Blade Runner’s Hong Kong (Or, How to Read Those Dull Academic Papers)

Blade-Runner-posterIt’s so frustrating to run across an academic paper about your favorite comic or movie or TV show. Academics always say one or two smart things and then spend the rest of a 20-page paper gabbling about incomprehensible theories we ordinary people don’t have time for.

It’s kind of cute, really. I picture a tenure-seeking associate professor of film or cultural studies (like the authors of 90% of these papers) tapping away on her trusty laptop — until she’s brought up short! She realizes she’s gone three whole paragraphs without citing Slavoj Žižek and she’s in danger of failing the intellectual Voight-Kampff test! TIME TO GET THEORY’D UP!!


For a normal person, the only way to read one of these articles is according to the following rule:

If a paragraph has a lot of scholarly references, skip it.

Take this neat paper I found about how Blade Runner and other movies with a grunge-tech vibe (Ghost in the Shell, Johnny Mnemonic, Akira, Hackers) all used one particular area of Hong Kong as their template. What makes a scruffy Asian urban neighborhood more “futuristic” than a scruffy American urban neighborhood? Answers after the jump.

Want to know what this paper says? Here’s what to do.

Wong-dayStep #1: READ PARAGRAPHS 9-13.

(Paragraph 9 is between the first two pix and starts: “Perhaps because of its recent reabsorption by China.”)

Here the author talks about how Hong Kong encapsulates many of the themes of these movies, and how there’s one Hong Kong district that looks exactly like Blade Runner. (Or start on paragraph 8 to read about why the Blade Runner cityscape is so cool.)

Paragraph 11 (which starts “The questions remain…”) has a worthwhile quote about the cool, if poorly expressed, idea that a big city has a “radical eclecticism.” In paragraph 13 (starts “Apparently no parody…”) the quotes are hellish, but the stuff about levels is thought-provoking.


(The Ghost in the Shell section starts right after this photo of a nighttime park full of tiny lights.)

Do this:

SKIP the first paragraph, which begins, “4. I now turn to Ghost in the Shell.”
READ the next two paragraphs (starting with “So we are back to our initial question”), which mostly quote a book about the movie written by non-academics.
SKIP the paragraph that starts: “Water imagery is…”
READ the next one, which starts: “The Analysis emphasizes…” It has more about making the movie and another quote from the (non-academic) book.


The concluding paragraph is kind of charming in its haplessness. Here the author tries to sum up what he’s been trying to say. Alas, only about 10% of the paper says anything coherent about its ostensible subject. The rest is just ass-covering. As if dimly aware of this, the author splurts out a little pile of Foucault quotes for his final words.

And that’s it. The stuff I’ve pointed to is still pretty dense, but if you feel a pull toward the future worlds of Blade Runner et al, the Hong Kong influence is fun to think about. Happy reading!

See also: –Don’t study popcult in college (in the comments section)

add to add to :: digg it Digg it :: stumbleupon it Stumble It! :: submit to reddit :: post to fark



  1. Excellent point! I’ve had the same feeling, but I didn’t put the thought into it that you have. Makes you wonder if some of those folks have a core section of what they want to say, and a junk-o-matic to flesh out the paper.

  2. I really think they do. Sadly, I think a lot of bright people set out to get PhDs in order to write interesting stuff, only to find that this “core” (to use your phrase) is the least valued part of their work, and if they want to keep their funding they have to rev up the junk-o-matic. I should say this impression of things is based on knowing a lot of bitter ex-PhD students.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s