 1987 or something like that, that they don’t credit, but basically where people are genetically engineered, once again, to not age past the age of 25, and at that point they stop aging, and there’s basically a ticking time clock that everyone has and the… And time alive is basically used as a currency that people can exchange and use, and the wealthy accumulate not only actual money, but use the amount of time they have to accumulate power and basically become immortal, whereas the people who are living in poverty die very young, which I think is sort of an interesting parallel compared to the healthy people in the world of Gattaca are in this upper class system and probably statistically would live longer simply based on their genes, whereas the people who are considered invalids would not live as long because they have things that would be seen as disabilities or deformities, etcetera.

0:12:00 Chris Freiman: So that raising an interesting points about Gattaca where you always have these sci‐​fi movies that seem really nice on the surface, but then there’s some horrible catch lurking in the background, it’s like, “Oh, everybody’s super happy and they live forever, but a super computer is gonna torture them when they’re 30 and extract their organs for the sake of the universe.” It’s like, “Oh, okay… ” But Gattaca it’s not like that, it’s just kind of like, things are in some sense working as you would expect them to work and there’s no horrific catch, but I still think that it’s meant to serve as a kind of critique of that technology.

0:12:33 Landry Ayres: Well, also because the sort of caste system that you see that they hint at, you don’t see too much of the marked line between the two, the valids and the invalids. It’s almost exclusively operating in the world of the supposedly genetically superior. And you don’t get very much of the people who are not a part of that class, you get the people who are rounded up outside the club in the… I guess it’s like a concrete basketball area that they’re playing at, or I think there’s hints of some people that are at that sort of speak‐​easy‐​like place that they visit together, and then there’s Eugene who sits all alone at home, but I… It sort of leads me to the other idea I had, which is I wanted more Eugene. I wanted more of his struggle and his decision of what it was like for Jude Law to align himself with Ethan Hawke’s character, and you get moments of that where he talks about he gets 10 or 20% of the cut from the broker, Tony Shalhoub ‘s character… Also the cast for this movie, just…

0:13:46 Natalie Dowzicky: Fabulous.

0:13:47 Landry Ayres: Stunning, bar none. And produced by Danny DeVito, did not realize that. I just, I would like to see more of both sides of the coin there, and I think that would have fleshed out the movie more for me.

0:14:02 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, this might seem like a really simple question, but what exactly is Gattaca? So is it a private company? I don’t think we have enough information. Maybe the movie doesn’t… Purposely makes it a bit more nuanced, what exactly Gattaca is and I saw that Jess had written in her notes, “Is Gattaca like NASA?” ‘Cause then there gets into all these interesting questions about what your employer is and isn’t entitled to, because essentially the employer is taking all of your genetic information, which sounds terrible, but I don’t know if anyone else saw that nuance in Gattaca being a private company or it being something that’s like a government hybrid, or government funded company and how that presents even more questions.

0:14:50 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, I had the thought, watching it again, ’cause maybe its just ’cause political philosophy has wrecked my brain when I watch movies, but I was like, “First of all, for the broker’s contract, that would be prohibited now,” I think, based on the unconscionability doctrine, because it would be a prohibited contract where it’s like you can’t extract a percentage of somebody’s lifetime earnings for some type of exchange. I don’t think that the courts would uphold that kind of contract, and then he’s like, “Well, yes, genetic discrimination’s illegal, but everybody does it, and then they’re citing insurance,” but if they’re citing insurance, that might be because of things like the Affordable Care Act which kind of reinforced our employer‐​mandated insurance system, so you could decouple insurance, the provision of insurance, from where you go to daycare or where you work, and they don’t necessarily have to go together, but it sounds like there’s some kind of government regulation that has these types of insurance mandates, and maybe if it was a public daycare, they would have had sovereign immunities, they could have taken him, I don’t know.

0:15:58 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, if Gattaca is like NASA then that also means that, who are the villains? Say that Gattaca is like NASA, then the villains in the movie are the police, and this state‐​funded research organization. I think the surface reading of it is like, “Oh, this is a cautionary tale about unregulated access to medical technology,” but the actual second line reading of it might be like, “This is a cautionary tail about how people respond to introductions of new genetic technology and that people will use public institutions to respond to it in a really problematic way.” The villain is politics or people. The villain is not the technology itself. It’s not the enhancement that’s the villain.

0:16:44 Chris Freiman: I nominate Jess to enact regulatory reform for the world of Gattaca.



0:16:56 Natalie Dowzicky: So do you think, talking about this idea, we’re going back a little bit about being able to enhance your children, and so that they can go and work at somewhere like Gattaca or they could go and… The presumption is that they could go and they’re gonna live a better life if you enhance them, so if you kind of extract from that, is it morally permissible for parents not to enhance their children at that point? Because if everyone’s enhancing their children, and you’re like working backwards, if everyone’s enhancing their children, and then you don’t enhance your children because you think like, “Okay, we’re gonna leave something up to chance,” does that mean your child is already starting further back than everyone else, and then did you not do your duty as a parent?

0:17:48 Jessica Flanigan: I feel like the bar for parenting is pretty… It doesn’t require that you do the most, because you’ve provided the necessary conditions for your kid to have a whole lifetime worth living. And so I don’t think that parents have a duty to maximize the expected welfare in their child’s life. There are these cases in bioethics of people who select in favor of certain disabled traits, so they’ll select in favor of deafness, for example, and I don’t think that they do anything wrong to deliberately decide to have a child that’s deaf. The thing that people do to deaf people that’s wrong is that they uphold a discriminatory set of institutions that require an oralist culture or that exclude deaf people from being able to participate in things by not providing closed captioning, but it’s not wrong to create a child who’s deaf, it’s wrong to be mean to people who are deaf. That’s the thing that’s wrong.

0:18:46 Natalie Dowzicky: Jess, do you mind if I follow up with the question as somebody who’s probably more sympathetic to welfare maximization, than you are?

0:18:55 Jessica Flanigan: That’s definitely true.


0:18:58 Chris Freiman: So, let’s table the discussion of which particular traits are welfare maximizing, let’s just assume that we know what they are. And suppose you have a choice… So, you say, “Okay, I can send my kids to one of two schools. They’re identical in all respects, except the second school will increase their welfare relative to the first school.” Doesn’t it seem like you should send them to the second school?

