Product Death: The Death of Consumer Goods in Today’s Society

This morning in a text conversation with my friends, the trailer for EA Sports Madden 20 video game was shared with me.

A group of me and three of my friends are consistent players of the game as we have purchased it every year for the past 7 years. While the release of the new game is quite exciting for us it does mark the end of the previous year’s edition which is sometimes bittersweet however in the context of some of the conversations we have had in class, struck a different nerve with me. In thinking about the coming of this year’s new game I hearkened back to our class discussion on the literal death of technology and product lifespans.

The life span of my video games are relatively unique due to the nature of the types that I play. I prefer sports games or shooters such as Call of Duty but they all fall under the brand of a large franchise. As such each year there is always a new edition and thus every game that I buy has an intended lifespan of a single year. This means that I devote about $180 each year across three games and this is a cycle I am very locked into. At first glance, this is an extremely startling statistic and I am not pleased with it, but this is the capitalistic society under which we live with regards to objects especially in the technology field.

The digital and technological age of today has rendered the lifespan of products down to a few years at best. Gone are the days where you did not always have to be worried about the latest and greatest technology but instead could hold onto a computer for 6-7 years with no issue. In today’s world we expect new updates constantly and with these upgrades comes the denigration of our products as they get close and close to becoming obsolete. The rapid evolution of technology coupled with our capitalistic natures has rendered our products to mere years rather than substantial investments that last for lifetimes.

We are in the age of product death where most of our commercially purchased goods have some semblance of technology within them and thus have dramatically shortened life cycles. Sooner or later we will reach the points where product relevance and importance could last mere months or weeks. For the emotional attachment often equated to technological purchases, it is concerning to think that humans will soon be forced to confront death more frequently on the scale of our physical property. I worry that this idea of shortened relevance in terms of products will start to take shape in other areas of our lives such as the relevance of people or relationships and that is just a terrifying notion.

A Semester Worth of Thoughts

When I revisit my posts from the beginning of this semester, I am truly struck by how far I have come since those posts. This semester has been one of the most difficult times of my life and in seeing the way in which my thoughts and posts reflect my journey through the past 4 months is pretty surreal.

Throughout my posts, one of the most common themes that I find is that my writings were almost always concerned with comparisons and contrasts. Initially I blogged from a more comparative view first in contrasting the POV of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Exorcist and then going on to compare the different characters from Dead Set before I followed up with a comparison of two of our readings: “The Resonant Tomb” and The Audible Past. These first three posts were effectively based in my own observations. While I did analyze the parties involved in my comparisons, I was not really asserting one over the other but was rather stating my own observations in an informative manner. This style of comparison and exploring dichotomies stayed constant for my final two posts as well but my style evolved from simply observing to more directly stating my own thoughts and opinions.

My final two posts followed the tract set of comparisons except this time I was comparing the thoughts and assertions of the readings with my own. In my final two posts I argued against the idea of discrediting any type of cyber-relationship as not being part of the “real world” and I held that dark tourism was not some new phenomenon related to Chernobyl specifically. I directly disagreed with the readings and my blog posts reflected the contrasting views as I had done so previously except this time the view was my own. This is the strongest development I have observed and is really indicative of how this semester has played out for me in my opinion. I feel like I have gotten much better at being direct and advocating for myself both in and out of the classroom and the trend of my blog posts match this evolution.

The Repair Monopoly and Humanity’s Loss of Basic Skills

This past Tuesday I ordered a new laptop to replace a device that just broke due to my negligence. When I received the new device, I noted that the RAM (Random Access Memory) was constructed at only 4GB whereas I am used to minimal 8GB but prefer much larger. I was not discouraged however as I simply planned on removing my old RAM sticks from the now broken laptop to the new one which would increase the capacity and speed of my new computer.

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As I began this process however, I was searching through the manual and noted instructions that indicated any opening of the back of my computer to do self-repair would nullify my warranty. I immediately was reminded of the reading from Steven Jackson titled Rethinking Repair.

In the reading as well as our class discussion we talked about how society has moved away from repairing our broken items in favor of simply buying new ones. In the same way that Lenovo has designed their products so consumers such as myself cannot alter their products, society has completely embraced this idea in the name of capitalism. It is much more economically beneficial for companies to privatize their own products but this is highly detrimental to the consumer experience. The amount of money that we are forced to put into our devices is exponentially increased by corporation’s domination of the repair market. Beyond the financial losses that we as consumers suffer due to this lack of a repair abilities is significant, I believe that this mentality of not fixing our problems when capable has more dire consequences.

