Category Archives: Popular Culture

(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%?


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)?


Shaun Ryder, Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee, and E – The Story of Indie

It is worth pausing over a significant element of The Story of Indie, Part Three – Into the Mainstream. The programme begins by looking at the influence of “Acid House” on the indie music scene, and a most interesting aspect of this is the connection that exists between The Happy Mondays and Primal Scream. Alan McGee (Creation Records) and Shaun Ryder (The Happy Mondays) each discuss the effect that the scene had on how music evolved around the early 90s, and both, interviewed separately, seem to recall certain events in a manner most consistent with what we would call the “truth.”

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Anyone with knowledge of Primal Scream’s music prior to the release of Screamadelica will recognise that the band’s third album was a radical departure from what went before, and Ryder and McGee claim that Ecstasy is at the root of the band’s shift in style. The story goes that McGee and Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) went to The Hacienda to watch The Happy Mondays play, and whilst there, under the advice of Ryder, took Ecstasy for the first time. The result of Gillespie’s exposure to E was to be life-changing, for, according to McGee, Gillespie’s musical focus shifted so significantly that within a month of taking the drug the band were heading in a completely new direction, artistically, fusing acid house principles with their rock heritage – and Screamadelica was born.

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This very small aspect of The Story of Indie‘s third and final episode is notable in that it offers the story of Primal Scream’s creative evolution without the usual negative propaganda that accompanies stories involving the use of drugs. There are complications that arise from the use of illegal drugs, and there are documented cases of death, violence, and exploitation arising from the use of illegal drugs that no one would wish to deny, but the positive aspects of illegal drugs are rarely discussed and/or promoted in the way that they are here by Ryder and McGee. Screamadelica would not have been made possible were it not for Ecstasy, and isn’t the world a better place for it?

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Stronger than Death

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The BBC documentary, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death, was mind-blowingly good save for one small flaw made possible by ever-burgeoning improvements in technology. The flaw in question lies with the programme’s relentless use of drone cameras. At every opportunity it seems that the director/producer (or whoever else is responsible for such things) requested that every location used in the documentary be filmed by drone. Once or twice might have been okay, but not every time there’s outside footage: Ted Hughes’ childhood home in Mytholmroyd, Cambridge University, Heptonstall churchyard, and various other “Yorkshire shots” involving industrial chimneys (and if you’re thinking of flying a drone over such a chimney the very least you should do is fly over it in a precise manner so that you get a shot right down inside the chimney, not just a slightly skewed view of it).

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Anyway, that being said, the rest of the documentary was flawless. The many contributors added insight to Hughes’ life, and Frieda Hughes‘ decision to speak about her parents’ relationship for the first time in public was somewhat moving, and needs no further comment as enough has been said over the years – Ms. Hughes should be able to have her say at last without critics picking her, or her words, apart. So, for those with an interest in Ted Hughes and/or Sylvia Plath’s works, and/or poetry in general, this documentary is a must – but be warned: drone cameras in use.


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