0:19:22 Jessica Flanigan: There’s a difference between what you have most reason to do versus what’s permissible. But it’s definitely permissible for you to send them to the less welfare maximizing school. So, if you’re like, “Yeah, but the less happy school takes five minutes off my commute.” It’s not a big win, but that’s fine, ’cause your kid’s gonna have a life worth living. And I think the one thing that makes people stress out, just today, about parenting and having more kids and stuff, is that we do expect parents to just do all that it takes, and hyper‐​maximizing for their kids’ well‐​being and stuff, but I think that as long as they have lives that are worth living and that are good lives, and their parents love them and stuff, you don’t have to be a maximizer when it comes to parenting. And I don’t think that Vincent’s parents in the movie did wrong by him by creating him without enhancements. I think that the social institutions that excluded him from employment… And also, I don’t… We should talk about how the economy works in that society, but those are the people who did him wrong, not his parents that created him. His parents did him a favor. He should be grateful to his parents.

0:20:35 Chris Freiman: Let me follow up, though, with a question then, about Vincent. So suppose Vincent is born and they get that read out that says his life expectancy is 30 years because he has a heart problem, but it’s still presumably a life worth living. And suppose a doctor says, “Well, here’s a very simple pill you can give baby Vincent… ” Maybe you don’t wanna give a baby a pill, but, “Here’s a very simple injection, you can give baby Vincent that will fix his heart problem and extend his life to 60 years.” It seems to me like you at least have a defeasible obligation to do that if you’re Vincent’s parents, don’t you?

0:21:10 Jessica Flanigan: I think they definitely have reasons to do it because you have moral reasons to create more welfare if you can, or more life expectancy if you can, but I don’t know that they’re required to do it, or that they’d be blameworthy for not doing it. But that’s a little bit different from creating Vincent in the first place, because he didn’t exist, so benefiting an existing person is different than creating a new person to get certain group of benefits.

0:21:34 Chris Freiman: Right, I agree.

0:21:35 Landry Ayres: This makes me think, Jess, that you brought up specifically that the issues in dealing with people, for instance, people who are deaf, most of the issues deal with the way the people and institutions treat them, not in the inherent status of that person. So, are his parents more or less defensible because of what they then chose to do for their second son? And not necessarily in the fact that they genetically enhanced him prior to birth, but that they treated him differently? Or, was it just that they were trying to warn Ethan Hawke’s character about how hard his place in the world was going to be? Like his dad said, “The only way you’re gonna get in there is by cleaning the bathrooms,” or what he said. Is there a line between those two that makes them more or less defensible, do you think?

0:22:44 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, in my view, the thing that was not good parenting was having this kind of approach to their children, where they approach their children as like a bundle of traits rather than as people. It’s like approaching their children instrumentally, and I don’t think that that’s a good way to treat anybody, much less your own children. But creating the children as they did, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with either choice.

0:23:10 Natalie Dowzicky: This conversation goes well into how this movie handles discrimination. I saw that Chris had wrote something about genoism and wrongful discrimination in terms of who is held back from certain jobs, just because now we have all these enhanced people that should be better at jobs than others, and won’t necessarily give even the chance to someone like Vincent. Now, do we think this is wrongful discrimination? I saw that Chris wrote down an interesting analogy to the NFL, and I kinda wanted him to kinda tease that out for us.

0:23:55 Chris Freiman: Yeah, I always think in terms of analogies to sports. Jess thinks about regulatory reform, I think about the NFL, that’s how my mind works. Yeah, so you hear these crazy stories about college football players who are competing to be drafted into the NFL and what sorts of things that NFL scouts do prior to selecting them. I think that this [0:24:23] ____, something about the measurement of their knees, and somehow the width of your wrist predicts your ability to put on muscle mass, I don’t know. But really creepy stuff like that. So, you might say, “Okay, is that a permissible reason to select one football player over another?” You say their wrist size is “better”. Well, you might say, if it speaks to their ability to do the job better, that’s a permissible reason, maybe it’s not an all things considered reason, but it seems like it’s permissible because it seems, what you might call, occupationally relevant. It’s relevant to the occupation.

0:25:06 Chris Freiman: And so, you could say, well, for certain things like… I think maybe another example of this would be something like being a pilot for the Air Force, maybe just being a pilot in general, your vision has to be sufficiently good. You’d say, “Okay, that’s instruction’s pretty plausible ’cause that’s occupationally relevant.” And so, I think you could make the case that the sorts of traits that Gattaca was looking for are permissible bases for hiring. Now, maybe they miss something by excluding the grit of Vincent, kind of like Notre Dame and Rudy. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, Rudy, but maybe it’s kind of like that. But maybe it’s not… Maybe they’re missing something, I think that’s part of the message of the movie, which is not everything that counts is going to be on that genetic profile that the machine spits out.

0:25:53 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, yeah, it’s interesting that you brought up this idea of what the movie means as a whole, too, ’cause Vincent’s whole character is built off this idea that you can defy the odds, you can disprove what the machine tells you in terms of, there’s that great scene when he’s running on the treadmill and has the other guy’s heart monitor on, and he’s running back to the locker room after he’s completely out of breath, but tries to remain super cool and not show anyone that he’s not who he says he is. And other small scenes like that. But I think the whole point of Vincent’s character, really, is to show this idea of defying the odds, fighting the establishment, maybe even, and that kind of plays out in those… The swimming scenes with his brother, that I was hoping we could talk about, especially from the difference between the first one and the second one.

0:26:52 Chris Freiman: I will say I’m old enough to have purchased the DVD of Gattaca when it came out, and the tagline on the DVD was, “There is no gene for the human spirit.”

0:27:02 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:27:02 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah. But maybe the swimming thing or with the, “There’s no gene for the human spirit,” that’s a nice thing to think, but I think Chris is right. In America, take the NBA. 17% of American men who are between the ages of 20 and 40 who are over 7 feet tall, are in the NBA. Of the people who are that tall, and we don’t know what the genes are that lead to height. We know kind of [0:27:29] ____… Gattaca, you wouldn’t be able to genetically engineer a kid right now that was over seven feet tall, but that’s a huge advantage if you wanna be good at basketball. And there are exceptions, there are people who are like 5’7 and they’re really good at basketball and stuff, but being super tall is a definite advantage if you wanna play in the NBA. And I don’t know that it’s fair to be like, “But if you just have enough grit and human spirit, you too can be in the NBA if you’re 5’7,” ’cause probably not.

0:28:02 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, you can.

0:28:03 Jessica Flanigan: Look, I don’t know anything about sports, but I don’t know, I’ll assume that all those tall people are in the NBA for a reason related to basketball. [chuckle]

0:28:12 Landry Ayres: But if you just never save anything for the swim back, Jess, then you can make it.

0:28:18 Natalie Dowzicky: You can do it, too.

