Is AI blameworthy?

When I first opened the website for today’s reading I am a little confused about what it is about. But it doesn’t take long before I understand that it is a tragic and emotional story about humans with the wide use of technology. Before sharing my own thought about the story, I would like to sum up the narrative. The story is set in a futuristic world in which autonomous vehicles are ordinary transportations. From the fictional scholarly works Anna mentions, we may presume that the Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the autopilot cars in that world is so advanced that it learns from every human datum and is capable of “calculating” the consequences of accidents. In order words, when it comes to the dilemma which it (I am using the pronoun “it” here) will definitely kill something regardless of which choice to make, it can calculate the best outcome and act accordingly. In the story, Anna, the fictional “writer”, loses her three-year-old daughter Ursula because of the decision the vehicle-AI makes. Ursula falls in front of an autopilot car with an endangered bird, and the AI decides that the bird, which is listed as a protected animal by four Wildlife Preservations Acts, should be saved rather than the girl, thus killing her. What we read is a scholarly essay Anna writes about how autonomous vehicles are dangerous to people.

When I read it for the first time, I am sad about the hidden story and feel for Anna’s rage. However, when I read it again, I start to think about the other “protagonist” in this story – the AI. Undoubtedly, this tragic story may immediately arouse discontent and fear of AI, with the strong words “murder”, “manslaughter” and “kill” which usually refer to humans. However, does AI really have moral responsibility as a human do?

As the story is set in the future and most of the “books” cited in the text are fictional, I do not know how human-like AI is in the context (the fictional citation seems to mention that AI in that world has  consciousness, but we do not know the details.) Nevertheless, if I try to understand AI with today’s knowledge, I think AI does not have consciousness. When we talk about moral responsibility, free will is also required. Yet all the AI’s decision-making process are programmed, they do not have free will in our common sense (I am not going to go deep into the philosophical debate about free will here.) Moreover, for “murder”, the thing that commits it needs “intention”. And I do not believe that the AI intentionally kills although it can “think”.

Moreover, even if we assume that AI in the future world can be so advanced and human-like, why do human ask them to answer the question we human can’t? When you’re involved in a trolley problem, you are already in an unethical position – whatever you do or not do, you kill. There is no morally correct answer in the trolley problem for humans. And as AI is created by human and learns from human culture, why should we expect them to give a “correct” answer and blame them more severely than we do to human drivers? Yes, AI may be able to process more, if not all, information in a second than a human can ever be. However, even one day we are able to have all the information, cause and effect in our knowledge, I do not think there will ever be a correct answer for the trolley problem. It is because there will never be an objective measurement for lives. Even if we consider one of the most famous consequentialist approaches, Utilitarianism, Ursula’s case will not be solved too. For in some Utilitarianist theories every pain and happiness from all lives are counted, including humans and birds, how can we determine that a bird’s life (not to mention an endangered one and may affect the whole eco-system) is not more valuable than a 3-year-old human being?

So who is really blameworthy here? In my opinion, not the AI, but the people who think that AI can be god and solve all the human problems thus solely relying on them to do our job – thinking, feeling and trying to do the moral thing. It doesn’t matter that if AI has consciousness or not. At the end of the day, every individual needs to decide on their own and takes moral responsibility. Anna’s story is indeed heart-breaking, but I don’t think we should believe that AI is the culprit in this case.

Artist Statement – Facebook Memorial Page for a fictional character

Project link

Among the two approaches to the Haunted Media Project, I mainly take the one that cyber-space is a place for grieving. Instead of focusing on the grievers, I am more interested in the presentation of the deceased on his/her memorial site. In order to achieve this objective, I build a Facebook memorial page for, not a real person, but a dead fictional character from a comic book. My aim is to show that how the deceased is like a fictional character who has no agency. When he becomes only an online profile showing multiple personalities after he is dead, his RIP page is for the living friends, family, and even strangers to express their one-sided feeling, but not for the dead himself.

