Category Archives: Popular Culture

Maxine Peake, Widnes Council, and a Reclaimed Toxic-Waste Dump – Reflections on Spike Island

Exactly 30 years to the day, what’s changed? I like Maxine Peake for her membership of the Communist Party and for her outspokenness on political matters (and she’s a truly great actor (but maybe yet to be recognised as such)).

The only occasion I’ve had to go near Widnes in the 30 years since is to drop some paperwork off at a colleague’s house (Widnes and surrounding areas are much nicer than the name Widnes suggests – maybe Widnes Council needs to amplify this (or change its name). I once lived near Summertown, Oxford. They know how to name places down there. It lived up to its name.

The Stone Roses LP is still a part of my vinyl collection, and is, in fact, unsleeved on my (still/static) turntable right now. I own way more vinyl than 30 years ago.

Maxine Peake took a beating from a critic for her performance in Peterloo (something to do with her northern accent) – maybe the critic should have been focusing on the incident itself, and the fact that kids like me weren’t taught about such things (or the tanks sent to Glasgow shipyardsto ward off the ‘threat’ of communism; or the use of paramilitary troops disguised as police officersto break up the coal miners’ strikes).

I didn’t value mon£y then (I never had much until around 1996). I don’t value it now, and have arguments with people about it. I did have a phase in between where I had money and acted like people who have money (and didn’t like it (the pha$e) very much).

I think the Stone Roses are in danger of becoming their own tribute act.

The world is in such a mess it is hard to tune out.

Much of human activity is pointless, at best, and destructive, at worst.

Doing anything for mOn€y involves compromise.

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25” Straight Leg Jeans, Fishing Hat, and C20H25N3O – Reflections on Spike Island

Jeans. So wide at bottom, trainers/trainees/sneakers completely obscured from view. Turn-ups 3” deep, turned 3 times, gather roughly 1” dirt/dust over course of night. Later emptied onto bedroom floor. Pockets deep enough to hide Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, for personal consumption. Two packets of fags. £30. Lip balm stick. Zippo lighter. 30 years on, jeans lay in paper bag in attic. Nearly new. One careful owner. Pockets empty.

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Fishing Hat. Bought from Army Navy Stores on high street. Morning of Stone Roses concert: Lee’s back yard. Selection of Airfix paint pots, very small. Dip tiny paintbrush, flick paint onto hat. Old bed sheet on patio appeases Lee’s mum. Colours selected: Made of Stone (hat: light khaki/stone?). Not yet aware of Jackson Pollock (have heard name in lyrics). 15 minutes after concert ends, hat stolen w/ menace. 30 years on, presumed dead. Reward offered for safe return.

C20H25N3O. Safely enters Spike Island. Spends 2 hours playing in pocket fluff. Tiny piece of cardboard/paper w/ kooky image (of what?). Taken w/ water. 1 hour later all faces look implausibly distorted, both animal and alien-like. Dry mouth. Cigarette smoke causes wincing, watering mouth, and colours in back of eyes. Smoking oddly unpleasant yet comforting. Toilet trips fraught w/anxiety. Light reflecting off disco ball (for Waterfall) causes tiny slashes on face (hand waving cannot deflect light/slashes). Concert ends. Walk to car, alone. Hat stolen. 6 or 7 of them. 1 of me. Walk on. Find approximate parking area. 30 minutes getting anxious (friends watching do not let on, just watch). Friend retrieves distraught me. Safe in car. Up to Lee’s room. Inspect dust/dirt. Ears hurt. Eyes won’t close. Dry mouth. Wincing at smells and colours.

27thMay 1990. Spike Island, Widnes.

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Sunny. Hot. Dry. Vivid.


Reflections on The Road to Normal (in particular the road back from Normal) and then The Road back from Normal (following on from The Road to Normal (in particular the road back from Normal))

A by-product of being able to attend the #DFW19 (David Foster Wallace) Conference at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, was the chance for me to visit the site of The Warehouse, 206 S. Jefferson Street, Chicago, considered by many to be the birthplace of House music, or at least the place where House music began commanding audiences, as opposed to just being shared around privately. Anyone with an interest in finding out more can just follow this link.

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The experience of visiting a building that means a great deal to me (because without a place like The Warehouse my teenage years would not have been so much fun – and I would not have begun to understand the bigotry I had grown up with as a child (nothing wildly overt, but the usual racist, sexist, homophobic stuff prevalent in the UK media, which then filters down via one’s parents)) was, as indicated in previous posts, akin to that of a pilgrimage. I only hope that the message of love and shared connections, so often promoted in the lyrics of House music songs will continue to thrive – and on that point, happenstance that Chicago Pride weekend is the time I get to visit.

