Friday, 2 September 2011

In Time

When Will Salas is falsely accused of murder, he must figure out a way, with the help of a beautiful hostage, to bring down a system where time is money -- literally -- enabling the wealthy to live forever while the poor, like Will, have to beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through another day.

The premise of this film is certainly intriguing. I'll have to reserve judgement though until I've had a chance to see it. I already know that all filmmakers, especially those working in Hollywood, face the problem of how to develop sympathetic characters that the audience can identify with, without sacrificing the larger chain of historical actors, structures, and events, to the point where they become mere window-dressing. It is clearly difficult then to make a radical, as opposed to a merely liberal, or conservative, film.

Having said that, the trailer has got me thinking. I like how it appears to at least gesture at Marx's critical insight that work is dead time for most people: it's death on the installment plan because we trade our time away for the possibility of a real life later. Now, if life enhancement technologies were ever made widely accessible, it'd be nice to think that they might allow the precariat, who are at present forced to do piecemeal work with no benefits, to retrain and work a bit longer, as compensation for not having a pension fund up until that point. For such social democratic measures to be viable though, the Consumer Price Index would have to remain steady, and this is, sadly, unlikely to be the case because of the dynamic and exploitative nature of capitalism: the disparity between the CPI and wages, compounded by the extraction of surplus value from workers, would mean that the cost of living would not be ameliorated for those least able to afford any real improvement to their quality of life. Access to such technologies would then in all likelihood simply mean you would be forced to work longer without accumulating any additional benefits. Conservatives would be happy about this as they would not have to worry about the lack of available tax dollars (especially when they also typically advocate tax breaks for the wealthy) to fund the retirements of an ageing population.

 Policy-makers in developed countries at present see an ageing population as a looming problem because of the so-called "fertility crisis": not enough children are being born to replace the retiring generations of workers, so the tax base shrinks accordingly. This makes me think the scenario in the film is probably the more realistic option as far as capitalists are concerned i.e.there would be no real incentive to make these technologies available to those who couldn't afford them--unless offered as a carrot on a stick to discipline the workforce--so they would, for the most part, remain a luxury commodity for the very rich to enjoy. Consistent with this dystopian logic, in my view, this would mean it's more likely that greedy capitalists would resort to the "blackbirding" of cheaper (non-unionised) labourers from the Third World, who would be worked till they dropped, and then simply replaced, rather than "enhanced..."

Believe me, I desperately want to be wrong about this. I hope instead for a resurgence of progressive, collective action, worker's owning the means of production; something like the technological utopia envisaged by Marcuse to make good on Marx's ideal of communism as "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs)"-- albeit without the androcentric bias, of course. Using everyday technologies such as mobile phones as examples, Ray Kurzweil would have us believe that all technologies become affordable as they grow more powerful, so everyone can eventually become posthuman: meaning that all of these problems will somehow just go away, with the flick of a wrist, or rather, the press of a button. Contra this thesis of the Singularity, it looks like In Time will be reminding us that capitalism's relentless theft of time from workers is responsible for their alienation, rather than any sense of failure at not having realised their posthuman potential.....

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