‘Robocop' Is Coming True (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

Lance Turner, the online editor responsible for ArkansasBusiness.com and our company’s other websites, recently worked on a video with Brant Collins, one of the first people in Arkansas to own Google Glass, the eyeglasses-type technology that can be controlled by voice or even eye movement.

When I saw the video they made — check out ArkansasBusiness.com/GoogleGlass and Turner’s feature in this issue — I was reminded for the umpteenth time that “Robocop” is coming true.

“Robocop” is a 1987 film by director Paul Verhoeven and starring Peter Weller at the peak of his handsomeness in a role that made the most of his limited acting range. It’s an action hero movie and one of the goriest films I’ve ever watched — certainly the goriest I’ve ever watched more than once. But above all, it’s a social commentary as keen as any I’ve seen on screen. For my generation, it might be more meaningful in that respect than George Orwell’s classic novel from 1949, “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Not all of the predictions by Verhoeven and screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner were on target, thank goodness.

Uncontrolled fires do threaten wooded residential areas of California, but so far none has been the deadly result of a “laser cannon” that misfired from the “Star Wars Orbiting Peace Platform.” (The Peace Platform does, however, look an awful lot like the International Space Station that was launched a decade after the movie was made.)

Nelson Mandela was still in prison when “Robocop” was released, and the movie imagines the future Pretoria as a nuclear-armed city-state controlled by a “white military government.” In real life, of course, Pretoria is the scene of a hospital vigil for Mandela, now a former president and beloved elder statesman.

In “Robocop,” television news has been compressed to mere headlines — “This is Media Break: You give us three minutes and we’ll give you the world.” — and the laser cannon misfire that kills 113 people, including two former U.S. presidents, gets 20 seconds. In the real world, cable news has expanded to 24/7 on multiple channels, so that even routine developments — say, a new baby born to a foreign figurehead — get so much time that they start to seem important.

But some parts of the movie were downright prescient if a little over-the-top. Giant, gas-guzzling vehicles — the 6000 SUX, 8.2 mpg, “An American Tradition” — re-emerged as predicted (but have since lost some of their sheen). Every time I see real-life commercials for The GetAround Knee and Stryker’s Triathlon Knee, I think of the brand-name body parts advertised on television in “Robocop” — including the complete Jarvik line and the Series 7 Sports Heart by Jensen.

And some parts of “Robocop” seem ripped from this year’s headlines. In the movie, insolvent “Old Detroit” has been given over to the control of a corporate conglomerate called Omni Consumer Products, which plans to clean house and get a fresh new start on a replacement called Delta City. In 2013, Detroit’s government has been taken away from the politicians elected by its residents and given over to a state-appointed “emergency manager” who hopes to get a clean start by filing bankruptcy.

One of the symptoms of Detroit’s collapse has been police response time: an average of 58 minutes for the highest priority 911 calls. “Robocop” has an answer for the same problem: a cop who doesn’t need to sleep, barely needs to eat and whose onboard computer records every encounter in a video format admissible as evidence in court. (Curiously, “Robocop” did not anticipate Wi-Fi.)

Which brings me back to Google Glass, which can record what the wearer is seeing. The user can even see an LED menu very like the one that Robocop sees when determining his “prime directives”: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law.

Robocop also has a secret fourth directive that prevents him from taking action against his corporate masters, even when they break the law. Sometimes I wonder if the big investment banks and ratings agencies installed something like that in the federal Justice Department.

***

A remake of “Robocop” is in production and is scheduled for release in 2014. If it’s as predictive as the original, I’m not sure I want to see it.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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