'America, a Propechy': when Blake meets 'Blade Runner'


  • Alexis Harley


William Blake's 'America, a Prophecy' supplies Blade Runner with a glorifying reference point against which to contrast a nation's inglorious acts of enslavement, colonisation and environmental destruction. Perpetrated at various points between 1793 and the 1980s (and even while Blake was writing), these acts belie Blake's anti-imperialist prophecy. Blade Runner projects into the future the American slave-trade (having turned its attentions from Africans to Replicants), American imperialism (from Nicaragua and Vietnam to the Off-world colonies), and American-wrought environmental destruction (from its current disproportionate and unsustainable use of natural resources to complete environmental apocalypse). So while Blade Runner narrates the creature confronting his creator, it is also a film that obliges creators to confront their creation. For all that it is set in the future, that future is disconcertingly immediate-2019- and as the Coca-Cola advertisements, the neon lighting, the multi-national corporations that have become multi-planetary ones, and the implosion of a capitalist and technophile society suggest, if Los Angeles, 2019, is not exactly our present, it is a future born of our present. Blade Runner's British director, Ridley Scott, demands that the new imperial headquarters acknowledge what it is making, just as Blake, an anti-imperialist lodged in the heart of the emergent British empire, was concerned to show the Old World the New.