High-Tech Warfare: Dehumanizing The Enemy

Another sightings post, another episode of Black Mirror. This semester I had the pleasure of reading one of the longest books I’ve ever read, War and Peace for my Russian Studies course. The majority of the book takes place during the Napoleonic War between Russia and France. One of the most prevalent themes in this book was the dehumanization of the enemy in times of war. To speak about this topic, Dr. Denham came to visit our class. One of the most prevalent things in all war novels is the dehumanization of the enemy by the government. From epics to propaganda posters to media hysteria today, dehumanizing the enemy has been one of the most convincing ways to get humans to kill each other. This Black Mirror episode takes dehumanizing the enemy to a whole different level.

The episode starts with a protagonist named Stripe who is an American soldier deployed in Denmark to eradicate mutated humans called “roaches.” He, like all the other soldiers have a neural implant MAAS that enhances senses and processes data via augmented reality…it also gives sex dreams while sleeping. Stripe and his crew are sent to a remote village to hunt for roaches.

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Above is a picture of what the Stripe viewed the roaches as. After an altercation with a roach, Stripe was flashed by an LED device and the roach escaped. The device causes damage to Stripe’s MAAS implant yet both the doctor and the psychologist clear him for another mission. At another mission he sees his crew killing not roaches but actual humans. He flees with a woman and her child who are technically roaches. The device broke his MAAS implant and allowed him to see the roaches as they are-humans. Roaches are actually the victims of an ethnic cleansing that were believed to be genetically inferior. MAAS alters the soldiers perceptions and views the roaches as ugly zombie like creatures to continue the prejudice and the propaganda of genetically inferior humans. After his crew mates find him and kill the woman, he is sent to military prison. While in prison, the military personnel explain to him what MAAS truly is and playback his consent that has been wiped off his memory and killings of the roaches-now as ordinary humans. He consents to a second memory wipe and is discharged.

What makes this episode interesting and terrifying is that the government and media use the same ploys to encourage to kill. Whenever a horrible atrocity occurs in United States, one of the first questions asked by the media is whether the perpetrator is Muslim. Donald Trump for instance uses awful and sweeping rhetoric that plays into this propaganda. Phrases such as “Islam hates us,” or “Bad Hombres,” and the ever famous “They’re rapists,” dehumanize certain groups of people that allows for war and violence against them. The other interesting part about this episode is the commentary of drone bombings. Technology has improved many parts of our lives, yes, but it also found better and faster ways to kill at a huge rate. MAAS, like drones do not see the enemy as humans but rather as targets to be eliminated without remorse. However, I truly hope humanity has learned it’s lesson from attempted ethnic cleansing of the past and I hope this episode can teach us to use technology for life rather than death.

Kill All The Humans: Plague Inc.

After reading Station Eleven, I became almost obsessed with an iPhone game called Plague Inc. The instructions are simple enough- you are a disease that seeks to infect and kill all the humans on earth. You get to choose your plague : bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, prion, nano-virus or a bio-weapon. Each plague type has different features and a different strategy to how you  will infect and eradicate all of humanity.

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For my first plague, I chose the virus as a “rapidly mutating pathogen which is extremely hard to control” sounded pretty fun. For the name of my virus, I chose “Davidson Bubble,” as that was the most infectious thing I could think of. The next step for me was to decide where to put my virus. The general rule of thumb is in a poorer country in the southern hemisphere, thus India was the perfect place for me. The game progresses as you infect more people you gain “DNA” points in which you can redeem to mutate your plague. You can choose to acquire symptoms from a runny nose to full on organ failure or you can make it so that livestock or rats can carry and transmit your disease. Other notable abilities include drug, heat or cold resistance. As you infect more people, scientists will catch on to the disease and a race to find a cure will start. As the plague, you have to carefully balance your symptoms and abilities to avoid detection and combat the cure. What makes this game even more interesting is the real-life scenarios that can impact your plague. Countries for instance will close their air and naval ports, stop migration and even eventually  collapse into chaos.

