Monthly Archives: February 2016

Infinite Jest @20 & @EmWatson (Book Clubs)

February has been a month of book clubs. After reading a tweet about thoughts on what to name Emma Watson‘s feminist book club, #OurSharedShelf, I joined (via goodreads) and got on with reading The Colour Purple, a book I never would have picked up in a million years, mostly because I’d already watched the film. With respect to TCP, the thing I found most intriguing was the use of the letter (epistolary) as a way of moving the narrative forward, along with the familiar beginning to such letters: Dear God.

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The next book club I chose to participate in requires a tad more effort as it’s in the real, as opposed to the virtual, world. Writing this comes after a five-hour round-trip, by bicycle and train, to University of Liverpool, for informal discussion on David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (@20 (years)). A nice little link between the two books, which isn’t necessarily important but it expresses one of those “a-ha” moments where I manage to find something in the text that speaks of something else, is the similarity in voice of Celie (TCP) and Clenette (IJ), which brings on a whole conversation about the rightful (or wrongful) appropriation of dialect, and which further links with a small section in Wallace’s “Authority and Usage” essay. There certainly is plenty to think about on the forty-five minute bicycle ride home from the train station, the latter part of which involves riding down a few hundred yards of pitch-black, serial-killer kind of country lane. It’s a good job I like reading.

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Troubled by Mr. Robot #4 – @whoismrrobot

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“What would happen to society if the consumer-debt industry were to be erased? To me, that canvas was something I was interested in exploring, so, for me, that’s what that last scene sets up. We’re about to watch Rome burn. That’s the world Elliot’s going to enter next season,” [Sam] Esmail said (Link to quote).

Had Mr. Robot been the cult hit its creator (@samesmail) imagined it would be, then a whole heap of questions may well not have arisen. As it happens, it is a commercial success, with much anticipation building as we await the release of Season Two. As a result of the hype that surrounds the show it’s due to make an appearance at #SBSW, with a 100 foot Ferris wheel announcing fsociety’s arrival on West 4th and Congress, Austin, TX.

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During the “Troubled by Mr. Robot” series of posts, which is likely to continue to expand for some time yet, there have been many questions that I realise are simplistic and naive, but such naivety stems from the fact that I cannot quite get my head around just what is happening with a piece of popular culture that upholds subversive messages of anarchy. So here’s another question (or two): Is fsociety something we’re supposed to be aiming for as a kind of by-product of the show? Just what is the message that the show means to communicate to the beleaguered citizens of this world? Surely it’s ok to ask such a thing?

My confusion grows from reading that:

“Fans will also be able to enter a recreated fsociety lair and play retro videogames in the hacker arcade, and visit a freestanding 8-foot-high graffiti art wall that will be covered in fsociety postings and stencil artwork.

After all of this immersion into fsociety, festival-goers can stop by a custom screen-printing bar to pick up a limited edition Mr. Robot printed t-shirt and take photos in a provocative photo booth that will allow them to stand alongside the hacktivists who are fearlessly fighting for the 99%. Also, a vintage, basement-inspired hacker lounge will allow fans to relax and watch the pilot” (Link to quote).

Will the Ferris wheel ride, videogames, t-shirt, and photos, etc, be free of charge? And is that genuinely free of charge, or simply foc if you happen to have paid $$$s for your SBSW lanyard? What are people meant to feel whilst immersed in fsociety land? And do you just walk away afterwards wearing a smile on your face with your t-shirt and photos to post on social media? What would happen to festivalgoers who choose to “smash the system” by ripping down the Ferris wheel, by burning the arcade game station, and by using the hacker lounge as a latrine? Would all that be forgivable, given the spirit of the show?


Troubled by Mr. Robot #3 – Is any of it real?

In the final episode Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) asks: “is any of it real?” What are we meant to take from this, a TV show, a work of fiction that serves the primary function of entertaining us, and which does so by captivating us as viewers so completely that we sit zombie-like, staring at a screen filled with pixelated images on viewing devices that make those images look as real as, and often better than anything we experience in daily life?

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And is Mr. Robot’s proclamation supposed to be a revelation to us? How can it be when it is exposing what we already know we know? Has TV gone beyond its initial remit of pure entertainment? Is this TV with a conscience? TV that will eventually bring down TV? TV that has somehow by-passed irony and entered a new phase of enlightenment? Or is it really just entertainment, but way cleverer than it used to be? Would we even know what “real” looks like if it were presented to us?


Troubled by Mr. Robot #2

What does White Rose’s Trans character signify in terms of her appearance as a businessman in Season One’s final scene of Mr.Robot?

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Businessmen populate the interior of the Gatsby-esque mansion: drinking, talking, and enjoying entertainment. Those who are females are employed as servants (passing drinks/food around), and there is also a single female playing the harpsichord, watched as she is by Phillip Price and White Rose’s alter-ego. Is this gender-split, then, merely a reflection of how Sam Esmail views the world of the corporate “1%,” or is it more political than that, something that is meant to provoke a reaction from viewers?

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Hypothetically, we can assume that the very richest of the 1% will prosper and increase its wealth. After all, the 1% alone have access to tangible items of wealth: gold, gems, oil, etc. Everyone else will struggle to function in a world where access to money has been compromised – and this in spite of the fact that debts have been wiped out. White Rose’s actions as leader of the Dark Army serve only to make her wealthier.

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By subverting the present system of capitalism as White Rose, a Trans woman, she reaffirms her status as a businessman. In spite of such power, can she only ever appear as a “he” in the upper echelons of the 1%. What is this telling us about 21st Century capitalism? What would happen if White Rose were to reveal her identity amongst the 1%?


Troubled by Mr. Robot

Having binge-watched Mr. Robot on its initial release on Amazon Prime, probably the only thing I’ve ever felt compelled to watch episode after episode in such a manner, I have just revisited it and am left feeling just as troubled as after the first time of watching. The thing I’m struggling with is the question of just what is Sam Esmail’s show meant to convey? Does it foreshadow events that are happening currently, with the likes of Anonymous and its threat to take down the U.S. financial system in 2016? Is it another vehicle that exposes the possibilities that exist with respect to the emergence of technologies that can be accessed by “everyday” people, such as Elliot Alderson? Does this then speak of instances of injustice like Aaron Swartz and his family have faced, with tragic outcomes? Or is it raising awareness of conspiracy theories that are concerned with the ruling elite and their influence over the vast majority of the earth’s population?

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Can any form of mainstream medium actually do anything other than just merely “entertain?” That’s the real issue I have. Much of the conflict I’m feeling stems from metaphors and references that are found within the show.

Metaphor 1. Tyrell Wellick paying some homeless dude to be beaten to a pulp. This speaks of the present capitalist system where most of the world’s population puts up with some form of exploitation on a day-to-day basis, no matter how minor, for the sake of money.

Metaphor 2. (NSFW) Terry Colby’s insistence that he won’t divulge anything meaningful about the circumstances surrounding the decision that ultimately leads to Angela’s mother’s death until she stuffs her mouth with his private parts before repeating the question back to him. Which works very much the same way as Met. 1.

Metaphor 3. Gideon’s conversation with his finance director. They discuss the fact that since the inception of Allsafe there has never been a moment where money has been viewed positively. Money is a constant worry. Things have to be done to ensure money keeps coming in. Again, similar to Met. 1. and Met. 2.

Reference 1. Mr. Robot carrying a copy of Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Is this bit of intertextuality necessary, or merely whimsical?

Reference 2. The repeated references to Pulp Fiction. Just why?

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Can anything meaningful be taken from any of this? Or is it just throwaway pop-culture (keep consuming)?


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