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Joe Haldeman’s Robot Jox

Just finished re-watching an old scifi movie, Robot Jox. Apparently, the script was written by Joe Haldeman. It’s always fascinating to go back and look at older science fiction to see what people got right and what people got wrong in their guesses about the future. For example, Robot Jox has people wearing masks because of pollution, something that’s occured in China, Japan and elsewhere I’d guess but despite envisioning flying cars with remote controls and giant robots battling in space, still has land line telephones.

What I really noticed was that despite all this technology, Joe pictured a world that still had racism and sexism. I can hear someone saying right now “well that’s just realistic” but I don’t think it’s realistic as depicted in the film. Tex calls Matsumodo a “Jap.” Now, unless there’s been a second war in the Pacific between the United States — excuse me, the Market — and Japan, using a term like “Jap” just seems like a horrible anachronism. But then, so does having the chief engineer of the giant robot be Japanese in the first place. I can only assume that Matsumodo is in fact Japanese and not a Japanese-American because otherwise, it would make calling him a “Jap” even more inexplicable.

The sexism is even more noticeable. The naturally bred robot jocks are being phased out in favor of genetically engineered combatants, one of whom is female. When the possibility — the possibility mind you, of the lone female candidate being chosen to actually fight is brought up, Tex says she has no chance of being selected. When she succeeds in the trials and outperforms her brothers and is chosen to fight, it’s mentioned that she’s the first woman in history to fight as a robot jock. This despite the fact that the whole robot jock thing is based off of the astronaut/cosmonaut US/Russia Space Race rivalry and the communists had NO problem putting women into space long before the Americans. The communists are called the Confederation now.

Both comments come from Tex and so I suppose the argument could be made that he’s just an asshole but no one corrects him or comments. It’s 2014 and we don’t have flying remote controlled cars or flying battle robots and I think someone publicly making comments like that would be noticed and it would be commented on. But then, we’ve got cellphones too.

Now that I think of it, the whole Space Race thing is a bit of an anachronism too — I mean, he deliberately models the future off of how things were done in the past. This is a movie from the eighties after all. Why use the Space Race as your model at all?

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