Multi-identities of the deceased

My project is mainly inspired by the Computer Science study conducted by Jed Brubaker, Gillian Hayes, and Paul Dourish “Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning”. In the article, they suggest that friends and family have to face “multiple and conflicting narratives of the deceased” and social media may amplify the challenge of achieving consensus among these complicated identities (2013, 153). Since social networking sites, such as Facebook, allow isolated acquaintances of the dead to mourn, they become a “techno-spiritual spaces in which the identities of the deceased are inter-subjectively produced by the contributions of SNS friends” (154). In order to re-create this multi-identity conflict, I intentionally choose a protagonist who appears as various characters in different short stories in the comic series for my fictional RIP page. Sapphire, “the deceased” on my memorial page, is one of the main characters in a Chinese comic Beryl and Sapphire. (See book cover below. Sapphire is the blue one, as you can recognize him by his name).

The comic series is constituted by diverse short stories which usually have no narrative connection between each other. In each story, Sapphire will take a different role, such as a knight, actor, computer programmer, scientist or even a supernatural creature, although his appearance remains the same (Yes, he is presented in a stick figure in the comic, but he also has a “human” appearance in the illustrations and the adapted Anime. I will talk about the use of this more in the later paragraph). For the sake of a distinct and clear demonstration of the multiple identities of the deceased, I pick the two most disparate, if not contrasting, characters Sapphire takes in two short stories– a brave knight who dedicated his life to defeat the Evil King and a mad scientist who kills everyone who tries to stop his inhumane experiment. In the memorial page, “his acquaintances” (all created by me with different accounts) post pictures of the knight-Sapphire and the scientist-Sapphire and argue which one is his “true” identity. As you may notice, the knight-Sapphire and the scientist-Sapphire share the same figure – a blue stick man or a young man with blue hair, with only some small differences of his clothes (the knight wears a cape and then an armor; the scientist wears a laboratory coat). Consequently, I hope that this display of two distant characters can serve as a dramatic analogy for the complex but isolated narratives the deceased possesses which is “not possible to arrive at a singular identity” (154).

 

<–Knight-Sapphire

 

 

 

 

 

Scientist-Sapphire–>

 

 

 

 

 

 

<–Survivors arguing the identities of Sapphire

 

 

 

 

Comprehensive image built by collective memory

When the survivors post various memories (pictures) of the deceased, the deceased’s image will become more comprehensive and well-rounded. In order to do this, I take the advantage of the diverse forms of Sapphire’s figure (a stick man and a natural human form) in the comic, illustrations and the adapted Anime.

Left: the comic VS Right: the Anime

As you see in the RIP page, the figure of Sapphire gradually evolves from a stick figure, which only gives the most basic and vaguest form of a human, to a black-and-white sketch, to a chibi form (“a smaller form of an existing character, meant to look cute. Usually has irregular proportions, with a big head and tiny limbs” (Wikipedia)), and eventually becomes a “real” man in the Anime.

stick figure black-and-white sketch “Chibi” Anime

Building around this idea, suggested by a classmate in the MVP session, I also update the profile picture of the RIP page regularly according to the new pictures uploaded in the visitor posts.

With the choice of the platform, I aim at demonstrating that the Facebook memorial page is “a vehicle for reconstructing, rehabilitating, and maintaining a postmodern identity in collective memory” (Brubaker, Hayes, and Dourish 2013, 154). In order words, because the Facebook memorial page is a place for distant survivors to present different sides of the deceased’s characters, the deceased’s image shown on the page will eventually become more complete than in a traditional family album that only shows his character in a singular environment.

Authenticity in online grieving

Nevertheless, does all the pictures of the deceased posted on his memorial page accurately show his identities? In the past, as culture critics Susan Sontag claims, “photographs furnish evidence” (1971, 5). However, as we discussed in class, in the digital age where editing and taking a picture out of context is only a piece of cake, photographs may have lost its function of proving ones’ personalities and justifying his actions. This problem may be especially serious when the person in the pictures is dead thus being unable to explain himself. When I am choosing the “photos of Sapphire” to upload in the visitor posts, I deliberately crop them so that the picture’s quality may be lower and there will be just a few Chinese characters or a part of another person left in the frame, but the English-speaking audiences will not be able to understand what they mean or what is happening in the narrative. By doing so, I intend to arouse the issue of online authenticity in my project.