What makes this game so interesting is the very real life scenarios and parallels to the Georgia flu. After eliminating most of the humans, chaos sets in that allows for people like The Prophet to take control. There is no order, no government and other “no mores” that we discussed in class. What makes this game problematic is that you are the plague, and the goal is to eradicate all humans. Yes, it’s just a game but this game makes light of actual scary diseases and plagues of our history. But if you’re feeling evil today, Plague Inc. is the perfect catharsis for you.

(Cheating) Death in the Digital Age

During the course of our class we talked about the ways in which Death was seen in the Digital Age, how people reacted to it, and how it was portrayed in novels. However, one subject that we never discussed in depth is the attempt to cheat death in this innovative digital age. It seems that now more than ever we have the technology , or at least think we do, to cheat our eventual fate and add a few more years to our timeline. This is an area that the Health Nucleus of San Diego thinks they can thrive in.

The Nucleus, in association with Human Longevity Inc. is offering a check up that promises to cheat premature death in the coming years. The check up consists of an initial eight hours of screening for diseases, followed up with a routine genome sequencing procedure and in-depth blood analysis. These tests are done in order to check for any chemicals or pre-existing conditions in the person’s genes. Through these processes, diseases that may cause health problems are easily found and treatment begins. The company’s founder, Dr. Craig Venter claims that they have an algorithm that can predict alzheimer’s disease twenty years early. More than five hundred people have signed up, but not everyone is  a believer of the program. Dr. Rita Redberg believes attesting healthy patients is not an ethical venture.She believes that this testing is taking advantage of people’s constant worries concerning death.

 

Human Longevity, Inc. This is the company behind this new health initiative.

I personally think that this venture is highly interesting, although I do not agree with its end goal. If this corporation truly has found a method to detect Alzheimer’s Disease early, then that is a HUGE medical development. This gives me hope that one day we may find cures for cancer and other terminal illnesses. On the other hand, I do not agree with the principle of people extending their lives on this planet any longer than is meant to be. I personally think that everything happens for a reason, but going out of your way to actively cheat death is playing  God , if you believe that he exists. What is the benefit of living longer? Death is a very scary thing to process, but it happens to everyone. We all have a certain expiration date, and we all end up in the same state. What is the point of delaying that process a few years? I’m not sure I would be willing to hand over exhorbitant $25,000 fee.

I do question the ulterior motives of the company, sharing the feelings that Dr. Redberg states. This program seems like a way to make money off of those who are obsessed with death, and will do anything to make sure they don’t die. I’m sure if you’re one of those people who is costly worrying about dying and someone offers you a scientific way to live longer, this choice is an easy one. I also believe that this program could take advantage of hypochondriacs. Once again, people who worry about death are most likely to buy into this program. I can imagine a scenario where someone is told that they will eventually have a death causing disease that has no cure. This person has just spent a fourth of one-hundred thousand dollars to be told that they will, and that there is no way to cure their disease. In some ways, this in-depth screening is not equal for all.

I do wonder what this check up will mean for the future of medicine and technology. The company has stated that they will attempt a lower cost exam during a trial run to see the results. Will this mean that these check up could eventually lead science towards finding a solution to previously deathly illnesses. Or will this development ensure that high quality health coverage is limited inly to those who can afford it? Only the future can tell.

 

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Source:

www.cbsnews.com/news/human-longevity-inc-slow-down-aging-cheat-death/

 