I feel that this reliance upon “certified experts” to fix our problems, which is especially obvious in technology, has caused us in general to lose some of the skills that helped us get to this place of innovation. Gone are the days where the everyday man knows how to fix a flat tire and complete basic home repair. Now we tend to call AAA or hire out a contractor out to paint rooms in our homes or trim the bushes. These are all things we have the capability to do and really ought to be doing but society (helped along by capitalist greed) has relegated us to points where we do not feel comfortable and would much rather spend money and allow a trained professional to do the work.

Something that seems peculiar about this current state of affairs in my opinion is the fact that the internet makes the spread of knowledge greater than ever in human history. Anybody can go into google and search any issue and google will bring up thousands of results in an instant whether its video tutorials or instructions designed to help anybody walk through problems in any field. Why we have a fear of searching and finding the answers but will spend hundreds of dollars is truly mind-boggling. As a student technician at Technology and Innovation I can attest to this fear in so many ways.

A mere three hours ago when I arrived for my shift, I came across somebody having an issue with page breaks on her Google Docs. I have absolutely no experience with page breaks in Google Docs, but I simply clicked around and explored the page for a minute or two and discovered the solution. It is not some form of training or great technical skill I possess but rather my willingness to explore and engage with the faith that I will find the answer and will not mess anything up. I feel like society as aided by consumer capitalism has driven us to fear tinkering and learning about our own products and I find this to be a sad thing. As I take apart my own computer prepared to insert a new RAM drive into it, I take pride in my ability to repair my own products and I hope that one day this will become the norm again.

Dark Tourism Isn’t New

In reading this article, I was generally confused to the arguments and points that it was trying to make. While the abstract does state its intended purpose as “an attempt to explore and understand tour guides’ interpretations of tourist’s experiences . . . at Chernobyl”, I struggle overall with the concept of “dark” and “toxic” tourism. I simply fail to see how either term appears to be anything special or different from tourism that has already been defined.

In my opinion, the idea of “dark tourism” and its implicit inappropriateness is something that is being socially cultivated but with little actual substance. I understand how a cohort of individuals who deliberately seek out sites of mass suffering and death can be disturbing but as a tourist industry I do not see how we can make a distinction between such “dark” tourism or tourism of a place such as Pompeii. My grandfather recently took a trip to Pompeii and when he returned he was eager to send pictures around the family. I saw images of the ruins with detailed tourist filled descriptions and viewed photos of petrified bodies and homes with my grandfather standing next to them looking somber but nothing “dark” such as the idea of perverted “dark” would suggest.

How is one supposed to make the distinction between the “dark” tourism of Chernobyl, a site of mass casualty estimated at about 600,000, and that of Pompeii’s ruins? In my opinion, the distinction is made by society because we are much more uncomfortable with Chernobyl due to its proximity to us within our time stream and our lives. There are many people who are alive who witnessed the event and thus this has been sanctioned as a place of mass death creating a foreboding location lending credence to the thought of it being a “dark” tourist site. While I understand this notion and feeling, I find it wrong to deem it as some new form of tourism because humanity has been visiting sites of mass death for so long. From Pompeii to Auschwitz to Normandy, tourism of places of mass death is nothing new. Of course the idea that members of the public are deliberately seeking out places of suffering is extremely uncomfortable, the reality is that it is difficult to make such a wide reaching claim about tourism in general to Chernobyl and thus to deem it as a “dark” tourist site is incorrect.

Voices from Beyond the Grave

I have inserted the link to my project video here:

In his book The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher defines eeriness as the following: “The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing or is there is nothing present when there should be something” (61). I would assert that most people in general have a fundamental concept and notion of what eeriness and can define it when they see it, but Fisher’s definition is so beautiful in its simplicity. Something is eerie specifically when we know that something is off and that things are just not how they should be. Fisher’s fleshing out of this concept with his terms failure of absence and failure of presence do a perfect job with pinning down exactly what characterizes the eerie. My Haunted Media Project which is an edited video of a graveyard with voices plays upon both elements of the eerie.

While my project makes use of both types of eeriness as defined by Fisher, it most certainly centers more heavily upon his failure of absence. Naturally, a graveyard is a place that is meant to be deserted. There are typically no signs of life within a graveyard as it is just a plot of land full of dead corpses buried the surface. My Haunted Media Project is intended to provoke and create the eerie in the fact that my edited video of a graveyard walk is chalk full of signs of life. As the camera walks through the graveyard passing tombstone after tombstone voices can be heard in the background. The sound of voices filled with life and from the living is not something that ought to be found in a graveyard which creates the eeriness that I intended for my video. There is a true failure of absence in that we expect a graveyard to be silent aside from the sounds of nature and thus when something that should not be there such as voices is present the situation is eerie. The failure of voices emanating from graves to be absent is a direct representation of Fisher’s first type of eeriness although it is not the singular method through which I create a sense of the eerie in my Haunted Media Project.