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Fortunately for me a group of young teenagers (mostly dressed in rainbow colours and seemingly having much fun with one another) happily and politely answer the questions I have about how far it would take me to walk here and there, and generally advise me not to walk in the direction of the inner city ‘hoods (their term, not mine). The atmosphere in the city was amazing, and 50 years on from Stonewall (though there’s still much work to be done to foster understanding and shared connections (both within and outside of the LGTBQ+ community)) it seems like we can begin to imagine a Promised Land: “Brothers, Sisters, one day we will be free, from fighting, violence, people crying in the streets…” (Joe Smooth). At least that’s the optimistic view I’m taking given the young people I have encountered both at #DFW19 and on the streets of Chicago.

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The Road to Normal (in particular the road back from Normal)

206 S. Jefferson Street, Chicago. The Warehouse. Pilgrimage (is that the right word?).

As someone who never really liked The Hacienda, Manchester, because it always seemed too aggressive (and probably too male???), but who can walk past the old site any time I please, I am beside myself with excitement at the prospect of being able to visit the site of The Warehouse in Chicago on Sunday 30thJune 2019 (driving back to ORD from Normal, with a few hours to spare (post DFW19)). I have already emailed the legal firm that resides at the premises to see if I can get any information about the state of the building, and whether there is actually anything to see when I get there – a commemorative plaque, or something similar?

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For me, it will be akin to the sporadic visits I pay to Sylvia Plath’s grave in Heptonstall – a form of worship, and just something I’m compelled to do without quite knowing why (or even knowing what to do when I get there). In my head, the visit to the site of The Warehouse will involve being able to park directly outside, selecting an appropriate song from my playlist (at this point in time that song will be Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ (but then again I’ll probably also have to play Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Move Your Body,’ as it would be rude not to (and probably also Jaime Principle’s ‘Your Love’))), and leaning against the car with headphones on for however long it takes for the song(s) to play, then I’ll maybe try to find a place for coffee, so I can sit and reflect on what this club meant to my life growing up as a teenager in a relatively down-trodden (certainly at the time) Northern ex-mining town. Notably, it will be the way that, unknown to me at the time, ‘black and Latino LGTBQ+ communities’ affected my white, working-class existence in ways that are truly immeasurable. Long shot this, because this is not the most widely read blog, but I’d be super keen to meet anyone who actually set foot inside The Warehouse – I’d buy you a coffee and probably a cake, so…

As a side note, it’s funny that some of the most profound feelings can be found in the most innocuous looking places.

 


Pondering Courtney Love #1

Title: Courtney Love and Hole: Reflecting Contemporary Strains in “Gender” Relations

Opening question: How is it that Courtney Love, via the Hole era or any other for that matter, is not celebrated for her musical talent the same as artists such as Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Patti Smith, Prince, and many others?

Added controversy: Courtney Love suffers at the hands of the media and the public alike because she is a woman, and precisely because she smashes societally enforced boundaries that try to dictate how a woman should “be,” “act,” and/or “behave.” The sort of misogyny that did for Yoko Ono (effectively pinning all the blame on her for what happened with The Beatles and Lennon, and never being truly recognised as the artist she is, that sort of stuff) is a factor, where men beat up on women (metaphorically in this instance) because they’re doing stuff that “boys are supposed to do” (Courtney is as good in this respect as any Iggy Pop, David Bowie, or Ozzy Osbourne, for example). But we can also factor in a sort of lazy/tired misogyny that feeds through to those you wouldn’t necessarily think would be capable of misogynistic ways – basically, other women who adopt the attitude of “she’s a bitch/whore/slut/etc.,” which is unfortunate but is a fact of life.

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Principle argument: The first three Hole albums are as good as any produced by any other artist(s), either living or dead. Courtney Love’s voice is as powerful and raw as Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Thom Yorke, and Amy Winehouse, respectively. Her lyrics are on a par with Lennon/McCartney (not a fan of The Beatles but am aware they are credited with good writing). Women who swear, fight, contradict themselves, do drugs, and are open about sex, for example, are punished in ways that men are not: think Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Axel Rose, and so on, in order to recognise the hypocrisy here.

Parting shot: If Courtney Love had done what she’s done in a man’s body she’d be lauded like a Lead Belly, a Lennon, a McCartney, a Franklin, a Van Morrison, a Jagger, maybe even a Dylan.

And extra bit (for free): The Slits also suffer in the same way as Courtney Love, and for pretty much the same reasons, though the circumstances are different.


Paul Weller or Paul Mason, today’s hero?

