S3E6: Hated in the Nation

Recap

The episode starts with Karin, who we later find out is a detective, going into a trial. At the trial the judges ask her when she initially became involved in “the incident.” The scene cuts to a flashback of Karin at her house watching the news on TV. They talk about the controversy surrounding Jo Powers, a columnist who wrote out against someone claimed as a “wheelchair martyr,” and an additional report on the second year the UK has released ADIs, or technological bees, for the summer (foreshadowing much?).

The scenes cut to Jo Powers walking around London, where people recognize her and even blatantly yell stuff at her on the street. She goes to her house and keeps receiving hate tweets, some of which include her photo accompanied by #DeathTo. She receives a cake which she proceeds to eat. Later on Karin appears at a crime scene, where she meets Blue, who has switched from the tech side of the police force to on-the-field police work. At the scene, they find Jo Powers dead and her husband injured. They start the investigation but find multiple dead ends. First no one comes in ur out of the cctv tapes. Then the cake comes back negative from toxicology (they did talk to the person who sent it because of her #DeathTo Jo Powers tweet). When they question the husband, he says Jo killed herself after clutching her head and having a seizure. Karin still believes the husband killed Jo.

As this is happening, an American celebrity named Tusk has become the newest target of internet hate. We see him and coworkers preparing for a show when he suddenly clutches his head and starts yelling and having a seizure. They take him to a hospital, where he is put under anesthesia. The doctors put him through an MRI machine to figure out what is wrong with him. As soon as they turn the machine on he starts shaking and when they take him out of the machine they find him dead because of an ADI that was lodged in his brain and since it was attracted to the MRI’s magnet, blasted through his head. The autopsy report on Jo Powers, found an ADI in her brain as well. Blue uses social media and technology to figure out how this is happening: Someone has created a game via the #DeathTo hashtag, where the most targeted person dies by the end of the day.

Karin and Blue talk to the people at the ADI company, who explain the bees are “unhackable” and they can’t best down because entire ecosystems would crash. It seems like real bees have become extinct in this reality and have been replaced with these autonomous placeholders. We later learn they are also used by the government to track down terrorists and killers via facial recognition systems, and that is how they have been tracking down victims.

The police force finds the next candidate, a girl named Clara, and tries to protect her as they work with the ADI company to find the hacker. Suddenly the whole ADI system is taken over by the hacker and an ADI bee finds Clara and kills her. The next day the top target is the Chancellor. He is trying to shut down the internet, meanwhile the police force tracks the trackers location down and finds a hard drive. The hard drive contains a way to deactivate the ADI takeover but they find names of every single person who tweeted #DeathTo on the disk as well. They run the deactivation and it seems as though everything is back to normal but the bees suddenly go rouge and kill every single person who tweeted #DeathTo. We go back to the trial in which Karin is still being interviewed. They ask her what happened to Blue and we are led to believe she has committed suicide.

In the ending scenes we see the hacker being followed by Blue on a different country, as she texts Karin “Got him” and she deletes the message.

Themes

Using technology as a replacement for natural things – In this episode the ADIs intent is to act like bees in order to continue to pollinate the world. This somewhat mirrors reality since bees are becoming extinct and no one knows exactly why, unless we save them we might have to resort to similar technologies to make sure nature continues to thrive. In this case though, it’s a placeholder for any technology we use in place of natural things and processes. Natural things can’t be hacked on a monumental scale like you can do with technology, and as a familiar sci-fi trope autonomous things can malfunction and turn against us.

Constant government surveillance – These bees were used for much more than just pollination purposes, they were also used by the government to constantly track and hunt terrorists and other criminal. In the end, this facial recognition software implanted on the bees turned out to be its downfall once it was hacked and used to kill humans. But the episode subtly raises the question of how much do governments need to use this technology and the means through which they do it – basically, attaching a second use to technology that already has a clear purpose.

Public shame and its consequences – We’ve talked a lot in class about public shaming and it’s consequences on the people who are shamed. This episode flips that idea on its head and basically targets the mob who was targetting individuals. In this way “justice” is served unilaterally – to the people who did a “bad” thing in the first place and to the people who demonized others without the threat of a consequence or because they thought it was a funny joke. In that sense, it becomes a totalitarian sort of justice – you can do no right.

 

Jour 325 says…

Questions:

  1. Is it our job to create this sort of technology to protect ecosystems and the human race, even when we face dangers such as the one presented in this episode? Do we have a choice?
  2. Thinking about the themes established in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, is it right to punish the shamer, not in an extreme way like death, but in some other way? Do they have the same amount of fault as the people they shame or more?
  3. Is it OK for the government to use whatever means necessary to track down criminals? What are the ethical connotations to this sort of surveillance?
  4. As we move further and further to using technology for everything, how much can we rely on encryption? How hackable is all of our technology?
  5. Can the rise of trendy hashtages be detrimental? How is it positive too?
  6. Once a trend unfolds, does it take drastic measures such as what happened in this episode to stop it?
  7. And finally, is anyone even more afraid of bees now??

S3E2: Playtest

Recap

The episode begins with Cooper packing up his bags to travel the world. As he gets in the car, he is seen ignoring a phone call from his mom, which he frequently does because he is unable to really connect wit her after his father’s death from Alzheimer’s.

After matching with Sonja on a tinder-like app in England, they meet and he admits to traveling the world to get away from home. He opens up about his dad’s death and how he lacks a connection with his mom like he had with his father. After his credit card was hacked, he nearly calls his mom but backs off the idea. He uses an app called Oddjobs to find a job to get the money to get back to the States. Through Oddjobs he lands a gig at a video game company called SaitoGemu. After entering the facility, Katie asks Cooper for his cell phone to turn off. After she leaves the room to get the rest of the contract, he quickly turns his phone back on to take a picture of the equipment to send to Sonja.

