Tornadoes and severe thunderstorm warnings went unheard in the Bijou Theatre last night, for attendees of the closing screening for the Global Science Fiction Cinema Conference, Sleep Dealer, were far too engrossed in director Alex Rivera’s poignant envisioning of the future of the U.S./Mexico border and Latino labor in America. Before the actual screening began, three shorts (1-5 minutes a piece) by Rivera offered some conceptual background on the feature film and introduced his satirical humor.
The first of these shorts, the aptly titled “Dia de la Independencia”, broke the ice with a pun on extraterrestrial aliens and illegal aliens. What better way to start the night than with an invasion of sombrero starships? Another Rivera short, “Why Cybraceros?” mocked the U.S.’s Bracero Program and introduced his futuristic Cybracero concept where Mexican workers can remain in Mexico and control robotic apparatuses in America through the internet.
For more, visit: http://www.invisibleamerica.com/movies.html
Sleep Dealer employs an amalgamation of Rivera’s previous conceptions into a narrative that follows a dystopian Santa Ana del Rio, dammed by the U.S. The dam and flowing water creats a metaphor for the flow of immigrants across borders; the dam prevents water from allowing natural growth while the U.S./Mexico border, depicted with a prison-like gate and a turret checkpoint like the Santa Ana dam in the film, currently prevents the growth of Mexican and American economies. The film coins “aqua-terrorism” to describe resistance efforts against the dam, and its actual prominence during Rivera’s extensive writing period for the film helps to suture his vision of the future with its past (or our present) as he creates a sort of documentary under a science fiction facade.
During the Q&A, Rivera cited a community of Mexican workers in NYC that send money to family in Mexico to fund infrastructure there. Memo Cruz, the protagonist, plays a similar role by finding work in the Cybracero-like “Sleep Dealer” in Tijuana where he connects to a robot in America that welds girders together. He is then able to send money home to Santa Ana. For more reading on the “sister city” relationship check out this PDF: http://sfaa.metapress.com/media/c5vkwktwrl2b5877tmdq/contributions/8/x/h/d/8xhdfg6jggqccb2c.pdf
Inherent in the title, “Sleep Dealer”, Rivera also denotes a sense of alienation of the Mexican workers from the work they perform. To compare it to “Why Cybraceros?”, the cartoon image of the Mexican worker whose arms literally fall off over the border fence is particularly striking. Rivera commented that Marx’s theory of capitalism was deeply inspiring and quoted another theorist, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. The existence of aqua-terrorism reflects the inevitable revolt of the bourgeoisie, the Mexican workforce. The Mexican worker’s plight in Sleep Dealer is related to the Marxist vampire as described in Rob Latham’s book, Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption. Through the Sleep Dealer connection stations, “The worker essentially becomes a cybernetic organism – a cyborg – prosthetically linked to a despotic, ravening apparatus.” The apparatus, of course, is the vampire-like capitalist system of the U.S. that feeds off the Mexican workforce through virtual space in the film. Rivera also imagines a memory data bank, “True Node” that is not unlike today’s Youtube phenomena. Coupled with the alienated Sleep Dealer workers, the concepts reflect Katherine Hayles’s description of Hans Moravec’s theory in her book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. If human consciousness can be downloaded into a computer, human identity becomes a pattern of information rather than an embodiment. “You are the cyborg, and the cyborg is you.” Think about that next time you post a video (dare I say “memory”) on Youtube.
Here’s a link to another article on Marxist theory and the vampire: http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/ope/archive/0604/att-0138/01-PoliticalEconOfTheDead.pdf
Lastly, Rivera stressed a dichotomy between “Global Village” connection through the internet and increasingly strict border control and general isolation. Visual cues for this are represented throughout the film. Much of the depicted future Mexico remains unpaved and shantytown-like. Some of the only clues of futuristic elements are the hi-definition televisions in every home, the glass computer that is able to hook into the body to transfer memories to True Node, U.S. military objects, and the Sleep Dealer facility itself. Rivera revealed that this was intentional, not merely due to financial restraints.
Although Rivera offered a wealth of fun and engaging commentary on his film and the process behind it, I am afraid I will end there. If you didn’t get a chance to view the film, you are able to purchase a DVD direct from Alex Rivera himself, and I would definitely recommend doing so.
Check out: http://alexrivera.com/index.html
Grey, Mark (2002) “Unofficial Sister Cities: Meatpacking Labor Migration Between Villachuato, Mexico and Marshalltown, Iowa”
Latham, Robert. “Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption” (2002)
Hayles, N. Katherine. “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics.” (2010)
Neocleous, Mark. “The Political Economy of the Dead. Marx’s Vampires” (2003)