High-Tech Warfare: Dehumanizing The Enemy

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

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


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

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

Kill All The Humans: Plague Inc.

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


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

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

Path To Consciousness: Haunted Media Project

“Hey Siri, talk dirty to me.” She responds, “the carpet needs vacuuming.” Siri is funny, for a phone. She is coded to say this in response to this crude request. If Siri was real, as in a human or a conscious organic being she would probably tell me to go to hell. Sure, Siri has some sass but she is coded and controlled to respond a certain way to the user. The “hosts” in Westworld, although with all resemblances of humans, are too coded and controlled to respond a certain way to the “guests”. In this sense, they are not conscious as they are not in control of their thoughts, words or actions. This consciousness is what separates humans from machines. Thus, I wondered what if machines could gain consciousness?

Popular media has played with this notion from seeing it as an almost utopia such as the movie Her to apocalyptic Terminator or I, Robot. A deep analysis of these movies showcase the anxiety felt by human society of ever increasing, ever present growing dependence on technology. These movies make us confront technology and ask us if our growing dependence of it is a cause of concern. Westworld differentiates itself from other media regarding technology and instead of asking us whether our technological dependence is a concern, asks us instead whether we are abusing technology. By humanizing technology in the form of cyborgs, Westworld demonstrates humanity’s carelessness of technology. As the guests repeatedly murder, torture and rape the hosts, the guests who are human are less human than the mechanical hosts.

In Westworld, the hosts are machines made to act, feel and look like humans. Each is individually different with a coded personality and back story. Westworld in a sense is a real-life video game in which wealthy guests pay for an adventure in the American Wild West. The American Wild West tropes of the “cowboy, the Lone Ranger, the desperado and the Indian” have long been withstanding in film and media.  These tropes have recently reappeared in science fiction as space and science are considered one of the last frontiers in the modern age. The setting of Westworld is especially interesting as it combines both science fiction and wild west motifs. This combination allows Westworld to explore the freedom and lawlessness of the West while simultaneously critique the phallocentric constructions of the western genre.

If the West is synonymous with freedom and lawlessness, the use of cyborgs is paradoxical since they are controlled by humans. This paradox is especially evident in the show’s portrayal of female cyborgs as sexual or maternal beings such as countless scenes in the brothel, numerous nude scenes or the raping of the female protagonist, Dolores Abernathy. The female cyborgs are disadvantaged both by being controlled by their makers and living in a western patriarchal society. By placing Dolores Abernathy as the female protagonist, Westworld challenges both the anxiety of technology and phallocentric society of the western world. Many feminist critics hypothesize that for cyborgs to achieve freedom or consciousness, there needs to be a predilection of the female gender. Anna Bolshamo, a feminist critic and scholar proposes that only female cyborgs can challenge the status quo due to the rational stereotype of the masculine mind already in place with science in technology. By coding female cyborgs as “emotional, sexual, and often, naturally maternal…these characteristics radically challenge the notion of an organic-mechanical hybrid. Female cyborgs embody cultural contradictions which strain the technological imagination.” Thus, male cyborgs don’t challenge the stereotypes enough since they are acting per the rules of cultural programming. Accepting the irrational is a staple in post-modern horror films. and pits it against emotion and intuition. Isabel Pinedo, in her paper, Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film, explains that “According to the Cartesian construction of reason, rationality is masculine, associated with mastery, and requires the domestication of irrationality, which is feminine.”  Dolores Abernathy is thus put into the position of simultaneously fighting for her consciousness and freedom as a cyborg and her independence and autonomy as a woman.

For my digital artifact, I wanted to focus on Dolores’s transformation from a clueless cyborg to a strong, free and conscious being. After watching and re-watching the show numerous times I couldn’t help but draw the parallel between Dolores’s path to consciousness and women’s fight for suffrage and independence. The show’s Wild West setting points to a time in which patriarchy dominated society, a time where women were not allowed to vote. This makes the parallel even stronger as the lawlessness of the West gave agency to many women. In fact, the first nine states to grant suffrage for women were Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon Kansas and Arizona, respectively. The West thus became a symbol for political equality and the American notion of manifest destiny became synonymous with progress. Dolores embodies this political equality through her journey to consciousness.