Cooper plays a game of whack-a-mole with a 3D projection and is amazed by the technology. After the demo, Katie asks Cooper to be the next volunteer for the new game they are working on. It is state of the art intelligence software that learns and adapts on the fly. It monitors brain activity and learns how best to frighten and then adjusts the experience accordingly.

The first visual Cooper sees is a spider. It freaks him out but he claims he won’t let this stuff scare him. Things start escalating and he sees different things from events that have been showed or discussed earlier in the episode.

Sonja knocks on the door and claims she led him there by hacking his bank account, drew his attention to the job, and then said, “you should’ve called your mom but instead you called me.” She approaches him with a knife and then stabs him in the back. They fight and then he eventually rips her skin off and stabs her in the face.

Cooper wants out and uses the safe word. They tell him the game will end when he gets to the access point. He walks to the room at the end and gets emotional about his mom. Katie asks him to describe his mother and then continues asking him questions because the technology is overriding his memory. He doesn’t even recognize himself anymore. Katie is in his head saying, “Soon you’ll be just like your dad, that’s what really scares you.” Then the voice in his head said that he should’ve called your mom and that you abandoned her. He has reached his breaking point.

It was all in his his mind…

The episode ends with Cooper in the chair going crazy yelling “mom” as he receives a call from her that interferes with the technology, forcing every synapse in his brain to light up at once, killing him in less than one second.

Themes

Don’t run from your problems. In the episode, Cooper coped with his father’s death by just running away. He was afraid to try and connect with his mom and instead rather just ignored her and ignored what life was like back home. Through the episode we see him realize that he should have just picked up the phone and talk to his mom.

Smartphones: how much is too much? Cooper was constantly on his phone. The flight attendant had to ask him to turn off his device while gaming on the plane, he documented everything from his trip on social media, used a hookup app to get a girl, used the app Oddjobs to get a job, and ultimately died because he couldn’t listen to directions and keep his phone turned off. Smartphones are an absolutely amazing piece of technology, but they should not have our attention 24/7.

What is real anymore. Technology in today’s society pushes the limits. Everything can be done online (dating apps, job apps, gaming). We are getting away from the traditional way of doing things and especially with VR, it is important to keep what is real away from what is fake. Life is not a game and you can’t just quit and go back if you don’t like the way something turned out.

JOUR 325 says . . .

 

Questions

  1. What was the scariest scene of Playtest?
  2. How far away do you think we are from this episode in reality?
  3. Why don’t we think Cooper called his mom?
  4. Does VR scare you? Would you have done anything close to this?
  5. If you could change the ending of the episode, how would you end it?

S2E2: White Bear

Recap

Victoria wakes up in a dark room with bandages wrapped around her wrists. In front of her is a TV with an odd white symbol on the screen. As she looks down in front of her feet, there are a couple pill bottles spilled across the floor. She walks over to a mirror where she looks at herself and does not remember who she is. Victoria walks downstairs where she picks up a small picture of a young girl, then she has a flashback. She scans the room to find a calendar with days being crossed out, which leads the audience to believe someone was counting down the days until something was going to occur. Eventually, she walks outside to find no kids playing, or adults doing yard work like we’re accustomed to seeing. Instead she finds people recording her through the windows of their homes.

Suddenly a blue car approaches, and a man in a mask gets out with a shotgun. He begins chasing her down the street while surrounding neighbors film on their phones and cameras. She finds a boy and a girl (Jem) at a gas station, and the masked man opens fire with his shotgun. They run and lock themselves inside the gas station before the masked man eventfully breaks in (causing laughter and applauds from the surrounding citizens).

The masked man shoots and kills the male, and people begin surrounding his body and taking pictures. One of the flashes causes Victoria to have another flashback. Victoria and Jem run away and find a house to lay low. There, Jem fills her in on how the “hunters” found them. There is a live feed through the people’s cameras that are following them.

Victoria then says she has a daughter (the girl in the picture), but she doesn’t remember anything else. Jem tells her the signal that appears on the screen released something dangerous in certain people, but it didn’t affect everyone. People like Jem and Victoria were hunted by the hunters. Victoria tries picking up a phone that someone dropped on the ground, and Jem freaks out pointing a taser at her saying, “their phones are dangerous, put it down.”

A man picks them up in his van, and Victoria seems to think he looks familiar. They stop somewhere in the woods, and the man pulls out a shotgun, proving he was the masked man from earlier. He forces them to walk in front of him, pointing the shotgun at their backs, until they come across a creepy spot in the woods where bodies are tied to trees and civilians are waiting to record them.

Jem runs away, and the masked man is getting ready to kill Victoria. Jem circles back and shoots the man with his own shotgun. Oddly, the camera looks away as this is happening, so we don’t actually see the shotgun shell hit his body (red flag, duh).

Victoria and Jem get in a van and begin driving to “White Bear,” which is a compound that is allegedly transmitting the signal causing people to act out. Victoria continues to have flashbacks and starts yelling, “there’s something not normal about White Bear.” The viewers get the idea that she’s been there before, or the name has some sort of relevance.

Victoria has another flashback to her recording the little girl she claims is her daughter, and in that recording there is a man with the infamous symbol tattooed on the back of his neck. They arrive at the compound and begin breaking in. The two of them walk into a room where Jem beings flipping switches and turning off the signal; then she pours gasoline all over the room.

The “hunters” walk in on them, and they begin fighting. Victoria grabs a shotgun and shoots one of the men. Confetti comes out, and the room begins to open up like a scene out of Inception. A large audience appears, and they begin clapping and applauding (Basically identical to a scene out of Hunger Games where Stanley Tucci is yelling every time he speaks, because his character is an obnoxious asshole).

Then, the masked man appears and it seems that he is the talk show host, which makes sense because earlier in the episode when Victoria first met him in the van, she said he looked familiar. He says, “It’s time to tell you who you are.”

