Here’s a link to my podcast-
Evans, Timothy H. “Slender Man, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Dynamics of Horror Cultures.” Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet, edited by Trevor J. Blank and Lynne S. McNeill, University Press of Colorado, Logan, 2018, pp. 128–140. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxq0m.10.
PINEDO, ISABEL. “RECREATIONAL TERROR: POSTMODERN ELEMENTS OF THE CONTEMPORARY HORROR FILM.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20688091.
Tolbert, Jeffrey A. “‘The Sort of Story That Has You Covering Your Mirrors’: The Case of Slender Man.” Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet, edited by Trevor J. Blank and Lynne S. McNeill, University Press of Colorado, Logan, 2018, pp. 25–50. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxq0m.5.
This was my first time watching “Be Right Back”, and I find it one of the most chillingly plausible uses of current technology in Black Mirror. I also took note of a few things that jumped out at me.
One thing I noticed a lot of that I normally don’t pick up on is the use of foreshadowing. When Martha is driving she says she will “crash this van”. Watching with subtitles, I noticed that the song playing in the van when this happens is a Bee Gees song, “How Deep is Your Love”. This is an interesting question to raise for the episode, how deep is your love? Is it so deeply intertwined with your reality that as a loved one passes you are constantly reminded of them? Would it hurt less to get to talk to them one last time?
I also noticed how they made so obvious the fact that Ash’s brother had died at a young age. And father. And how his mother handled those losses by putting those memories in the attic. Which is paralleled in the end by Martha banishing AshBot to the attic. An action which I think is meant to provoke a deeper narrative. That’s one of those “hard to chew” moments that gets the viewer thinking about something taboo, “how do we handle mourning?”.
There’s also a point where Martha walks with AshBot on the phone through the countryside. She ends up sitting near the suicide cliff and it was quite clear that this would become a point of climax for the character later on. Especially when the bot points out that people usually jump alone. Whether it would be Martha or a form of Ash I made quick note of the fact that one of them surely would jump.
From the getgo I also noticed how disconnected Ash was. Martha asks him bizarre questions, like if he wants his soup from a shoe, and he isn’t present. He just responds with a simple “yes” having not heard the question. Kind of robotic. His answering machine is also “I’m too busy or lazy to answer so leave a message”. I think this was particularly moving to me when the AshBot replies to Martha on the cliff that he only wishes to serve. The bot’s actions are clearly not those of Ash, but what the bot could learn from him. All meant as a tool for Martha.
And in classic Black Mirror fashion the technology doesn’t seem so far fetched. It reminded me a lot of what I think can be called Natural Language Processing, and Twitter Bots. The idea being that you can train a computer based on a dictionary of people’s work – like Shakespeare – and recreate sentences that are similar to what might have appeared in the original. The product and original aren’t quite the same – in fact normally they are quite strange.
There’s a pretty funny example of this in @KeatonPatti on Twitter “forcing a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of _”. Olive Garden, Porn, Trump’s State of the Union. The product is what is probably a human-altered script made by a bot using NLP, but they’re fun to read. While these are pretty silly examples, I know Dr. Sample you’ve also got a few bots that operate in a similar way in your Moby Dick bot https://twitter.com/MobyDickatSea and your favorite things bot that operate on their own. It’s interesting to think of them as eventually being used to learn from our digital literature (facebook, twitter, etc) and perhaps recreate our sentiments postmortem.
The synthesis in Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is very tightly packed. For a moment I just want to unwrap some of what he made me think about. Throughout his argument my mind was brought to the idea of “the Other”. The outsider, or complete opposite, from the human self. I started to think about the idea of calling another human a monster, but even more so the idea of monsters embodying human difference. Particularly in the last four theses of his argument.
Cohen uses examples of beasts and creatures: godzilla, nosferatu, alien. While monsters can be literally different in form, they also all personify a difference from one’s self, which is a lot of what Cohen is getting at. Just as someone can be scared of monsters, it seems fair to say that humans are scared of difference; scared of change.
Cohen’s argument of portrayal, monsters linger in difference, demonstrates humans’ more artistic rendering of the fear of the Other. “In medieval France the chansons de geste celebrated the crusades by transforming Muslims into demonic caricatures whose menacing lack of humanity was readable from their bestial attributes; by culturally glossing ‘Saracens’ as ‘monstra;’ propagandists rendered rhetorically admissible the annexation of the East by the West.” (8) His example of caricaturization makes me think of political cartoons. Especially in his brief discussion of “political or ideological difference” as being “much a catalyst to monstrous representation on a micro level as cultural alterity in the macrocosm.” (8) A dehumanizing representation of humans, especially those whose arguments and decisions are not in line with your own.
In his thesis regarding monsters policing the borders of possible Cohen explains “the monsters are here, as elsewhere, expedient representations of other cultures, generalized and demonized to enforce a strict notion of group sameness. The fears of contamination, impurity, and loss of identity that produce stories like the Genesis episode are strong, and they reappear incessantly.” (16) As a religious text, the Bible is something many philosophers seem to turn to in analyzing social patterns. Some of the earliest examples of embodied fear or difference with consequence. It’s through this example that I started to think about how we use the word monster in the modern world and how human a monster can be.
I had one thought that sums up his section on fearing the monster being an embodiment of desire. In putting another down one is attempting to raise oneself. Humans pick on others out of jealousy and envy.
In defining monsters as mystical, I agree with Cohen’s final argument – that more fantastical monsters exist through knowledge and in the mind. But I find his concluding statements about monsters one last reference to the idea of monsters as an embodiment of the fear of difference. “Monsters are our children… These monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place.” (20)
Tasha Robinson, in her article titled “Modern Horror Films Are Finding Their Scares in Dead Phone Batteries” for The Verge, describes cutting connection as a way of “establishing sympathies.” Part of the neurological science behind horror, and what can make it so scary, is the connection to the main character. The fact that 95% of the people watching these movies have a cell phone, gives the producers of these films something to tug at. While every viewer might not react in the same way, there are certain strings which I think manipulate people and make them malleable. This, mainly, being the fear of not being able to use your mobile device in case of an emergency! For this could be one of the main reasons that phones were created in the first place: to give the ability to call for help and get information while on the go. I mean, she points this out (and ties this idea together) as well, that “[the producers] aren’t just tapping into a tired cliché. They’re channeling the low-key real-world anxiety of needing a phone for a specific purpose and suddenly not being sure whether it has the juice to perform.”
And it’s not just cell phones – it’s things like power or a working car. These, among others, being “clichés” that producers work with in establishing sympathy. All technologies that I think we can mostly agree are taken for granted. It doesn’t surprise me that as we use things like Instagram, video chats, or cell phones, that they get integrated into the films. Especially as the majority of the population begin to use these digital technologies on a day-to-day basis.
Horror films are all about taking an aspect of real life and turning it on its head. You’re supposed to get close to the characters so that everything that happens to them feels like could happen to you. Establishing sympathy.
One last thing I want to expand upon is that not only does technology reshape the horror genre, but it’s starting to change how we receive it. I’ve encountered posts on Instagram and Snapchat with snippets of horror movies made specifically for the platform. They revolve around texting or using some app on your phone that producers are using to connect you to the character even more literally. And I think being able to use the medium you’re scaring someone on to be the subject you scare them with is not only meta, but a clever way to strengthen the impact of the scare.