<–What does this Chinese character say?

 

 

 

 

 

<–What are they saying in the speech bubbles? Does the survivor really tell the truth about the character?

 

 

Moreover, I do not give any background information of Sapphire or the story of the comic to imitate the experience of a stranger coming across this page who does not know the deceased. Inspired by the troll research by online culture scholar Whitney Phillips and the advice from my friend Abby Chan, I make a stranger’s RIP post with a happy background full of birthday cakes to question the sincerity of the “grief tourist”, a stranger whose condolence is possibly a “pathological need for attention” according to some RIP trolls (2011).

<–Grief with birthday cake background. Huh.

 

 

 

 

While grief tourist is only a special case of random grievers, in general, for a stranger all he can know about the deceased is from the posts written by the friends and family. Yet, as I argued before, the distant impressions about the dead held by different survivors make it difficult for an outsider, or even acquittances, to establish a “true identity” of the deceased when he is no longer here to tell the truth. Therefore, for the strangers and grievers, the deceased may become a nearly “fictional character” who does not have his own voice in HIS memorial page.

 

Deceased in the memorial page: “What am I?”

Memorial page is self-conflicting. It is established in the name of dedicating to the deceased, but at the same time, it is solely FOR the livings so that it only “symbolically belong[s] to the dead (Brubaker, Hayes, and Dourish 2013, 154).” To the strangers and grief tourists, the profile of an unknown deceased person is similar to a fictional character who is not real but only seen on screen. In some cases described in Phillips’ research, grief tourists may even respond to fake profiles created by RIP trolls (2011). My Haunt Media Project resonates with this irony and the blurring between fiction and reality by presenting a memorial page literally for a fictional character. On the other hand, for the survivors of the deceased, as we discussed in class, posting grieving comments is a one-sided action since the dead cannot respond. Ironically, I find this relationship between the survivors and the deceased in the RIP page is similar to the “one-sided” “parasocial interaction” audiences have with a fictional character in a television show whom, explained by media psychologist Karen Dill-Shackleford, they feel emotionally attached to although they understand that the character is not real and unable to respond (2015, 77). In other words, the survivors’ one-sided grieving posts to the dead’s memorial page can be understood as a self-satisfactory parasocial interaction with a fictional character. While the existence of a fictional character, argued by some philosophers, is “an artifact” or “an object” but not a human being (Thomasson 1999, 10), the deceased in the memorial page, or say the page itself, can be regarded as a fictional object without agency. This is why in my project, the page itself does not interact with any of the “visitors”, not even like any of the posts, but only changes its profile picture (its image) according to the survivors’ impressions. Sapphire, or say the page, never explain his contradictory identities held in the survivors’ minds because he/it has no control over the page. The way we construct an image of a real person by their words and actions online, as psychologist Nick Chater indicates, is no different with knowing a fictional character by their dialogues and actions in a novel (2018). For both a deceased and a fictional character, there exists no “true… [and] definitive interpretation” (Chater 2018), hence the survivors’ grieving and interacting with others on the RIP page is an act of not only “reconstructing… a postmodern identity” (Brubaker, Hayes, and Dourish 2013, 154), but creating and affirming our personal belief to the deceased’s identity. However, the true identity of the deceased can never be recovered by the online memorial page.

The analogy between a fictional character and the online memorial page of a deceased is the reason that, although the profile picture of Sapphire in my page evolves continuously and dramatically from a vague stick-figure to a more human-like, concrete and completed image, it eventually stops at the Anime version. It will never transform into a real person (there are cosplayers play this character, but I do not include those pictures for this narrative purpose) and exceed the boundary of fantasy and reality. In the end, despite being a platform for postmodern mourning, the RIP page may not be a true presentation of the deceased. Even if the memorial page really has an identity (this is where my project shift a little bit to the approach of messages from the dead with the last post by “Sapphire”), would it really be the deceased we know of?