A brief video plays, explaining the context of the entire situation. The little girl that Victoria thought was her daughter, was actually abducted by her and her fiancé. From there, she helped record her fiancé do terrible things to the little girl (the flashbacks). The symbol tattooed on the back of his neck was how they identified and charged him; therefore the context behind the use of the symbol throughout the episode makes sense. The little girl’s stuffed white bear was found a couple miles from her house where she was abducted, so it became the symbol to get her home safely. This is why the compound was called “White Bear,” where Victoria is finding out the truth of her entire situation.

This also explains why everyone the entire episode is filming her. They’re filming her just like she filmed her fiancé and the little girl. Eventually we cut to a scene outside at nighttime where the host of the show is egging on the crowd to be as loud as possible and take as many pictures as possible.

In the crowd we see people with fire torches and signs screaming murderer and bitch. Victoria gets paraded through a crowd with glass windows around her, so people begin throwing tomatoes at her (Very reminiscent of the “SHAME” scene in Game of Thrones).

When they reach their destination, a few men carry her into a house and put her in the same room she woke up in earlier that morning. The talk host puts a device on her head to wipe her memory, so she can relive this entire day over and over again. The process takes about 30 minutes, so as she is waiting to have her memory wiped clean, she is forced to watch the footage she shot of the little girl and her fiancé A literal living hell.

The host then crosses off another day on the calendar that we first saw in the beginning of the episode, leading us to believe this has been going on for quite sometime.

 Themes

Public shaming: Obviously this episode and Ronson’s book were pieced together for a reason. We all obviously drew countless parallels between the two, but I think it’s important to note that this was like crazy extreme. This was in a literal sense public shaming. There were crowds of people watching Victoria mentally torture herself (while they tortured her physically and mentally) every single day like it was an attraction, which I will get to in a bit.

Reality television: So lets pray to god that our versions of reality television don’t escalate to something of this nature. I feel like as a society, when it comes to reality TV, companies have tried to make it as real as possible with survival shows and whatnot. As much as it might be fun to watch Kim Kardashian go through something as vigorous as Victoria experienced (lol), it’s definitely NOT chill.

How we deal with criminals/Our justice system: To me, this episode is also a reflection of the direction the world is already heading in. Obviously not to this extent, but there are methods we use to torture/kill criminals. I think this episode was tackling that issue directly.

JOUR 325 says . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Questions

  1. What was the most disturbing thing about this episode?
  2. Did we take it that this was some kind of theme park?
  3. Who paid for all of this? Did the participants have to pay an entree fee? Is this what amusement parks/attractions could evolve to? Maybe this was the their version of Dr. Phil.
  4. Do we think other parks like this exist for other people who committed heinous crimes?
  5. What does this say about their society and the people that inhabit it? Do they get off on the suffering of other people?
  6. Could there be some type of reward that participants win for having the best footage/most footage? A leaderboard?

S2E3: The Waldo Moment

Recap

The Waldo Moment is about a failed comedian, Jamie, who is suffering from insecurity and low self-esteem in spite of finding success with his character of Waldo. Jamie’s character, Waldo, is a vulgar blue bear that provides comedic relief and political satire while gaining enough popularity to launch a campaign in the one of the British by-elections. Waldo begins his campaign by slandering Liam Monroe, the conservative candidate, continuing to pick on him throughout the episode. Meanwhile, Jamie gets romantically involved with Gwendolyn Harris, the labor party candidate.

Gwendolyn’s campaign manager advises her to stay away from Jamie and after she rejects Jamie, he feels angry and like a failure once more. Jamie becomes spiteful when playing Waldo at a candidate debate, mercilessly exposing Gwendolyn as a career politician that was in the race just for publicity. After publicly degrading the other candidates, Jamie meets with Jeff Carter who propositions him a plan to make Waldo a symbol of global authority. Jamie resists this proposition but continues to mindlessly act as Waldo for the campaign.

Finally, Jamie breaks down under pressure during the campaign, leaving the Waldo van to beg the public not to vote for him. Jamie’s boss, Jack Napier, takes over as Waldo and encourages the crowd to cause harm to Jamie. He ends up in the hospital, watching Waldo lose to Monroe in the election announcement and a fight ensues at the announcement due to Waldo’s encouragement. The episode ends by flashing forward to a homeless Jamie in a dystopian world ruled by Waldo.

 Themes

  1. Technology as a mask: The first major theme to note is how technology is used as a mask to promote speech and destruction. According to Google, a Waldo is defined as a remote manipulator that can be controlled electronically or mechanically. A blue bear also seems very trusting and reliable, rather than corrupt and intimidating. Black Mirror’s choices in the character of Waldo set him up to be the perfect technological mask to spread unrealistic views with. Technology gives humans the opportunity to speak freely and act on impulse. Trolling becomes a greater issue with technology and we see this idea embodied in this episode as Waldo bullies his opponents ruthlessly. Using technology as a mask, we see Waldo quick to attack his opponents with inappropriate insults. Jamie also uses technology as a mask, attacking Gwendolyn publicly and out of spite for his personal gain.
  2. Success has no correlation to happiness: Throughout the episode, Jamie battled with depression and low-self esteem despite his success with Waldo. Living in a culture that is driven by success, we are constantly faced with the struggle to work hard or be happy. It is sort of a cultural norm to believe that success will always lead to happiness, but there are many more factors to it. Jamie was constantly reminded to be happy and to focus on what was good but he constantly retreated to a negative state, ignoring his obvious success with Waldo. As his personal life turned into turmoil, his professional life soon followed, as his success was not enough to keep him from breaking down completely. The other characters also embodied this theme as Waldo’s team was not satisfied with their current success and the candidates were not seemingly satisfied with their progress in the election alone.
  3. Populism’s influence on society: Populism’s negative influence on society was effectively conveyed as a major theme throughout this episode as Waldo represented a far right party. He influenced the younger voters that supported him for his inappropriate humor and comedic relief among seemingly corrupt candidates. Waldo empathized with the public through unrealistic views of politicians and of the current government, positioning himself as anti-establishment. He also encouraged chaos and through this, he was able to take over on a global scale, finding power in destruction. Society often accuses politicians of corruption, slandering their campaigns and positioning parties on opposite spectrums. This episode showed a great example of populism dividing the supposedly corrupt entitled party from the freer Democratic Party. Although this episode is called a Waldo moment, it is a great example of how a moment can lead to something bigger such as populism through the Waldo movement.

