Gattaca: Beware The Man With Dirty Genes

So, as long as there have been people, there’s been a desire to change the way we are. We’ve found ways to manipulate some of these things- dye our hair, wear colored contacts, exercise to get stronger, train to run faster. But wouldn’t it be nice if we were just born that way? We could have the inate ability to run a four minute mile or grow to exactly six feet five inches or have strawberry blond hair. And not only tweak our physical traits, but be born disease-free and without the chance of developing disease later in life. It’s every parent’s dream- to have a physically perfect child molded to their own specifications.

In the world of Gattaca, this isn’t only possible, it’s standard practice. Parents go down to the Eighth Day Center and order up the baby of their dreams. Concerned parents who worry that maybe something should be left to chance are reminded that this isn’t eugenics, it’s giving a child the best start possible- humans have enough inherent defects as it is.

Like everything started with the best intentions, there are unintended side-effects. Some parents just can’t get with the program and conceive their children the old-fashioned way- in the back seats of cars and such. As is the case in all births, these “faith births” or “god children” have their DNA screened immediately after birth and all possible defects are recorded, probabilities are calculated, and life expectancy is established. Although genetic discrimination has been outlawed, what company could resist the chance to screen a prospective employee before investing time and money into their training? What kid wouldn’t grow up with an impending sense of dread knowing they’re only supposed to live for 27.4 years?

The genetically inferior are relegated to a lower class of society and take on the menial tasks of the socially marginalized- janitorial work, refuse collection, really anything requiring little skill or specialization. They’re cogs in the machine that supports those above them.

But the one thing that can’t be genetically modified is that which lies within the human heart- will, desire, determination. For those “faith births” unwilling to accept their place in society, there is an option. No matter how perfect your DNA is crafted, no one can be made impervious to accidents. When the wheel of tragedy lands on one of the elite, the unscrupulous among them can enter a dark underworld where identities are sold. They enter into a contract to give their identity to a genetic inferior- known as a “borrowed ladder.” It’s a lot of work preparing blood, urine, and skin samples, resisting the temptations of alcohol and drugs, and living in hiding, but the reward is great- lots of money. Maybe enough to ease the pain of the circumstances that brought them to that point.

Upon assuming the identity, the life of a “borrowed ladder” becomes a constant effort to conceal their real identity and project their false one, while physically and mentally blending in with a sea of perfect people. Life becomes a paranoid struggle to maintain appearances and succeed to prove, at least to themselves, that a miniscule string of genetic material doesn’t define who they are.

There’s is no question that pre-screening for genetic defects can stave off a lot of pain and suffering, but where does that end? Choosing a child’s hair and eye color doesn’t seem like a big deal, but what about adding an extra finger on each hand? Are the parents creating their own perfect pianist? Is that a person with extra fingers or an automaton created for a sole purpose? Where do you draw the line beween enhancing and manipulating? Are advancements in biotechnology the path to enlightenment or a death march for the human spirit?

4 comments to Gattaca: Beware The Man With Dirty Genes

  • I am sorry for not commenting on the post, but I must say, fury, this theme rocks. It simply is awesome, professional and clean. Great. Perfect.

  • Furious

    Thank you for cluing me onto it. I had to do some tweaking of the code and graphics, so that’s where my Sunday went, but I think it was worth it. I’m glad you like the results.

  • yeah, I really need this theme now.

  • Well. I went back and re-read this article in light of the second one. Now I feel like a moron. >.<
    I am forced to agree that some people do take Gattaca to be more of a predictor of the future of the world under the iron reign of genomics than it actually will be. I would like to point out that many of those people probably also believe that a former playboy bunny and Indigo Child became an expert on autism without actually studying it.
    I should note that I'm actually not making light of this – in fact, if anything that makes it more of a problem, and not less. We've seen in recent years how much of an impact the irrational segment of society can have. At the same time, I suppose it was pretty much inevitable that they'd get involved…

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