On Black Mirror (continued)

[spoilers again]

Let’s jump right into reflections:

Be Right Back

After watching this episode, I asked my mom if she would ever bring back a loved one from death if the technology existed to do so. Her response: “No. It wouldn’t be them.” And there’s your arc for Hayley Atwood’s character, Martha, in this story. My mom nailed it.

At first, Martha is appalled by the idea of bringing her boyfriend Ash back, sensing intuitively how bizarre it would be. Then, when she learns she’s pregnant, her grief elevates, and she decides to try the software out. As it turns out, the software can be upgraded to hardware, i.e. Ash can be more than a simulated voice, he can be a fully embodied reincarnation. Creepy, no? At least the sex is good.

It doesn’t take long for Martha to realize how unfulfilling robot Ash is. After all, he’s at best an approximation of who Ash was, with nothing built in that allows him to be fully human; namely, to be unpredictably adaptive. He follows her every order, and he gets confused when she veers “off script,” away from how their relationship used to be (or at least how it used to be according to documented digital information). She comes close to “killing” this version of Ash, only to step away from that cliff when he displays the uncanny human emotion (prompted by her frustration) of fighting to live. In the end, he becomes a relic in her attic, and yet also an unconditionally loving father to their daughter. He is Ash at his best.

In relationships, that’s the biggest lie we all seem to accept: that we want our partner at their best. Always. If they were always at their best, of course, we’d be freaked out. Who is this person? Or rather, we might begin to wonder, what is this thing? For surely no human being is so…perfect. Robot Ash is there to be perfect, and that proves to not be enough. Real Ash is a kind of an asshole. Inattentive, aloof, sexually just okay. But at least he’s real. What we need is real, even as we always want something unreal. When people die, it may be that our most profound grief comes from not letting them be fully real, instead forcing them into the unreal with our misguided expectations and judgments.

What we love most about other people is not the possibility of their perfection but the impossibility of their duplication.

Besides, no one can be right back when they were never really here in the first place.

White Bear

We’ve covered Michel Foucault many times on the podcast. He’s famous for his examination of power, in particular his look at discipline and punishment. In this episode, we witness a frightening attempt at justice.

The episode opens with a character named Victoria who seems to have a Jason Bourne level of amnesia. She sees before her: a television set on with a strange static image displayed, her wrists bandaged, and pills scattered on the carpet at her feet. Did she try to kill herself? As she scrambles for evidence of her identity, leaving the house, we see onlookers capturing her existential angst with their cameras, at first safely from within their homes. Before long, we’re watching them follow her around on foot, ruthlessly serving as bystanders of her own personal horror movie. Masked “villains” are pursuing her, and it takes a while before anyone is willing to help. Needless to say, because we’re just as lost as she is, we identify with her and empathize with her struggle. What’s wrong with these people? Why won’t they help her?

The episode progresses, and we remain invested in Victoria’s safety. We root for people helping her and against everyone else. What a sick, twisted world where everyone is stuck on their phones, more eager to film “an event” than help a fellow human being.

It turns out, of course, that no one considers Victoria to be a human being. Why? She’s a criminal. Welcome to the reality of (at least) America’s criminal justice system.

Justice in this world becomes an amusement park for “good” citizens, and unmitigated purgatory for convicted felons. We learn, in a haunting post-credit sequence, how produced and manufactured Victoria’s punishment is. This is Dante’s Inferno sanctioned by the government and celebrated by the people. Because fuck Victoria. She deserves it all. And what better way for us to taste the sweet nectar of retribution than to make her torture public. Make it the ultimate ride for all (except Victoria, of course, who has to replay the worst possible Groundhog’s Day imaginable) to enjoy.

The story begs a simple question – what is justice? – and forces the viewer to wonder if they could imagine themselves, all too easily, being the gawking public. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone? Judging by the way the people behave in relation to Victoria, they’re all saints rightfully admonishing a known sinner. Will they be ready for their repentance? Who will stand up for them when their time comes? What is mercy in a world where “eye for an eye” is the new Disney?

What is our society’s White Bear?

The Waldo Moment

What if a vulgar cartoon bear ran for political office? Might he inspire global revolution? At what cost?

It’s no secret that politics is a sham. Now, that doesn’t mean it has to be, but it seems to consistently play out that way. Besides, what qualifies as “politics” anyway? If we define it in the rough sense as “power play,” then we’re fundamentally political. We have no way to opt out of politics in a very general sense. So what makes us finally opt in?

When we feel we have a voice, I imagine. What does it say when a cartoon bear gives a population back its voice? What state of affairs have to exist in a society for such an absurdity to become reality? Do we blame Waldo for this “fall,” or do we finally take a closer look at who we’ve been and who we are?

The easy substitution here, now at least, is Trump. Trump is eerily similar to Waldo. He’s just as cartoonish and outlandish, and he speaks for a lot of people. As with Waldo, rather than seeing Trump as a necessary mirror, we cast him as some exceptional foe and so forsake our own responsibility for his creation.

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