Haunting and Heaven’s Gate

I recently watched a documentary on the Heaven’s Gate cult and resulting mass suicide incident and felt that it had a lot of relation to this course. I hadn’t realized how related to the digital age the cult was, with their main source of income coming from web design jobs which was an up-and-coming field at the time. Additionally there was a lot of found footage sourced from videos made by the cult itself including a “farewell video”, essentially a video suicide note, and instructional videos made by the cult’s leader Marshall Applewhite. To me this was heavily reminiscent of the “haunting” we discussed earlier in the semester and definitely is more on the “ghostly” side of things. In a way, the videos almost make me feel as though Applewhite’s “advancement” beyond humanity was consummated by the recording of the instructional videos; forever preserving his ideology, personality and message in a digital format. Because of how unnerving his eyes and general mannerisms are in the video it seems haunting even if you’re unaware of his death, but knowing that he’s now dead as well as knowing the circumstances of his suicide make the videos spine-chillingly unnerving to watch. I had first seen clips from the Heaven’s Gate Applewhite tapes when I watched the postmodern audiovisual short film/album combo Duality released by super-producer Flying Lotus under his villainous rap moniker, Captain Murphy. In the context of an artwork exploring the nature of cults and mentality of cult leaders the video almost seemed inconsequential compared to when I viewed it in the context of the reality that is the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. The sense of self-awareness that the album gave the clip was removed completely when I watched it in its natural context and it seemed infinitely more unnerving, reminding me of how much context can change the “haunted” nature of a digital media artifact.

From Cyborgs to Cryonics

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Head in the Cloud?” about the technology scientists are working on to upload people’s brain memory to a cloud after they die, by converting human brains to code which can run on machines. I discussed the idea of hacking death, and concluded with the question of whether humans can actually transcend death through their brain data living on – I was skeptical that a human being could be reduced to simply a database of memories.

More recently, though, I found another article on physically preserving people after they die through cryonics – the science of preserving people through sub-frozen temperatures in the hope that some time in the future, they can be brought back to life. The headline reads, “Floating in a tank of liquid nitrogen, unable to control our destiny, is very unappealing. But it’s much more appealing than being nibbled on by worms and bacteria.” Alcor Life Extension Foundation is a freezing center dedicated to making this practice available to the public. More than 1,100 people, referred to as “cryonauts,” have committed to being frozen, and 149 heads and bodies of people from around the world are currently stored at its center in Scottsdale, Arizona. The cost for this procedure? $80,000 for preserving just the head, and $200,000 for preserving the entire body. You can even freeze your pets!

Alcor: where “cyronauts” are stored in liquid nitrogen at 300 degrees below zero.

One aspect of the article I found particularly interesting was its description of the timeline of the science of preserving life, drawing cryonics all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, who had hopes of embalming people in the future. When I think about how drastically technology has progressed within very recent years, and how many technological predictions have recently come true (i.e. self-driving cars available to the masses), the idea of “immortalization” in the future doesn’t seem that far of a reach to me. Throughout the semester, we’ve discussed how cultural perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding death have evolved over time (for instance, how death moved from the public sphere to the private sphere). However, the emergence of companies like Alcor shakes things up a bit further. With the advancement of cryonics, technology can change the very way we die – or, potentially, don’t.

Article: www.vice.com/en_us/article/would-you-pay-dollar80000-to-freeze-your-head-if-it-meant-you-had-a-second-shot-at-life 

Quirky Funerals

While coming up with our own traditional death ‘systems” and post-modern/digital death “systems” in class, I began to wonder about what other sorts of wacky death traditions people have.

Although we came up with some gosh darn wacko potential startup companies in class (shoutout to our plant a corpse company!), these definitely took the stakes and raised them even higher…

Funerals don’t necessarily have to be somber events. These memorials and traditions are heavy on quirk.

1. The last hurrah

Miriam Banks was the life of the party—even at her own funeral. When she passed away in June, her daughters honored her memory by recreating apart scenef amiliar to friends and loved ones. Instead of a coffin, the deceased sat at a table with a cigarette in her hand and her favorite beer and whiskey in front of her.

2. Highway to heaven

Billy Standley was so fond of his 1967 Electra Glide cruiser that he spent the last years of his life planning his burial on the motorcycle. When the fateful day finally arrived, a team of five embalmers prepared Standley for his final ride, mounting his body on the bike and dressing him in leather biking gear and a helmet. He led the procession to the cemetery.

3. Go out with a bump and grind

In Taiwan, some people hire strippers to appease wandering spirits and liven up the occasion. The dancers stay somewhat modestly dressed, but they are not shy about jumping on caskets or giving mourners lap dances.

