Saturday, October 24, 2009

Welcome to the Rock Show

According to the internet, genetics is the science of heredity. At first glance, this sounds like we're talking about genes and DNA. In actuality, I think the way that genetics is used outside of strict scientific jargon is much fuzzier. As an example, let's look at Repo! The Genetic Opera.

Repo! the Genetic Opera appeals to my exceptionally geeky side. The basic premise goes like this: in a dystopic future, organ transplants are in high demand due to some unexplained Plot Device that has caused widespread organ failure. Organs are provided by the company GeneCo but when a patient can't pay off their debt, the organ is repossessed by the Repo Man, who cuts out the organ while singing and dancing merrily about his job.

Did I mention this film is a rock opera?

So, if "Repo" refers to the Repo Man and "Opera" refers to the genre of the film, where's the "Genetic"? There's the unexplained Plot Device which may or may not be some kind of genetic defect but it's too underdeveloped to be the main justification for having "Genetic" in the title. The same is true for the mysterious blood condition of Shiloh, the Repo Man's daughter, which was inherited from her mother. Instead, I think "Genetic" refers not to genes per se but to ideas tied to both advancing technology in biology as well as older moral and philosophical thought. Shiloh's illness is a contrived fiction by a tormented father who wants to keep his dead wife alive and safe somehow. The owner of GeneCo, once in love with Shiloh's mother, attempts to steal Shiloh's affections for himself since he believes her to be his spiritual child. His actual children are moral degenerates who vie with each other over control of the GeneCo empire. On a more general level, the advanced technology which allows for rapid and efficient organ transplant has been corrupted so that the rich can pay for excessive and frivolous body modifications while the poor scrap together what money they can to feed their surgical addictions.

In other words, this isn't a film about the science of heredity - it's about the intersection of people, society, and biological technology. I think that's a fascinating place and that's what I want to explore with this blog.

Not quite as heart-poundingly exciting as a rock opera, but it will have to do.


  1. Thanks for putting this blog together. I am deeply fascinated by the potential offered by our growing knowledge of genetics is causing society to face new questions of ethics and social structuring. Hopefully you can feed my mind and perhaps I can even offer some useful commentary.

  2. Hi! I look forward to reading any commentary you might have. I'm really hoping this will be a place where people feel comfortable with expressing their views, even if they disagree with me. In fact, that may even be better - how else am I gonna learn? :)