Thresholds of Humanness

A Review of “The Ghost in the Shell” Manga

Will Szal

--

Somewhere around the age of fourteen, I saw The Matrix for the first time. I grew up in a household informed by the spiritual teachings of Gurdjieff and J. G. Bennett, so the core themes around consciousness and awakening were both familiar and intriguing.

A few years later my cousin-in-law was getting rid of some of his old anime VHS tapes, and I learned about The Ghost in the Shell—one of the primary influences for The Matrix. During this era I saw the anime film. Only this year did my friend lend me her copy of the original manga.

A Future Receding

The first thing that I’m struck by in reading The Ghost in the Shell in 2020, more than thirty years after it was written, it feels as the the biotech future it describes in the year 2029 is further away than it was in 1989 (maybe this can be said of science fiction in general). Sure, knee replacements work pretty well these days, as do dental implants. And massive amounts of funding are poured into biotech research each year (but more for the sake of solid Return-on-Investment for pharmaceutical intellectual property than for the sake of pushing the envelope in the medical field). And there’s certainly a dedicated biohacker subculture. Maybe we’re a century away from cyborgs, but not a decade.

Science Fiction versus Social Fiction

As I’ve commented before, I find it discouraging that so much of our fiction invests so much effort into exploring the technological potential of the future—in a way that implicitly assumes that social realities will calcify rather than evolve. Back when The Ghost in the Shell was authored we might have written off the sexism of young, mostly-naked female cyborgs surrounded by fully-clothed ugly old men holding all the power to be the daydreams of an adolescent manga artist (Masamune Shirow was still in his twenties when The Ghost in the Shell came out). But in the era of #MeToo, we can no longer be so dismissive. Female cyborgs like the Major, with large breasts constantly on display, are the image of some adolescent male fantasies, while male cyborgs are black cubes. What does this say about Masamune Shirow’s subconscious understanding of the importance of the physical and…

--

--

Will Szal

Regenerative agriculture, alternative economics, gift culture, friendship.