Did Hollywood actually get it right?

Hollywood has developed an entire segment of their industry to futuristic movies that focus on the advancement of technology in relation to how we live. These movies demonstrate the seeminglessly integration of technology into our daily lives but always raise a critical dilemma of something going wrong. While these movies are almost always set 20 to 50 years in the future, the ending has always made me and I am sure many others contemplate: Could this really happen? How would we develop this technology? Should it even be acceptable? Hollywood films are often superficial and unrealistic, but they may have caught onto an arising moral dilemma. Try watching movies or tv shows like GATTACA, The Island, Captain America, The Tomorrow People, or Arrow and think about the implication if our society was like theirs.

island tomgat captain arrow-The-CW-poster-stephen-amell

An Author’s Opinion on Genetic Enhancement and Genetic Engineering:

Technology and science are always on the verge of a new discovery all of which have the potential to alter society. In the essay “The Case Against Perfection: What’s Wrong with Designer Children, Bionic Athletes, and Genetic Engineering,” Michael J. Sandel discusses the moral implications of genetic enhancement and engineering and delves further to examine how the human condition plays a part. Sandel goes on to explain how it is acceptable to use gene therapy and drugs to restore age appropriate health, but the moral quandaries develop when the therapies are utilized to achieve above normal health (Holland 94). Society attempts to use “the language of autonomy, fairness, and individual rights” when grappling with issues of genetic enhancement and genetic engineering (Holland 93). However, Sandel believes that such language only touches the surface and the real questions are about “the moral status of nature and about the proper stance of human beings toward the given world” (Holland 94). One of Sandel’s examples is genetic enhancement, which shows how the technology developed to treat a disease can spiral into common use.

Currently at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have developed a synthetic gene that has shown to repair and strengthen muscles in rat and thus has possible human applications (Holland 94). This research is being done in hopes of curing immobility of the elderly or muscular dystrophy. Like with any research there are alternative and not as altruistic motives for which the research can be used, and so it is easy to imagine that professional athletes would capitalize on this technology. But if there were no ill effects, unlike with steroids, and it was widely available, then logically the genetic enhancement should not be banned (Holland 94). However this leave us with athletes who were already gifted with above normal strength now possessing superhuman strength. Sandel reasons that there is not an unfair advantage because the genetic enhancement just augment an athletes naturally endowed ability (Holland 94). Thus it cannot be said that enhanced genetic differences undermines fairness unless natural genetic differences also undermines fairness.

Hollywood’s Portrayal:

Let’s consider two different films, both about superheroes: Captain America and Arrow. Both successfully use genetic enhancement  for strength; however, the result and long term implications are drastically different. In Captain America, the scrawny 90-lbs Steve Rogers is pumped full of drugs and put in a machine which permanently transformed him into a brawny 200-lb man of pure-muscle. As the film tells, scientists, part of the secret division of the Army, were seeking to create a “super-soldier” and Rogers was their test subject. Rogers uses his newfound abilities for and intrinsic bravery to risk his life to try and save the day. Rogers is a morally uplifting “good guy.”  On the other hand, in the TV show Arrow, Cyrus Gold is injected with a serum that alters his DNA sequence to result in enhanced strength, durability, and stamina. Gold is evil and seeking revenge, for he is stealing and kidnapping people in order to make a group of super-villains like himself. Gold is a killer and definitely not someone who you want on your bad side. The videos below demonstrate the two ends of the spectrum that Hollywood has on muscle enhancement. It is clear to me that Hollywood, like the rest of the world, is not sure if it is morally sound to enhance humans, for it seems to depend on the intentional, moral, and true nature of the person being enhanced.

So should we only let the “good guys” be enhanced? And what if they become “evil killers”?  Who gets to judge who and what makes a good person versus a bad person?

Captain America scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijrtROGpqJ8

Arrow scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfmrdbU3AoM


Mone, Gregory. “Muscles in a Vial: Can a Single Shot Turn You Into Captain America?” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 23 July 2011. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

Sandel, Michael J. “The Case Against Perfection: What’s Wrong with Designer Children, Bionic Athletes, and Genetic Engineering.” Arguing About Bioethics. Ed. Stephen Holland. London:   Routledge, 2012. 93-104. Print.

“Wikia.” Arrow Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

79 thoughts on “Did Hollywood actually get it right?