JOUR 325 SAYS…

Questions

  1. How might we see Susan Blackmore’s theory of temes reflected in this episode?
  2. There has often been a great amount of comparison of the characters in this episode and the candidates in the past US election. How do you think these characters depict the candidates in our most recent presidential election?
  3. The episode jumps from a locally popular Waldo to a dystopian world with Waldo as a tyrannical leader. Why do you think Waldo was able to take over on a global scale?
  4. With the abundance of information circulation, how do you see technology furthering the idea of populism?
  5. Is the idea of irreplaceability a possibility with the abundance of technology and innovation nowadays?
  6. In what ways could Jamie have positioned himself as irreplaceable to the Waldo character?

S3E3: Shut Up And Dance

 

Recap

The episode opens with a woman leaving a pair of keys under the wheel of a parked car. Soon, she receives a text, and is gone. The scene moves to Kenny, a teenager who installs a malware remover onto his laptop, after his sister left him with a virus. Little did he know that the website he finds, “Shrive,” would leave him with a hacker.

Kenny sits in front of his laptop camera, and is recorded masturbating. He then receives an email from an unknown contact demanding he reply with his phone number, or the video will be released to all of his contacts. Complying, Kenny waits anxiously for the signal that he has been “activated.”

Kenny goes to work, receiving a text demanding that he go to a parking garage at noon. He makes it just in time to meet another one of the hacker’s victims, who hands him a box with a cake inside. Texting a code to the unknown number, he is told to deliver the cake to a man in a hotel. He finds Hector, who turns out to be another victim, being threatened with infidelity secrets. Hector must work with Kenny to complete the demands.

They are told to retrieve the keys from the parking garage that the woman had left. Next, they receive texts to look inside the cake. Inside is a pair of sunglasses, a hat, and a gun. They must rob a bank. Hector is the getaway car, while Kenny goes to rob the bank. Despite lost control over his bladder, he comes back with the money.

Hector soon receives texts to destroy the car, alone.  Kenny must bring the cash to the drop off point, where he meets another hacker victim. The man has a drone, and tells him they must fight to the death, while the drone watches. The winner would take the money. Before the fight begins, the man stopped to ask Kenny what the hacker had against him, but appeared to already know. Although Kenny said he just looked at some pictures, the man said, “How young were they?” He had been masturbating to child pornography.

Kenny still had the gun from the robbery, turned it on the man, and then on himself. It was empty. The two began to fight as the drones sat watching.

All of the victims believed the texts were over and they were safe, but soon receive messages of troll faces. Their secrets had been released. Kenny walked away after evidently winning the fight, to receive a phone call from his mom. Videos of his relations with child pornography had been released and he was apprehended by two police officers.

Themes

1.Concept of privacy in a media dominated world-Today, debates are often sparked regarding the trade-off between the need for security and personal privacy, and where that line is blurred. As college students seeking future employment, we are constantly reminded not to share things online we “wouldn’t want an employer to see.” It is a media dominated world and access to private information is just a click away. Although Kenny’s case is illegal and extreme, viewers may be fooled into thinking he is just an innocent boy whose privacy was invaded by a hacker. It is pretty safe to assume that with the prominence of the internet, someday we may get hacked. Regardless of privacy settings, you may not be doing illegal things, but personal information may easily be released. The episode is just another reminder to be careful with what is shared online.

2.Shame as a form of leverage-Shame is the leverage for the unfolding plot in this episode. Hector claims he does not want to lose his children, and Kenny appears to worry about what the video would do to his mother. Most of the actions are illegal, but the hacker does not threaten with consequences from the law. The characters do not mention fear of the law, Kenny is even brought to the point of robbing a bank, and attempted suicide rather than be faced with the shame of what he has done. Their shame drives them to comply to the demands of the hacker. A modern culture where people are largely focused on being judged and embarrassed drives Kenny and Hector to do terrible things. Are these things even more terrible than those being held against them?

3.An eye for an eye?-Throughout this episode, viewers were left to decide for themselves whether the hacker’s demands were worse than the secrets being held against the “victims.” The hacker chose people who were involved in illegal acts—other than the CEO and her racist emails. Although the secrets were revealed in the end, and technology was used to show their true colors, they were forced to commit horrible crimes in the process. The episode comments on how technology brings power, and with that power may come the belief that it is acceptable to take the law into your own hands.

 

 

JOUR 325 says . . .

Questions

  1. In the beginning I sympathized with Kenny.  It is played off as though he did something harmless and is being unfairly punished.  Did you feel any sympathy once you found out what he had really been looking at?
  2. These “victims” had all been hiding immoral, indecent, or illegal acts.  Can the invasion of privacy be justified because people were brought to justice?  Would you say the hacker was trying to be somewhat of a vigilante?
  3. Hector claims he does not want to lose his children, and Kenny appears to worry about what the video would do to his mother.  Does the determination to hide their secrets stem more from a sense of shame and embarrassment or consideration for those who would be hurt by their actions?
  4. Although the victims all acted immorally, how far is too far in terms of invasion or privacy?
  5. Any internet user is subject to being hacked.  Webcams are hacked and GPS systems are tracked.  But if big companies are the targets of hacking, where do publications begin drawing a line between newsworthy information and slanderous information?

 

S1E3: The Entire History of You

Recap

The episode opens with Liam Foxwell at a work appraisal. When he leaves, he is able to watch the appraisal on a screen in taxicab, analyzing the interaction and coming to the conclusion that it did not go well, focusing specifically on the phrase “we hope to look forward to seeing you.”

