September 22, 2004

Pinkerton: Future Shock for America

James Pinkerton has written an excellent OpEd for Tech Central Stupid in which he contrasts the differences between futurist visions of the West and East by considering their recent film contributions. Specifically, he looks at Hollywood's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence:
If, as many suspect, the 21st century ends up being the Asian Century, two movies from 2004 will be remembered as early auguries. The first film bodes poorly for the US; the second film bodes well for Asia. In watching "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," Americans thrill to the simple comic-book glories of 1939. At the same time, the Japanese, watching "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," think ahead to the cyber-future of 2032, pondering its potentialities and pitfalls.

A culture which prefers the languorous comfort of a quasi-mythic past to the rigors of confronting the hard-edged future is complacent, maybe even decadent -- and out of decadence comes defeat.
Pinkerton continues:
So is "Ghost" director Mamoru Oshii guilty, after all, of the same retro-mindedness as "Sky Captain" director Conran?

No, not at all. "Ghost" director Oshii is on a mission to instruct. In an interview with The Washington Post, he observed, "People are very different from animals. We don't accept our original bodies. Humans wear clothes, have earrings and tattoos, do cosmetic surgery, take vitamins. If they are sick, they get organ transplants. And now we have radios, telephones, microphones, watches, computers, microchips outside the body now, but soon we will utilize these machines inside our bodies and then we will be part cyborg. This is inevitable. The process has already begun."

Dig that: It's inevitable. The process has already begun. Welcome to the machine, as Pink Floyd would say.

Going further, Oshii predicted, in terms not entirely complimentary to his countrymen, that the pioneers of body mechanization "will probably be Japanese. That, and human cloning… because we do not have the same taboos." He added, "Japan is a really weird country without any religion. We take ideas from everywhere. We don't really care about what is lost and what is acquired."

It's worth pausing over Oshii's "no religion" point. Most Americans probably think that the dominant faith in the US, Protestantism, has been an asset -- the upwardly mobile "Protestant Ethic," and all that. Yet some citizens, in the name of faith and morality, are seeking to put stumbling blocks in the path of their progress. The Bush administration seems perfectly prepared, for instance, to say "sayonara" to rivals across the Pacific, as the Asian Tigers pull ahead in the Great Game of Human Techno-Destiny.
There are many other very good insights, and the entire article can be read here.

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