Recently, Blade Runner 2049, as did the original film, has come under fire from some media outlets as being misogynistic, depicting women as unequal to their on-screen, male counterparts. These outlets aren’t entirely wrong. However, they missed the point of why exactly. And this is because these films are set in a dystopian future.
For any who may somehow be unfamiliar with the concept of dystopia: if you think of a country like North Korea, then ramp it up to eleven, you’re pretty close. Imagine a world where the divide between rich and poor is absolutely insurmountable, racism and sexism is rampant, class and caste determine your entire life trajectory, and social inequity is the norm – a world where free thought is discouraged and the press is restricted. This is dystopia in its rawest form.
So, of course it makes sense, then, for the version of America’s future depicted in the Blade Runner films to be filled with rampant misogyny, because the world depicted is dystopian: a reflection of the writer’s worst fears for the future of society. Fictional works of all stripes are littered with dystopias: Orwell, Huxley, Asimov, Dick, Gibson, Bradbury, and many others have depicted dystopias in their works. So, too, have many films, television series, and games, from the brilliant Equilibrium, to the chilling Purge trilogy, to the ’80s camp of Cherry 2000.
It’s important to note that not every box needs to be ticked off to create a work of dystopian fiction. The idea is to create a world which blends well with the genre and theme. One of the reasons the Purge series works so well is that it’s a psychological horror set in a near-future America where political corruption and disdain for the poor have birthed a society where a government-sanctioned culling takes place annually. It’s believable (especially given the current U.S. political climate) and it doesn’t try to be more than it needs to be. Furthermore, it demonstrates how well dystopias work in literally any genre.
And I do mean any genre. Dystopia is more commonly associated with neo-noir and cyberpunk, but is seen in other genres of fiction as well. The Midnight tabletop RPG from Fantasy Flight Games is set in a dark-fantasy world where an evil god called Izrador holds the world in an iron grip. George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, naturally, takes place on a farm where a pig’s tyrannical rise to power has left the other animals trampled under his cloven hooves. The Oddworld video-game series features a race of sentient beings kept as slaves and later used as a food source by their corporate captors and one of their people, Abe, leading their escape. All of these are good examples of dystopia, especially in their depictions of the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors.
This leads to a very important point, a point which goes back to the opening statement regarding people who are upset at the misogyny in the Blade Runner films. This is a fact that will ruffle the feathers of those who insist that all fiction must be politically correct, but it is no less true: social justice does not exist in a dystopia. For it to be perfect is the utter antithesis of dystopia. There is no equitable, egalitarian culture. And so, to expect dystopian fiction to reflect those ideals and morals and social progressivism indicates an unfamiliarity with the genre. It is also indicative of a will to impose one’s own view on another’s creative work, which is ironic, as censoring art is a hallmark of dystopian societies.
Orwell once wrote, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.” As chilling as the image is, it tells you everything about dystopia in just a few words; it is not a good world. There is no kindness or mercy or sympathy. Morals do not belong and they will not protect you.