0:28:20 Landry Ayres: That’s the moral of the movie, right? I was really wondering how I was supposed to read that at the end. Was it supposed to be this triumph of the human spirit, like you said, that which there is apparently no gene for? Or is there a sort of self‐​determination aspect that is… They wanna play up and make be as a theme of the movie that they want people to walk away with? But it’s also, you have to sacrifice everything in order to get that. It’s not like Ethan Hawke gets everything he wants in the end. He abandons the world that he’s known, he doesn’t get to stay with Uma Thurman, who is apparently someone that he has grown interested in just before leaving for Titan. Which not to… I don’t understand why, because I don’t get the Uma Thurman character in this movie at all. I don’t think it’s super compelling, their relationship. I would like more of the Jude Law stuff. She’s just placed in there, and she doesn’t really do much other than act as a love interest for him, and which is, I think, really squandering Uma Thurman’s abilities. I think they do not make efficient use of her, and I don’t think the character is written well, but moving back to Ethan Hawke’s character. It seems to me like he has to sacrifice everything in order to self‐​determine himself, to a certain degree.

0:29:48 Jessica Flanigan: That movie is where he and Uma Thurman got together. And then, subsequently, Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman were married.

0:29:55 Landry Ayres: Really?

0:29:55 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah.

0:29:56 Landry Ayres: This is the movie where it happened, the start of it?

0:29:58 Natalie Dowzicky: Wow.

0:30:00 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah.


0:30:00 Jessica Flanigan: And then they got divorced…

0:30:01 Landry Ayres: Wow.

0:30:01 Jessica Flanigan: After a bunch of infidelity rumors about Ethan Hawke, so maybe it’s not the happy story I want them to be.


0:30:07 Jessica Flanigan: [0:30:07] ____.

0:30:07 Landry Ayres: And then, she made Kill Bill, and it was all about that.



0:30:17 Landry Ayres: This goes to another discussion that we had talked about, which is the interpretation of the ending. And Chris and Jess, you guys both seem to have some different sort of interpretation. I would like discuss and tease out what you guys… How you both came to the conclusions. At the end of the movie, Ethan Hawke’s character has… Spoiler alert, if you’ve gotten this far…

0:30:43 Jessica Flanigan: 23 years later.


0:30:45 Landry Ayres: He has escaped the investigation that, spoiler alert again, his brother has been heading this whole time for the murder of the director of the program that he has been selected for that will take him on one of the dozen or so space expeditions to Titan. And he now, he’s passed the test, he’s through the door. You find out the doctor has known all along that he is not who he says he is, and due to reasons like his son being not genetically enhanced and other things that go unspoken, he lets him through. Ethan Hawke gets on the plane, blasts off into space, and we see the stars come into view as Jude Law’s character commits suicide. And is he in a… Is he cremate himself in… What was that chamber in his house? Was it a fireplace?

0:31:48 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, it’s where he destroyed all of his ungenetic material. He would like scrub off…

0:31:52 Landry Ayres: Got it.

0:31:52 Jessica Flanigan: And then he’d incinerate his genetic material to…

0:31:55 Landry Ayres: Oh, that’s right, so that he could protect himself. I forget, yes. Why did you… If you could each explain how you came to interpret the ending the way you did and why.

0:32:09 Jessica Flanigan: I don’t know that it’s 100%, but I took it that in the ending, it’s supposed to be ambiguous whether or not Ethan Hawke’s character, Vincent, is gonna die in space. Because it’s cut in a way where it’s interspersed with Jude Law killing himself and there’s a parallel between them. And then, there’s that whole thing of like, “I won’t need the samples when I get back. That’s not necessary.” And then also, the stuff of like, “I never saved anything for the way back.” And so, he knows that his heart condition’s overdue. He didn’t save anything for the way back. I think he’s gonna die at space. And if that’s the case, then that’s a really subversive thing to put in a movie, that’s the top line interpretation of the movie is that it’s a warning about genetic enhancement. But then at the very end, it sows these seeds of doubt where it’s like, “But wait a minute, is that guy gonna die on Saturn?” [chuckle] “On the moon of Saturn, ’cause… ”

0:33:01 Jessica Flanigan: If so, then that seems like it would have been relevant to the mission, and these other guy killed for the mission, it was a very important mission, and then Ethan Hawke gets up there and his heart doesn’t work or something. And so, I thought it was left ambiguous whether or not he dies in space because he’s not leaving anything for the way back, and then it makes you question the overt message of the movie. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

0:33:29 Chris Freiman: I love the end. I love the scene with the doctor at the end. It makes me verklempt, every time I watch it, I really love it. And also, the thing with the Jude Law suicide, so it just occurred to me, so, you’re saying Ethan Hawke is clipping his fingernails in an incinerator, and so, I feel like bumps the wrong button with his elbow while he’s grooming himself in the movie. They need better OSHA regulations or something.


0:33:56 Chris Freiman: Yeah, so I interpreted it as… I confess I’ve watched this movie a bunch of times, and I never thought that Vincent was going into space thinking that he would die there. I think he recognizes that that’s a real possibility. But I spoke with other people, and I think I’m in the minority opinion here. I think a lot of people think that he basically did say, “Look, I’m going up there,” and like you said, Jess, he doesn’t save anything for the swim back. And so, he’s not anticipating coming from from Titan. I think that’s plausible, but I think it’s ambiguous. And so, there’s the comment too where he says to Jude Law, after Jude Law packs the blood and urine form for the next series, “No, that’s not necessary.” I always interpreted that as just, he’s being common courtesy or something like that. I think it was that. But maybe I’m just a starry‐​eyed optimist.


0:34:50 Landry Ayres: Well, I see what you mean, ’cause I also interpreted it at the one point as his entire goal for so long was to get into space and to go to Titan, and maybe by the time he comes back and is no longer on there, he’s accomplished all that he wants to. And at that point, whatever happens happens, and he won’t need that because he’s given up on the need for Jude Law’s DNA, perhaps.

0:35:20 Chris Freiman: And I think there’s something where Vincent sort of suggests that he’s come to terms with the fact that he will get found out for something like that at some point. It’s probably… I don’t know what the plans are once they’re up there, but it might be harder for him to deceive people without the help of everything he has at home too.

0:35:40 Jessica Flanigan: Well, presumably they’re not doing a bunch of genetic testing while in space, ’cause why will they? Because they know that nobody’s gonna come in or…

0:35:50 Chris Freiman: They might hear him huff and puff, though, I don’t know. I was like, “I’m not sure”.