 

 

 

Work cited:

Brubaker, Jed R, Gillian R Hayes, and Paul Dourish. 2013. “Beyond the Grave: Facebook As a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning.” The Information Society 29 (3): 152–63. doi:10.1080/01972243.2013.777300.

Chater, Nick. “My Life as a Fictional Character.” Psychology Today, November 03, 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-is-flat/201811/my-life-fictional-character

“Chibi” In Wikipedia. n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chibi_(slang)

Dill-Shackleford, Karen, Cynthia Vinney, Jerri Lynn Hogg, and Kristin Hopper-Losenicky. 2015. Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on Tv. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.davidson.edu/book/42096.

Ocarina. Beryl and Sapphire. https://ac.qq.com/Comic/comicInfo/id/536332.

Phillips, Whitney. “LOLing at Tragedy: Facebook Trolls, Memorial Pages and Resistance to Grief Online.” First Monday 16, no.12 (2011). https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3168/3115.

Sontag, Susan. 1977. “In Plato’s Cave” from On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pages 3-24.

Thomasson, Amie L. 1999. Fiction and Metaphysics. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Is happiness the presumed/required emotion shown online?

The titled question raised in my head when I read the following sentence in Gillian Brockell’s letter to the Tech companies: “when we millions of brokenhearted people…even answer your “Why?” with the cruel-but-true “It’s not relevant to me”…It decides you’ve given birth, assumes a happy result.” In class, we have discussed how cyberspace becomes a place for people to mourn. And in my experience, I have also read lots of posts and comments sharing depression, frustration, anger or even, occasionally, suspected suicide notes. However, as we see the happy design of Facebook “Year in Review” in Eric Meyer’s article, joy may still be the presumed dominant emotion on social networking sites.

This issue reminds me of a discussion on Weibo (a Chinese social networking site similar to Twitter, with more serious censorship though) some time ago (I am sorry I didn’t save the post so I cannot show it here). The topic is about Weibo deleting posts involving anger and negative emotion towards the authority. Accounts spreading “rumors” and arousing panic will get frozen. I am not going to discuss the controversy about censorship and public safety here. However, this Weibo policy definitely makes some people think that they are not allowed to express any negative emotion (although I don’t think this is the main intention of the law-makers). In the comment area, many users write sarcastically that from now on, you can only post happy lives online or else you are spreading panic/negative emotion because increasing happiness of all Chinese citizens is one of the nation’s policies. Too many negative emotion is a problem that needed to be controlled. Even now, when some people post some depressed or suspected suicide notes, there will always a few trolls who comment e.g. “yep you’re a loser, why don’t u just jump quickly. I have been waiting for you to jump for some hours.” I don’t know any of these trolls so I cannot tell why they say so. But I think the issue here is, for some reason, when we go online, we expect to see happy posts and comments, while negative posts will be seen as attention-seeking by some people. Therefore, although social networking sites are a private place to express our emotion freely, both positive and negative emotions, why do the tech companies and even users expect to see happiness online?

Fear: the combination of the known and unknown

Mark Fisher’s article categorizes the nature of eerie into two types: “a failure of absence” and “a failure of presence”. Both of the types include the sensation of unknown. However, what makes us feel the eerieness is not only what we do not know, but our speculation. In order word, I think eerieness is generated from what we think we know. Take Fisher’s example of a bird’s cry. We may know nothing about the bird, but we personify it with our human subjectivity, limited knowledge and culture. We always demonize the things that are unknown or exotic to us, thus the sensation of eerie is a combination of quasi-known and quasi-unknown.

Similar to the example of the spirit phone, we do not yet know many things, if not nothing, about the afterlife, yet we try to use what we know a little bit more, science, to explain the unknown. That is the reason nowadays “ghost hunters” are still using auditory methods, such as “spirit phone” apps and spiritual recorders, to capture the proof of spirits. It is because our cultural concepts of the proof of spirits still maintain as that in Thomas Edison’s era. As one of the greatest inventors in the world, Thomas Edison and his theory of afterlife particles and phonograph are more like a cultural symbol of truth and solution to unknown than an actual scientific basis to supernatural phenomenon.

