Policing Memory and Identity

Ian Jones

What is in a memory? Two visions of the future of policing and criminality seen in Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell reflect how memory relates to what makes one human. In both movies, the purpose of the police officers -- traditionally keepers of the peace -- seems to be the general maintenance of overburdened if not completely chaotic realities. Both movies take place in urban environments that resemble concrete jungles, with water flooding the streets and pervading the landscapes. This imagery is suggestive symbolizing the fact that information, like a leaking sewer, can't be contained or controlled in traditional ways.

In Blade Runner the criminals are the replicants deemed by their creators as "More human than human" and by the society at large as dangerous and subject to execution/retirement. With implanted memories and human appearances, these beings can only be told apart in the movie by the true humans' knowledge of Replicant memories. This distinguishing factor is problematized in the movie as we see that the Deckert himself appears to have memories and ideas which Gaff (Edward James Olmos's character) is aware (especially in the original released version in which Deckert's unicorn dream appears in Gaff's paper unicorn). Thus, the division between the cop and the criminal blurs, and one is left with the idea that the authenticity of a being's body or memory is irrelevent to the question of what makes him or her human.

Such a blurring between cop and criminal also informs Ghost in the Shell, when the almost completely cybernetic chief cop chases after a computer- and information-system-based criminal. Although this poses an interesting problem in itself, the most compelling part of the film to me was the scene in which the cops inform the ghost-hacked garbage man of the falsehood of his existence, that he has in essence been living a doctored, unauthentic existence. Memories thus work the other way around in GitS, serving not to reinforce a false notion of humanity on a manufactured being, but to convince a normal everyday person into belief in a nonexistent reality. Where as humanness in BR is seen as immutably tied to memory (although not its authenticity, just its existence), GitS takes the stance of memory as data, extraneous information which can be deleted, uploaded and downloaded, irrelevent to what makes one human.

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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