Invasion of the clones
Kerstin Bergman, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, discusses how positive images of human clones are infiltrating our entertainment media and slowly shifting our perception
Although human clones were common fixtures of 1970s films and novels, they virtually disappeared as characters during the 80s and early 90s. This vanishing act mirrored the lack of any major scientific developments in the field during this time, and many believed that cloned people would stay forever confined to science fiction.
After the birth of Dolly the sheep
in 1997, however, cloning people
became, once again, a distinct possibility. In parallel, films and novels about clones began to multiply, and today critics speak about "clone lit" as a well-established genre. Renowned recent examples include Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go
(2005), Kevin Guilfoile's novel Cast of Shadows
(2005), and Michael Bay's film The Island
Yet despite the negative attitudes toward human reproductive cloning
that continue to dominate the media debate -- which warns of birth defects or psychological damage caused by a judgmental society -- the reputation of clones in contemporary fiction has risen with their increasing numbers. Clone fiction in the 70s was dominated by horror visions of bad clone "copies" controlled by evil dictators, but today we see them in a radically different -- and primarily positive -- light.
Although there are exceptions, two strong trends dominate the fictional depiction of human clones post-Dolly. First, clones are now portrayed as complete individuals who are fundamentally good and innocent, such as in Never Let Me Go
, Caryl Churchill's play A Number
(2002), and The Island
. In the latter, for example, it is the clones who are the heroes, and we cheer along when they eventually overthrow their bad-guy creators.
A second, subtler trend is that clones are often extremely close. A good example is found in the Danish author Svend Åge Madsen's novel Genspejlet
(1999), in which four female clones share, in addition to their DNA, many thoughts, dreams, and memories. The intimacy is so profound that the clones sometimes lose track of their own identities. This closeness bathes an almost utopian light on the clones; they are unique, but at the same time, share something that prevents them from ever being truly lonely. A similarly utopian relationship is depicted in Lisa Tuttle's short story "World of Strangers" (1998), where intimacy between clones is described as something unique and positive. This strange story predicts a future in which everybody will have the opportunity to love their cloned "soul mate," ensuring that no one will ever feel alone.
What consequences will these contemporary fictional depictions have for the future of human cloning? Surveying the historical evolution of cloning in 2000, Peter N. Poon concluded
that "Science fiction and science nonfiction have increasingly become one and the same." According to Poon, science and fiction influence each other when it comes to both technological developments
and attitudes towards cloning people. From this, it follows that contemporary clone fiction will both predict and inspire future scientific developments.
It is worth noting that while fictional clones today are generally "good," human cloning in fiction still seems to bring out the worst in the people creating and controlling the clones. This has not changed since the 1970s, and it gives reason for concern. Perhaps the power trip involved in creating and controlling human life remains too much for humans to handle.
Still, history teaches us that whatever is technologically possible will eventually become reality, no matter how morally indefensible it might appear at first. For example, the first test-tube baby born in 1978 was greeted by an uproar over in vitro fertilization, but soon public opinion shifted to consider IVF a blessing to infertile couples. There is no reason to believe that human reproductive cloning would be any different in this sense, especially with a little help from fiction. Whether we are aware of it or not, the exposure to positive images may very well accustom us to the idea of human cloning, help us think of human clones as human beings -- and, eventually, for better or for worse, open the doors to reproductive cloning of humans.
Kerstin Bergman has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, and holds a joint research and teaching position
at Lund University, Sweden. Her research on clone fiction is part of an ongoing research project. She has also written a book
about the novels of Lars Gustafsson, and is now working on a second book about the depiction of sense perceptions in contemporary literature and film.
Links within this article
K. Kreeger, "Observers give mixed reviews to media's 'Dollymania', " The Scientist
, April 14, 1997
A McCook, "UN bans reproductive cloning," The Scientist
, February 21, 2005.
Never Let Me Go
Cast of Shadows
A McCook, "UN proposes cloning compromise," The Scientist
, November 23, 2004.
P. Poon. "Evolution of the clonal man: Inventing science unfiction", Journal of Medical Humanities
, Fall, 2000.
I Oransky, "All Hwang human cloning work fradulent," The Scientist
, January 10, 2006.
En möjlig värld: En tematisk studie av Lars Gustafssons 1990-talsromaner