Another element of the sensation of eerieness, according to Fisher, related to an unknown agency. Our concern of the presence of an agency (god, demons etc.) shows the fact that, although human has been explaining “eerie” events with scientific knowledge, at the end of the day, we have to accept our powerlessness.

You/Not You in post-modern horror: A Comparative Analysis of “Mirrors” and “Nosedive”

Horror stories usually scare us with exotic and unknown monsters. This fear can take the form of vampires, werewolves, or serial killers. We stand by the ordinary and tortured protagonists, anxiously watch them try to save themselves from these aliens. However, what if the alien they are trying to escape from is actually themselves? The modern horror story presents a more familiar demon – ourselves.

 

In today’s horror films, the mirror has become a motif for introducing our demon self. The 2008 horror movie Mirrors explores the horror of your own image. The film starts with a scene where a man sees his mirror image cutting his throat and, although he has not committed the act on himself, ends up dying in the same way. Following the opening scene, we see the protagonist Ben, an alcoholic who is separated from his wife, take over the dead man’s position as a night security guard in the Mayflower, a burnt-out abandoned luxury department store fills with pristine mirrors. During his first night at work, he sees in the mirrors grotesque visions, such as handprints on the reflected side, a reflection of an opened door which is actually closed and other images that do not match the reality. At first, he perceives them as hallucinations. However, as the images intensify, Ben starts to believe that the mirrors are inflicting real harm on people in his life. After his sister is killed by her own reflection, Ben angrily confronts the monster inside the mirror and discovers that it is a demon that formerly possessed a young girl 50 years prior. The demon takes the form of Ben’s wife and children in the mirrors trying to kill them, and Ben has to fight the demon to save them.

The Mirror symbolize a reverse and opposite reality. Just as the left and right are switched in mirrors, we fear that morality is also reversed, for we assume that the unknown world behind it is sinister. In Mirrors, good/evil and personality are reversed as your reflections commit evil actions that your real self would not attempt and even murder the real you, while disguised as your face. Historically, this concept may have originated from the old German myth of Doppelgänger, an evil double of your own self who signals your imminent death if you see it. Although the movie attributes the abnormality to the classical horror theme of demonic possession, this fluidity of the demon’s appearance remains the highlight of the film, since this time the demon is no longer restricted to one character’s body, but can appear as anyone’s reflection. Instead of appearing as subversive being with inhuman paleness, scars and green vomit, like the traditional possessed image, the demon in Mirrors is presented in the protagonists’ usual faces. As film and media scholar Isabel Pinedo explains, this “the me/not me” violation “disrupts the social order”, causing panic by changing the most familiar – – yourself – – into unfamiliar (21). Additionally, the abject figures in the movie are not limited to young female characters, but adult men, women as well as old woman (the first victim we see is a man). The wide range of anomalies brings the violence and invasion more intimately to all audiences, and the fear affects everybody. The demonic reflection that plants evil in us is “a fusion figure [which] combines contradictory elements in an unambiguous identity” (Pinedo, 21). Thus, we are frightened by it because the identity, which hides abnormality under the skin of normality, is our own personal identity.

 

Mirror reveals dualism in humanity

The duality in humanity through the motif of mirror and demonic possession are classic elements in Hollywood cinema. They suggest that evil exists even in the most innocent child. For instance, many film scholars have analyzed how the mirrors and reflections in the glass surfaces in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller Psycho show the split personalities of Norman Bates and the moral degeneration of Marion, who steals money. Both Norman’s and Marion’s reflections imply that guilty desires lurk beneath his boyish and her beautiful face (O. M et al. 2013). Similarly, film scholar Barbara Creed explains that the possessed images actually mirror the corrupted personality of the seemingly innocent victim, exemplified by the possession of the 12-year-old girl in The Exorcist (1993). With respect to Mirrors, Ben’s courageous side is the fearless ex-detective who fights against the demon alone to save his family; he is the protagonist that we support and respect. In his corrupted side, he is an estranged husband and father, and a policeman who is suspended for shooting innocent victim while drunk on duty. Therefore, his reflections are not only supernatural aliens, but can also be interpreted as his violent alter ego who he tries to shed yet follows him everywhere. As folklorist Janet Langlois, who examines the similar mirror-related horror folk game of Bloody Mary, notices, “when any of the girls (the participants) looks in the mirror, she sees herself; in reports of the game-playing, she sees Mary Whales [Bloody Mary], or at least, expects to. In a sense, then Mary Whales becomes the girl’s own reflection (cited in Dundes, 79)” This observation suggests that, like Bloody Mary, Ben’s demonic mirror image is in fact his “self-image”, which in his case, forces him to confront his darkness (Dundes, 86).

