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Blade Runner Reality shows us that we've always lived in the future

Blade Runner Reality shows us that we've always lived in the future



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Blade Runner Reality, as its name suggests, is an Instagram account that posts pictures of places that evoke Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece. Or, "Instagram explains how much the real world has become like Blade Runner," as one writeup puts it. "Is the knowledge that we are sort of living in Blade Runner comforting or distressing?" asks another. "Hardly a week goes by without some event or news item coming to light that would be right at home in a novel by William Gibson," says a commenter.

If Instagram is explaining anything, though, it's that we've always lived in Blade Runner.

Blade Runner might be set in retro-future LA, but a lot of the Blade Runner Reality pictures capture well-known, almost totally unrelated East Coast landmarks. The ribbed arches of the DC Metrorail, tagged #futuristic and #spaceage — and, with an eye towards SEO, #prometheus and #alien — hail from the 1970s. The Williamsburg Bridge, even at night, is not particularly #futuristic. This is New York's 19th-century Washington Square Arch, explained as an oblique reference to Blade Runner's "tears in rain" speech. A few photos get at cyberpunk's occasional turn to weird '80s-style orientalism, in which Asian cultures were inherently futuristic. And then there's this post, tagged #REPLICANT and (in a followup comment) #swag, which is a pretty convincing argument that the whole account is outright trolling us:

"She doesn't know." -"She's beginning to suspect, I think." "Suspect? How can it not know what it is?" #REPLICANT

A photo posted by Blade Runner Reality (@bladerunnerreality) on

Around the birth of what we now call cyberpunk, Bruce Sterling lambasted the "intellectual failing" of sword-and-sorcery, space opera, and post-apocalyptic science fiction stories of the time, calling them the result of "writers' urgent necessity to avoid tangling with a realistic future." Worlds like Blade Runner's were some of the first to recognize and import modern global consumer culture wholesale, imagining companies and brands (Coca-Cola, Atari) living longer than actual nations. They operated according to the basic narrative rules of '20s and '30s hardboiled fiction. If our world looks like Blade Runner, it's not because we've somehow slipped into the future. It's because cyberpunk transformed science fiction by rooting it in our past and present.

Blade Runner Reality certainly does a good job of distilling our futurist shorthands: steam, neon, Chinese characters, giant billboards, and public transportation. But its real achievement is pointing out how strange and science-fictional anything — even a heavily filtered, nearly random shot of somebody hailing a perfectly non-futuristic New York cab — can look if you pair it with a quote about replicants.

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