Tag Archive: Discourse

Social Media as a Totalitarian Framework

I read an interesting article over at the New Yorker titled “How George Orwell Predicted The Challenge of Writing Today”. One of the points made in the article was that totalitarian societies emphasize the intimate knowledge people have of one another. A sort of enforced closeness and awareness of the other person. Another aspect of totalitarian societies is that people are punished seemingly at random. It’s not so much who the person is or why the person is targetted, it is that anybody can be targetted for any time and any reason.

These two concepts stood out to me because, in essence, social media enforces both these ideas. Much has been made of the Facebook memo which declared that connecting the world is the most important thing, justifying any form of underhanded technique to achieve it. Further, anyone who has been online for more than a few months is aware of just how quickly denizens of the Internet will gang up on someone for the slightest misstep; no offense is too small for an overblown reaction. It strikes me, then that, however unintentionally, the social media tech giants have created a foundation for a totalitarian society. This is a foundation, however, with an important difference.

In previous totalitarian states, there was always a central body at the top. China is a perfect example of this. At the top of the heap is the ruling Chinese party in Beijing, which in turn is ruled by Xi Jingping. With the social media companies, however, there is no ruling party. It’s just a framework. Control goes to those who can game the system the best. Right now that would appear to be Russia. No doubt China will level its power on the world later as circumstances dictate. In the meantime, the tech companies will pursue their own, largely capital-based interests.

Silicon Valley has, for some time now, been in the thrall of a pseudo-Randian, neo-Libertarian philosophy in which making money is the goal and everything else is just a series of data points to manage. Despite outward appearances, Google, Facebook and others will happily make any deal that gives them more profit. Witness Google, which dropped their famouse “Don’t be Evil” slogan recently and only pulled out of a deal with the Department of Defense thanks to a public lashing generated by some of their own employees. Facebook, of course, has shown no such problem with ethics in general and Bezos has employees that pass out on the production line lest they be fired for missing a performance goal.

If the Trump administration were more aware of the possibilities it would quietly engage in back-room deals with these companies to give them the market profits they crave in exchange for access to the raw data that the tech companies have accumulated. Trump could protect them from legislative backlash and in return the companies could supply data, propaganda and surveillance. If the tech companies were smart they would quietly cultivate Trump’s favor. He’s not a complicated man. He likes people who idolize him and he does favors for them. It would not take much to learn how to control his favor. One could take things a step further and see the two forces working together to create a propaganda campaign for Trump as a permanent President.

I don’t actually think things would go this far, nor do I really want it to happen. It just strikes me American society is on the cusp of this idea, even if it is not the direction that things will ultimately travel. Still, one hopes one day some politician makes the same realization I have briefly made just now and works on legislation to prevent this very outcome from occurring. It’s clear things will likely not change without serious government intervention; the tech companies are just too entrenched.

Concerns About Ghost In The Shell

Ghost in the Shell Live Action FilmThe upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell film captures the look of the anime films, but does it capture the soul? View full article »

Iron Man, Gimmickry and Code Words

Wherein I ponder the a strange intersection of prejudicial code words and reasonable criticism. View full article »

Facebook and Google Own You

The future is now.

In Blade Runner, the dystopian future was heavily influenced by the Tyrell Corporation, which provided artificial humans for almost any purpose.

In Robocop the Omni Consumer Products megacorporation planned on buying the entire city of Detroit and make all the citizens shareholders and employees.

In Elysium, the future was ruled by a wealthy social elite that existed above Earth in a technological Eden.

The problem is that these are not just stories. These are issues that we’re facing today. While the world watches Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump battle for the American throne, Google, Facebook and the tech community in general are in the trenches affecting our lives right now. Read on for more. View full article »

You have no idea what Reality is

The Atlantic recently published an interview with Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science. In this interview, Hoffman reveals some fascinating ideas about how reality is perceived and how that far off that perception can actually be. Furthermore, it’s possible that living beings are supposed to be that way in order to survive! Read on for more! View full article »

The reviews have all been written on Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so it’s almost pointless to go over the film itself. That said, however, the film is a phenomenon. It is a landmark in the making of film. I don’t mean any of that in a good way.

