Minority Report

The Future of Advertising?

I wish to briefly touch upon the topic of advertising and commercialism in the world of Minority Report.

As Jason Skonieczny wrote in Spring of 2005,

Much of the hype surrounding the film and many reviews of the film focus on the increasing ability of the advertisers of Minority Report’s future to monitor consumption habits and to target consumers.  In the future of Minority Report, retinal scanners are ubiquitous in public spaces and allow advertisers to single out consumers on the street and in stores.1

Unfortunately, few have taken the opportunity to consider how advertising in the world of Minority Report could possibly get to the way it is depicted.  Let us, then, pick up the slack and provide such analysis.  First we will consider advertising in a truly free market, and then we will consider advertising in the world of Minority Report.

In a Libertarian Society

In a truly free market, devoid of state-sanctioned aggression, could retinal scanning-based advertising arise?  Well, yes, but only to the degree to which individuals freely choose to register their retina scans with some sort of firm.  Thus, in a truly free society, some people would receive targeted advertising and others wouldn’t.  I, for one, would not wish to register my retina scans with any of the firms that specialise in retinal data processing, nor would I encourage my family to register theirs.  But let’s say you’re different—you actually want to register your retina scans.  Well, fine.  More power to ya, say I.  No skin off my back.  Live and let live.  You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.

In a truly free market, retinal scanning would not be a threat to anyone’s privacy because no one would be required, against her will, to register her retinal data with anyone else.  So, then, why is it different in Minority Report?

In the World of Minority Report

In the world of Minority Report, everyone in Washington, D. C., (and perhaps everyone in the United States) is subject to having her or his retinas scanned.  We see this quite clearly in a scene in which cops, with no regard whatsoever to human privacy, send “Spyders” into a building to procure a retinal scan of every person in said building, to “visually interrogate,” as Professor Lester D. Friedman put it, “its helpless inhabitants: frightened children, a couple making love, another man and woman fighting, an old man sitting on the toilet.  Even in their most private moments, none can find sanctuary from the government’s intrusive, and ultimately oppressive, tactics.”2

Clearly, therefore, everyone (even children) have their retinal data publicly available.  And, there is only one rational explanation for how it came to be that everyone’s retinal data were made publicly available: the government forced them to have their retinal data processed.  Thus, the threat to privacy we see in Minority Report is a direct result of state-enacted aggression without respect for the individual rights of the persons being forcibly required to undergo retinal processing.

State Coercion as Corporate Welfare

As it turns out, this state-enacted aggression not only helps the state to aggrandise control to itself over the populace, it also serves as a state-financed boon to big business.  In a truly free market, firms would only be able to use retinal scanning to advertise to a select number of people in society, specifically those people who have chosen to undergo retina data processing themselves.  Thus, for the rest of society, firms would have to continue to rely upon more traditional methods of advertising products and services.  But in the statist world of Minority Report, big government is essentially bestowing to big business a state-subsidised method of advertising.

Conclusion: Technophobia and Technofascism

In summation, while technofascism is certainly a very real threat to privacy and thus liberty, it only remains a threat as long as we continue to empower the state to control nonaggressive human action.  The dangers depicted in Minority Report are not the product of technology itself, but rather the product of aggression and especially that organisation of institutionalised aggression, the state.  Thus, while we should keep out a watchful eye on a threat of technofascism, we should not let this fear push us toward the destructive tendency of technophobia.


1 Jason Skonieczny, “Virtuality and Control In Spielberg’s Minority Report,” Mediascape (Spring, 2005).

2 Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 54.