Just how disappointing it is to realise that your childhood hero has capitulated under the weight of capitalism? Very. Quibbling over royalties w/r/t to The Jam, cashing in on advertisements of late, and generally kicking back and enjoying the good life, venerated by all manner of younger artist, just seems crass.

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Just who is the 5 O’Clock hero? Well, it’s not Weller… I’d hang my hat on it being Mason, a working class man who sticks to the very principles of the working classes.


Falsity, Never a Good Thing

Just finished watching, quite by accident, a rerun of Top of the Pops 1985, and if anyone ever says, “ooh, they should bring that back,” tell them to f*** off. Watching people mime to the words they’ve written is just sickening and indicative of the stupidity of the human race, particularly in post-industrial nations, where we’ll watch s*** like that, and other, more contemporary rubbish whilst ignoring the disparity that exists in the world.

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Popular culture wants you to be stupid. Try not to live up to expectations…


More on @ArianaGrande’s Thoughts on the Objectification of Women

A quick look back at Ben Shapiro’s comments on Ariana Grande’s Twitter outburst shows us the extent to which rape culture rhetoric dominates seemingly innocuous comments. Take Mr. Shapiro’s piece, written for The Daily Wire. It’s not overly long. It’s not massively critical of Ms. Grande. It kind of makes a point that you might agree with – until you stop to think about what it is that he’s actually saying.

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In a nutshell, Mr. Shapiro sees Ms. Grande equally responsible for the objectification of women as the young man Ms. Grande complained about w/r/t the old “hitting that” comment. Mr. Shapiro voices his concerns over the objectification of women, and points out that this is a bad thing that should not happen – all good stuff, you’d think. However, Mr. Shapiro makes plain his feelings on Ariana Grande’s conduct in public, starting with her Twitter account profile pic. He says that in the picture Ms. Grande is “crouching while naked,” which I’m not actually sure that she is (she actually looks like she’s wearing a one piece body suit – dancers wear them), and even if she were, you can’t see anything offensive or inappropriate for the setting in which it appears.

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Mr. Shapiro then quotes Ms. Grande’s words at length, before stating that Ms. Grande’s lyrics and those of her associates (Mac Miller) objectify women and that she should stop this behaviour. He picks up on one particular lyric that speaks of “bad girls” and that he takes that phrase as meaning “that women generally want to waive consent.” To paraphrase Ms. Grande, here: wtf. Ms. Grande’s lyrics, as a popular culture artist, means that they are never going to be all that explicit – and what exactly is wrong with someone wanting to access a bad girl persona? By bringing the consent issue to the fore, Mr. Shapiro is saying that if such women are raped then that’s their fault – and that’s exactly what rape culture rhetoric does, it justifies horrific thoughts w/r/t the treatment of women.

Next, Mr. Shapiro quotes more of Ms. Grande’s lyrics:

I’m talkin’ to ya

See you standing over there with your body

Feeling like I wanna rock with your body

And we don’t gotta think ‘bout nothin’

Then he asks: “Is the crude and ugly phrase “hitting that” a good deal worse than this description of a sexual relationship with no emotional connection?” Now, the four lines could actually be interpreted in quite an innocent way. There’s nothing overtly sexual about the lines, but Mr. Shapiro chooses to treat them as such. He also finishes by stating that Ms. Grande’s “art degrades women by objectifying them and contributes to a culture of objectification that she rightly opposes when it’s applied to her.”

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Mr. Shapiro’s response to Ms. Grande’s feelings of being objectified as a woman is poorly thought out, lacks evidence, and uses common clichés to do with how a woman should behave and present herself to the world. Mr. Shapiro does not wish women to be objectified, but he’d kind of like it if they just stopped dressing so provocatively, and waiving their consent and all. The History of Stupidity prospers at Mr. Shapiro’s keyboard, sadly.


(Still) Troubled by #MrRobot and the #Infinite Loop of Insanity

On the 4th or perhaps 5th time of watching, Mr. Robot, Series 1, episodes 1-3 still do not disappoint, and so the question remains… at what point will the show start to fail its subversive underpinnings and come crashing down to reveal nothing but rubble with no sign of the essential footings required to maintain the kind of integral structure I’d once imagined was possible? (Architecture metaphor?).

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There’s just no other word for it. Subversive. That’s what it is. It’s just so subversive in its first incarnation that it’s almost impossible to fail to notice its subversiveness. So, what went wrong with Series 2.0? A question I’ve been grappling with all summer, and until attending a Rosi Braidotti masterclass I’d imagined I’d be struggling with such a question a good while longer.

But now a glimmer of hope.

