1/28/2010

Movies and television have embraced and dramatized cloning since the 1960's, and they've almost always gotten it wrong. The basic principle they tend to ignore is that a clone of another human being is nothing more than a twin created artificially rather than the usual method. Instead, the media turns the act of cloning into an extremely complex and slightly mystical procedure. Since it's the year 2010, and human cloning seems right around the corner, let's take a look at the ten most common mistakes in the portrayal of human cloning in movies and television.

1. Cloning is Evil - In movies and television, no good ever comes from trying to duplicate a human being. Sometimes, this is off-set by the inherent purity and goodness of the clone, but whoever dreamed up or implements the idea is a monster. In movies like Judge Dredd and TV shows like Star Trek, clones are only created by bad people. In reality, there are many scientists who have legitimate reasons for creating human clones (like providing children for infertile parents, creating replacement organs, and bringing dead celebrities back to life). While their reasons may be dubious, very few of them are monstrously evil scientists who spit in the eye of God. A lot of them are just excited by the possibilities. Or misguided. Or stupid. Now the fertility doctor who gave eight kids to the unemployed, over-worked, borderline psychotic Nadya Suleman (a.k.a. Octo-Mom)? That guy's evil incarnate.

2. Evil Duplicates - On the list of cloning errors, this is one of the biggest and most common. In movies like Star Trek: Nemesis, the clone often turns out to be a twisted and evil version of the original. The clone will dedicate its life to crime and/or destruction while the original helplessly struggles to stop it. Of course, there's no scientific reason why a clone should be evil or good, since it's just a genetic duplicate. Whether the clone turned out good or evil would be based on the development of its personality, how it was raised, or its experiences, just like everyone else. There's nothing about the technical act of cloning that would cause someone to be evil. Still, it makes for good drama. But if every clone in our world (also known as twins) produced one good and one evil version, this world would flooded with more evil geniuses than a James Bond movie.

3. Artificial Wombs - One of the most universal themes in human cloning is artificial wombs. From The Matrix to Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, the good old womb is no longer needed. We don't know exactly how it's done, but naked bodies floating in a fetal position in a vat is essential to the process. Also, it's important to be able to see everything that's going on inside, so the vats are made of clear glass. In reality, the artificial womb is a pipe dream nowhere near reality. Recent efforts have been horrific failures. The reason is that recent research has shown that the human uterus is more than just a bag of fluid to keep the fetus inside. For example, the human mother is actually sending chemical cues back and forth to the growing fetus, a process crucial to normal development. The mother's mood even affects mental development. Maybe one day, they'll create an artificial womb that's equal to or even superior to the natural womb. But for the foreseeable future, it's far easier, cheaper, and less complex to simply grow fetuses inside of a normal womb, perhaps that of an animal or a human surrogate. But I admit, the sight of rows and rows of pregnant pigs isn't as visually striking as the jars.

4. No Free Will - One of the biggest reasons that people have for cloning humans in movies and TV shows is to get armies of mindless drones subject to their every whim. It's a common sight. Look at movies like Judge Dredd and Attack of the Clones, where the clones are created with the idea of having a huge army of genetically superior warriors that immediately obey their creators' every command. In reality, creating an army of clones would be like creating an army of brothers and sisters: they would be no more inherent to obeying commands than anyone else. A lot of sci-fi media explain the zombie-like nature of the clones with brainwashing them in vitro. Of course, in the real world, brain-washing that perfectly imposes your will onto another human is a myth. Besides, even if you had brain-washing technology, you don't really need clones. You could round up a bunch of normal children and do the same thing. Here's a tip for all you potential mad scientists: orphanages are full of kids, and are cheaper than cloning banks.

5. Exact Duplicates - Whenever someone is cloned in movies or TV shows, the clone is always an exact duplicate of the original, right down to the very pores. Check out the armies of soldiers in Attack of the Clones: you couldn't tell them apart if you tried. But if you look at twins in the real world, even identical twins who share the exact same DNA, they are never exactly the same. That's because genetics are only part of what makes someone unique. Things like nutrition, environment, parenting, physical injury (or lack thereof), and personal choice can change someone's appearance drastically. Take a clone of Brad Pitt, give him poor nutrition that reduces his height, give him a bout of bad acne in puberty, break his nose with a football in high school, and you'd be hard-pressed to recognize him in adulthood.

That's just the physical problem. If you wanted to create a human being who would have the same thought pattern and abilities, you're in for an even bigger surprise. In The Boys From Brazil, Nazis clone Adolf Hitler, and it's implied that they are on the verge of resurrecting the greatest and most evil leader in history. Never mind the fact that Hitler's personality and achievements were a product of his childhood, the political environment, and his education. Personality is shaped primarily by our environment, not our DNA. It would be impossible to create a clone with the exact same skills and personality as the original. As disappointed fathers have known for generations, you can't make a child follow any given set of footsteps.

6. The Perfect Being - Another big reason that people go to all the trouble of creating clones in movies and TV is to get the ultimate human. In the movie Twins, scientists mix the DNA of great men in all fields to get a man with the body of a Greek god and the mind of Albert Einstein. Same thing happens in the animated TV series GI JOE, where COBRA clones their new leader Serpentor from the DNA of great dictators like Napoleon and Genghis Khan. The idea is that just mixing the right genes together would get you the perfect being. Of course, the reality is much more complex. First of all, just having the brain of Einstein would only get you so far. His IQ is unknown, but it's likely it was only slightly higher than average. The woman with the highest IQ ever recorded, Marilyn vos Savant, isn't splitting atoms; she's writing an advice column. Likewise, having the genes of an Olympian would be worthless if you didn't have the right exercise program. There's more to perfection than just good genes. And we're also supposed to believe that the perfect being is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sorry, I don't buy it. Now Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element? I'm listening.