0:35:55 Jessica Flanigan: Oh my gosh, how awkward will that be? He’s on his way to the moon of Saturn and he’s having an asthma attack or something. And he’s like, “Oh guys, while we’re here.” [chuckle] “I brought [0:36:03] ____.”

0:36:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Just not used to know.

0:36:05 Jessica Flanigan: And also…


0:36:06 Jessica Flanigan: I have something to tell you.

0:36:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, something we haven’t touched on yet, but there’s this tension throughout the movie that I think the movie has a larger message about as well, is this idea of perfection. So, the movie is suggesting that the more perfect or the closer to perfection, you can either make your child to grow up and live the longest life possible, or they can have this crazy IQ, perfect vision, all that kind of stuff, is perfection leads to happiness, or perfection maximizes happiness. And I don’t necessarily believe that, but I was wondering if anyone else saw that tension and what the role perfection plays throughout the movie, or perceived perfection?

0:36:55 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, it’s was definitely supposed to play into that idea that it’s a mistake to strive for perfection, and when Michael Sandel, that anti‐​genetic enhancement guy I was talking about earlier, when he made his case against genetic enhancement of embryos, like pre‐​implantation enhancement, he called it… There’s an article in The Atlantic called “The Case Against Perfection.” And then also, Ethan Hawke’s character says that his brother suffered under the burden of perfection. And so, there is this theme of parents are screwing up their kids by trying to demand perfection, because they think that that’s a return on their investment, genetic enhancement or something. And so, maybe giving more of these possibilities, the thought is that that’s just corrupting to the parent‐​child relationship.

0:37:49 Jessica Flanigan: But then that’s just two separate questions, one question is, should we have things that make people have access to genetic technology? And then how should we respond to it? And the problem with perfectionism is about people’s response to it, it’s not a problem with the perfection, the genetic enhancement itself. The burden of perfection doesn’t come from being genetically enhanced. It comes from people treating you differently.

0:38:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. It’s come from the response or even the expectations that someone would then have of you knowing that you’re genetically enhanced in some way, shape or form. I just thought it was interesting that perfection was just like woven or our attitudes towards perfection were just kind of woven throughout the film. In a way that I don’t necessarily think they overtly talked about other than his brother facing the pressures of being perfect and that kind of stuff. But I just thought that scene was more interesting.

0:38:49 Jessica Flanigan: Part of its positional goods, there are some goods that the value of the good depends on whether or not if you have more of it than somebody else, and not just on the raw value of it, so education is plausibly like that, so it’s kind of like an arms race. And I think when we talk about enhancement, we think a lot about those positional goods, things like getting a prestigious job or a highly selective job, like being in Gattaca or something. SAT prep classes, if nobody took SAT prep classes, if nobody went to private schools, then in some ways it would level the playing field in some sense.

0:39:22 Jessica Flanigan: And so whenever we think about hyper‐​parenting or the quest for perfection, it’s often these positional goods. But what we don’t realize is that health or education or work, they’re also… They have non‐​positional values. So there’s also good things about a private school or learning more education and stuff, or having better health, that don’t… Those good things that don’t come from being better than other people, but they’re just good in themselves, in like a non‐​positional way. But I think people get hung up on the egalitarian aspect of it.

0:39:55 Chris Freiman: So that actually speaks to something… Here’s maybe the one thing I really didn’t like about the movie. So just to backtrack a little bit. So I think maybe what’s most prominent about the movie is sort of the social dimensions of genetic enhancement. But I think, also, one way of interpreting its message is as a moral one, which is, what should you focus on in life? Should you focus on your eye color, your height, etcetera, etcetera? Or should you focus on some kind of moral purpose in the way that Vincent does? I think that’s maybe almost like a stoic theme where you say, “Well, look, all this stuff that’s in my genes can help in certain ways, but that’s not really what’s important. What’s really important is how I make use of what I’m given. How I play the hand I’m dealt.”

0:40:41 Chris Freiman: And it’s interesting on the competitive part, what really upsets Eugene is that he came in second in the swimming competition. And you think, “Well, should that… ” What if you used your gifts to their utmost extent, and you still came in second? Should you feel in any shame in that? I would say, no, but then what really gets me is at the end when Vincent and his brother have the confrontation in Gattaca, and Vincent says, “You needed help swimming that one day.”

0:41:11 Chris Freiman: And then his brother said, “Do you want me to prove it to you that I can beat you now?” And Vincent says something like, “No. I don’t wanna race again, it’s forgotten.” It should have ended there. But then he actually goes and tries to race his brother again to prove that he’s faster than his brother. And that always bothered me. He should have just said, “No, it’s forgot… Beating you is no longer what’s important to me. My goal is being the best astronaut that I can be.” But he still had to prove that he could beat his brother in a competition. I didn’t like that.

0:41:39 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah. I didn’t read Vincent as being a non‐​positional person throughout, though, like, “Oh. I just wanna… ” I thought that he wanted to also get into the selective program and do this thing. I didn’t think it was just about the purely non‐​positional value of being in a rocket.

0:41:56 Chris Freiman: But do you think he wanted to get into the program to be at the top of the food chain? I always interpreted it as… ‘Cause they’re… In the beginning, he’s looking up at the stars and he’s admiring space and all this stuff. Well, he took that to be his primary motive, like he just wanted to go out in the stars.

0:42:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Like that was his…

0:42:10 Jessica Flanigan: I do think that the…

0:42:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Dream. Go ahead.

0:42:11 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, the Eugene narrative goes in the opposite direction. Eugene comes to terms with it. He comes to terms with the non‐​positionality at the end of his life, ’cause he puts the medal on, and then he’s like, “Oh. There was a non‐​positional value to what my life was about.”

0:42:28 Chris Freiman: And he also suggests that what gives his life meaning at the end is the fact… In the end, is the fact that he was able to kind of share Vincent’s purpose.

0:42:36 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah. Oh, that’s true. You lent me your dream, that whole part.

0:42:39 Chris Freiman: Yeah. That’s right.

0:42:40 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Well, I also thought what was a bit more interesting, and we haven’t talked about him in length, but many of us noted this idea that once Eugene was no longer able to use his enhanced body because he got in an accident, which was also due to sports. [chuckle] But, side note, he kind of just… He gives up in a sense, and he was like, “Okay. Well, I’m gonna sell my genetic material essentially so that someone else can get better use of it, or get better use of my identity.” And then he becomes an alcoholic and a chain smoker, which is interesting because I just think that it’s like attention that he just basically gave up because he got in this accident, but I don’t know. What did you guys think of that? I know we all noticed like, “Why is he now gone full swing?”