 

Modern Doppelgänger: social media profile

As we transit on the modern digital era, the old myth of the double-self takes a new form as our online avatars. Film critics Alissa Wilkinson makes a connection between the traditional Doppelgänger obsession/panic, and the present trend of social media (2014). She notices that, nowadays, we create our another-self online – Facebook profiles, Instagram accounts, to name but a few – because “many of us are afraid that we’re simply not enough as we are—that we’re not cool enough, pretty enough, passionate enough, or interesting enough…[and] those whom we wish would love us might prefer us if we were better, cooler, more likable.” Unlike the devilish double in Mirrors, while which presents “another version of ourselves”, our social media profiles seem to be “our better double (Wilkinson 2014).” Sociologist Lisa S. Nelson also raises the paradoxical question of the “me/not me” regarding our online personae. She notes that they are our creation, that they “separate from our personal identity in real time and space,” and that “[they] are us”, but “are also not us (2018, 171).” As a result, the question in horror movies “is the mirror image me?” evolves into “is my Facebook self me?” in the digital age.

 

The Netflix series Black Mirror builds on this theme of double identity in the digital age. In the episode Nosedive, the separation between our true self and virtual profile is further blurred. The story is set in a society in which everyone’s activities are rated by others on a 1-5 scale. The rating system functions similarly to our social networking sites, but in the episode, your rating is identical to your socioeconomic status in real life. Every citizen can see it and it affects your right to enjoy certain services. Lacie, our protagonist, who starts at a 4.2 when we meet her, is fighting to promote herself to a 4.5, so that she can move to a luxury neighborhood. She attempts to increase her rating by interacting with an old friend who has become a highly-rated celebrity and has invited her to give a speech at her wedding. Gladly accepting the invitation, Lacie begins her journey to the wedding, while encountering a series of unfortunate events, which cause her ratings progressively decrease. As her ratings plunge, her transportation options become fewer and she has to resort to hitchhiking, while maintaining a cheerful attitude, to get to the wedding.

 

Nosedive is a dramatic yet insightful reflection of the current dilemma of me/not me that arises from our online Doppelgänger. The show does not use mirrors or any reflective surfaces to imply the double of the main character. Rather, it explicitly places the image of the Doppelgänger by constantly showing a rating beside the characters’ face.

As with Mirrors, Nosedive also suggests that your double is actually you. Whereas Ben’s sister suffers and dies when the reflection hurts itself, Lacie suffers by not being able to travel by plane when her rating declines. 

With the rating system, Lacie has to play the role of a friendly and smiling figure all the time, which corresponds with Wilkinson’s idea that our virtual profile represents our better self. However, with her anxiety about lower rating revealed as the plot deteriorates, the duality of her personality also emerges. We see Pinedo’s  “contradictory elements” (21) of perfect friendliness and vengeful anger fighting inside Lacie’s identity, the latter winning eventually when she can no longer suppress it.

 