7. Rapid Aging - It's been seen in movies from Star Trek III: Search for Spock to Alien: Resurrection* Starman. The clone is born (or more commonly hatched) and somehow becomes a full-grown adult in a matter of days or hours. There's usually an implausible or vaguely-defined explanation for why the clone ages so quickly, but rarely a good explanation for why the aging stops at exactly the age of the original. It serves the story - most movies need the clone to be the same as the original so the actor can portray the clone without plastic surgery. Of course, since a clone is nothing more than a twin, it should age the same as the original. In real-life, the evil scientist would hatch the clone, then wait twenty years for it to reach adult age. Very few evil scientists have that kind of patience.

8. Genetic Memory - Another commonly used gimmick in movies or TV shows is something called "genetic memory." The idea basically means that the clone is born with memories from the original literally stored in its DNA. In movies like Alien: Resurrection and The Island, and in TV shows like Jekyll, the clone is able to access memories and abilities from its ancestor. This usually involves sudden flashbacks or amazing abilities that are far beyond the clone's experiences and training. It also means that the clone doesn't have to go through things like English lessons, driving lessons, or martial arts training. In reality, genetic memory is junk science. There's absolutely no scientific evidence that any living organism can store its experiences in its genetic code and pass it on to its offspring. The problem is that memories are stored in the brain, not the DNA. Some of the belief in genetic memories came from experiments performed in the late fifties on flatworms, but these experiments were later discredited. Still, the idea lives on.

9. Rapid Degradation - One of the most common and scientifically inaccurate cliches in sci-fi cloning is that, once created, they degrade quickly. Clones in movies (like Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis) and TV shows (like Pollux in The Flash) suffer the same fate as the average Klondike bar: they fall apart quickly over time. This is usually explained by some flaw in the cloning process. This provides dramatic tension for the story (see Rapid Aging) and provides hubris for the creator (see Cloning is Evil). It also allows them to get rid of the clone quickly, so things can go back to normal. Once again, we go back to the fundamental fact of cloning: a clone is a twin. When twins are born in the real world, there's no threat of them suddenly falling apart. Although Dolly the cloned sheep did suffer from some premature aging from the cloning process, it's not the same thing.

10. Accents - One cloning mistake that is less obvious but more egregious is that clones almost always have the accent of the original person they're cloned from. This often happens in movies and TV shows, even when the clone has never met the person he or she is cloned from. For example, the entire clone army from Attack of the Clones have an Australian accent, just like their predecessor, Jango Fett. This would make sense, except that all the clones were created and educated in a mass production laboratory by non-Australian aliens. In the real world, accents are developed from the environment and method where someone learns the language. I admit, it's a small blooper, all things considered, but I needed one more to get to ten. So we're done.

* Actually, Starman is a better example of rapid aging than Alien: Resurrection.

Can you think of any more common cloning mistakes? Got an opinion on the ones listed? Discuss them in the comments.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

This would have been a great article but the whole comment on how maybe one day an artificial womb would be better then the natural womb that would be impossible. As every normal person would know nothing is better then the original.

monkeymigraine said...

Well, we never said the artificial womb was better than the natural one. In fact, my point was kind of the opposite - scientists can't figure out how to make one better than the original. But point taken.

tina said...

im so down for the artificial womb. I plan to hold off reproducing in the hopes that it will come about in my lifetime

Mae Buzen said...

Nothing is wrong about cloning because we are now in the Z generation where anything goes possible! Kindly check also this link it tells about twin kids - There's a Book in Here Somewhere. High jinks and misadventures in a family with two sets of twin boys -- these are the kids you're glad YOU didn't have! The stories are funny, heartwarming, and just odd enough to be completely unique. I loved it! And the photos that go with the book are hilarious!

joeyjojo said...

remember the twin program also came up with danny devito. genes aren't everything.

monkeymigraine said...

Exactly, genes are funny things

Johntt said...

actually, genetic memory is real. Science has proven that alot of animals (for example most types of bugs and some fish) are born with some memory of their ancestors and therefore knows how to do some things and stay away from other things, were to go to get food, etc.

also it is true that humans do have genetic memory, but,, it is not accesible to us. genetic memory is more like a primitive way for animals to learn somethings that they are not able to learn in their own life times. 

Anonymous said...

The Nazi cloners in Boys From Brazil did take environment into account. They place each Hitler clone in a family with a civil servant father married to a much younger wife. The fathers were then murdered when little Adolf turned 13.

Nigel Mitchell said...

Exactly, genes are funny things

Nigel Mitchell said...

Delete

Oni said...

this was a helpful article; however, Dolly the Sheep's "premature aging from the cloning process" does lend some credibility to "rapid degradation". It's been a while, so I'll have to research poor Goodbye Dolly's story. Thanks.

Earl Docks said...

I haven't seen Boys from Brazil but, yeah, the clones wouldn't grow up to exact copies of Hitler. Though it would sorta be weird if they did and met each other. Would they work together or destroy one another? More Hitlers would be horrifying, not just for their war crimes but also the list of experiments the Nazi did on actual people

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