I found Appadurai’s discussion of imagination as central to agency particularly fascinating. That our capacity for imagination allows us to participate and exert ourselves onto and within the movements of money, people, technology, media and ideas, the global cultural flow, would seem to be some sort emancipatory act, a loosening of certain structures that create “clearings that disclose opportunities to intervene in the flow” (Thrift, 293) But the virtual labor in SleepDealer is not fueled by the imagination of individual actors. Sleep Dealer’s nodal system, which connects laborer’s nervous systems to the global economy represents the ideas of increasing heterogeneity, an inclusive diversity, while globalization is demanding a subject-less interconnectedness. Systems are run via the minds of Luz, Memo, and Rudy, but would we describe this as the type of agency Appadurai defines.
There are limitations to the scape’s flow. Note his discussion of the fetishism of the consumer: The misconception that you are an actor with agency when you are a chooser with limited options seems not far off from his description of imagination as social practice, a form of work within “globally defined fields of possibility.”
Memo’s laboring virtual existence moves freely through the spaces his physical self is not permitted to go. These extensions of self, a gesture towards the cyborg, that allow one to enact the position of subjects one would never have had access to previously, to be the laborer in Tijuana and in San Diego simultaneously, do we consider this an evolvement or a form of estrangement? Statements such as “sometimes you control the machine, and sometimes the machine controls you” and “Most of the time I don’t feel anything,” from Sleep Dealer’s character’s indicate an emotional impotence and powerlessness. There is no depiction of human labor as one that move’s freely and willfully within the various scapes of global cultural flow. Granted the role of individual responsibility is pivotal to the film’s storyline, is repressive equality just as central to the character’s actions and situations?
The question of access becomes central to Sleep Dealer and to Appadurai’s depiction of nations as agents of 'repatriation of difference', in that they transform homogenized global forms into heterogeneous discourses of national sovereignty. He says: "States find themselves pressed to ‘stay open’ by forces of media, technolog , travel which have fuel consumerism throughout the world, for new commodities and spectacles. On the other hand these very ethnoscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes, such as ‘democracy in China’, that the state cannot tolerate as threats to its control over ideas of nationhood and ‘peoplehood’." What is at stake in participation in the various scapes, when we are given access to and made accessible to the “forces of cultural gravity” that pull at us?