In addition to my emphasis upon the failure of absence in order to create eeriness with voices from beyond the grave, I too make some use of a failure of presence. In this respect, while the voices of the dead ought not be present the fact that they still exist lends credence to an issue with the failure of presence. While the voices existing is creepy in and of itself, it would have been less creepy if you could discern from where they were emerging. It is evident from the project and the way that I framed it that the voices and sounds are meant to be of the graves themselves, but it is never clearly proven to be that way. If there were apparitions or even skeletons that would at least give the voices and sounds a physical manifestation and origin point but the video offers nothing. This lack of a physical body whether a ghost or a skeleton shows a failure of presence which in and of itself is chillingly eerie. As much as voices do not belong in a graveyard they do belong to physical creatures. Thus, to have no obvious source of the sounds adds even more to the eerie feel and disturbing nature of my Haunted Media Project.

The very first thing that I thought of when implementing audio into the piece to serve as voices of the dead was to literally take voices from the dead. I immediately sought to find disturbing audio such as 9/11 calls and other audio recordings of people who were literally upon the brink of death with their lives on the line. I spent hours scouring Youtube in search of disturbing phone calls in which the panic and tension of the caller rose throughout the call. I then took snippets of the videos and dispersed them across my project for a wide range and variety of fearful tracks. For obvious reasons the sounds of people pleading or screaming for their lives is quite creepy and it fits in easily with a tone of eerie graveyard video. The sounds of any human being displaying true and unadulterated fear is scary and something that sends chills down the spine. The importance of utilizing disturbing audio in my Haunted Media Project is to establish the fact this dire fear.

The use of disturbing audio is very essential for my Haunted Media Project and without the voices of the soon to be dead, the tone would not feel as disturbing and eerie as it ought to. By that same token however, to fill up the video solely with haunting audio would not suffice either as it would be limiting to the scope of death. Death is not only the pain and fear of losing life but the removal of the joy that life brings as well. In order to incorporate the true meaning of death I needed to represent too the joys and experiences of everyday life. The audio that I am classifying as everyday audio are from little videos that I have accumulated throughout my life and simply encapsulate what life is all about. If one was to truly walk through and hear the voices of the dead would be reasonable that they would hear moments of life just as much as moments of death. The inability to completely narrow down exactly what type of audio it is makes it more disturbing and sinister in my opinion.

Going along with the inability to pinpoint the audio of my Haunted Media Project, I have purposely taken advantage of anonymity to help shield the sounds in order to make it more disturbing. While there are numerous voices heard throughout the video, with some utilized more than once, never are the voices personalized or identified. While it is obvious that these voices are from beyond the grave it is never defined who these voices belong to on an individual level. This disconnect of identity helps me to create a tone of horror and eeriness and is something that Anthony Enns speaks to in his article titled: Voices of the Dead: Transmission/Translation/Transgression. “By separating the voice from the body and endowing it with a presence independent of the speaker, sound technologies disrupted any equation of the voice with individual experience and identity” (Enns 13).

In my video I have removed the audio and taken the individual identities behind the words to be represented solely by masses of graves. The voice of a person is something perfectly unique to anyone who ever lived and thus to remove that individuality yet still convey it through inanimate objects is at its root unnatural. If you factor in too the fact that much of my audio is chilling screams of people pleading at the end of their lives, the chilling fear only grows. As Enns alludes to, newly formed sound technologies have interrupted the natural equation between a voice and identity and through my Haunted Media Project I have harnessed this disconnected sound to creepily convey the dead as a wholistic rather than individual.

While the audio is the key ingredient when producing the eerie tone of my project, the true backbone of my project is a video from the YouTube channel Vic Stefanu – World Travels and Adventure in which Vic videotapes his walk-through abandoned graves within the Highgate Cemetery in London. From a visual perspective, the fact that the graves shown in the video are overrun by green forestry is really astounding but not all together surprising as it questions the idea of what a graveyard truly is. Julia Rugg notes in her article “Defining the place of burial: what makes a cemetery a cemetery?”, “A burial ground [is] a large landscaped park or ground laid out expressly for the deposition or internment of the dead . . . these graves were simply a place of disposal, where corpses could disappear” (260). Historically many have understood cemetery’s to be sacred grounds that must be kept up and maintained due to what they symbolized an represented. As Rugg points out and my Haunted Media Project shows, a cemetery is more than that (or less than that depending on point of view) in that it is simply a ground where corpses are buried. There does not need to be any type of consistent maintenance and sometimes graves can be overrun by nature lost to this world but that does not mean they lose any bit of their value as residency for the deceased.   