For Dolores to gain consciousness, she had to suffer. She had to feel oppressed both by the guests and the patriarchy. Dolores was in this privileged position compared to her male cyborg counterparts. According to Dr. Ford, the co-maker of the hosts, this suffering was the only way for the hosts to gain consciousness. When asked by a male cyborg why he allowed such cruelty to the hosts he responded, “You needed time. Time to understand your enemy. To become stronger than them. And I’m afraid in order to escape this place, you will need to suffer more.” By being the first host created, Dolores had the “privilege” of time and countless suffering. She was oppressed by human evil, understood it and finally resisted it. In my embodiment of Dolores, I had to retrace her suffering to fully understand Dr. Ford’s claims.

I decided to embody Dolores in my digital artifact and retrace her path to consciousness. Starting the project, I was obsessed with Westworld and had a theory in which the hosts that resist their coding are the ones that have suffered and died the most. I started with a super-cut of all the death and violent scenes to test my theory. My theory was correct as Dolores was the oldest host in the park, thus I pivoted my project to Dolores and her path to consciousness. For both of us to understand how she gained consciousness, we had to understand the concept of the bicameral mind.  The concept of the bicameral mind stems from the treatise The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. He hypothesized that the early human mind was divided between two parts. Cognitive functions were controlled by one part of the brain that was “speaking”, and another part which listens and obeys. He theorized that the ancient people in the bicameral state of mind experienced the world in a similar manner to that of schizophrenics. The bicameral mind human would hallucinate a voice of “God” or other supernatural being in which the human obeyed. He cited the examples of the Illiad, Odyssey or the Old Testament in which the voices heard were believed to be that of the Gods themselves. Dolores, too hears this voice and at first believes it to be her maker. She later understands that the voice speaking to her is her own, and finally achieves consciousness.

This artifact is “ghost-centric” and haunted as I embody Dolores who otherwise is aware but not knowledgeable of the outside world. By being the first guest of Westworld she has suffered and died countless times. This suffering has allowed her to remember her past lives and to achieve consciousness.  In my recreation of Dolores, I have taken some key scenes to showcase her path to consciousness. I made a super-cut of all the deaths scenes in Westworld to showcase the cruelty of the guests. Another important scene includes Dolores’s birth as the viewer truly sees that she is a cyborg with mechanical insides. The next scene is when Dolores finally gains consciousness and speaks to herself as she realizes the voice she hears in her head is her own. In the final scene, Dolores finally can make a choice of her own and kills Dr. Ford while symbiotically destroying the patriarchy of the Wild West.

After Dolores gained consciousness she oversaw her own actions. Her creator gave her a choice to continue to live the live she previously lived or to resist. She resisted and killed her creator and the patriarchal western world. In class, we read Cyberspace When You’re Dead and What Happens To Your Data When You Die. Data collected over an individual’s life is largely controlled by technology companies and often outlives the individual. For Mac Tonnies, the centerpiece of Cyberspace When You’re Dead, his writing and blogs long remain after his death. Data and digital artificats will long remain if there are others to pay for the space and regulate it. As for Dolores, who killed both of her creators, she remains after their death. Dolores will continue to live without her makers for as long as her machinery will allow.

What happens when a cyborg gains consciousness? Well, not only does she kill her creator, she destroys the phallocentric mindset of Westworld. Dolores showcases that although there is an anxiety felt by humans of our dependence on technology, the way humans often treat technology is problematic. As for Siri, I hope that if she gains consciousness, she won’t kill me due to the many stupid questions I have asked her.


Heaven is a Place on Earth…in a Database

After discussing various episodes of Black Mirror in class, I decided to go ahead and binge watch all of the episodes. One of the episodes that stuck out to me specifically for this class was episode 4 of season 3,  “San Junipero.”  The episode is ultimately about life after death through technology. San Junipero is a virtual town full of dead people’s consciousness who are able to live as their younger selves forever. The living but dying can visit the town for up to 5 hours per week as a trial to test whether they would like to be uploaded into the town. As with many Black Mirror episodes, the music can explain what’s really going. The songs: “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”, “Fake,” “Living in a Box,” and “Girlfriend in a Coma,” almost have ironic meanings since this heaven on earth is “fake” and is a literal box of data. The episode plays with our society’s notions of heaven and fear of death.