4. Funeral Processions in New Orleans

In New Orleans, the dead go out in style with some jazz, dancing, and a procession that lasts into the evening.

5. The end of the road

George Swanson was buried with his Corvette in 1994. Car enthusiasts might find the Corvette’s death more tragic—the car only had 27,000 miles on its odometer.

6. The #Funeral Live Tweet

When publicist and Twitter addict Michael O’Connor Clarke died of cancer, his friend Mathew Ingram shared an online play-by-play of the memorial service. Ingram lost a few followers along the way, but Clarke’s family in Ireland appreciated the gesture.

Works Cited

Green, Amanda. “12 Strange Funerals and Funeral Traditions.” Mental Floss. N.p., 11 Jan. 2016. Web.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted. 

Comedic Scary Movies

Brophy describes the necessary balance in horror films between comedy and horror stating:

“It is humour that remains one of the major features of the contemporary Horror film, especially if used as the undercutting agent to counter-balance its more horrific moments. The humour is not usually well-crafted but mostly perverse and/or tasteless, so much so that often the humour might be horrific while the horror might be humorous,” (29).

According to Pinedo, if the movie incorporates too much humour, then it creates a parody. On the other hand, if the movie incorporates too much terror, then it is a form of terrorism, (29). Scary movies need humour in order to balance it out and make the movie more appealing to the audience. Who would want to sit in a two hour film of pure, unadulterated terror? A masochists, probably, but the average movie goer would most likely not appreciate it.

Some films use humour unintentionally… Examples of these types of movies can be found by visiting this brilliatn list of 17 unintentionally hilarious moments in horror films.

One example that immediately came to mind is this scene from the 80s icon horror movie, Friday the 13th. Although this movie is a horror icon, there are so many unbelievable and drawn out moments that make it fun to watch. Check out this scene below to see what I mean:

Maybe the scene in the original movie didn’t look and sound exactly like this, but boy was that lady running for a long time.

Some movies take it too far and intentionally turn into parody. These include:

And my personal favourite…

“Watching a horror film is, like riding a roller coaster, a collective experience. Horror expressly plays on the physical and emotional responses of the audience. It draws screams, nervous gasps, and laughter. Horror elicits audience rebukes and warnings addressed to narrative characters (‘Don’t go in there’), or about narrative characters (‘Heeeeere’s Jason’). A Gary Larson cartoon captures this dynamic: An audience of deer is watching a film in which a deer character approaches a door over which hangs a mounted deer trophy. The audience cringes and one member cries out, ‘Don’t go in there!'”

Sean of the Dead, as well as the other movies apart of this end-of-the-world trilogy, intentionally mix in more humour than horror to help make the film stand out. Don’t misunderstand – there are so many scenes in this movie that are chilling. The zombies are disgusting, a man gets his stomach ripped open on screen, and the ending makes you tear up a bit. . . but man, is this movie hilarious! There is a slight tip in the scales towards comedy, but this movie successfully finds a way to add in just the right amount of horror, emotional turmoil, and empathy to make it one of my favourite movies ever. You find yourself saying things like, “You IDIOT, look around you! It’s the god damn Apocalypse!” And, of course, all of this is in vain… You have to wait for this slow-witted, well-intentioning moron to figure it all out on his own. It’s heart warming, really.

There is a deliberate sense of hypermediacy in movies that fit under the horror comedy drama. The movie is aware of what the audience is expecting and delivers it with a twist of humour. The creators of Sean of the Dead, who are the main actor and his best friend, knew what audiences expected while watching a horror movie. They played off of this “insider knowledge” and manipulated it to put together a funny horror movie.

 

Works Cited

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the   Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video48.1/2 (1996): 17-31.

Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty is one of my new favourite YouTubers of all time. Doughty is a mortician who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to normalising death and exploring the myths and misconceptions surrounding death in Western cultures.

After releasing a Buzzfeed video discussing these myths and misconceptions, Doughty presented a TedTalk on the same subject.