In essence, this is a tourism video even if the location is very secluded and one that many have not and will not visit. This found footage plays upon the impact that photography has upon our world as Susan Sontag highlighted in her piece titled: In Plato’s Cave. “As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, that also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. Thus, photography develops in tandem with one of the most characteristic of modern activities: tourism.” All of Vic’s travels highlighted upon his channel offers forms of distant tourism as he invites his viewers to explore the world around him though his eyes and the lens of his camera. This is a relatively new phenomena and as Sontag explains, is something that is unique to technology and the photographic business in particular.

While the second part of Sontag’s quotation deals with the use of photography as a tourist tool, the first part explains special features offered up by photographs moving or still. The video shows footage of graves that have been lost to nature and completely deserted in the woods.. These grave sites are extremely well hidden within the depths of the cemetery and the vast majority of people would never encounter them. They could have been lost to time forever except Vic Stefanu and his use of digital recording have exposed them to the world via the world wide web. As Sontag mentions in her quote, the use of photography allows people to experience aspects of the world in new ways that allow more comfort. Through filming or photographing people are able to encounter spaces that would otherwise make the feel insecure in more attainable and relatable ways. Vic and his filming of an abandoned graveyard is a perfect example of this notion as the location is certainly comforting but the filming and ability to traverse the site online makes it less disturbing and for a more engaging audience experience.

 

 

Bibliography

Anthony Enns (2005) Voices of the dead: Transmission/translation/transgression, Culture, Theory and Critique, 46:1, 11-27, DOI: 10.1080/14735780500102363

Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. Repeater, 2017.

Julie Rugg (2000) Defining the place of burial: What makes a cemetery a cemetery?, Mortality, 5:3, 259-275, DOI: 10.1080/713686011

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Penguin Books, 1977.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video Sources Utilized

Crew9t, director. Chilling Real 911 Call- Amputated Foot/ Leg. YouTube, YouTube, 3 Oct. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrZQv0w_O78.

F4denfisch, director. The Name of the Doctor – Full Whisper Men Theme. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFjROOcTo8c.

Mar, director. Disturbing 911 Call – THE TALL MAN (EMERGENCY CALL). YouTube, YouTube, 31 July 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOE7TXBZFQY.

Martin, Josph, director. (SCARY) Elderly Woman Murdered during 911 Call. YouTube, YouTube, 29 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgrG1o8vESw.

Moresey, Sera Lilly, director. The Whisper Men. YouTube, YouTube, 26 Oct. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix1P_xdPTas.

Music, Epic, director. Lullaby of Woe. YouTube, YouTube, 28 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KkTb4AMW8w.

Stefanu, Vic, director. 0:03 / 12:48 LONDON, EXPLORING HIGHGATE CEMETERY, Let’s Walk along the Hidden Paths. YouTube, YouTube, 22 June 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l69B3bcN6s.

 

 

 

 

Mac Tonnies and Cyberspacial Relationships

The story of Mac Tonnies and his death is certainly tragic but the experience and what has been felt and understood by those he left upon this mortal plane lends itself to something greater. His constant blogging had developed a tight knit community that were only rendered stronger together in his absence. The article addresses the mass of 250 comments that were left upon the blog by members of the direct community that considered Tonnies a close friend.

It is especially interesting in that these same members are grieving together over a fallen friend in the same manner that anyone would mourn a next door neighbor and yet many of them had never met the man in person. Grieving parties such as Plattner and Sobin take their own time to propagate Tonnies’ image and maintain aspects of his digital personality post death in remembrance of their loss in the same way that family members may maintain a deceased’s home. It is really intriguing in that their grief and maintenance takes place in the cyberspace because that is where their relationship existed. They shared digital relationships that were only formed through the power of technology and thus it is only fitting that their grief also be formed in that same space.

Viewing digitized grief and the shared experience of community mourning as emulated forms of physical grief of traditional communities causes one to question the idea of cyberspace and its purpose. It is often viewed that one ought to lay off technology and engage with the “real world”. While I totally understand the need to experience face to face interaction and human connection, that is doing a disservice to the power of social media and the relationships formed upon numerous platforms. Tonnies’ story is a perfect example of this characterization as it is clear the raw power and emotion behind these digitized relationships in the way that the community of blog followers mourn his death. The grief that is both represented as well as empowered by technology appear to exemplify the powerful connections formed with technology and it seems wrong to denigrate these relationships as being “not real” simply because individuals have never met in the physical world. In today’s world cyberspace is just as real as the physical spaces we inhabit and thus the feelings and emotions attached to it are authentic as well. No better case of the true feelings empowered by technology can be seen than Mac Tonnies and the death of his physical self and the impact it had upon his digital self and its relationships.