Perhaps there’s a need to apply Deleuzian principles in order to make sense of the shift from subversiveness to a kind of style over substance? But, better check back later when more reading has been done…


Cassettes & @PeterDoherty – How Very 1970s

Following on from the post, “If Technology is All That, What’s Going On With the #Vinyl Revival?,” there follows the news that new music is being put down on cassette format. Now, you’d have thought that cassette was also deader than dead, as was previously thought of our old friend vinyl, yet here we are with none other than Peter Doherty producing a cassette version of his new solo album, Hamburg Demonstrations.

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If this trend carries on, where do we end up, when at one end of the spectrum we have the Musk/TESLA guy banging on about the colonisation of Mars (and let’s hope to goodness that he’s using colonialism in a progressive way), and at the other we have cassette players coming back into vogue?


(Still) Troubled by Mr. Robot_2.0 – #MrRobotFinale

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<title>(Still) Troubled by Mr. Robot_2.0 – #MrRobotFinale</title>

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<p>Not as taken with season 2 as with season

Not sure if season 3 will be worth the wait

Feels like the potential for subversiveness is being eroded

Looks, feels, and sounds too much like a good video game (thinking GTA)

Drawing on well-worn tropes of character development feels fake

Going a bit too David Lynchy but not as raw as Lynchy-winchy

Is “star” involvement with production getting in the way

It seems that way</p>

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(Still) Troubled by Mr. Robot_2.0 – Sitcoms #MrRobot #HackingRobot

Do any of us still watch sitcoms in the way that we used to (probably a question for the over 40s this one)? The opening to episode 6 of Mr. Robot, “m4ster-s1ave.aes,” gave us an Elliot-esque 80s/90s-sitcom dream sequence as its opener, full of canned laughter and knowing winks to the camera, in a car that for the large part has film-stock scenery whizzing by in the background. Now, there’s not necessarily anything groundbreaking about this because we’ve seen it before, but Mr. Robot yet again seems to want us to become hyper-aware of our situation in the world, where we realise the ways in which we are “let in on the joke” of TV shows, etc., even though the real joke should be that we’re all sitting and staring goggle-eyed at a screen for however many hours a day (think Cable Guy finale).

And that’s the troubling thing about Mr. Robot. For all that it wants us to be in on the joke, and yes, it must be stressed that Mr. Robot isn’t actually a sitcom, we’re still expected to knuckle down, stare unblinkingly at the screen, and soak up all the tension from scenes such as Angela’s attempts to hack the FBI at Darlene’s request. At what point do we as the viewing public turn round and refuse to be entertained in this way – and is that what episode 6 is pointing towards?

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(Still) Troubled by Mr. Robot_2.0 – Symbolism #MrRobot #HackingRobot

Episode four of Mr. Robot, Season Two, provides a piece of symbolism that may or may not be pointing towards one of the greatest unexplained, and largely unreported, events of the 21st Century. It is hard to say whether it is, or whether it isn’t, because the show is quite confusing with respect to the messages it sends out (see most of the previous Mr. Robot posts for an expansion of this thought).

The show probably gets away with this very piece of symbolism because it takes place during a dream sequence, and so, the weird, dreamy kind of stuff taking place perhaps softens the effect. But still. To have a high-rise building suddenly collapse in free-fall, in New York of all places, seems kind of bizarre, and it must have crossed the producers’ minds that adding such a scene references the collapse of World Trade Center 7.

WTC7 is rarely mentioned. So much so, that there is even a campaign to raise awareness of its collapse. Now, whether you’re into “conspiracy” theories or not is beside the point. A skyscraper collapses at around 49:40 of episode four. It suffers no damage. It just collapses in free-fall. When you see it you think: demolition. Given that it is widely recognised that buildings do not just collapse in such a manner, and that WTC7 is believed to be the only building to have ever done so, in New York on 11th September 2001, are the producers directly referencing this event, or is it just a coincidence?

There is probably a whole range of possibilities here. But here are two that I grapple with on an almost daily basis.

  1. Mr. Robot is a vehicle for expressing subversive thought, and it speaks to those who long for an alternative to the present capitalist system of Western industrialised nations. Referencing WTC7 in this way is a reminder to not believe the mass media, and to recognise the ways in which it manipulates current events to fit with the propaganda of the dominant ideology (or something like that).
  2. Mr. Robot wants its viewers to believe the above statement. Because most viewers stream the show as and when they choose, there is a record of those viewers (those who are meant to lean towards the sentiments of statement A). Here, there is the potential for a Minority Report kind of tactic – recognise those with conspiracist/anarchist/revolutionist/whatever leanings, and monitor them (or worse).

