Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thoughts on Gattaca

I was thinking about the movie Gattaca recently:
* What the film did get right is the inevitability of friction between large populations of enhanced people, and naturals - at least, for as long as there are naturals. The X-Men comic book universe also made that point again and again over the years, but usually with a negative connotation, by putting the concept into the mouth of archvillain Magneto. Well guess what, Nazi concentration-camp survivor Magneto called that one correctly, and the noble and lovable X-teams are playing King Canute.

* They're also right that most parents will be very happy to enhance their offspring. Parents want mutant children - smart, attractive, athletic, tall...

However:

* The producers and writer/director of Gattaca were woefully and wilfully ignorant about all aspects of space travel.

* Naturals aren't going to be nearly as discriminated against, nor as poverty-stricken, as the movie predicts. For instance, when enhanced people start entering the workforce, all of the people making the hiring decisions will be naturals, as will be all of the leaders of the organizations that enhanced people want to join.

Of course enhanced people will have an edge, but naturals aren't going to be barred from competing.

* Further, Congress isn't going to let companies get away with doing genetic screenings while pretending to be conducting "drug tests", and even if they did, there would be state legislatures that would ban the practice, and enforce the ban.

* Also, the film depicted dining out as still being a common and enjoyable activity. But will being a server, busboy, or line cook really satisfy the uberpersons of tomorrow ?

The film implies that most naturals live on skid row, or are homeless, but there'll be plenty of money to be made by catering to the service needs of the future's Golden Ones.

* Besides, there will still be disparities of talent, ability, and potential within the enhanced community, so why would any but the most training-intensive jobs be reserved for the enhanced? Performance-drug use in baseball, American football, cycling, and many Olympic sports is rampant today, but that just raises the bar for athletes who don't want to destroy their future for present glory, it doesn't exclude them.

* I've seen Uma Thurman in several roles, and she's most attractive as a sleek Ice Queen, which is her role here. This is one of the few female-lead parts that Jennifer Lopez couldn't have done better.

* Although the story is ultimately uplifting, in a John Henry or Rudy kind of way, it's also slow moving and at least thirty minutes too long.

5 Comments:

Blogger Duck said...

Gattaca is a great movie. I can agree with you on one thing: Uma Thurman is hot, especially when she's icy cool.

But I think that the movie gets most things wrong. For one thing, genetic screening isn't a thing of the future, it's here now. We don't think of merit-based competition for jobs as genetic screening, but that's basically what it is. Especially for astronauts. Read "The Right Stuff".

We do screening on the finished product of the genome, and not the genome itself, which is the far better way to do it. The one thing the movie gets right is that there is no gene for the human spirit, which is just to say that you can't understand the person by reading the genome. That was illustrated by the character played by Jude Law. He had the perfect genome, but didn't have the will to live the life of a golden boy. He was as much a prisoner of his genome as Ethan Hawke's character was.

I don't see genetic engineering creating an uber-class. Like I said earlier, our society already screens for uber-merit, genetic screening would be redundant and inaccurate, to boot.

June 23, 2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

But wouldn't you agree that genetic engineering will lead pretty directly to uber-merit ?

And by dint of having uber-merit heavily concentrated among the enhanced, won't that create an uber-class ?

At least until everyone is enhanced.

June 23, 2007 10:14 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Besides, there probably are gene sequences which promote tenacity of will, and drive to succeed.

June 23, 2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Uber-merit in what? Will uber-musical talent make one a great football player? Will a genius for math make someone a great business leader? Are you suggesting there is some sequence of genetic switches that will enhance someone's abilities across the board?

Merit is a localized phenomenon. Talented entertainers are generally idiots when it comes to interpersonal relations. A genius for biology doesn't necessarily bestow the personal skills or empathy required to be a great doctor. Super-geniuses are generally social basket cases.

Enhancement, if and when it becomes generally practiced, will most likely be used to fix genetic predispositions for diseases. But any attempt to use it to create uber-menschen will likely backfire. What are the parents of a prospective uber-mensch going to select for his area of specialty? Music? Athletics? Politics? And what if the uber-boy decides that he doesn't like music or athletics?

Such genetic planning for the future repeats the fatal conceit of Socialism, that smart managers can predict and plan for the complexities of human political and economic life. Giving a child uber-basketball abilities is like making a bet on the futures market for basketball twenty years out. How do you know if there will still be an NBA then, and what will the going salary for 7'8" players be?

Human merit is too varied and complex a realm to boil down into a genetic strategy for success.

June 23, 2007 10:41 AM  
Blogger Mike Beversluis said...

33% Nature,
33% Nurture,
34% Snails and puppy-dog tails and bolts of lightning which send you out into the desert to fulfill your destiny.

I thought Gattaca was okay, but the midnight swim-off was ridiculous, and un-cinematical too. Dark and murky; not unlike the end to Patriot Games.

I suspect genetic testing might be outlawed once parents start aborting gay children.

June 23, 2007 6:48 PM  

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