The Audible Past and Digital Immortality

When reading an excerpt from James Sterne’s The Audible Past, one is immediately struck by the sophistication of his ideas. In the chapter titled “The Resonant Tomb”, he dives very deep into the history of the gramophone as well as the origins of sound recording utilizing a deeply scientific and anthropological approach. The biggest takeaway that I found from reading such a detailed analysis of sound recording was his differentiation between the interior and exterior. Sterne’s notions of sound recording simply mimicking the exterior aspects of a person as a figment of their physical being while lacking the interior matter or soul of a person is quite striking.

Something that I found a heavy connection with is the piece we read about Hossein Rahnama and his Augmented Eternity program. To me, the idea of sound simply replicating the vocal chords and outputs of a person is very important when thinking about Augmented Eternity because it makes you question what you are really getting. Rahnama has notions of utilizing his program to be a decision making assistant with the sound and makeup of the deceased but Sterne and his argument of the Resonant Tomb disputes this. For Sterne, sound recording is simply just the preservation of an exterior part of a person and because I agree with him, I question the notion of selling a program that can replicate a person’s vocal patterns and voice. At the end of the day, you would really be receiving the an external part of a person while believing to receive the internal component as well. It is due to what Sterne has defined as the Resonant Tomb that it appears that any attempts to replicate simple voices or sound for practical and fulfilling purposes are ill-fated.

An additional point that I found interesting from Sterne comes from page 297 where he speaks to the exteriority of voice recording and its “potential to perform its social function.” This just makes me think of the ways that dead musicians and their voices have been recently repurposed and used by other artists. Examples such as Lil Wayne using unreleased tracks from the murdered XXXTentacion for his song “Don’t Cry” or Justin Timberlake’s re-purposing of Prince during his halftime show spring to mind. Sterne alludes to this idea of voice recording simply being used for social function and I find that he is right on the money. These recordings of the deceased while labeled as touching tribute also have weight of the financial gain that those who utilize them receive. All in all, a recording is simply an exterior fragment of a person who was made of much more internal thoughts and feelings that they can no longer control or represent in death.

The Horrors of Humanity: A Comparative Horror Analysis of “Hated in the Nation” and Split

Black Mirror’s season three finale “Hated in the Nation” and M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 film Split are perfect examples of popular works of postmodern horror. Although both are extremely different in various ways, they examine some of the same tropes of postmodern horror while confronting them in vastly different ways which when put side by side allow each work to illuminate the other. Whether it is from the presence of technology, the disconnect between people and their online personas, the questioning of good and evil within the story, or simply the lack of narrative closure, both Black Mirror’s “Hated in the Nation” and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split are truly effective examples of the postmodern horror genre and the ways it affects and challenges audiences.

“Hated in the Nation” sees swarms of robotic bees being hacked by an unknown assailant with the purpose of orchestrating mass murder. This premise is very technologically loaded which helps it to fit right in with its postmodern horror counterparts. The episode is set in the near future with very advanced artificially intelligent robotic bees which serve as a replacement for the natural species who had died out. It is through this overwhelming presence of this technology that the main antagonist terrorizes society, creates mass hysteria and ultimately murders masses of people. The overabundance of technology is completely vital to the plot line of “Hated in the Nation”. The fear of this robotic technology and its raw power is the driving force of the narrative as characters are racing to combat it. In “Hated in the Nation”, technology is the horror and the fear and is the physical obstacle which the protagonists must fight against.

One of the more interesting notions that the episode tackles is the popular disconnect that people tend to have regarding their online profiles. In modern society, most people live on the internet in some way through various social media sites where they post certain things about themselves that they want the world to see. Yet, while people actively post and engage with their own profiles, there appears to be a certain disassociation between true people and their online personas. People often post things online but feel no responsibility or ownership of their words because they feel like there is no accountability. As Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin put it, “The elements of perceived anonymity on-line . . . aid in freeing individuals from traditionally constraining pressures of society, conscience, morality, and ethics” (134). “Hated in the Nation” directly attacks this idea because the hacker selects his victims via a twitter hashtag #DeathTo.

The victims are those who have been targeted by the mass public with this hashtag and yet those who have tweeted the hashtag feel no liability or responsibility in that they aided in another’s death.

Following with this same premise of the targets being chosen using the popular hashtag, “Hated in the Nation” offers up a very popular postmodern horror trope in which the line between good and evil is blurred. Near the end of the episode, the villain reveals his true motive in that everybody who tweeted the hashtag were the real targets and all hundred of thousands of them were exterminated in a single day with the swarms. This is a very devastating ending that renders a great portion of the population lifeless, but it still challenges the viewer through the question of whether this was a just ending.