At some point in the future, most of society has a “grain” implanted in their head, which records everything the person does, sees and hears. Users can then replay memories either on their eyes or on a screen. They call this a “re-do.”

At a dinner party with his wife Fi, Liam meets Jonas. Jonas speaks frankly about his recent engagement that has been called off and talks about masturbating to re-dos of sex in his earlier relationships. Meanwhile, Liam becomes increasingly suspicious of Fi’s relationship with Jonas.

Liam and Fi return home, and Liam starts to question who Jonas is and what Fi’s relationship is to him. She says she dated him for a month (previously in their relationship, Fi had said it was week, and later she admits it was six months). Liam plays re-dos of Fi and Jonas at the party, becoming obsessed with Fi’s body language and way she interacts with Jonas as opposed to the way she interacts with him. This turns into a fight, but Liam later apologizes and they have sex, which they both watch re-dos during. After they finish, Liam stays up and continues to watch re-dos of Fi’s interactions with Jonas, drinking heavily.

Fi and drunk Liam fight again the next morning. Liam drives to Jonas’s house and demands he delete all the footage he has of Fi, threatening to violently cut out his grain if he doesn’t comply. Jonas deletes the footage, and Liam leaves. He crashes his car into a tree and passes out. When he wakes up, he watches a re-do of his interaction with Jonas.

Before Jonas deleted the files of Fi, Liam noticed a file from 18 months earlier, in his bedroom, around the time his child was conceived. Fi admits to cheating on Liam, but insists they used a condom. Liam demands a re-do, and it’s implied that Jonas and Fi did not use a condom.

The episode ends with Liam wandering around his empty house, replaying memories of Fi and “his” daughter. Liam messily cuts out the grain from his neck in the bathroom.

Themes

  1. Documentation – Grain technology records everything the user sees, hears and does. The people in this episode need to document every part of their lives, and they have access to that documentation should they ever need it, whether it be to analyze a work appraisal or for proof in later argument. This is not such a foreign concept in today’s society, either. People record their daily lives on snapchat, screenshot and store text messages to use against people later, and work out of the cloud. People like to have things documented because they’re afraid of forgetting and they need to have proof.
  2. Obsession – In this episode, Liam becomes obsessed with his wife’s past relationship with Jonas. He uses the grain to analyze their interactions, zooming in and using a lip reading technology. He was already uneasy with Fi’s behavior towards Jonas just from initial observation. The grain and its features allows him to pick up on details he wouldn’t have otherwise, leading to obsession and further analyzing of past memories. The technology fuels his obsession and is the catalyst for Liam’s downward spiral.
  3. Trust – In this world, you don’t have to trust people when you can ask them to prove themselves and know that they have the means to prove it. Liam doesn’t trust Fi as soon as he realizes that she lied about her relationship with Jonas. He catches her in her lie by a re-do of a time earlier in their relationship when she vaguely refers to the relationship (not naming Jonas) and says it lasted a week, but it was actually six months. This leads him to question everything and asking for re-dos from Fi to prove her loyalty to him.

JOUR 325 says…

Questions

  1. What kinds of technology exist in our society today that mirror the way the characters in this episode use their grain technology?
  2. There are many downsides to the technology in this episode, and the writers make those clear. However, there are also benefits to being able to record everything you do, see, and hear. What are those benefits, and is it possible that they outweigh the negative side effects?
  3. Hallam is a guest at the dinner party who has decided to stay “grainless” after being gauged. She says she’s happier now. Would you choose to be grainless? Another guest says she “couldn’t do it.” Alternatively, if you already had the technology, would you be able to let go of it?
  4. Fi watches footage from the baby’s grain to check up on the babysitter after returning home from the party. How do you feel about an infant having this technology and parents being able to access their children’s grain? What if Jody had been a teenager and her parents were checking up on her? Is this ethical?
  5. What does deleting a memory from the grain accomplish?

S1E1: The National Anthem

Recap

The episode opens with British Prime Minister Michael Callow being awoken in the middle of the night by urgent phone calls to tell him that Princess Susannah has been kidnapped by an unknown person. Upon arriving at the office, his staff shows him a video that has the Princess reading a statement. She will be killed by 4 p.m. that day unless one demand is met: the PM must have intercourse on national TV with a pig. He suggests suppressing the video until they can learn more about the kidnapping, but his staff informs him that it already was released on YouTube. They had it taken down after 9 minutes, but that was too much time. Copies already have been made and they can’t take them down fast enough before more emerge. The moral choice he faces aside (do something disgusting to safe a life), Callow says he absolutely won’t do the act, and his staff defers to him; of course he won’t have to do it. British media at first cooperate to not cover the video, but once CNN gets it they go on the air with the news. Should he do it. Callow’s wife pulls him aside. She’s concerned because the Princess is a beloved symbol and the pressure to do the act will be too powerful, but Callow keeps saying it won’t come to that. The PM’s office tries to buy time with a CGI version of the act featuring the PM’s head on a porn star’s body, but that fails when the perpetrator finds out about it and sends one of the Princess’ fingers (later revealed to be a hoax) to a TV network. They also think they located the perpetrator based on a video upload trace, but that ends up being a trap. Meanwhile, as it hits the news, the debate in media and in public has begun.  Polling shows the public doesn’t expect the PM to go through with it and won’t blame him, but as it gets closer to 4 p.m. the outcry becomes loud and strong that the PM should do it to save the life. Once the finger news breaks, the PM can feel the pressure mounting; he knows the public will cut him last slack once violence was done – and indeed that is exactly what happens. In the end, the pressure is too much. He reasons she might die anyhow, but his colleagues point out that the aftermath will play out in media itself. He’ll be despised, the party and government won’t protect him, and he essentially is forced to do it. He goes through with it, and the show cuts in and out from his face to those in the viewing public watching in mass groups at places such as bars with a mix of glee at the spectacle, then horror, as if they couldn’t believe they once were watching with anticipation, then guilt and sympathy for the PM as if they knew they were partly to blame. As the broadcast continues, the princess is seen walking across an empty bridge. She had been released 30 minutes before the PM even began the act, as the perpetrator knew nobody would see her walking around because they’d be glued to the TV.