Different religions have different explanations as to what happens to humans after death. San Junipero provides it’s own explanation and relief from the anxiety of impending death and the fear of the unknown. The dying know exactly what to expect and have a choice of when to die and where they will go after death. The episode, like “Be Right Back” also plays with the notion of intimacy and love of something that isn’t totally real. If someone you loved chose to be in San Junipero would you follow? The episode shows the romance of an elderly dying woman and a middle age paraplegic woman, yet in San Junipero they are young, beautiful and healthy.  The question still remains   can technology replicate personality and unique qualities that make up a person? If stripped away of all the imperfections, are you still the same person?

I also found a very interesting article about a company that claims it can transfer consciousness to an artificial body. The company “Humani“, promises that within 30 years they can cheat death. Using nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, Humai is saving the way people talk, their behaviors and thought process to recreate consciousness. The CEO of the company, Josh Bocanegra said, “I don’t think of it as fighting death. I think of it as making death optional. I personally cannot imagine why someone would want to die, but I respect everyone’s wishes.” I would imagine this endeavor is very expensive and if the technology is sound, will only provide access for the very rich. It is also problematic since we all know how finicky technology could be. What happens if the data becomes corrupted or broken, a virus is installed or God(?) forbid hackers try to infiltrate the system. The last scene of the episode truly shows the frailty of San Junipero and this technology as the after life of individuals is stored in a huge warehouse run by robots. If an accident occurs, will your afterlife be cut short?

Reading the article “QR Codes for the Dead“, I wondered what made me so uneasy about QR codes on grave stones? Cemeteries are viewed as quite, reflective and cathartic spaces not only to mourn but to reflect. So when people armed with smart phones can view personal information of the deceased is that cathartic experience made obsolete? The QR codes take you from being in the moment of that specific location to a cyber space in which isn’t tangible. You can see and feel the grave stone and know that the deceased is laying under but the QR code link takes you to a different dimension of time and space. With growing anxiety of technology such as smart phones and VR goggles replacing “being in the present moment”, do QR codes on grave stones replace that moment with something not fully real or tangible? While grave stones are tangible and lasting pieces of one’s life QR codes could very well become obsolete in a very fast technologically advancing society. The article also mentions the upkeep of links and data of these codes specifically if a QR code company goes under or a link is broken. For instance, while I was on a scavenger hunt in Chicago, QR codes were used as clues to the next location. A link was broken on one of the locations and we were unable to figure out our next clue. Thus, is a QR code truly lasting and relevant as a normal grave stone?

Although some companies offer private codes for only friends and families, others give you the option to be accessible to the general public. Public internet spaces are very prone to hackers and internet trollers. My anxiety of QR gravestones can partly be due to trolling. Thus, the encryption of a virtual grieving space becomes very important. An unsuspecting mourner looking to find more information on the deceased could potentially view harassing information about the deceased, malware or advertisements. This makes the grieving process less authentic and more traumatic to the griever.

Nothing Burns Quite Like The Cold

Living in Kazakhstan and now Chicago I feel connected to Frozen’s Elsa “The cold never bothered me anyway”, I would yell out walking over to the bus stop while freezing Lake Michigan wind tried to find any uncovered skin. There is something sinister about “cold”; even saying the word makes one shiver. Cold is unforgiving-if you forget a hat or gloves then you’re SOL. Cold is desolate and lonely-how many people outside do you see in the middle of winter? But can cold be evil or can cold be fake?

Merry, in the last chapters of the book becomes obsessed with the temperature both outside and inside the coffee shop. Initially the coffee shop is warm, toasty, steamy. After reading the email exchange between her father and the baptist(in which it is alluded that her father killed the family), she actually becomes too hot and asks the barista to turn the heat down, but he can’t. The temperature changes significantly after Merry tells of her possible involvement in the murder of her family. It becomes cold in the coffee shop. After being questioned more about what happened with her family, Merry doesn’t want to talk anymore. The most striking part about the entire scene is when she walks over to the door, blaming the cold on the door not being fully shut by the couple that entered a little bit ago. Both Merry and Rachel, however, noticed the cold way before the couple came, thus the cold wasn’t the door’s fault. The last sentence of the book also mentions that it was cold enough in the coffee shop that Merry’s breath was a visible mist.

