Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The Minority Report" (1956)

Philip K. Dick's 1956 short story is easily recognized in Steven Spielberg's 2002 film adaptation of it, which is only more remarkable for the fact that nearly half a century separates them. The technology is very different—they're still using punch cards and audio tape in the Dick story whereas Spielberg convened a consortium of technical experts and/or visionary whatsits to inform the view of  future technology he used in his picture, which includes hacking directly into human brains, as well as all manner of strangely probable urban design. In the story, our hero John Anderton is middle-aged and over the hill; in the movie he's Tom Cruise, capable of extraordinary chin-ups in battle situations. But the basics are there: computer analysis predicts crimes that are then thwarted before they happen. "Precrime" has practically wiped out murder and other violent crime, yet everyone in prison is by definition innocent of actually doing something. There's the rub, and it chafes as much in 2002 as in 1956. Anderton finds himself suddenly charged with a precrime and, convinced it's a put-up job by a career rival, he runs and attempts to get to the bottom of it all. The precogs who see the future in dream states are a trio of genetically mutated humans who are taken as developmentally disabled by most, and treated like animals raised for consumption. In fact, their appalling role in this is largely unexamined in either story or movie. To me their treatment is clearly a greater institutional crime than jailing people for what they weren't able to do, given at least that it seemed to be working for the purpose. But the issue bothering most people around here is the one about imprisoning technical innocents, with its ringing echoes of Enlightenment priorities. It's not that Dick and Spielberg are unaware of the inhumane treatment of the precogs—both depictions are remarkably brutish, though in different ways—it's more that they don't know what to do with it, and genuinely seem more interested in the issues of precrime criminal justice. And they are worthy issues, no doubt, complex and gristly. We need to stop people murdering one another if we can, of course. It's just, for me, if you're enslaving and brutalizing people to get that information in the first place, that's the first issue you'd want to deal with. Thus, both story and movie feel slightly beside the point, for all the interesting highlights they otherwise have to offer.

In case it's not at the library (and in other anthologies).

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