Themes

  1. Reality TV and infotainment decouple people from choices: This episode works because it has a particular understanding of the role media play in our lives. It maps the relationship between news coverage, social media discussion, and decisions made by our leaders. As things play out, the lines between news coverage and reality TV fixation become blurred and the spectacle surrounding the will-he-or-won’t-he becomes a type of infotainment, distracting the public from the heavy choices being made. Callow’s wife seems to grasp this. Collectively, the public has no empathy and perhaps a bit of bloodlust; they will use the supposed noble goal of saving a life to root on something they themselves wouldn’t want to do. In that way, the commentary here is that media dehumanize people making hard decisions by narrowing it down to social media banter and public opinion polls.
  1. Social media and mobs: Related to the first point, it becomes clear as the episode goes along that the public is driving the train here. At first they sympathize with the PM’s plight, but as the deadline approaches and the princess supposedly loses a finger, they turn on him in real time. The discussion – via polls, on Twitter, etc. – is not only driving the discourse, but it is influencing policy. The PM feels the pressure from the Queen to do it, but it appears he is most persuaded by the idea that the public will turn on him if he refuses and that he and his family will face mob justice as a result. The public is sort of the villain in this episode then, unable to look away and separate following a matter of public interest from the dark human impulse to cheer on tragedy and horror when it’s happening to someone else.

  2. Cyberterrorism: The type of terrorism done here is technologically savvy. The kidnapper knew how to cover his tracks, and the short timeline is purposeful to give those in power no time to find them. The only goal here is to cause mayhem and chaos, although the kidnapper’s motives aren’t spelled out here. I took something from it akin to what we read in The Cluetrain Manifesto – online, people do things because they can, and sometimes that’s it. We often talk in society about cyberterrorism as it relates to hacking, but it can be a type of society-level bullying as well that taps into our inability to resist sharing, talking about it, and watching it.

JOUR 325 says…

Questions

  1. “We love humiliation, we can’t not laugh,” the PM’s wife says. When he tries to assure her that the act won’t happen, she retorts: “It’s already happening in their heads.” Callow’s wife has a pretty cynical take on humanity that turns out to be accurate in this case. Is this driven by our darker natures or something else?
  2. This episode doesn’t appear to be set in the future. How does that affect the takeaway lessons from the episode?
  3. Are technology, media, and social media driving the public’s behavior or is it the reverse? Why?
  4. Did the PM actually feel like he had a choice? One way of thinking about this question – was this an altruistic act? Think through the concentric circles of stakeholders surrounding him. Closest to him, his wife, then the Princess and royal family, then his colleagues and party, then society. They all are putting different types of pressure on him. Which group probably drove his thinking?
  5. Discuss the role the news media played throughout this discussion. First deferential the PM’s office, then unrestrained, then using questionable ethics to get the story, and all along driving discussion. What can we say about their ethical duty as the story unfolded, and did they measure up?

S2E4: White Christmas

Recap

Joe wakes up to “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday” playing on the radio. He walks into this kitchen and sees Matt cooking Christmas dinner in the outpost where they have spent the last five years together. Matt attempts to get Joe to talk about what brought him to the hiding spot.

First, Matt tells Joe why he is there—explaining to him about his side job as a dating coach helping men find love through the use of his Z-Eye, which is an artificial reality allowing Matt to view his client Harry through a camera screen. During one of Matt’s coaching sessions, Harry gets into trouble major trouble while attempting to seduce a girl. She ends up poisoning his drink and he dies. Matt and his crew witness the event, but fail to report this murder. This results in Matt’s wife blocking him from her life. Matt’s then discusses his everyday job, which is providing people with a tool, called the Cookie, to allow people’s consciousness to digitalized. Matt’s job is helping set up the Cookie, which the audience witnesses as he sets up Greta’s consciousness’s to help her manage her life.

Joe finally starts talking. He discusses his relationship with Beth and how she blocks him from her life and her child. The blocking is a form of reducing confrontation between individuals. Joe is unable to visualize or contact Beth through the block. He is so caught up in the fact he has no interaction with his daughter that each Christmas he drives to Beth’s father’s house and watches his daughter’s blur.

When Beth dies in a rail crash the block dies with her, which enables him to now view his daughter. The Christmas after Beth passes away, he buys snow globe and writes “from Daddy” on the back. He drives to Beth’s dad’s home to finally see and meet his real daughter to find out that she is Asian. Beth’s daughter, runs and tells her grandfather they have a visitor. Joe realizes that May is not his daughter and feels betrayed. In anger, he throws the snow globe at the grandfather’s head and kills him. Joe eventually was arrested, but refused to confess until Matt uses the cookie.

After Matt draws Joe’s confession through the use of the digital cookies, he gives this confession to the police. Matt originally was arrested for not reporting the murder and made a deal with the police, but unfortunately his repercussions are being blocked—unable to communicate or visualize anyone. He literally becomes isolated from society, identified as a red figure to all those around him. The episode ends with a flashback to Joe. One of the police sets his cookie to 1000 years per minutes—this results in part of his sentence as “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday” plays on repeat and Joe screams in horror having to relive the day over and over again.