The reason it is such a moment in film history is because Batman Vs Superman is a colossal statement on what happens when a studio doesn’t have a cohesive plan and hands total creative control to someone who doesn’t understand the subject matter or possibly know what he is doing. Also, a word to the wise: spoilers ahead. View full article »

Zootopia: Was It Timing or Was It Luck?

Animated films are planned out at least couple years in advance. There is the initial idea, the pitch meeting, various explorations into the viability of the story and so on. At some point, everything is greenlit and the animators go to work. It’s a long process. That begs the question, did the people behind Zootopia know how relevant their story was going to be in an election year, or was it an amazing coincidence? View full article »

#AppleVsFBI Talking Points

By this point, most people in the tech world know about Apple’s fight against the FBI on hacking an iPhone used in a terrorist attack. Most in the tech world are siding with Apple, while many outside the tech world side with the FBI. Because of the controversy, we though it would be useful to present a summary of what is going on. View full article »

The new Robocop film is getting more interesting

A few days ago, I made a quick post on the new upcoming Robocop film. I felt then, and still do that enough time has passed that we can allow for a re-imagining of the original. I mentioned, however, that I also thought it would probably be a bad film. Lately when remakes or re-imaginings occur it’s a money grab and as a result the quality of the product suffers. Some new information has come to light to give me a little hope, though.

Hero Complex, a section of latimes.com, recently ran an article on the Jose Padilha, the director of the new Robocop. He’s an up and coming action director, who has done some notable work outside the US. While talking with the execs on the next film to make, he spotted the Robocop poster and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Here’s a quote:

“I remember that every single film they presented to me, I instantly knew I didn’t want to make it,” Padilha said. “I’m listening, and I’m [thinking] ‘RoboCop,’ that’s what I’m going to do. I have an idea for that.’ So at the end of the meeting … I pitched the idea. Two days later, I got a call from my agent, saying, ‘I don’t know what you did, but they want to do “RoboCop” with you.’ It was a good thing that it came into being this way instead of it being a studio already having an idea about what they want to make from the get-go. It was the filmmaker saying, ‘Let’s make this, and here’s my idea for it.’”

View full article »

Writer Alan Moore on Superheroes as Cultural Catastrophe

The Guardian has a new interview up with noted comic book writer Alan Moore (of Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fame). He notes the difficulties he’s been having with allegations that his work is racist or features rape too heavily. In Mr. Moore’s defense, he never really shied away from an issue that he wanted to confront, be it racism, sexism, child abuse or other serious issues. What’s interesting, however, is his take on the current interest in superheroes. According to the interview, he states:

It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.

The inherent problem with this statement is that it ignores the fact that the cultures of previous eras are constantly woven into the fabric of the cultures of current eras. That is to say, we take from the past and incorporate into the present. Although superheroes are the current fad (it comes and goes and seems to have since the 70s at least), it could just as easily been knights or pirates. In fact, in Watchmen, Moore posits a world where superheroes are real, leaving the comic books in the story to cover other subjects like pirates and whatnot.

The point is that superheroes, like knights and pirates, are subjects of parables, myths and legends. They are all stories that we tell ourselves to engender a moral or ethical direction. To promote building character or deal with loss or pain. In this, they are relatively timeless. Their fantastical nature allows them to be woven into the fabric of almost any type of story in almost any type of era.

In the end, it isn’t the actual subject of a story that defines the culture of an era, but the story itself. That the story incorporates superheroes really speaks more to a fad of the time than the attempt to escape the realities of the time. We would agree more with Mr. Moore’s statement if he noted that the current interest in superheroes also came with a lack of addressing the issues of our day, but this isn’t the case. As has happened since the days of the ancient Greeks, we use stories to analyze our culture and our place within it, and that will render the artifacts of the story, such as superheroes, continually relevant.