November 13, 2002
RoboCop vs. Spielberg

Two RoboCop bits:

Take a close look at the track record of this company, and you'll see that we've gambled in markets traditionally regarded as non-profit--hospitals, prisons, space exploration. I say good business is where you find it. --Richard Jones, VP at Omni Consumer Products
Criminal 1: We're robbing banks, but we never get to keep the money.

Criminal 2: It takes money to make money--we steal the money to buy the coke to sell the coke to make even more money. It's capital investment, man.

Criminal 1: Yeah, but why bother making money when we can just steal it?

Criminal 2: No better way to steal money than free enterprise.

I just saw RoboCop for the first time. Despite the gratuitous, truly gruesome violence, it has some very interesting social commentary as scathing parody of corporate culture, which overlaps generously with organized crime. I keep forgetting that the corporate dystopia was a fairly common setting in 80's movies (Blade Runner being the other full-scale example).

But if you look at dystopic visions today, they're watered down, and the corporations that profit from crime and have taken over public services are strangely absent. In RoboCop, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) prides itself on corporatizing things "traditionally thought of as non-profit," like Police and Hospitals. Looking at Spielberg's Minority Report, we would be led to believe that in 20 years, the corrupt people in positions of power are going to be... mayors? Instead of Back to the Future, it's forward to some idealized-yet-mildly-disconcerting past of the 1950s.

Setting aside for the moment that mayors and politicians are not the ones really in power in the present, it's a little disconcerting that in the 80s, corporate control was a concern that showed up in mainstream culture, but now that the same corporate control is actually showing, pop culture goes out of its way to avoid these concerns. The worst thing about corporatization in Minority Report is the constant in-your-face marketing. Is this really the only real concern we can come up with about where we're heading? RoboCop, flawed though it is, effortlessly shows this not to be the case... fifteen years ago. From the movies I've seen, this trend seems to be fairly inclusive. 80s movies (which I've been watching a lot of lately) tend to comment directly on institutional issues, whereas 90s movies project these concerns onto individuals or ignore them altogether.

What brought all this to mind was, oddly enough, something that Stephen Henighan said when I interviewed him last week about novels and how they reflect and define the concerns of the day:

I think literature is extremely influential in shaping our view of ourselves as a nation. However, what worries me in the present situation is that a lot of the literature that has become very popular portrays a rather nostalgic view of our nation. There's very little that engages in an interesting way with the present. This has fortified or enhanced a certain tendency in Canadian life at the moment to turn our eyes away from the present and avoid a lot of the difficult issues we have, like "do we integrate our military with the states," or "do we sign Kyoto," and meanwhile we're all reading Alistair Macleod or Ann-Marie Macdonald about some misty Cape Breton of many years ago. In a way, the popularity of those novels actually goes along with our general reluctance to confront the present.

posted by dru in culture