Ghost in the Shell: But Who Owns the Shell?

Motoko con un tachikoma

It’s always dark in futuristic Japan. (Photo credit: DraXus)

I’ll warn you now – I’m feeling a bit philosophical this evening.  Yesterday I had a conversation that made me so angry at the world.  It started me thinking about concepts such as individuality and freedom and self-worth.  And because I watch a lot of anime, I started drawing comparisons between the world of 2012 (English-speaking, Western culture anyway) and the future, cyborg-populated world of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

If you haven’t seen the series, you probably should, ’cause it’s really good. In the future, people can get prosthetic implants to the point that they are all machine except for a little bit of brain tissue (I think – the subtitles go by way too fast and there’s no way I’m watching it with the horrible American voices).  What makes these people still human is their spirit (“ghost”).

But because people can leave their bodies to go into other people’s bodies or the Internet, and also because some robots seem to be starting to gain consciousness (sort of like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the line between human and machine becomes, well, indistinct.  This makes people get all philosophical while watching it, also this Wikipedia article and at least one Tate Modern art exhibit (that I saw one day when I was living in London and had nothing better to do but hadn’t seen the TV show or read the manga so I only gathered that it was about a purple-haired woman.)

The bit of this that I’m interested in at the moment is the disclosure, about 3/4 of the way into the first series, that the people working for Public Security Section 9 (the protagonists – the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise, if you will), their cyborg bodies are owned by the people they work for.  These bodies are really expensive and require a lot of maintenance.  So they have to keep doing the job, or presumably the body gets repossessed and you get a crappier one or, I suppose dive into the Internet and “live” there until whenever.

That thought, to me, was chilling.  To not have a choice, or more correctly, to have that sort of “beggar’s choice” that isn’t really a choice at all – I would hate that.  I need to know that I have options.  I don’t want to get forced into anything.  But that’s the future – no one can own your body in real life.

Well, last night I was essentially told that that’s exactly what it’s like now.  Like most people, I work at a job and get paid on a regular basis for it.  On bad days, I think oh, well, if it gets worse I’ll just hand in my notice.  Well, apparently (I’ve been informed) you can’t do that because there must be another job to go to before you leave.  But you can’t actually get another job, because there aren’t any.  None whatsoever. (Never mind that I found work within a few days of moving here.)

And if you’re out of work, well, there’s the house repossessed and starvation and probably prison, somehow.  Not to mention the fact that all your family members will have abandoned you for making such a stupid decision in the first place.

No, the choice to leave a job is a choice to have no life at all – even if I could get through a period of time with no job, I couldn’t bear the disgrace.  This wouldn’t be the case if I were made redundant, of course.  These things happen.  But to willingly quit a job without having another one, that’s the end.

…just like the choice to leave Public Security Section 9 is the choice to no longer have a physical body.

It was last night that I started believing this.   And as depressing as it may sound, I don’t actually mind it.  Instead, I’m grateful for the realisation – it makes me want to change the system (re-write the Kobayashi Maru training programme?  Anyone still with me on the Star Trek references?).  Because it’s not the post-apocalyptic future.  It’s the pre-apocalyptic now.  There’s time to fix this.

Now for some atmosphere, here’s the intro to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st GIG.  (Music geek note: It’s pitched a tone lower than on my DVDs but seems to be the same recording, I think my version must play faster.  I don’t have perfect pitch, which would be useful; I have just enough tonal memory to be bothered by these things.)

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2 thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell: But Who Owns the Shell?

  1. Pingback: Chobits – I Shouldn’t Like This But I Do « A Fantasy of Far Japan

  2. Pingback: I Went To HYPER JAPAN 2012 and Now I’m Unemployed « A Fantasy of Far Japan

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