RoboCop 2014 — A Life Not Worth Living?

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Transition of Alex Murphy to RoboCop

Transition of Alex Murphy to RoboCop

While I was personally a bit disappointed by the 2014 reboot of the 1987 “classic” RoboCop, I’m willing to hold my tongue on the laborious dialogue and frankly uninspired storyline. What simply must be mentioned, however, is the clear articulation of the kind of life worth living.

While I have to give the film its due and recognize that there was a gesture toward larger social and philosophical questions, such as what constitutes a human, where do the boundaries between human and machine lie, and to what lengths will society go to protect the “safety and security” of its people (albeit this gesture was not made very strongly), I can’t help but get hung up on this issue of ability.  While there were many forces at play, what it boils down to is that after a car bomb explosion, Alex Murphey’s wife is told that her husband sustained burns over 80% of his body and, if left in fully human form (as in, not transformed into “RoboCop”), will be blind in one eye, have an arm and a leg amputated, and “likely be deaf.” This grim prognosis is enough to convince her to acquiesce to the RoboCop transformation. Full stop.

Let’s back up a minute here. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I’m fairly certain that a large number of people sustain burns and have lifelong disabilities as a result of car explosions, house fires, grenade detonation, and the like… every single day in our modern world. Instead of restoring Murphey’s body as much as possible, providing him with rehab, and allowing him to adjust to his new life (as is usually done for survivors of the aforementioned incidents), the doctors in the film remove even the parts of his body that were undamaged to turn him into a robotic man. Yes, this is all precipitated as part of a capitalistic and extreme nationalist agenda, but the quick decision of his wife to approve such a procedure is clearly indicative of the types of lives society sanctions as “worth living.” Instead of living with skin burns (which I concede can certainly be a cause of extreme discomfort and pain), loss of eyesight in one eye, and potential deafness, the most morally righteous character of the film allows her husband to be mutilated by doctors (really people, a screen shot of his “after” effects is included in this post) and turned into a machine, rather than allow him to live with lifelong disabilities.

Is this a case of the “cure” or “remedy” being worse than the “affliction?” I think so. Obviously the film is an exploration of what can happen if we as a society (or even a rogue group of corporate CEOs) start making decisions about human life and surveillance without the proper checks in place, but at the same time, the film is also about what it means to be human and the various ways of maintaining and reclaiming our humanity. In that case, it seems important that we consider the implications of the types of human variety that are sanctioned and the potentially devastating results when assuming all that glitters is robot gold.

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4 responses »

  1. I wonder how much of that is from some mainstreamers being anti-disabled-human-bodies, and how much from some geeks being anti-human-bodies enough to think machines are cooler than people and biological bodies that have more hair, fat, etc. than shiny metal robots do.

    Also see http://www.colonydrop.com/can-a-robot-learn-the-meaning-of-boredom-yukikaze/ which reviews another such piece of science fiction:

    “Fukai stubbornly fights to remain in the Faery Air Force, lest he be parted from his beloved Yukikaze. Fukai does love his inanimate reconnaissance aircraft a fair bit, almost uncomfortably so. It’s a pity that this attachment is the only characterization he receives for the entire novel.”

    “Does Kambayashi ever provide an explanation for why Fukai has become an advanced version of that little boy on Star Trek: The Next Generation who comes to idolize the android Data and takes it upon himself to act just like him? Are you kidding me?”

  2. I completely agree that there’s a lot of assumptions and ideologies circulating “behind the scenes” of the film–getting into the beliefs of the writers, directors, etc.–that’s how representations are cyclical, right? It’s really tough to pin-point which came first: the social attitude(s) or the manifestation in pop culture. Though I’m also not sure we actually *need* to so much determine the “origin” as we need to be critically aware of the scripts that surround us both ideologically and representationally… which is kind of my whole point of musing on here about issues pertaining to gender & disability–we need just to be aware of them and what their consequences are (both intended and unintended).

    Also, thank you for pointing me to another interesting blog–I really appreciate the way the author dealt with some of the nuances presented in the novel!

    • You’re welcome!

      Also, I like your points about the origins not mattering so much! You might like http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/31/readercon-harassment-etc/#comment-346433 too.

      Me, I find the origins useful in debunking excuses. Anti-disabled-human-bodies and Anti-human-bodies both hit people who have disabled human bodies. Meanwhile, “no, just because it comes from geek culture doesn’t mean disabled people are snobs for disliking it” works better against one of those than against the other…

  3. I just saw a post that reminded me of the geek culture anti-biological-bodies thing again: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/08/04/techbros-are-hilarious/

    The techbro in question has:

    * invented a complete liquid replacement for regular food – but instead of promoting it to the same people who drink Ensure and might like vegan versions too, promotes it in the name of efficiency
    * tried to deliberately destroy his own gut fauna

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