All of those who were killed actively involved themselves in selecting other people to die in a weird cyberbullying sort of way yet, does that mean that they too ought to be punished to the death? On top of that the villain’s manifesto explains that he was once witness to a friend’s suicide attempt driven by cyberbullying. This entire plot was a concoction of somebody in severe emotional pain on behalf of a loved one and it was his way of getting revenge and teaching all a lesson in the horrors of cyberbullying. “Hated in the Nation” presents an extremely rich situation in which there are so many sides the story as the lines between good and evil are brilliantly blurred.

Throughout the episode, “Hated in the Nation” presents numerous different plot lines and characters that apply to its postmodern horror genre and its ending scene solidifies this. The episode ends with one of the lead detectives who served as protagonists going out on a frantic search to find the culprit for such a deadly catastrophe. The final shot of the episode is the detective informing the other that she has finally found their man and it ends with her perusing him on foot.

This end leaves things very open which Isabel Pinedo cites as a popular trait of postmodern horror in her paper Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film (24). The lack of narrative closure is one that is readily felt in “Hated in the Nation” and it helps to leave a more lasting impact in viewer’s ends as the story has not fully completed itself. This open ending leaves things on a hopeful note that justice will befall the villain and that some will achieve closure.

In Split, Casey Cooke and two other high school girls have been kidnapped by a man named Kevin Wendall Crumb who is living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) where he has twenty-three separate personalities occupying his mind. A small group of his identities referred to as the Horde have gone rogue ensnaring these girls leaving them to fight for their survival. As part of their being held against their will, the girls are locked away without any communication from the outside world meaning that they have no access to any form of technology. The very lack of phones and other communication devices is highlighted extraordinarily well in a scene where Casey convinces one of Kevin’s identities, Hedwig, to show her his stolen walkie talkie. When she discovers that the device is real and is a legitimate form of communication with the outside world you can physically see the change in her eyes.

To her, this old-fashioned device represents a chance to reach those outside the walls but more directly it is hope. The chance to call for help is so tantalizing that against Hedwig’s wishes she turns it on to speak with the person on the other end. Although the people on the other end fail her, this scene does an extremely effective job in highlighting the importance of technology to a trapped person with no escape. It calls to the viewer’s attention the sheer lack of technology that modern day viewers are not used to and thus only intensifies the fear and horror that Casey and the other girls experience.

At one point in the film, Kevin’s therapist, Dr. Fletcher, receives multiple emails from one of his identities, Barry, who requests emergency therapy sessions.

When the sessions occur however, it is no longer Barry in control of the body but rather Horde member Dennis and thus he waves off the emails as mistakes and something that should not have occurred. Pulled off through incredible acting, this scene interestingly tackles the idea of technology hosting false personas. This film examines it from a unique perspective because in this case it is truly two separate people sharing one online persona and yet it is akin to the disconnect often present between ourselves and the personas we put out online through technology. It is an interesting thought in Split because there are truly multiple identities controlling this singular profile and thus there is true discrepancy rather than a falsehood created by erroneous societal consciousness.

The most striking postmodern horror characteristic that Split takes on is its challenge to the viewer as to what true good or true evil is. As an audience you are led to believe that the Horde as characters are the clear source of evil as they have kidnapped three young women and are holding them against their will for the purpose of cannibalistic sacrifice. That is an indisputable evil act and yet, throughout the film one is also exposed to Kevin’s own pain and trauma which has led him the broken man that he is. DID is understood to be a direct result of childhood abuse from both doctors and scientists (Ellason 256). Viewers see Kevin’s abusive mother savagely torture him as a child leading his mind to completely fracture into the numerous identities that are encountered throughout the film). The Horde as well as the Beast view themselves as protectors of Kevin having been forged in the fire of pain and suffering. Their cause is one motivated by fear and love of their own body which is admirable and yet they are committing horrific acts. They are clearly part of a broke collective living inside of Kevin Wendall Crumb and their broken aspects are committing atrocities, but does that make them evil? Split forces audiences to dig deeper and think harder about the questions of good and evil which aids in its complete effectiveness as a work of postmodern horror.

The second of Jeffrey Cohen’s theses of his paper “Monster Culture” is the idea that the monster always escapes (4). In Split, Kevin Wendall Crumb’s Horde fit right this thesis to a tee in that they completely elude capture. The film ends with them inside a broken-down house talking to each other in the mirror proclaiming their plans for the future. They conclude that the power of the Beast is true and that by putting faith in him they shall be protected. This scene not only fits into Cohen’s thesis that the monster cannot be stopped which induces fear and horror, but it also ties into Pinedo’s thoughts on postmodern horror’s use of open endings. Split is able to match both descriptions perfectly which only increases the level of fear in audiences because they know that the Beast and all of his violence and brutality is still roaming around free.