0:43:45 Landry Ayres: Well, then Ethan Hawke was also…

0:43:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [laughter]

0:43:49 Landry Ayres: Chain smoking at times.

0:43:49 Jessica Flanigan: And he has a heart condition [0:43:51] ____.

0:43:51 Landry Ayres: He’s about to go to space and he’s… Yeah. And I’m like… And they test for all these different things, but it’s literally like… He’s one of those people that’s like, “Well, I passed my drug test. Time to go smoke a bunch of cigarettes.”


0:44:07 Landry Ayres: I don’t understand the rationale that went on where he was like, “Alright. It’s done. It’s out of the way. I’m an astronaut and I’m never gonna get tested ever again.”

0:44:16 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Yeah.

0:44:18 Chris Freiman: Well, it’s ’cause it looks cool. Remember that scene where he blows the smoke into the wineglass?

0:44:22 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. [laughter]

0:44:24 Landry Ayres: It’s true. If the ‘90s media taught us anything, it’s that smoking looks cool. [laughter]

0:44:30 Jessica Flanigan: They would not be vaping.


0:44:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:44:35 Jessica Flanigan: I do think that what’s going on with that is that it’s supposed to play into this idea that people who are enhanced… Focusing on genetic enhancements prompts a kind of instrumental orientation towards somebody where you see them as a bundle of useful traits. And then when he no longer saw himself as a bundle of useful traits, he just focused on things that were not instrumentally valuable, so just like pleasure seeking.

0:44:57 Landry Ayres: Sure.

0:44:57 Jessica Flanigan: So like getting drunk, being with sex workers, chain smoking. Those are things that are not gonna advance his position in any way, but were just pleasurable for him. And so he kind of took a non‐​instrumental view of his life in that way. Once he could no longer fulfill what he viewed as the instrumental value of his genetic lot.

0:45:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:45:18 Jessica Flanigan: So it makes sense for him. I don’t know why Vincent’s smoking. I thought that too ’cause I was like, “You’re about to go in space and you have a heart condition. Maybe lay off the vodka and cigarettes.” [laughter]

0:45:25 Chris Freiman: Well, he’s under a lot of pressure. He’s gotta blow off some steam. He’s gotta relax. [laughter]

0:45:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. Right.



0:45:34 Jessica Flanigan: Can we talk about the economy and what’s going on in the economy as a society?

0:45:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes.

0:45:38 Landry Ayres: Sure.

0:45:40 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, also… Okay, so my biggest question was, “How many space missions is Gattaca running?” Because the whole… What was it like, 12 rockets or something?

0:45:51 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah.

0:45:51 Landry Ayres: Twelve a month or something.

0:45:53 Jessica Flanigan: A day, I thought, right?

0:45:54 Landry Ayres: Oh, no, a day, yeah.

0:45:56 Natalie Dowzicky: And I was trying to think in my head, I was like, “Man, this is millions upon billions of dollars. They’re just like shooting up into space.”

0:46:04 Landry Ayres: Remember, it’s a not too distant future. This is space force.

0:46:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:46:07 Landry Ayres: This is what’s going to happen.

0:46:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Space force. Right, you’re right. And then the other thing that I was thinking about throughout the movie is that, if we got to a point in Gattaca that we were living in a world with Gattaca and people were genetically enhancing their children, I imagine that it at least would start off as something that was not accessible to lower or middle class families. It would have only be something that was accessible to people that would pay for the purpose of this. Which is interesting because I do not think that, though it’s not explicitly said, it did not seem like Vincent’s parents were necessarily well off, but I don’t know. How did you guys interpret the economy of Gattaca?

0:46:49 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, two things.

0:46:50 Natalie Dowzicky: Go ahead.

0:46:50 Jessica Flanigan: The first is, presumably, if it’s an economy that’s rich enough to be sending all these rockets up into space, they could also have disability basic income or a basic income for people who are un‐​enhanced and then lack access to employment. And they could probably invent some robots that would clean the office buildings for them, instead of having this kind of permanent underclass that’s doing the office work. And so this is yet another case about automation, and then if someone gets injured and they break their back and they can’t work, they could get a basic income. They wouldn’t have to sell their genetic material.

0:47:34 Jessica Flanigan: So I am wondering and… How does the economy work, such that society is not rich enough to include any kind of support system, but they are rich enough to send a bunch of rockets into space? It doesn’t make any sense. Allen Buchanan’s a philosopher that writes about what would happen if we had post‐​humans that were really enhanced and like way genetically advantaged, relative to un‐​enhanced people, and he says, “In order for institutions to be justifiable, people who are really disadvantaged by a system that cedes a lot of socioeconomic power and political power to the enhanced, then the enhanced people would have a moral obligation to kind of cut everybody else in on the benefits of the enhanced society, like the society that was always run by enhanced people.”

0:48:21 Jessica Flanigan: And so I don’t know if I think that that’s the reason, but I do think that it’s a sign of just like a kind of unstable system to have this extremely wealthy society that nevertheless doesn’t provide any sort of compensation or assistance or anything to un‐​enhanced people, but actually engages in active discrimination of them. And then the second thought about the economy is just like, it does seem like it’s broadly egalitarian, in terms of access, but even if you were worried about inegalitarian access to enhancements, that’s true of any kind of healthcare innovation.

0:48:58 Jessica Flanigan: Like in the beginning, drugs are really expensive, and then they go generic or the technology gets cheaper, the price goes down, and then everybody can share in the benefits. So sometimes people object to enhancement because they worry it’ll heighten economic inequality, but you can subsidize it or generally just wait, like wait until the technology gets cheaper, and then everybody can share in it. That’s not a reason to block emerging technologies early on. Like computers. Like if there was a requirement that computers were affordable to all families, back in 1989, we would never have computers, but now you can get a computer for $150 and it’s like, you know.

0:49:41 Chris Freiman: And I think there’s also a question of what kind of comparison is the morally important one. So the movie focuses on the comparison between Vincent and people like Eugene and his brother, but you might think that the relevant comparison is not Eugene versus Vincent, but say Vincent versus what Vincent would be like, or what his life would be like, in a world without enhancement. So you might say like today, I’m a lot worse off than Jeff Bezos, but I’m a lot better off for being in a world with all of these positive externalities. So food and shelter and transportation and medical technology is really abundant.