Themes

  1. Social media block in today’s society vs. future –Today, every social media has a block feature that disbands anyone from viewing information about your life. It can have positive implications, such as not wanting an ex-boyfriend to know your daily lifestyle to not allowing a stalker to know about your whereabouts. White Christmas is an extreme example of literally blocking people out of your life from a social media perspective and physical perspective. It causes your being to become a white silhouette blocking you from the social and physical environment. The block offers commentary on how you can’t see the person when you are walking in the street to physically blocked out of every photo you ever took with each other.
  1. Artificial intelligence/right to privacy –With artificial intelligence becoming a popular technology, this episode points out some of the ethical and legal issues with the right to privacy. For example, the cookie demonstrates a digital copy of Joe and Greta’s conscious. Joe refuses to give a confession, and the only way he confesses is through the cookie implanted into his temple. The idea of going into a person’s consciousness to view the details of an event, which are not approved by the individual can be viewed as unethical against the will of the individual.
  1. Technology as a form of control–The cookie represents a form of control because the conscious doesn’t understand it’s being manipulated. Greta’s consciousness was controlled through the use of time and solitary confinement through Matt controlling the panel. Greta was not compliant so Matt gave her nothing to do for up to 6 months and at the end of the episode Joe is placed in solitary confinement for a thousand years a minute listening on repeat the same Christmas song. The effects of solitary confinement is a form of control that Matt uses to control Greta and Joe to manipulate them to achieve his goals. This is an example of how technology can be used in a positive or negative way to setback or enhance mankind.

Journalism 325 says…

Questions

  1. After seeing the positive and negative effects of the block feature of the Z-Eye, explain whether you think this feature would cause more or less damage if this technology was implemented into the future.
  2. Discuss the ethical or unethical implications of using the cookie or Z-Eye to find out the truth.
  3. In the end, both Matt and Joe suffer in different ways. Explain which character you sympathize with more.
  4. Would you like to see the use of the cookie in the future? Why or why not?
  5. What real-world parallels can you identify moving toward Z-Eye technologies. Do you find that the Z-Eye creepy or practical?

S2E1: Be Right Back

Recap

The two main characters, Martha and Ash, live what appears to be a normal life in the country together. Ash goes to return the moving van and is killed in the process, although it’s unclear exactly how he dies. Martha grieves, finding out she is pregnant shortly after Ash dies. At his funeral, her sister mentions a service that allows people to “talk to the dead.” At first, Martha is appalled by such an idea and makes a scene at the funeral, but later ends up trying the service out. She starts out just using a chat feature, which pulls together all of Ash’s social media profiles, posts, statuses, etc. to create an AI version of himself, almost like a bot. Eventually, more data such as photos and videos are uploaded to the service, and Martha begins to speak on the phone with “Ash.” This escalates to her ordering what looks like a synthetic body, which she then “activates” in the tub. It creates a human-like thing that represents Ash, except for a few small details. At first Martha appears happy with the creation, but she frequently says things like “Ash wouldn’t say that,” frustrating her that the synthetic Ash isn’t exactly like the real one was. The artificial Ash doesn’t show a lot of emotion and can’t react to new situations if he never had a similar situation in real life that was recorded by a photo or video. Eventually, Martha brings fake Ash to a cliff and tells him to jump. Ash says he will, but Martha is frustrated that he doesn’t fight back. Ash then starts to beg her not to make him jump, but Martha knows he’s only saying that because she told him to fight back. The last couple minutes fast forward to many years later to Martha’s daughter’s seventh birthday. Fake Ash is forced to stay in the attic, but Martha allows her to see him occasionally, such as in special situations like her birthday. Martha is shown fighting back tears as the episode ends.

Themes

1. Social media documentation – Nowadays, people feel the need to document almost everything on social media. Whether it’s posting a Snapchat of your trip to the movies or an Instagram post of the coffee you had at lunch, seemingly insignificant life moments are being etched into people’s digital footprints by their own choice. There were many moments where fake Ash seemed to have a hole in his personality that was likely because he didn’t post enough on social media. Or at least enough to make his recreated self 100 percent accurate. It would be impossible to completely mimic one’s full life on social media, but this service suggests that posting more frequently might be more beneficial in the long run if you’re ever synthetically brought back to life.

2. Artificial intelligence/right to creation – Artificial intelligence is growing and has existed in the form of “bots” for a long time. There’s even things like Siri and Cortana that allow audio to come into play. Is there a realistic way to take it to the next step? It may seem great at first, but in the case of Martha, she quickly realized that even relatively accurate AI can still be underwhelming because we constantly crave the real thing. Also, if this service were real, it brings up the question of who has the right to create. Society would be really different if synthetic versions of dead people were walking around all over the place (of course as long as they’re close by to their creator). Allowing for this technology might open up a Pandora’s box that we’d never be able to close.

3. Desire for companionship – Inherently, humans generally desire some sort of companionship. Martha can’t resist trying out the service that allows for her to message with Ash because she misses him so much. Even though she finds it creepy at first, she becomes obsessed with it because she just wants things to be the way they were. Humans will go to great lengths to find companionship of some kind, and in this case, even if it means talking to a dead person. And once you start out with messaging, if you know there are other levels to the communication (such as audio or literal recreation of the person), many people might be curious enough to try it out. We might never know for sure, but we know Martha sure was.

JOUR 325 says…

Questions

  1. We’ve argued throughout the class that people’s social media selves aren’t the same as their real selves. Would this drastically affect the average person’s artificial self if they were brought back from the dead like Ash? If people paint a better picture of themselves on social media than real life, would the artificial recreations even be comparable to what the person was actually like?
  2. If this service were real and popular, in general do you think it’d encourage people to post more frequently on social media? What about yourselves?
  3. What does this say about the power of creation? In the novel Frankenstein it grapples with the topic of who has the right to create another being. While fake Ash didn’t seem dangerous at all, what are the moral and ethical consequences of creating a synthetic version of someone who’s died?
  4. Would you all ever use this service to bring back a loved one? Would you ever want someone to do the same for you if you died?
  5. Martha was shown crying at the end, but she didn’t choose to get rid of the fake Ash. Do you think she became content with the fact that fake Ash couldn’t ever be the same as real Ash? Do you think she only kept him around for her child’s sake?

