Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate, and this post contains Amazon affiliate links.
When Smarty was in her bioengineering camp last week, one of the topics discussed throughout the week was bio-ethics. Students also watched Gattaca, a sci-fi movie made more than 20 years ago. At first, Smarty was really upset about being "forced" to watch a movie (she does not like fiction movies). She was also expressing her discomfort with what the main character did to penetrate the world of elite genetically engineered humans. As she put it, "My conscience retches at the thought of pretending to be someone you are not." However, as the week progressed, she got pulled into the story line and asked to re-watch the movie on the weekend together (we both liked this movie when it came out and have it on Blu-Ray).
In the not-so-distant future of this movie, parents can choose to engineer their babies - it sounds like basic removal of genetic diseases comes at no cost, and "add-ons", such as musical or mathematical ability can be added at an extra cost. The main character, Vincent, is a "faith child" and therefore discriminated against on the basis of his imperfect genetic profile. To fulfill his dream of going to space, he takes on an identity of a "perfect human" Jerome played by Jude Law (it was his first role) who struggled under the "burden of perfection" to the point of attempting suicide and becoming paralyzed. The scheme works perfectly... until there is a murder at the training facility and the main character is under suspicion. It all works out well, mostly because several people act honorably helping Vincent achieve his dream.
What fascinated Smarty in this movie is the realization that the world based on genetic engineering might end up flawed, denying people their dreams. Up to the point of watching this movie, she thought that human genetic engineering is an awesome idea. Now she is not so sure, especially after watching an alternate ending on Blu-Ray which profiled many famous people who had genetic conditions and might not have been born in the world of Gattaca. This movie also brought some good discussions about what the burden of perfection means and how to react when everyone expects great things from you.
For me, the movie also brought back my thoughts on IQ testing and how today we attempt to sort children based on a biased and imperfect method. Then we expect great things from individuals who test high, often withdrawing any additional support, because "they will be OK anyway". This is one reason why we never had a formal IQ test for Smarty (even though she was identified as gifted through a group COGaT test administered in school in second grade). To me IQ is just a number and not a destiny. As Gattaca movie says, "There is no gene for human spirit." Often, there is no accounting for creativity, persistence, discipline, and motivation when we talk about the future of our children, just an expectation of high performance based on IQ number and also sometimes sense of entitlement - that everyone has to create special conditions for a person of high IQ despite an amount of effort he or she puts in. Don't get me wrong - I believe firmly that highly capable children should be supported, but I think that it makes more sense to identify them through their actual academic/athletic/creative/musical  performance against their peers than simply based on the results of an IQ test.

Your Turn

Have you watched Gattaca and how did you like it?

4 comments:

MaryAnne said...

I haven't seen it. I do think that IQ tests are very limiting in their ability to measure a human being's worth. Neither I or Mike or any of the kids have even been tested. My younger sister was tested back when they ran a battery of tests for her severe mental health issues. Her IQ ranked in the genius level, but I don't really think that knowledge has had a significant impact on her life. I do know she would rather have had a lower IQ and not struggled with mental health the way she used to (she is actually doing really well now, thankfully!)

Joyful Learner said...

I’m more horrified by the fact that the cast I grew up with made a film that is considered over 20 years old! Ack!

Parents who seek out IQ tests have multiple reasons...one of which is to understand their child better. When you have an outlier, things are so different for that child that you need answers. Tests can be used for accommodations. But what I don’t agree with is setting expectations like eminence which studies show only a small percentage of high IQ children obtain after receiving support. It puts unrealistic pressure. It is far better to love them unconditionally and give support as needed without expecting all high IQ children to excel in life. Reality is those who don’t have as many quirks tend to do better in life. Optimal IQ is just above the average but not far beyond it. Otherwise, they lead a life of loneliness simply due to numbers and probability of not finding people that understand them. It is often a curse as well as a blessing. Therefore, if testing helps parents to organize so their children have a better chance of meeting other children like them, it makes sense. As a predictor of life success, it’s limiting.

Joyful Learner said...

We just watched Gattaca and loved it. K picked on play on words like "Gattaca", "Eugene", "Jerome" and even "Marrow" which were clever. K didn't think Vincent's fraud was justified in itself but felt against an unjust society where people are discriminated by genetics, it was right for him to pursue his dreams especially since he was capable. It's a great jumping off point to discuss society's discrimination against people by race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Considering the popularity of 23andMe and Ancestry.com, it doesn't seem too far fetched to have a renewed interest in things like the eugenics movement in the distant future. K was surprised that with the technology they had available in Gattaca, there were no cures for diseases like heart failure. After seeing this movie, it made me glad we didn't have technology like Elizabeth Holmes pretended to have. It also made me wonder if her idea was inspired by this movie.

Ticia said...

I'm sure I watched Gattaca when it came out, but I'm not specifically remembering it.
After growing up with Star Trek for years, I've got a healthy dose of, "genetic engineering is bad, and leads to problems." My husband, on the other hand, is more of the, "think what else we could do if we had genetic engineering. Humans in Star Trek are hampering themselves."