Social media lures people’s dark side

Although in Nosedive, the profile Lacie displays to the public is perfect, in reality, people always present their ugliest side in virtual image. A 2014 study by Pew Research Centre found that 92% of internet users admit being more critical online (cited in Nelson 2018). The use of pseudonyms shrouds people from the danger of being retaliated on or suffering social stigma; thus, they feel that the internet allows them to behave the ways that would be prohibited in reality (Nelson cited Citron 2018). In doing so, the virtual double serves as a safe outlet for people to release their darkness. While executing harmful actions to others is difficult in real life, it is much easier to do with only the click of a mouse (Nelson 2018), almost as easy as a demon performing supernatural act. Nelson further explains this phenomenon by citing communications scholar Whitney Phillips’ interview with a troll, who confesses that, when he is surrounded by other “citizens of the internet”, he experiences a “fracture between [his] internet and real-life persona (104)” In other words, when “an individual has switched into trolling mode. He has…put on his mask” (157). Again, we discover the split of identity in one individual, with his online Doppelgänger as the corrupted role. Nevertheless, no matter how hard we convince ourselves that the evil reflection is not our true self when posting nasty comment on Facebook, “it [the action] compromises our sense of self (Nelson 2018, 169).” Eventually, we have to accept our contradictory duality of good and evil.

 

Gaze is dangerous

The theme of duality in both Mirrors and Nosedive is also applied to the gaze. Gaze is un-escapable and ubiquitous. In Mirrors, the demon can emerge not only from mirrors, but glasses, windows, water and other reflective surfaces. The idea that something or someone is constantly watching you without your knowledge is a modern horror in which we are engaged everyday, with the wide coverage of surveillance cameras and civil mobile cameras. (Ben’s sister image) This theme is amplified in Nosedive, in which everybody has the right to rate you and interpersonal judgement can affect your real life. As criminologist Emily Van der Meulen and sociologist Robert Heynen observe, social media mediatizes gaze and converts “the once private social space of bedroom culture… into a quasi-public space by commercial interest (57).” As we see in the episode, Lacie’s every action can be judged by others, akin to a dictatorial monitoring terror; only this time, it is a dictatorship of majority in which “many are trained to recognize and watch for a few types of performances and to incorporate those into interpersonal watching for others” in the “watching and being watched” relationship in social media (Van der Meulen and Heynen, 57). However, ironically, instead of promoting pure horror in Mirrors, the gaze to Lacie is bittersweet. Identifying with Lacie, all of us social media users understand the simultaneous desire to gain attention and stress that comes with the gaze. Lacie changes her behaviors and even her personality because of the expectation of others’ gaze, which exemplifies Van der Meulen and Heynen’s argument in feminist studies that “Social media constitute an interactive space where female presentation can be actively constructed by the user herself through her interactions with her audience(s)” (57). Nevertheless, since the horror and longing of gaze in both works applies to all genders and age groups who suffer from them, I argue accordingly that the personality of all people can be constructed by the interactive gaze in the internet.

 

The Modern Horror: losing ourselves in the mirror

In the age of social media, we are all like Lacie, trapped in a created profile and suppressing our true identity until it vanishes. If we are not careful, we may submerge into the evil side of the mirror, like Ben. Therefore, the postmodern fear of our Doppelgänger is no longer limited to mirrors or other reflective materials, but to our daily social interactions in our phones. As Wilkinson suggests, this is the most chilling possibility: “if I get too good at projecting my Internet doppelgänger, I might just kill off the “real” me.”

 

 

Reference:

Brooker, Charlie. Black Mirror: Nosedive. Netflix. 2016. https://www.netflix.com/us-zh/title/70264888

Creed, Barbara. 1993. “Woman as Possessed Monster” from The Monstrous-Feminine : Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Popular Fiction Series. London: Routledge: 31-42

Dundes, Alan. 2002. Bloody Mary in the Mirror : Essays in Psychoanalytic Folkloristics. Upcc Book Collections on Project Muse. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Mirrors. Directed by Alexandre Aja. United States: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2008.

Nelson, Lisa S. 2018. Social Media and Morality : Losing Our Self Control. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Olivares-Merino, Eugenio M, and Julio A Olivares-Merino. 2013. Peeping through the Holes : Twenty-First Century Essays on Psycho. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Pinedo, Isabel. 1996. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2 (Spring-Summer 1996): 17–31.

Van der Meulen, Emily, and Robert Heynen, eds. 2016. Expanding the Gaze : Gender and the Politics of Surveillance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Wilkinson, Alissa. “What’s With All the Movies About Doppelgängers?” The Atlantic. March 14, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/whats-with-all-the-movies-about-doppelg-ngers/284413/.