The role of technology and the way that it is addressed in both “Hated in the Nation” and Split is extremely interesting as they are virtual opposites. In “Hated in the Nation”, the world is enveloped by technology and ultimately it is the vast power of robotic bees that are used to create fear and panic. There is simply too much technology and the public is forced to deal with the horrors that it produces. Meanwhile, Split has a distinct lack of technology and to the trapped girls, it is a sign of hope to dispel fear and panic. The main difference in the way that technology is used can be attributed to the fact that “Hated in the Nation” is a much more public and massive story while Split is a very personal and isolated one. In the Black Mirror episode, technology is prevalent because of the way it can affect masses of people which was the scope of the horror. Meanwhile the scope of the horror of Split was directed solely upon three terrorized girls who were completely isolated. Technology has a way of bringing people together and thus in “Hated in the Nation” it is used on a mass scale to spread mass hysteria whereas Split was about breaking people apart and kidnapping them away from society, thus leading to a reduction in its presence. The ways that technology was used in both of these works only serve to further highlight the scope of the horror that the works were attempting to create.

Another common theme that both works inspect is the idea of disassociation between technological profiles and the people behind them. “Hated in the Nation” tackles this topic in the more conventional way with people utilizing social media platforms and attempting to deny any and all credit for what their post may have resulted in. These characters fall under the common issue that society finds with accepting responsibility for their online actions. Meanwhile, Split confronts the topic through the tool of email in which one identity sends an email, but another is the one who acts upon it. This is unique to the story and characters of Split, but it does attack the thought of their being a disconnect between technology and people. The issue here however comes from the disconnect of the identities within Kevin’s body and the way they interact with one another rather than a disconnect between a single person and technology. This is a very effective move on the part of the filmmaker as he draws attention to a technological disconnect which is popular as evidenced by “Hated in the Nation” but does so only to subvert your expectations and reveal more about the characters and their own disconnect. When examining both cases, it further highlights that the disconnect in “Hated in the Nation” is that between people and technology whereas the disconnect of Split comes from DID.

What appears to be the most important and significant trope of postmodern horror is that of challenging notions of what true good and true evil is. Both “Hated in the Nation” and Split blur the lines of good and evil respectively to only further improve their works. Both antagonists, the hacker and the Horde/Beast, are acting out of what they perceive to be desperate circumstances. In their minds, the atrocities they are committing are done so for a noble cause, one to expose cyberbullies and the other to protect a broken soul. Throughout the narratives, both are shown to be vile creatures with little regard for their victims and yet, viewers are shown the trauma that was suffered by them to create such monstrous personalities. In “Hated in the Nation”, the antagonist was traumatized by finding his flat made in a state of attempted suicide induced by cyber bullying and in Split, the Horde was formed from the abuse suffered from Kevin’s mother. By showing the dichotomies in their villains, both “Hated in the Nation” and Split fully represent real life in that things are not black and white, and that people are never fully good or fully evil. This realistic representation on screen certainly allows both works to be received more positively allowing audiences to connect on deeper levels.

Finally, the endings of both works are left slightly ajar without ever having completely closed the story. In each case, the use of an open ending is for different reasons and has vastly different effects. In “Hated in the Nation”, the story is left on a positive note with the antagonist being tracked down. While the viewer never gets to see the capture of the hacker, one is left to surmise that had the story continued the villain would have received his comeuppance. The mere thought of that is disputably more effective to leave with a viewer rather than to visually show it. Meanwhile, Split has an open ending for one very important and distinct reason: it is part two of a trilogy. In the post credits scene, it is revealed that Split is a secret sequel to an earlier movie from Shyamalan called Unbreakable. The reason that it was a secret sequel may be found in the paper: Dynamic Effects Among Movie Ratings, Movie Revenues, and Viewer Satisfaction. This paper from Sangkil Moon, Paul K. Bergey, and Dawn Iacobucci states that “sequels tend to leave their viewers less satisfied in the early weeks” (118). For Shyamalan, who was attempting to make a comeback after falling from grace, the idea of making his sequel secret must have been appealing given tendencies for lesser viewer satisfaction. Split had an open ending because the Hollywood machine was not yet finished with the story and it had plans of being revisited in a third movie where the Kevin would play a prominent role. Both works make use of a postmodern horror open ending effectively to best suit their narratives. It just so happens that “Hated in the Nation” ends its story best with its ending while Split simply awaits a sequel.