0:50:20 Chris Freiman: So it’s better to be middle class, or even relatively poor, in 2020, than in 1920, in part because of things like technological advancements. And so I think it’s plausible that if you had maybe a more accurate depiction of what an enhanced world would be like, Vincent, as he is, would be better off in the enhanced world than in the un‐​enhanced world. So, similar to these points, we say like, “Look, Gattaca’s launching 12 rockets a day. Surely, they’re gonna have cheap tickets for space tourism or something like that.”

0:50:52 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, go to the moon.

0:50:55 Chris Freiman: The stars… Like it’ll cost him 15 bucks to go to Mars or something like that. You say that’s not as good as being a commander at Gattaca, or whatever his title was gonna be, but it’s better than he would be if he wasn’t in this world of technological advancement and genetic enhancement and things like that. ‘Cause it’s weird, he can’t even get LASIK. Tony Shalhoub is like, “No, we can’t give you this surgery ’cause it’ll give scars or something like that.” You say, I think in that world, he would probably have far more opportunity as a result of living in a society with all of these super smart people who are generating all these positive externalities.

0:51:30 Jessica Flanigan: That’s another thing. It seems like the smart people, or the enhanced people, they should be generating more positive externalities because, if you were doing enhancement, and some of the enhancements they mentioned, like tendencies to violent aggression, I think was one of them, or something like…

0:51:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.

0:51:46 Jessica Flanigan: Or moral enhancements. So why wouldn’t you enhance people to make them more ethical so you could give people enhanced cooperative abilities, enhanced empathy, enhanced generosity, but it seems like all the people who are enhanced are total assholes to other people. And it’s just like, “Why would you think that enhancing people would make them morally, still be really morally problematic and inegalitarian,” when, why not enhance for more cooperation and empathy?

0:52:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, why wouldn’t they enhance them to make everyone moral saints? ‘Cause then you wouldn’t have any issues.

0:52:26 Jessica Flanigan: There is a question about whether or not it’s desirable to have moral saints, or if there’s other good stuff that you might wanna have, like I don’t know, interior designing, or architecture or something. But…

0:52:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:52:38 Jessica Flanigan: But yeah, you could make them… If not moral saints, morally better. But it seems like the enhanced people are really morally bad. They’re… They look upon the un‐​enhanced with contempt, which does not seem like it would be compatible with having enhanced empathy or cooperation or anything like that.

0:52:56 Chris Freiman: Yeah, we could bump up empathy by at least 20% in that movie, that would be better.

0:53:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [chuckle] At least. At least. [chuckle]

0:53:04 Jessica Flanigan: Everything’s negotiable, except for the fact that people are gonna be self‐​interested and mean to people, and then it’s like that’s the thing that we can’t find a way around that in some way. But we know the genetic basis for literally everything else, which is just like…

0:53:18 Chris Freiman: Well… And Jess, I know this is something that you talk about, the reversal test, but on the point of the positive externalities, you could say, “Well, ask ourselves if we would prefer to live in a world in which say every Nobel Prize winner was dis‐​enhanced.” I don’t know if that’s the word. “Would we be better or worse off for living in that world?” It seems like we would be worse off living in that world, because you say, “Look, there are all of these positive externalities that come about from these really exceptional people.” Then if you think that’s the case, you might ask, “Well, okay, then. Why not expect to be bumped up ourselves by having even more of these exceptional people, or making the exceptional people even more acceptable?”

0:53:56 Chris Freiman: Well, if we’re not willing to dis‐​enhance, because we think that would be bad for us, then we might ask, “Well, okay. Let’s be more… Why aren’t we more open to further enhancements?” It would be a semi‐​miraculous coincidence if we landed on the exact, right amount of ability, that was the status quo.

0:54:13 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

0:54:13 Jessica Flanigan: Right. Yeah, the reversal test is nice, ’cause it’s like, “How would you argue that the status quo’s optimal?” And in some ways, our society is already enhanced, because life expectancy has increased so much. And so say that we had a genetic enhancement that would increase life expectancy to 130, people are like, “Oh no. That would be so terrible”, because it’s like that movie “In Time.” It’s like, “Oh, we need to keep the population down somehow, because we don’t wanna have too many people hanging around or something.”

0:54:39 Jessica Flanigan: Okay. But if that’s a reason, then why wouldn’t we just stop pursuing things that would extend life now? Or why wouldn’t we actually just stop providing things that extend life after 60 or 70 years old? And people would be like, “Oh no, that would be really monstrous.” But the same reasons that you wouldn’t want to scale back life expectancy, ’cause that seems terrible, would also be reasons to increase it. And then that’s true for just all of the stuff. Why think that, in 1997, we reached the optimal level of enhancement. That was perfect. But anything beyond that is just gonna end in disaster. It’s our own status quo bias. Just even how you perceive the status quo. It’s like… It… There is not really one status quo.

0:55:23 Jessica Flanigan: Like, I was at a conference once and there were… I was in a breakout group, and there were three different groups of people, and one group was from a disability rights community, and they were talking about CRISPR, and they were saying, “We should be extremely reluctant to allow any more human trials or any kind of experimentation with humans and CRISPR, because it’s gonna lead to this kind of worry about the spectra of eugenics.” And then there were some physicians, and physicians were like, “Well, we should look into it, but we shouldn’t be doing it yet. We should have lots of guard rails on it. We should proceed within the medical establishment through hospitals and IRB trials with lots of safeguards.”

0:56:00 Jessica Flanigan: And then there were some tech people who were like, “Every day that we wait on CRISPR is a day that we’re gonna lose lives that could have been saved with the innovations that CRISPR will bring.” And all three of those groups were just like trying to maintain the status quo that they saw. So the disability rights people were just trying to maintain the status quo distribution of ability and resources for people of different abilities. And the doctors were trying to maintain what they saw as like, the status quo distribution of medical treatments and kind of go through that ordinary system. And then the tech people were trying to maintain their status quo pace of innovation, which was like Uber, and then Facebook comes and accelerating innovation. But that was all the status quo.

0:56:39 Jessica Flanigan: But it was just like depending on where you were sitting, that influenced how you saw things. And in 1997, and even today, people see the status quo, and they only look at the position, the way that things look. But we don’t see that part of our status quo is that things are changing all the time. That’s also the status quo. The speed of innovation is also the status quo.

