For some time now that I’ve been looking at the possibilities of buying an iRobot Romba vacuum cleaner. To me, the prospect of doing nothing while my smart cleaner robot cleans the house is highly compelling. And it will be fun to come home and see what this little robot has been up to, it could become a pet replacement – Have you been a good robot? Who’s a good robot, who is?
Like in Blade Runner’s replicant Pris, a basic pleasure model for the military clubs of outer colonies , so is my dream iRobot being developed by the manufacturer that provides robotic technology for the United States army and police force .
Science fiction movies show us a future that is a replica of the present: we now have robots for direct combat and minesweeping, robots in factories and health industries, benign robots for care and leisure, for pleasure and the sex industry. The cyberpunk aesthetics in films like Blade Runner, Wall-E, Strange Days and Valerian and the city of a Thousand Planets bring landscapes that are dense with skyscrapers displaying the brands that own us. These films explore our anxieties with dangerous forms of corporate domination, surveillance, robot wars, the collapse of the environment and climate change.
If in the film Metropolis leisure is an activity for the high class, the highest achievement is to cultivate oneself and not to work; in cyberpunk films, leisure is the dirty activity of the criminals and degenerates. It’s in the filthy dark streets we encounter the clubs, bars and casinos frequented by the swindlers, the outlaws, smugglers and gangsters, cyborgs, droids and numerous alien races. In that sense, Star Wars‘ Mos Eisley Cantina is one of the most inclusive spaces in the galaxy, with its exotic clientele moving rhythmically to the jazzy music of the Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.
What can these films reveal regarding our associations with time free from work, leisure, and who participates in it?
While the passengers of the starliner Axium enjoy their automated and relaxed lifestyles, WALL-E robots are left behind on Earth to clean all the garbage from decades of mass consumerism. In Downsizing future technology is used to solve overpopulation and global warming by “downsizing” people to live in an eco-friendly and experimental community at Leisureworld. Not only is the dream of a consumerist world achieved (if you downsize the cost of living, money gains more value), it also creates a smaller footprint on the environment. These are acts of resistance through leisure that are, at the same time, capitalism redemptive answer to perpetuate production.
We have imagined pills that can make us always happy (Soma, at Brave New World); virtual vacations to Mars (the dream of factory worker Douglas Quaid in Total Recall); or even in bed, an operating system becoming more satisfying than a person (Spike Jonze’s film HER). Such predictions are no longer futuristic. According to Jonathan Crary, capitalism is the end of sleep, colonising every minute of our lives for production and consumption. Sleep itself has become part of labour processes, integrated into the professional, public and work functions of our society.
Where do we go from here when we already have ‘sleeping pods’ in offices and ‘holodecks’ filled with recreational experiences? Where are our 24th century idlers , the benign activists of the universe exploring new worlds of labour production, seeking out healthy and Pacific forms of living, to boldly go where no man has gone before? Leisure – the final frontier.