S3E5: Men Against Fire

Recap

We open with a group of soldiers rolling out to follow up on reports that a group of “Roaches” is terrorizing a local settlement. The unit, including a main character known as “Stripe,” tracks them to a farmhouse and they end up in a firefight with three inhuman looking monsters. Stripe kills one with a weapon and another with a knife, but the second one first activates a device that causes a ringing in Stripe’s ears. Over the next couple days, Stripe occasionally experiences glitches and headaches, an implication that the activated device has messed with technological implants that help regulate his mind and body. The unit then follows up on reports of Roaches hiding in an abandoned complex. Stripe follows up with his platoon-mate Hunter and his commanding officer, and the CO is killed by a Roach sniper. Hunter and Stripe go inside, and while inside Stripe sees a human woman whom he helps escape — right before Hunter shoots her. Befuddled, he chases after Hunter and watches her mow down a large group of humans. He struggles with her to take away her weapon and knocks her out, but not before she shoots him. One of the human woman Hunter was targeting gathers her son and takes Stripe away from the building to a hideout nearby. Inside she explains to him that the implant in his brain is controlling what he sees, and it’s making him see some humans as Roaches — monsters. The implication is that the ruling authority is trying to exterminate a group of humans after a costly war, and the means to do that is to turn the enemy into subhuman-looking creatures. Hunter shows up and shoots the two humans, then knocks Stripe out. He wakes up in a cell and in walks a man named Arquette, who is either the leader of the unit or a psychologist (or both). He explains that in military history, men have been reluctant to kill other humans. First it was inability to pull the trigger most of the time. Then military training did a good job desensitizing soldiers to violence in training and increased shot and kill rates, but the side effect was that the soldiers were left with heavy emotional scars. The implant, known as MASS, took care of the scars. It turned the enemy into something that didn’t look human and made it easier for the soldier to be unemotional about the cost of killing. Arquette explains that the group being targeted are “lesser” humans with all sorts of genetic, health, and behavioral problems. The society in this episode is trying to cleanse itself of what it defines as deviants. Stripe is given a choice: live in a cell the rest of his life with no illusions, or have a new MASS installed that restores the illusion and wipes his memory of the knowledge that these people are being exterminated. He initially chooses no new MASS until Arquette puts his kills on a loop, except this time he doesn’t see monsters but rather the real human faces who are his victims. Unable to cope, he has a new MASS installed. The episode ends with him rolling up to the home of his lover, and while looking through his eyes we see the idealized country home with warm glowing lights and a beautiful woman waiting for him. As the camera pans out from a third-person point-of-view, we see the reality: no waiting lover, a run-down home that is tagged with spraypaint and rather dystopian looking. His entire world is airbrushed by MASS.

Themes

  1. A holocaust by any other name – The Nazi Germany parallels, particularly with eugenics overtones, are thick in this episode. Substitute all of the terrible things Arquette says at the end about these folks (their supposed genetic weaknesses) with how the Nazis talked about the Jews and you’ve got a more updated, technology-centered articulation of justified holocaust. We’ve talked about the roles sci-fi plays in social discourse, and one of those is to take current issues and add a technology twist so that it’s easy for us to let our guard down and see critiques about our current problems. The idea of dehumanizing a targeted group of people as a precursor to exterminating them is not a new idea. In fact, the use of the term “roaches” harkens back to the Rwanda genocide; the targeted Tutsis were called “cockroaches” in the lead up to the violent ethnic cleansing that took place there. What’s new here is that the dehumanization is a technological artifice that literally recasts how the targeted group looks as opposed to the use of words, phrases, and demagoguery.
  2. Image-based othering – The technological constraint on the mind that makes these soldiers kill without regret, MASS, is a gadget implant that reframes reality at a cognitive level. While that technology is perhaps too futuristic, there are parallels between that and how we consume media. Our media diet is limited by definition and we never get a full picture of any person or issue. Those constraints mean that what we choose, what frames are chosen to present what we consume, have a big impact on how we see people or issues in media. Think about the divide in the U.S. on the recent refuge issue, for example. Most of us have only experienced this issue via media; it’s easy for us to otherize others because of it. Even if you’re for a more liberal refugee policy, perhaps then it’s easy to otherize those with whom we disagree if they aren’t in our immediate social circle.
  3. Escapism through denial – One of the more interesting questions to emerge from this episode is Stripe’s choice at the end. He is awake for the first time since he initially agreed to have MASS installed. Initially he chose to refuse having the device replace, appalled by what this society is doing to this group of targeted human beings. But then Arquette shows him the cost of the choice. It’s not that he lives with the knowledge of what he’s done, but rather that he has to re-live that experience on loop. There is a “red pill / blue pill” (a la The Matrix) choice here, wherein now that he is awake for the first time he has to decide if the illusion is better. In some ways the same forces of control that shaped how he viewed these “Roaches” also has him over a barrel now; they can use the things he’s done as a way to control him instead. And even though he chooses ignorance at the end, the pan-out at the episode’s close shows that the illusion extends far beyond the dehumanizing view of these targeted people. The home where his lover resides is glowing and happy as he rolls up, but we get a further shot from behind Stripe that offers the unvarnished view, a house that is dilapidated and has graffiti. Very little in this society is as it seems to those who have MASS.

JOUR 325 says . . .

Questions

  1. Why would Stripe agree to take MASS in the first place? Is there anything in the episode that points to why someone would consider getting the implant to be a good choice? How culpable is he for his actions?
  2. How do we dehumanize people with our own media today? I’m not just talking about news; think about the media we are involved in creating too.
  3. How are these soldiers controlled? MASS affects visuals of the targeted “Roaches” of course, but it’s much more comprehensive than that.
  4. The military uses first-person shooter video games to train soldiers in much the same way Arquette describes, to desensitize them to the act of killing. What emerging technologies could take this to a level more similar to what we see in this episode?
  5. Did Stripe really have a choice at the end? Re-living his own role in genocide could charitably be called a living hell. Would it break him of his own humanity to choose anything but a MASS installation?