0:57:01 Chris Freiman: And I think that you make an important point about the status quo already being enhanced above and beyond the natural. So if we’re thinking of an enhancement as just something that takes us beyond, I don’t know, the evolved nature of Homo sapiens, or something like that, that ship has sailed for a long time. So I use this example with my students, it’s like, “Suppose… I don’t know when fluoride was invented or maybe not… Whenever it was introduced into toothpaste, like would you object to brushing your teeth with fluoride, because it gives you an enhanced resistance to cavities?” It’s like, that doesn’t strike me as a very compelling objection to fluoride use. And now… And in fact…

0:57:41 Jessica Flanigan: Why do you wanna play God, Freiman? [chuckle]

0:57:42 Chris Freiman: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Dentists are playing God with our children’s teeth. I’ve been saying it for a long time. And you would be weird if you said that. But we say like, “Look.” ‘Cause we take it as normal now that you can enhance your teeth. Or you vaccinate and it enhances your health beyond what’s natural. And so I think it’s very, very hard to draw a principled line between what counts as an enhancement, and what’s not. Binoculars are an enhancement in a certain sense. And so.

0:58:13 Jessica Flanigan: That is true. I hadn’t thought of that.

0:58:14 Chris Freiman: And so, yeah, I think there’s a tendency to think like, “Oh no. What we have now is perfectly natural, and it’s normal.” They’re like, “No, not really. You go back 1000 years and it looks very, very… ” It would look very, very weird to them.

0:58:25 Jessica Flanigan: This movie does have some strong anti‐​vax, anti‐​GMO energy, right?

0:58:31 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, for sure, yeah.

0:58:33 Jessica Flanigan: I hadn’t seen it that way.

0:58:34 Chris Freiman: Well, so this isn’t the all interesting is because Vincent is referred to as a Godchild, which seems to suggest that what the enhanced people are doing is playing God in an objectionable way.


0:58:51 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we all get to share the other pieces of media that we have been enjoying during this period at home. This is, Locked In. So Natalie, Jess, Chris, what else have you been enjoying?

0:59:07 Jessica Flanigan: So what have I’ve been reading lately? I’ve been reading, I read Zena Hitz’s book, Lost in Thoughts, which is like a pop philosophy type book that was pretty fun, I liked that. Has lots of good stories, and I’ve been listening to Phoebe Bridgers. Has a new album out…

0:59:27 Landry Ayres: Yeah, very good.

0:59:28 Chris Freiman: It’s very good. [chuckle] The Mountain Goats have a new album that recently came out that he just recorded in his house, and I think that that album is also really excellent, very… It’s a concept album based off of a French historian’s account of the last days of the pagans, or the last groups of pagans that were swapped up with Christianity, but it’s an album around that. It’s really good. So the Mountain Goats’ new album is good. And Frank Turner, who I like, maybe I bet some of your listeners will like Frank Turner also, but he’s been doing these little live things and he did one that was all covers, and I thought that was really good. So if you follow Frank Turner on Twitter he’ll link to these little live YouTube shows that he’s been putting on, and those have been pretty charming. And that’s all now. I’ve been reading some poetry that I like, which is like Tony Hoagland. He recently died, he’s a really good poet, and I just read What Narcissism Means to Me, which is a really good book of his poetry. So I’d recommend that too, but… That’s what I’ve been up to lately.

1:00:43 Chris Freiman: I don’t really enjoy reading all that much, so I don’t know if I have any proper recommendations. So I do like to watch TV, so I could maybe give some TV recommendations. So here’s one, I have to preface this by saying, so my wife recommended this to me, and her pet peeve is when she makes a recommendation and I resist the recommendation thinking that I won’t like it, and eventually I relent and I love it. And this is one of those case… So she kept pushing the show on me, telling me I would love it, and finally I gave in and I do love it. It’s called Dave, and it’s on Hulu.

1:01:18 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, my gosh! [chuckle]

1:01:20 Chris Freiman: You know the show? It’s incredible.

1:01:22 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes.

1:01:24 Chris Freiman: Here’s how I describe it, it’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm if Larry David were a rapper in his 20s, it’s great.

1:01:31 Natalie Dowzicky: How Little Dicky, he made to the show. I’ve seen it.

1:01:34 Chris Freiman: It’s so good. Yeah, so I definitely recommend it. And that’s maybe like [1:01:39] ____.

1:01:39 Jessica Flanigan: Little Dicky is in the show?

1:01:40 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Little Dicky is the main character [chuckle]

1:01:43 Jessica Flanigan: Oh, my gosh, rich man.

1:01:45 Natalie Dowzicky: And he’s the executive producer and he also graduated from the University of Richmond.

1:01:48 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, University of Richmond.

1:01:50 Chris Freiman: Oh, I didn’t know that.

1:01:52 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah.

1:01:53 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Probably the famous Richmond grad Little Dicky right there.


1:02:00 Chris Freiman: You should be proud, he’s great and it’s hard to tell exactly how much of the show reflects reality, ’cause in the show he seems very confident that he is in fact the talented rapper, and my wife claims that in reality, he also thinks he’s a talented rapper. It’s not tongue‐​in‐​cheek. I don’t know, Natalie, if you’ve seen the show, what do you think? Do you think he really believes he is a good rapper? Maybe he is. I don’t know.

1:02:29 Natalie Dowzicky: Little Dicky’s whole vibe is this, that he’s a good rapper, but doesn’t fit in with the stereotypical rapper… The stereotype of good rappers, and I believe, because he’s an executive producer on the show too, I believe, at least the first season, is supposed to reflect what actually happened in his life, like the woman that’s his girlfriend in the first few episodes was his actual girlfriend or slash still is… They may have gotten back together, I don’t know… But these were real instances in scenarios that happened in his life, because I went down this rabbit hole of researching how accurate the show was…


1:03:09 Natalie Dowzicky: But yeah, no, I also thought the show was really good and it’s light‐​hearted in a sense, but also kind of obnoxious. But… Yeah, I got it.

1:03:18 Jessica Flanigan: But that’s the whole vibe though.

1:03:19 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

1:03:21 Jessica Flanigan: Yeah, no, it’s definitely… Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I really enjoyed it. Yeah, and another show… This is old. Well, kind of, and I mention it ’cause its maybe its kind of under the radar, and its not usually my type… I don’t really like absurdist humor. I don’t know, Monty Python. I don’t know, this is sacrilege to some people, but I don’t think it’s funny, I don’t know. I never know why they mentioned it was funny. I don’t know if I’ve even chortled at it, Monty Python. The show that I love that’s absurdist humor is the Eric Andre show, which I think is also re‐​running. It’s so funny. It’s hilarious, I recommend that. I don’t know, my musical tastes are so juvenile, I don’t know if it’s even worth giving recommendation…

1:04:06 Landry Ayres: It’s always worth it.

1:04:07 Natalie Dowzicky: I don’t normally get music recommendations.

1:04:09 Chris Freiman: It’s always worth it?