Or it could just be a TV show, and there’s nothing more to say than that.


Awesome #WonderWoman @GalGadot One-Liners #3

#3 (Wonder Woman asks: What is a secretary? The response to this is: I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do.)

Well, where I’m from that’s called slavery.

Click the images to view Wonder Woman (2017) trailer via YouTube.


Awesome #Wonder Woman @GalGadot One-Liners #2

#2 (When told: I can’t let you do this.)

What I do is not up to you.

Click the images to view Wonder Woman (2017) trailer via YouTube.


Awesome #WonderWoman @GalGadot One-Liners #1

#1 (In response to the question: Have you never met a man before, but what about your father?)

I had no father, I was brought to life by Zeus.

 

(Followed by the response: Well, that’s neat.)

Click the images to view Wonder Woman (2017) trailer via YouTube.


(Still) Troubled by Mr. Robot_2.0 #MrRobot #HackingRobot

So, where to begin with this one? For those interested, there are previous posts that cover Mr. Robot Season One and such things as metaphors and references; White Rose; is any of it real?; and the end of consumer-debt society.

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Well, the trailer is out and things are set to get darker in the world of Mr. Robot, and Sam Esmail seems to have full control of his project, but the one thing that is still being wrestled with, and that has not fully been shaken off since first binge-watching season one, is: at what point will Mr. Robot and its anarchic sensibility be corrupted by the inner-workings of a “Hollywood” system that rarely engages with such subversive forms of fiction, or is there scope to consider that the eventual, and perhaps unintentional outcome of the show will be a nationwide, perhaps even part-global raising of the collective state of consciousness to such an extent that people will start to wake up to the fallacies (freedom (generally), autonomy, the capitalist model and “democracy” as fundamentally linked, and so on…) of contemporary life in, primarily, post-industrial cultures?

Or is there nothing more to it than that it’s just another form of contemporary media that keeps us glued, zombie-like, to our screens? Surely not…

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The Mystique/X-Men/VAW Conundrum

Contains major X-Men: Apocalypse spoilers…

There’s a really interesting thread running on Goodreads right now w/r/t the recent billboard advertisement showing X-Men Apocalypse‘s Mystique being held by the throat. Its title is: Is the Marvel “Apocalypse” movie poster VAW [Violence Against Women]?

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And although interesting, the thread soon turns into the usual kind of slanging match: “I’m right,” “No, I’m right, you’re wrong,” “No, you’re wrong, I’m right, and you’re a moron.” It goes on, ad infinitum

The crux of the matter turns on whether the image promotes Violence Against Women, or whether it is merely “fantasy violence.” Depending on which side you pull towards will probably reflect your sensibilities w/r/t notions of gender inequality and stuff like that.

However, what is missing from the thread (and I’m considering posting something on there, but am hesitant because of the backlash I envisage) is a discussion of Mystique (a.k.a. Raven Darkholme) and the fact that Mystique is a mutant and can therefore adopt any guise – male, female, or anything else of their choosing (using non-gendered pronouns reflect the fact that I view Mystique as more fluid w/r/t the concept of gender – here’s a really great video kind of on that subject, IYI).

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In X-Men 2, for example, Mystique kicks Wolverine’s ass good and proper, both in the guise of Wolverine and also in Mystique’s traditional blue get-up. Mystique kicks Wolverine in the balls, properly getting his mad up, and then leaves him panned out on the floor after kung-fu kicking him in the head. In this particular example do we view this as Violence Against Men, Violence Against Women, just plain Violence, or Fantasy Violence?

Basically, there are two points I’m trying to make.

  1. I’m not so sure that we can move to refer to Mystique as a woman, unproblematically. Mystique is a mutation, just like all the other X-Men. The fact that Mystique is blue kind of hints that Mystique’s not predominantly human – so how can Mystique definitively be called a woman (especially when Mystique spends time in many other guises)? Mystique’s appearance as a Jennifer Lawrence-type-woman is just another disguise.
  2. Mystique is ultra-violent. Mystique just doesn’t respond with violence if violence is shown. Mystique oozes violence, and will kick anyone’s ass at the drop of a hat. So, if you’re an advocate of violence, as Mystique most definitely is, aren’t you more likely to be subjected to further violence? And, having not seen the film but I’ll take a wild stab at this, doesn’t Mystique willingly take on the big monster thing that ends up grabbing Mystique by the neck? And, so I’ve heard, doesn’t Jean Grey (a human woman who also happens to be a bit mutanty) literally obliterate the monster in the end?

Just because film studios are archaic and can’t get past binary thinking, does that mean we have to sink to their level?


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%?


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