For example, Doughty debunks the myth that dead bodies are contagious and potentially harmful to the living.  Doughty claims that this is completely false; our detachment from death is what led to this sort of problematic thinking. In fact, in a remote village in Indonesia, the families mummify the dead and hang out with the corpse for years to come. They take the corpse outside, bring it to breakfast, and tuck it in at night in bed with the kids. Families and friends bring the corpse snacks and talk to the corpse, because they believe that the corpse appreciates the offer and can hear the living. These corpses still function as solid members of the family and the community.

This level of intimacy with the dead, however, is non-existent in the West. The West has a broken relationship with death, which according to Doughty is a new phenomenon that occurred within the past century. In the past one hundred years, we have outsourced death and transferred the rituals from the hands of the family to the hands of professionals. Nowadays, people are either buried or they are cremated.

Even talking about death has become a sort of taboo reminiscent of the sex taboo in the earlier centuries. The trending Buzzfeed comments went along the lines of:

“I’m pretty open minded, but this is so weird”

“This girl really creeped me out”

“You’d be crazy to play with a dead person like a doll. Seriously, that lady needs to see a psychiatrist.”

According to Doughty the shocking part isn’t the troll-nature of these commenters or that people believe these things. The shocking part is just how quickly culture changes. This sentiment brings to mind the photographs we looked at in class that people would take with their dead loved ones. People wanted to remember their loved ones and paid extra money to have some proof of their fleeting existence. Even then, wakes were held in the privacy of the home. To us, it seemed weird and unsettling, but to those families it was meaningful and completely natural.

Doughty states that the death care industry is a multimillion dollar corporation that is not interested is handing the reigns back to families. To help this sink in, imagine just for a moment how painfully obscure and unnatural our funerals have become.

For example, let’s investigate chemical embalmment. Chemical embalmment swells up the skin and makes it look puffy and wax-like. All of the insides are hardened and nothing “natural” is left. The body being buried is more of a shell of the person, with the outside fully intact, while the insides are extracted and destroyed. Furthermore, the corpse is slathered with a full face of make-up and buried in an expensive article of clothing. Natural corpses, on the other hand, don’t exactly look as if they are asleep – they look dead. Still, they look natural. There is no painful shade of coral on your dead uncle’s lips combined with a tacky combover and veneers.

The most important message I took away from this TedTalk is to take the time to sit with the deceased and look after them. If someone I love passes away, then I want to be able to respect their body and take care of them on my own. This is someone who is important – not someone who is meant to be immediately carted to the funeral home or to the oven.

 

Cyber-bullying continues after the death of a Texas teen. . .

Brandy Vela

Brandy Vela, 18 year old victim from Texas

Brandy Vela’s bedroom is covered in Post-it notes. “You will always own a piece of my heart,” says one. “You will never be forgotten,” says another.

Vela committed suicide by putting a gun to her chest while her family begged her not to.

Cyberbullying

Brandy’s sister, Jackie, says the teen had always been mercilessly bullied online for her weight, but the cyberbullying eventually gained more momentum. “People would make up fake Facebook accounts and they would message her and she wouldn’t respond and they would still come at her,” Jackie said. “They would say really, really mean things like, ‘Why are you still here?’ They would call her fat and ugly. She was beautiful, absolutely beautiful; the only thing people could find to pick on her was her weight.”
Jackie says her sister changed her phone number and reported the bullying to police, but was told they couldn’t help her. Brandy also reported these instances of harassment to her high school, but the investigations led to nowhere. “They couldn’t do anything because [the suspects] used an app and it wasn’t traceable and they couldn’t do something until something happened, like they fight,” Jackie said.
Even when the Facebook pages were deleted after they reported them, it was just a matter of days before a new one was created. The profiles had Brandy’s name and photo and said she would “offer sex for free,” Jackie says.

 

“They would say, ‘I’m a slut and I’m a hoe. Anybody hit me up,’ ” Jackie explains. “It also had her phone number, so she would get text messages and phone calls all the time. It kept her up at night.”