1:04:10 Landry Ayres: It’s always worth it. This is your chance, convince our audience.

1:04:15 Chris Freiman: Well, okay, so I’m trapped in my high school years in terms of my musical taste, I really love heavy metal. I’ve never stopped. I’ve really been getting into the whole… What’s the word? Discography, I think is the term of this metalcore band Every Time I Die. And they’re an old favorite, so if you like metal, you probably already know who they are. But I’ve rediscovered them after a couple of years off and they’re just incredible. So if you haven’t given them a listen and you like metal, I highly recommend them.

1:04:50 Natalie Dowzicky: Very cool. Well, on my end, on the reading front, I’ve discovered that the Arlington Public Library can send you free e‐​books to your iPad and/​or Kindle. I have an iPad so I’ve been getting some good books. In terms of fiction, I’m reading Life and Other Inconveniences right now by Kristan Higgins. I’m about half way through, and it seems to be a little bit of a murder mystery novel/​the main character’s child was abducted and/​or kidnapped and/​or already dead, but we’re in a setting 20 years later right now. And she’s still struggling over the loss of her child. On the TV and movie front, I just watched Eurovision, and it’s the new Netflix movie.

1:05:40 Landry Ayres: Wait. Oh, I was gonna say you watched all of Eurovivion, the real thing.

1:05:45 Natalie Dowzicky: No, no.

1:05:46 Landry Ayres: So you watched the Fire Saga movie with Will Ferrell. Okay, got it.

1:05:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes, the new Netflix movie with Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. It was very Will Ferrell, if that’s something you like. It really reminded me of Blades of Glory. But again, it was funny, it was light‐​hearted, and it was one of those films that you watch and you’re like, “Why did I enjoy that?” But it also gave me good belly laughs, so I would recommend that if you want something a little bit more light‐​hearted, and then I’ve also… I’m still sticking to re‐​watching a lot of Survivor, just because I find that entertaining, and I’ve said that multiple times now. But, anyway I’m still going ’cause there’s 40 seasons. [laughter] Yeah, Landry?

1:06:28 Landry Ayres: I have a few recommendations. I recently found an essay that I had read several years ago when I was towards the end of graduate school, and I just… I was reading, I was looking at long​form​.org, which is… They collect long form journalism and writing online and sort of publish best of lists. But one that I really, really enjoyed that I rediscovered recently is called… It’s an essay called “52 Blue” by Leslie Jamison, who wrote The Empathy Exams, if you’ve read that. And it’s about the people that are fascinated with and sort of enamored by the whale that goes by the name 52 blue. It’s a whale that sings it’s whale song at 52 Hz, which is totally different than any other whale of its species. And it has a hard time finding other whales and sort of swims through the ocean on its own, and it’s sort of a lonely animal compared to the others that sort of swim in packs together and… But it’s more about the people that are kind of enamored with this whale and use it as a metaphor for loneliness, or depression, or something. It’s just really, really great and very well written. It’s fascinating, it’s called 52 Blue. I also would recommend…

1:07:52 Landry Ayres: There are two TV shows that I would really, really like to recommend. One is called Review, and it ended a few years ago. It stars Andy Daly, who you would probably recognize because he’s been in everything. But this is his one starring role, he’s been on Comedy Bang! Bang! And is an improv comedian, has a bunch of characters. But he plays a character that is a reviewer, but instead of reviewing books, or movies, or TV shows, he reviews life experiences. And in doing so, he takes it so seriously that he completely ruins everything else in his life because he’s not allowed to tell anyone what he’s reviewing. So he gets assigned to review getting a divorce, for instance, in the second episode, and to do it with the most scientific rigor, he doesn’t tell his wife that he’s doing it for a review.

1:08:47 Landry Ayres: So he just divorces his wife and then two weeks later is miserable and gives it one star, and it’s not like everything goes back to normal at the end. The rest of the series is him dealing with the fall out of having divorced his wife for the review of the show. So these terrible things that he’s forced to review over the course of the show slowly accumulate and ruin his life, but he takes it so seriously as his job, that he really loves it. So it’s very dark, but it’s like a fun mockumentary style show. There’s only like three seasons and they were all on Comedy Central, but it was not promoted at all. They did not do a good job of advertising it. But it is very funny, if you’re into kind of dark, dry humor.

1:09:34 Chris Freiman: I was gonna say, I second that recommendation. I saw that show a couple of years, it’s hilarious. It’s a shame it never got more attention.

1:09:40 Landry Ayres: It’s so great. I really, really recommend it to people, and it’s a very easy watch. There’s like 23 minutes an episode and there’s 20 something of them. So very easy to do and very, very funny. And a lot of famous comedians are in it. Another show that you reminded me of, Chris, has Eric Andre in it. It’s called Man Seeking Woman. It was on FXX and it is basically… It’s about a man who is sort of down and out, and has been broken up with by his girlfriend and his sort of various different dating escapades and trying to meet women and live his life as sort of a late 20s man. But it takes a very… It takes an absurdist twist, so every episode has a sort of trope that it plays up and really pushes it absolutely to the limit.

1:10:39 Landry Ayres: So for instance, in one episode, he’s nervous about sending a text to a girl that he is trying to court, and he and his friend are debating whether he should send a follow‐​up text to be like, “Hey, Did you get my message?” And it starts as a normal sort of conflict between them and slowly escalates into… They’re in a war room of a military scenario, and they’re all standing around a table with a map and making decisions in military uniforms saying, “You shouldn’t send a second text.” And discussing it like this. But every episode is a different kind of media trope that they’re playing on and sort of its own absurd thing. I highly recommend it. And then, two albums have recently come out. Haim released The Women in Music Pt. III, I think just last week. It’s phenomenal, it’s bright, it’s summery, it will remind you of summer when you weren’t locked indoors all the time. And Notes On a Conditional Form, which is by The 1975, that came out earlier this year.

1:11:43 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, love them.

1:11:44 Landry Ayres: It’s not, I would say, as good as their last album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, but I do enjoy it and think it’s good, so it’s worth a listen.


1:11:56 Landry Ayres: If you’re like me, you might not be able to see how everyone could mix up Ethan Hawke and Jude Law when one is clearly more handsome than the other. Or you didn’t know that Andrew Niccol is also responsible for motion picture masterpieces like The Truman Show, The Terminal and Stephanie Meyer’s The Host. Whatever you think of Gattaca though, make sure to keep the conversation going with us on Twitter at popnlockepod. That’s pop, the letter N, lock with an E pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie, next time. Pop N 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.