In the end, both Black Mirror’s “Hated in the Nation” and Split tackle many of the same issues and address many of the same popular postmodern horror tropes though in different ways. Whether it was in their uses of technology, confrontation with online personas, the blurring of good and evil or simply the use of an open ending, when contrasted with one another, certain things stick out which reveal more about the individual pieces themselves and only serves to elevate both as works of entertainment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bergey, Paul K., Dawn Iacobucci, Sagkil Moon. “Dynamic Effects Among Movie Ratings, Movie Revenues, and Viewer Satisfaction” 2010.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” 1996.

Ellason, Joan. “Lifetime Axis I and II Comorbidity and Childhood Trauma History in Dissociative Identity” 1996.

Patchin, Justin W., Sameer Hinduja. “cyberbullying: an exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization” 2008.

Pindeo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film” 1996.

Why is Dead Set Dead Set on Using Big Brother?

Dead Set is an extremely effective piece of zombie driven postmodern horror. One of the show’s strongest aspect is its characters in that every single character plays their role in the narrative extremely effectively. In this post I will ponder what effect these character archetypes play and how their being part of a Big Brother season changes and affects the story.

The first thing that I find the Big Brother backdrop being effective in is the fact that the real show establishes cast archetypes. Typically in reality shows they attempt to cast people who fit a specific profile hoping that the individual personas will play out in specific ways that make for good television drama and compelling story. Dead Set capitalizes on this same premise as their cast is equally made up of the archetypes but the setting of Big Brother allows this to be more natural. From the creepy perverted Joplin, douche stud Marky, flamboyantly gay Grayson, down to earth Space, attractively naive Pippa, kindhearted Angel and beautifully strong Veronica, the show is made up of stereotypical personalities. Throw in the disgustingly self-centered Patrick and flawed heroine Kelly and the show is all set for a perfect storm. The characters get to act in very stereotypical ways defined by their basic characteristics. This allows a predictive story yet a compelling one as it is one that has been repeated so many times over the years in vastly different mediums.

The most interesting aspect that Big Brother has on the impact of Dead Set however is in the characters who have no relation to the show. It is in Riq as well as Alex where the true heart of the story lies. It is these two characters who honestly acted fully with pure hearts throughout the show with care for their fellow humans and never crossed boundaries such as killing or mutilation of live people. Together the two work together solely for survival and it is a great tragedy when Riq is forced to kill Alex after a bite but even then both handle the situation with absolute class. They show complete respect and adoration for one another that is truly touching and they are both true heroes worth rooting for.

Meanwhile all of the other characters are all fallible in their own ways and nearly all cross boundaries in their efforts to survive. Almost all of the cast members at one point or another vote to kill another person in effort to save themselves. The worst offender is of course Patrick who is a completely despicable human showing zero remorse for his actions towards others but even the “main” protagonist Kelly shoots multiple people and lest us not forget cheated on her boyfriend. A common trope of Zombie apocalypse situations is where the line between good and evil becomes quite blurred in the nature of survival. The question of what is allowed to be morally done in an effort to see the next day leads even the heroes of stories to cross the line. I find it very intriguing that the characters in Dead Set who engage in such behavior that crosses the line are all essentially members or creators of the reality show Big Brother. In the same way that reality show manipulates events to create heroes and villains for their audience, the lines of reality are too crossed in the apocalyptic world where good and evil is not as clear cut as it seems.

The Creation of Horror: A Head Full of Ghosts vs The Exorcist

Paul Tremblay’s a Head Full of Ghosts draws a lot of imagery and description of possession from William Friedkin’s 1973 The Exorcist. This is not surprising in any way given how prolific the movie is in the horror genre and especially that of possession-based movies. In this post, I am going to explore the relationship between the two specifically regarding the narratives and the effects they have upon inflicting horror.

The key difference in A Head Full of Ghosts is that there is an immediate family surrounding Marjorie and the story is told from her sister Merry’s point of view. This establishment of a family and specific use of Merry as the narrator produces what feels like a much more personal story. As readers we are inside her thoughts and her childhood memories so everything, we perceive of Marjorie’s situation is from the perspective of a scared little girl deeply empathetic to her older sister. In my opinion, this grounds the story and makes it more relatable to the audience and as such helps to make it more horrific and terrifying. We are not terrified simply due to the visual description itself but having the commentary of Merry upon the events take it to the whole other level making it scarier.

On the other side, the horror from The Exorcist appears to be built upon sheer grotesqueness and graphic imagery. The only true support system that poor Regan has is her mother Chris who, while excellently played by Ellen Burstyn, is more difficult to sympathize with and is less of a grounding mechanism. In addition to keeping things grounded and relatable, which I assert to be the key between an audience and a piece of work, the special effects do not do horror any justice. While the graphics are very dark and scary in terms of what they are depicting, they are also out of this world and something that is simply not grounded. Sometimes the effects do not hold up well and it is at these moments when the viewer is taken out and less horrified.