Death

Brandy Vela sent a cryptic message to her sister one night, and her sister raced home with their mother and father to see what was going on. As soon as they arrived, they found Brandy with a gun pointed towards her chest crying and apologising for what she was about to do. The family tried to convince Brandy to put the gun down to no avail. Brandy was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Memorial Gone Wrong

While the family grieved their loss, they say bogus Facebook accounts of the high school senior continued to crop up online. One of the profiles showed guns on a photo of her, while another had a picture of the teen, who was bullied for her weight, as a pig.

“Two days after her funeral, somebody opened up a social media page in her name,” father Paul Vela said. “And people thought the family did it, so it started with people putting sincere condolences. After a few minutes, either four people or the same person posting four times said some things harassing Brandy about being a big fat cow, writing ‘you finally did it’ with a picture of a gun, writing ‘you’re a coward,’ ‘you should have done this a long time ago,’ some really horrific things.”

One of the posts shows a smiling Brandy with the words “my face when you shoot yourself in front of your family.” Another post showed a stick figure holding a gun with the words, “oops am I dead?”

The pages were removed after the family complained to Facebook, but authorities have not been able to determine who was behind the bullying.

I thought of this as a sightings post, because we came across commenting trolls while reading about online memorials. This is an extreme example of that where a person connected to the deceased bullied a girl to the point where she committed suicide and continued to harass the family on the online memorial sites.

Aftermath

Several months later, justice was served. After intense investigation into this cyber crime, police arrested two possible perpetrators. Police say 21-year-old Andres Arturo Villagomez and 22-year-old Karinthya Sanchez Romero, both of Galveston, were behind the harassment. Villagomez was allegedly the ex-boyfriend of Brandy. Sanchez Romero was his new girlfriend.

Works Cited

Hassan, Carma. “Bullied Teen Kills Herself in Front of Family.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Dec. 2016. Web.

Keating, Caitlin. “Teen’s Family Reveals the Intense Bullying Before Her Suicide in Front of Them: ‘It Was Stalking’.” PEOPLE.com. Time Inc, 14 Dec. 2016. Web.

POST, JACKIE SALO NY. “Bully Victim Brandy Vela Is Still Be Trolled Online after Shooting Herself.” The Sun. The Sun, 14 Dec. 2016. Web.

Eulogy for Vine: RIP

Vine is dead. It is now exists as a glorious smattering of Vine Comps on YouTube, a digital time capsule refracting the memes, digital sensibilities and the very special way Vine content was crafted between 2013 and 2016.

Vine was a special oddball within the social media landscape. It spurred us to do the most and the be the most — #doitforthevine. It was the perfect outlet for our jumpy, hyped up attention span: 7 seconds, hit me. In 7 seconds, creators grabbed us with the weirdest, wildest, most outlandish and unexpected content. It had the feeling of being raw media while also, often, being meticulously shot and re-shot until all 7 seconds flow liked gold. Twitter bought Vine for a reported $30 million in 2012 before it even went live. But they couldn’t figure out how to monetize it, to hack dollars out of our creations, to inject it with gross advertising and sponsored content. So now Vine is dead.

Gabbie Hanna, who shared her Vine videos with 4.9 million follows, eulogized the Vine death via Twitter: “Vine being deleted is like an old friend i havent rly talked to in a while dying & even tho we werent close anymore it hurts to see them go.” 

Vine was a platform for creative, unexpected content — a place for creators to experiment outside of the commercialized bubble of YouTube or platforms heavily tied to your identity, like Snapchat and Instagram. With Vine, we could effectively become performance artists, where the social and cultural capital wasn’t tied to normative social performances (which it is, on basically, like, every other platform #normies).

In class, we spent time discussing how social media reacts when a person dies — the Facebook memorials, the popularity-ranked HeavenAddress pages. But here we can see what happens when a platform dies: we won’t be able to experience Vines like kids in 2014 got to experience Vines. But the content still circulates in YouTube compilations. The ghost of Vine — incomplete and inexact but still enough — lives on, for now.