The Perpetual Exploitation of Minorities in Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report” and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report
In the dystopic society of Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” prophetic data regarding potential crime is obtained by Precognitive beings, or “Precogs,” in an effort to abolish the ineffectual post-punitive justice system initially in place. Within this Precrime Division, the Precogs’ premonitions are vital to the operation’s crime-prevention agenda, however, their mutated identities force them into exploitation. In the radical film translation, Minority Report, Steven Spielberg attempts to humanize the Precogs by depicting them in a rather reverential light. While the Precogs are portrayed in a nearly sacred manner exuding religious undertones, instead of reinforcing equality among all of humanity, Spielberg merely fetishizes the prophets and thus, enables segregation and perpetuates inequality.
In the short story, despite their valuable talent, the three employed Precogs, Donna, Jerry, and Mike, have unique disabilities that enable their disenfranchisement. Regrettably, their superficial employer, John Anderton, regards the Precogs as “deformed and retarded” minorities whose disabilities deem them otherwise undesirable, and thus, are compelled to subjugation (121). Such exploitation of the Precogs can be observed by Anderton’s dehumanizing treatment of them. As they labor among analytical machinery and “bundles of wiring,” Precogs are subject to a “vegetable-like” state and are nearly neglected by their employers: “The talent absorbs everything; the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal area. But what do we care? We get their prophecies. They pass on what we need. They don’t understand any of it, but we do” (121). Here, Anderton reveals the department’s capitalistic utilization of the Precogs, as well as, his unwarranted superiority complex. He objectifies the Precogs as mere instruments of which he can extract “what [he] need[s]” from them while discrediting their intelligence.
In addition to their unreciprocated labor, the literature’s Precogs lack autonomy as they are abusively enslaved by the Precrime system: “All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands and clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. They had no spiritual needs” (121). Here, the Precogs have been robbed of their human rights as they work monotonously in concert with the machinery. While their physical needs are barely “taken care of” by automated “metal bands and clamps,” the Precogs’ spiritual needs are completely invalidated and disregarded by their masters.
Moreover, the Precogs are further exploited in the short story through the system’s commodification of their abilities. Initially, Jerry had been deemed a “hydrocephalic idiot” until the age of six during which the “precog talent” was discovered in him, “buried under the layers of tissue corrosion” (136). Had his talent not been discovered, Jerry would have been further neglected and alienated by the superficial society in which he lives. This talent, however, is a means of capital and success for the Precrime Division, and thus, Jerry is treated as a commodity: “Placed in a government-operated training school, the latent talent had been cultivated. By the time he was nine the talent had advanced to a useful stage. ‘Jerry,’ however, remained in the aimless chaos of idiocy; the burgeoning faculty had absorbed the totality of his personality” (136). In this way, Jerry has been stripped of his personable qualities, and further, his identity. His value has been reduced to a mere resource for the system; a measure of “usefulness” that has been “cultivated” like an agricultural product. Consequently, the Precogs are received by society and Precrime with contradiction. In this way, they are viewed as “treasured monkeys” (121). Their prophetic talent gives them value while their disabilities simultaneously diminish their value.
Similarly, in the film, the Precogs are also “treasured” as commodities. Conversely, Spielberg’s Precogs are depicted as somewhat of a luxury commodity. While the film’s Precogs are nearly worshiped, referred to as “the three miracles” and housed in a high-security “temple,” their hypervisibility throughout the film is just as detrimental as their invisibility in the short story. Although Spielberg’s Precogs are not outwardly “disabled” or severely discriminated against in comparison to the short story, they are still regarded as different, or as something “other” than human as Anderton remarks: “It’s better if you don’t think of them as humans” (24:58). In the film, despite a more careful and calculated treatment of them, the Precogs are still exploited for their prophetic abilities. Only this time, they embody innocence instead of mere witlessness.
To this effect, the Precogs’ mystical talent causes them to be fetishized by society in the film. As Spielberg attempts to enrich the depiction of the three Precogs, he gives the characters new, meaningful identities, naming them after famous authors: Agatha, Dashell, and Arthur. This trinity consists of one extremely talented lead female and a pair of male twins. By assigning more value to the female and inserting a set of twins, Spielberg dramatizes the element of rarity that the Precogs exude. In addition to their new identities in the film, the Precogs are carefully and experimentally contained in the department’s “temple.” For instance, in the pool where they lay dreaming, Wally, “the caretaker,” constantly attends to the Precogs. Unlike in the short story, where the Precogs’ needs are barely met by their employers, Wally watches over the Precogs with utmost caution and fascination. When one of the Precogs, Agatha, is returned after having been kidnapped, Wally nurtures her back to rest with passionate concern: “That’s my girl. I was so worried about you. Did they hurt you? I missed you so much. It’s okay, Wally’s here” (2:01:05). The caretaker’s overprotection of them in the film emphasizes the extreme shelteredness of the Precogs and society’s fixation over them.
Although such a polarized depiction attempts to uplift the Precogs’ image, instead of promoting tolerance and acceptance, Spielberg only reinforces separation between the Precogs and the rest of society. In an effort to liberate the Precogs of their unwilling labor, they are sent away to an “undisclosed” area for protection against society (2:11:11). Although they seem to be living more peacefully in a remote cabin in the end of the film, it is unfortunate that the Precogs have to be isolated from the rest of society in order to do so. The film also attempts to justify their exile into seclusion: “a place where they could find relief from their gifts” (2:11:18). Here, Spielberg perpetuates the misleading idea that individuals must suppress and conceal their “gifts” and in doing so, submits the Precogs to socialization. Within an ideal, equal world, the Precogs should be accepted and have the choice to coexist with society rather than forced to live in hiding. Their isolation is yet another form of segregation and thus, Spielberg fails to promote true equality.
While Dick’s short story presents the Precogs in a contrastingly unflattering light, Spielberg’s elevated image of the Precogs places them in no better of a situation within society. While the Precogs in the literature are explicitly discriminated against, in the film, a distorted glorification of the Precogs is a more implicit form of abuse. Although they seem to achieve more respect in the film, they are merely treated as circus freaks, gawked at for their “special” performances. In this way, the Precogs are differentiated and thus, remain in limbo.
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