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This paper discusses the issue of manipulation in Ridley Scott’s, Blade Runner, and Art Spiegelman’s, Maus – volume I and II. When used as a form of authoritative control, manipulation lends itself to the dehumanization of the characters within these texts; consequently enslaving them to an inescapable and fascist framework of control.
Manipulation is an artful management used for the purposes of deception and control. The shrewd and devious exertion of manipulation, as a tool of tyranny, gives those who propagate it the ability to engineer the movements of the masses. Within the texts, Blade Runner, and Maus- volume I and II, the characters are manipulated to glorify the “genetically pure”. When Deckert administers the “Void-Comp” test to Rachel he is presenting her with a scenario to test her purity.
Deckert proposes to Rachel “It’s your birthday…someone gives you a calf-skin wallet” to which Rachel replies, “I wouldn’t accept it…also, I’d report the person who gave it to me to the police” (Blade Runner 22:38). Even as a replicant, Rachel has been influenced to idealize the “genetically pure”, like all of the other characters have in Blade Runner. The police force also manipulates Deckert to believe that he must retire the replicants. When Deckert says, “I’ve got no choice, huh?” Tucker responds, “No choice at all, pal” (Blade Runner 13:31). Perhaps when force and punishment support and sustain manipulation this type of persuasion is inevitable.
In Art Spiegelman’s, Maus – volume I and II, manipulation is more overtly used as a method of authoritative control by the Nazi regime. On page 54 in Maus II, a German solider begins talking to Vladek as they are marching. Vladek even describes him as having “a little heart”. Before long the guard yells for Vladek to “shut up” and Vladek becomes “afraid anymore to speak”. The guard has his own ideals, but has been so influenced by Nazi rule that he is afraid to defy the beliefs that have been pressed upon him. Simply by initiating the conversation, the soldier inadvertently demonstrates that he doesn’t fully accept what Hitler has influenced him to think of the Jews. His actions are derived from an appeal to ignorance.
Within the texts, this type of manipulation ultimately lends itself to the dehumanization of those who are believed to be “genetically impure”. In Blade Runner, the replicants are reduced to animals and as long as Deckert continues to see them as an inferior or subhuman force, his effort to eradicate them is not done in vain. In seeing the replicants as animals Deckert can kill them without actually murdering them. After all, “this is not execution; it’s retirement” (Blade Runner 3:10). In this sense, Deckert and the replicants are engaged in a perpetual struggle of being predator or being prey. Batty exemplifies this struggle when he howls like a wolf while in pursuit of Deckert (Blade Runner 1:38:04). When Priss says, “but we’re stupid and we’ll die” in response to Batty’s plans of paradigmatic change, it becomes obvious that the way the replicants are treated has changed the way in which they view themselves. The replicants have been reduced to animals.
Similarly, in Maus, the Nazis see the Jews not as humans but as animals. Spiegelman draws the Jews as mice in his graphic novel to conceptualize this fact. Vladek describes how the Jews were transported in cattle cars. “It was such a train for horses, for cows. They pushed until there was no room left. We lay one on top of the other, like matches, like herrings” (Spiegelman 2:54). This treatment was a form of manipulation attempting to change the way in which the Jews viewed themselves.
The Nazis didn’t treat the Jews as human and so they were influenced by this treatment to believe that they were non-human. Vladek describes how the German soldiers saw the Jews. “We were below their dignity. We were not even men” (Spiegelman 2:54). The dehumanization of the Jews helped the Nazis to justify their actions. The need for the soldiers to separate themselves from the brutality shows their true beliefs. If they truly objectified the Jews, they would not have had to detach themselves from them in order to carry out Hitler’s visions. It was Hitler’s visions that influenced the soldiers to carry out their actions. Hitler’s visions had been manipulated into becoming their own.
Eventually this type of manipulation has the ability to disseminate through society, successfully propagating misinformation as truth. It is evident, in both of the texts, that the characters become enslaved to an oppressive system built by manipulation. The characters are unable to free themselves from oppression because they have been surrounded by a fascist framework of authoritative control. In Blade Runner, when Rachel declares “I’m not in the business I am the business” she has come to the realization that she is a slave to the system.
Rachel goes from living with Tyrell to knowing she’s a replicant, and having no other choice but to take on her designated role (Blade Runner 1:04:09). When Rachel asks Deckert “Would you come after me?” and Deckert responds “No… but somebody would” the characters realize the authoritative nature of a world, fostered by manipulation and controlled by surveillance (Blade Runner 1:06:02). In the final scene of Blade Runner, Batty affirms this notion: “It’s quite an experience to live in fear…that’s what it is to be a slave” (Blade Runner 1:45:12).
In Maus, the dehumanization of his father has enslaved Artie to Vladek’s past. When Artie thinks of his parent’s history he is doomed to envision a pile of dead Jews under his desk (Spiegelman 2:41). Artie is unable to escape the terror of Auschwitz. This becomes clear on page 47 of Maus II, when Artie puts on the mask of a mouse. Artie signifies himself as the “child of a survivor” and, despite the fact that he has never been there, Auschwitz will manipulate the way in which Artie lives forever. Artie has absorbed his father’s past to such an extent that he has begun to lose some of himself and adopt some of his father. Artie bleeds history, as the title of Spiegelman’s book suggests.
Ridley Scott’s, Blade Runner, and Art Spiegelman’s, Maus – volume I and II, cooperate to reveal the effects of manipulation when it is used to formulate authoritative control. The propagation of misinformation dehumanizes the characters within these texts, making them slaves to a system that is created by manipulation and sustained by surveillance.
Blade Runner (Director’s Cut). Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah. Warner Studios, 1982.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus – A Survivor’s Tale. 2 vols. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.