Bibliography:

Masello, Robert. 2014. Fallen Angels … and Spirits of the Dark. New York: Open Road Media.

Moveigrrl. n.d. “Friday Feature: Mirror Mirror On The Wall, What’s The Scariest Film Of All by @moveigrrl.” The Day Hollywood Stood Still. Accessed February 23, 2019. http://dayhwstoodstill.blogspot.com/2010/07/friday-feature-mirror-mirror-on-wall.html.

 

 

Amusing Ourselves to Death: We are all zombies

As a fan of the AMC’s The Walking Dead, zombie is no longer a scary or innovative theme for me. However, Dead Set definitely gives a new meaning to the zombie theme, that TV viewers and producers are all zombies in this era of entertainment.

In the beginning, Dead Set first brings us to another reality TV show, the Big Brother. Although the Big Brother contestants will definitely be the major characters of this show, they are not the only “contestants”. We see the staff behind the making of the famous reality show before, not long, the zombie outbreak. At this moment, the production staff also becomes the contestants in a reality show named Dead Set, in which we the audience root for Kelly and boo at Patrick (or vice versa, or both) when they are cheating and swearing and later running and fighting for their lives. And more ironically, the show does not try to hide this sarcasm: when Kelly runs into the big brother house covered in blood, the others all think that she is a new contestant. 

In the era dominated by entertainment business, everyone involves in the culture are trapped and gradually become numb about society. When there is a riot in London, the only thing that the production team cares about is whether their show can on air; When people are dying and screaming outside, the Big Brother contestants only thinks that they are crazy for them and get drunk for celebrating their fame; And the supporters outside the studio, despite an obvious crisis in the country, care about a TV show over their society. The show presents this problem explicitly by Joplin’s first line: “What is TV anyway? It’s just a big fat arrow pointing away from the problem”. And the producer’s attitude to the riot also proves this view, as he says “why don’t they (protesters) just watch TV”. Yet, pathetically, though being aware of the problem about media, Joplin’s, who wants someone to hear his voice, only choice is to be on the TV so that he will get attention. It is so ironic that both the production team and the contestants believe that they control the show and the audiences until the audiences – the zombies that are produced by them and the entertainment industry – get back to them.

Just like many scenes shot from the glasses outside the big brother house and depict the contestants like being trapped and watched in a box, everyone – producers and receivers – are all trapped in the entertainment culture, not only television but all forms of social media. That is the reason why we see Kelly tries to escape the studio but eventually has to go back into it, where I believe they would never get out in the entire season and at the end die in. In the present day that we are surrounded by entertainment culture, we are also surrounded by zombies that are numb about every other thing, and may eventually turn into one of them. And this is exactly the horror we should be afraid of in the postmodern age.

Blog and novel; Formality and informality

A Head full of Ghosts is a horror novel about alleged possession. Like other horror fiction and what we expect, the story begins with a formal writing style in the first-person point of view. However, when it comes to chapter 2, the style and the narrator are changed completely. Instead of the grammatical and elegant sentence we are told to write in a story at school, chapter 2 of A Head full of Ghosts is written in casual style that we use in daily conversation, imitating a blog post and making it more like dialogues than the traditional first-person point of view that we will read in the later chapters. This chapter also gives us an insight into how the outsiders (the audience) like us, think of the Barretts.

The popularity of blogging in the recent decade changes the way people write, even in fictions and literature. And chapter 2 of this Paul Tremblay’s is an example of this phenomenon. I remember when I was in primary school, I read a light novel (a style of Japanese novel primarily targeting teenagers) with emojis and casual style of writing similar to a blog post and my teacher took it away because it was not a serious fiction according to her. Nevertheless, many blog users nowadays do creative writing on forums and social networking sites and there is no restriction and consensus on writing styles. We can read slangs and sonnets and serious fictions on blogs. The boundary between “high” and “low” literature is blurred when everybody has the opportunity to write and publish, through blogs and social media. Therefore, can we expect the boundary of writing styles to be broken in literature too in the future? Will more authors write in “blogging style” and incorporate blog post in their stories, just like Paul Tremblay does in A Head full of Ghosts?