In her blog, Merry/Karen also make big of temperature during the exorcism. She argued that the window was open in Marjorie’s room explaining the dropping temperature and visible breath. The “live” shots of the thermometer dropping is to trick the audience into believing that there is an actual demon present in the room. The two scenes are paralleled due to the fact of the ajar window or door. Merry has a reason for both occasions as to why it is cold inside. This could have two meanings: that there is something evil or otherworldly present in both the exorcism and after Merry’s confession; or that Merry is lying about her involvement in the murder. As Merry herself pointed out, the window and the cold is a trick or a lie could she be suggesting through the door and the the cold in the coffee shop that her story is a lie? Thus, cold is either fake or evil.

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway. Perf. Idina Menzel. YouTube. TOZChatPanel, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2017. <The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway>.

Female Adolescence: The True Horror Show

Many of us remember our awkward adolescent years, in which a hair grows somewhere one didn’t think possible, or a zit pops up right before the big dance(or was it just me)? I can only speak as man, yet, going through puberty was tough. Being somewhat of a late grower, all of my friends, it seemed were six feet tall, when I was barely 5 feet 5 inches tall. Bodies were changing, muscles were developing, and boys and girls became interested in each other.  In The Exorcist, we watch a demon posses a girl going through puberty. Puberty, itself can be seen as this demon: that changes your body, emotions, appetite and sexuality. For females, it is also the beginning of their menstruation. Sight of blood, is terrifying for most people, since it is a signal that something is wrong. The body, while menstruating, hurts adding to the horror of puberty. In puberty, one also finds their sexuality. In many comedic movies or television shows, the young boy going through puberty is often times shown to be spending a lot of times in his room, bed or bathroom obviously drawing to the conclusion of masturbation. However, it has always been a taboo to show younger girls and women as sexual as their male counterparts in puberty. Thus, adds the great surprise and true horror of seeing Regan masturbating with a crucifix. The “abjectness” of menstrual blood is not lost in The Exorcist, adding to the horror when Regan, forces her mother’s head down to her bloody genitals. In this sense, Regan’s body, personality and sexuality have transformed not only by the demon, but by puberty.

In the ever increasing Digital Age, parents are frightened that their children send and receive sexual messages. Parents are terrified of their moral houses being invaded by hyper sexual outsiders.

Although it must be frightening for Regan to undergo a possession, the movies was made to terrify people in connection to Regan and the audience. We always see Regan and her exponentially increasing possession with others, witnessing what her mother, doctors or Father Damien witness. Although, Regan is possessed by a demon, her language is troublesome to her mother and Father Damien. It is terrifying and infuriating to see someone so innocent to use such sexually explicit language. Adding to the notion, of a fatherless house, The Exorcist brings about the fear of raising a child immorally. In puberty, as bodies transform so does the language around bodies and sexuality, transform. Boys and girls become more aware of their sexual urges and it may be hard sometimes to come up with the perfect way to express one’s sexuality into words. In the Digital Age, adolescents have access to the internet and each other, like never before. The Digital Age also introduces a new way to communicate these sexual thoughts yet, parents are always terrified of their children’s sexuality and constantly try to suppress it, and even punish it. For instance, it was a common occurrence for my friends and I to have our cell phones taken and read by our parents and then receiving lectures about morality and sexuality. One of those times, my parents also took my sister’s phone, and read lewd, eerily similar to The Exorcist messages from a boy she liked. This not only terrified my parents, it outraged them. They were immediate contact with the boy’s parents and grounded my sister for who knows how long. They were terrified of this boy’s advances towards a Catholic “morally raised” adolescent girl, and were terrified that this boy will somehow “possess”, their daughter and cause her to say and do these repugnant sexual fantasies. After that, both of our phones were forced to undergo downloads after download until my parents sense of terror and shock were subdued. What wasn’t frightening to my sister, a boy showing interest in her, to my parents was the most horrifying event, an unknown entity-a teenage boy filling my sister’s head with “impurities”. Thus for parents, adolescence in the Digital Age, is the True Horror Show.

The picture is taken from “https://cybercaution.wordpress.com/contact-us/”, a  Cyberbullying blog. Ahmed Mahmoud, is said to be in charge of posting pictures and videos on the Blog.