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Are you a human being?

The way we see – and do not see – the outside world is largely determined by the culture and society in which we grow up and are shaped. But is it possible to reveal our own blind spots in our day? asks author Hanne Ramsdal.


January 2019. I am in Porsgrunn, a city whose streets, sidewalks and public buildings are heated by surplus heat from Herøya industrial park. At night, Herøya is somewhat similar to the opening of Blade Runner from 1982, though Blade Runner takes place in Los Angeles. In the film's text it says that the action has been added to November 2019. In less than a year we will be where the movie starts. And that is why I can be here, in Porsgrunn, and see a lecture streamed directly from the National Library of Oslo, by Toril Moi about just Blade Runner. In 2019, direct flow is just as natural as sidewalks and streets being heated with excess heat from an industrial park. And as natural as re-reading movies I have previously dazzled and seduced.

New look

The lecture I get streamed carries the title “How Do I Know You Are a Human? Toril Moi on Blade Runner and Femininity »and is part of the National Library's sci-fi exhibition, which runs until 6. April 2019. Moi asks the timely question of how we who call ourselves feminists can relate to art and philosophy that are both radically challenging and depressingly sexist. She thinks Blade Runner can be read as a critical allegory of racism and slavery. Blade Runner is a radical exploration of the boundaries of humanity, but it does not use women to explore the human, says Moi.

As long as we are human, we will also have blind spots.

I think of movies I watched when I was in my twenties. Now I see them again and feel both excitement and endless disappointment. I love Blow-Up from 1966, and not getting enough of the end scene's play with sound and picture. But it hurts to look scene after scene with the protagonist's miserable treatment of the models he is photographing, and women who want to become models. Also Siste tango i paris from 1972 both sexist difficult and cinematically wonderful. That also Blade Runner. But I can't think of Toril Moi's question when I was twenty and saw the movie for the first time at the Cinemateket. Perhaps that's the most frightening thing about watching these films again: Everything I didn't see then. Young people who are growing up now see this. Because in 2019 we see this. Because it's both written about it and a public conversation about it. Even good old Christmas movies and songs may not be at peace for society's "new look". Luckily. But how do you reveal the blind spots we overlook in our own time?

Blade Runner

New thinking

The three female characters in Blade Runner are all replicants with built-in limited life. They should be "retired", or destroyed by Blade Runner Rick Deckard. Two of the female replicants, Price Stratton and Zhora Salome, are shot in violent scenes. The third, Rachael, is saved because he is sexually interested in her. Deckard holds her tight, and Moi mentions the soft saxophone music in the subsequent sex scene as problematic because the sex is portrayed as desired by the woman – perhaps more problematic than if it were portrayed as pure violence.

Our psyche is shaped by the tradition we want to criticize.

Is sexism outweighed by the film's philosophical depth and aesthetic qualities? Moi is looking through alternative answers. Should one reject the work? No, she thinks we should rather try to understand the patriarchal way of working. For women's subjectivity and psyche is shaped by the tradition we want to criticize. What we are facing is a challenge to our judgment, she says. We must learn to think historically and concretely.

In the end, Moi leaves us to decide. And perhaps the very conversations on the subject are the answer to how we should relate: that this type of film and art must be linked to a thinking and ongoing dialogue about what we see, how we see and what we want to see in the future. As long as we are human, we will also have blind spots. And by discovering the past, we might get a glimpse of our own.

Also read: The anatomy of the nationalist woman's hatred

Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne Ramsdal
Ramsdal is a writer.

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