  1. Hey, Anna!
    I think the connection you’ve made to Hollywood is a very interesting one, as much of sci-fi entertainment today (particularly super-hero media) tries to tackle, or at least address, genetic enhancement in some form or another. While movies frequently center around an ethical dilemma, I believe that the relatively recent emphasis that has been placed on the dilemma of genetic enhancement is particularly relevant to our discussion. I would like to add to your post the idea that, regardless of whether or not Hollywood has established a holistic and universal moral stance on genetic enhancement, newfound focus on that question is of special import. Basically, the idea that genetic enhancement has become a topic worth analyzing and translating into entertainment speaks to Hollywood’s (and, by extension, the American people’s) desire to find a conclusive stance on moral issues behind it. While there will always be two sides to the proverbial coin, the fact that the coin is even being flipped in the first place speaks to the relevancy of the issue and our inner need to develop opinions about it.

    1. Hi Simone,
      I found the juxtaposition between the more scientific v. hollywood portrayal very interesting! I would like to comment on Holland’s argument summarized by, “Thus it cannot be said that enhanced genetic differences undermines fairness unless natural genetic differences also undermines fairness.” I largely disagree with this idea, as a main reason that enhanced genetic differences undermine fairness is BECAUSE it is unnatural. Natural differences are an inherent part of society and widely accepted because they are seen as “uncontrollable.” When you take these differences to the next level, and either augment or stifle them, they are less likely to be accepted as they become controllable, and no longer natural. I also find Holland’s argument to be a hasty generalization, as it suggests that all differences are unfair and the extent to which they are unfair doesn’t really matter.

      1. Michelle,

        I see what you mean about natural difference being “uncontrollable,” however I agree with Sandel on this point. I think what Sandel is trying to say is that a drug or genetic alternation that has no side effects and is available to all which can amplify a person’s natural ability would be fair since all it does is intensify a person’s natural ability and the difference is ability was already present. So lets say that a person is really athletic, this treatment could make them even more athletic. Now lets consider an athletes opponent, as long as the opponent has also been treated, the original athlete does not have an unfair advantage….However this does create a unofficial requirement and intense pressure to enhance your body and its abilities…I think this is the moral concern more so than the fairness argument!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post because I thought your comparison to Hollywood was extremely interesting. In terms of fairness, I think that genetic enhancement could be unfair but it doesn’t necessarily mean it completely is. Genetic enhancement and its fairness depends on the reason and purpose for having genetic enhancement in the first place. You made a brief argument: “It cannot be said that enhanced genetic differences undermines fairness unless natural genetic differences also undermines fairness.” However, I believe I disagree. Natural genetic differences don’t really have much to do with enhanced genetic differences. Natural differences are out of one’s control, so they are definitely fair. Enhanced genetic differences could be either fair or unfair, depending on the context.
    To try and answer your last couple of questions, I think that anyone is deserving of enhanced genetic differences unless their immediate intentions are evil. Of course, we can’t control what happens post-enhancement, but then that becomes a separate issue. It’s difficult to decide what’s morally right and who is considered a good or bad person because we all have different perspectives on what we define as “good” and “bad.”

  3. Hi Simone,
    I think you are right with how Hollywood has depicted cloning and genetic enhancement. In theory, genetic enhancement or cloning could be used for the right reasons to help a person who is at a severe disadvantage. However, the use would soon be used for the average person, and eventually for the talented people. A major issue in my mind about genetic enhancement is how much power these people might have. It is human nature to be power hungry because those who have the power live. One may say that we could just pick certain people to genetically enhance, people who want to do what is best for the most people. But once they actually get the power to do so, the power would probably change them. A small scale version of this can be seen in politics today. Our politicians are voted into office because of what they say they will do with their power, but once they have the power, they become self-seeking. I am not saying that everyone does this, but it does make one stop and think.

  4. I found this argument very interesting because Hollywood definitely has produced many films questioning the future of the human race. I also always wondered whether these things could happen or if the movies were testing people’s acceptances on questionable topics. The main quote that stood out to me in the argument was ” Sandel reasons that there is not an unfair advantage because the genetic enhancement just augment an athletes naturally endowed ability (Holland 94). Thus it cannot be said that enhanced genetic differences undermines fairness unless natural genetic differences also undermines fairness.” I disagree with this quote because this is too rash of a statement. Natural genetic differences are very fair, they are completely out of our control and one does not have an unfair advantage due to his/her genetic differences. Augmenting our genetic differences is unnatural and becomes unfair, because then people are taking what they are given and blowing it out of natural proportions. Also, regarding the fact that Hollywood seems unsure of their stance on genetic enhancement; it would be interesting to see the perspective of a movie that comes out this year because we are getting technologically closer and closer to making these enhancements possible. Ultimately in answering your questions regarding who should get the genetic enhancement, I think no one should and we should keep athletics and body strength fair and natural, then there is no controversy whatsoever. But, if genetic enhancement became morally acceptable and access to it was relatively easy and not only available to the wealthy, then unfairness is hardly in the question.

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