Friday, November 2, 2012

Dystopian Chic

There are few bad movies more influential than 1982’s Blade Runner.  Directed in a flashy, hollow manner by Ridley Scott, the film tried to combine the disparate moods of futuristic science fiction, film noir, and hardboiled detective fiction.  As an example of any of these genres, the film is a failure and one cannot help but feel that the creative team behind it knew that as well:  there have been no fewer than seven different versions of the film, and none of them work.

For those with blissfully short memories, Blade Runner concerned detective Harrison Ford romping around a dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, looking to shoot various homicidal robots.  Or something.  At any rate, one of the distinctive things about the film was its art direction: most of the denizens of Los Angeles wear freakish or tattered clothes, and the streets are illuminated by advertising broadcast from building facades.

About the clothes and overall look of unwashed people I will say little, other than a trip in the New York City subway often leaves one wanting to hand out free bars of soap.  It’s particularly gruesome to ride next to New York’s burgeoning population of “hipsters:”  it’s not unusual to see people dressed as if for a Halloween party on their way to work, and to wonder, as well, if sales of shampoo are down or raising head lice were a competitive sport.

But the most dire aspect of Blade Runner has been its inspiration to advertisers, hucksters and media pimps who saw the idea of a moving billboard as a challenge to the health, sanity and aesthetics of normal human beings.  Forgetting completely that the vision of Blade Runner was one of an urban hell, advertisers jumped on the idea of animated billboards, and it is impossible to walk through much of New York without being bombarded by these repulsive and intrusive mechanized menaces.

This is fairly evident to anyone walking down Times Square at night – the light from moving images on the sides of buildings is enough to challenge even the most meager sun, and sensory input would kill even your simplest, most humble thought. 

The photos above were taken at 34th Street – right across from Macy’s, point of fact.  Macy’s was one of the first retailers to jump on this reprehensible practice, erecting a jumbo screen over the entranceway to pander during the Republican convention in 2004.  Do pedestrians really need to see under-washed and underfed youths dress in simulacrums 50 feet tall?

It is nearly impossible to be a contemporary pedestrian without some hint of the affliction’s of Poe’s Roderick Usher.  Sights and sounds assail us.  Smells gag us.  Our senses are rattled, our thoughts disjointed, our very personal boundaries invaded by the ubiquity of trash advertising.

Welcome to the world of dystopian chic.

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