If you ever visit my house… well, let me know first, I’d hate for you to accidentally be injured by the various “Home Alone” prank gadgets I have stored around the place, alright? Assuming you make it past all that stuff, however, you’ll notice that I don’t have a television on the ground floor. The only TV I personally own is in front of my elliptical machine, because I’m too old and feeble now to continue my old habit of reading while I exercise. Fifteen years ago, I could run a consistent 165 heart rate and hold a book in one hand. Now my eyeballs and hands shake when I do it. So instead I turn on the screen. Otherwise, I don’t watch television for pleasure or recreation. It does not interest me.
That being said, I’ve seen a fair amount of “free TV” lately, thanks to a lot of cheap-hotel travel and Danger Girl’s decision to watch “Yellowstone” on the ad-supported Peacock Channel, and what strikes me most is the astoundingly unreal world pictured in the advertising. The vast majority of ads now feature what we call “people of color” living their best lives. Interracial relationships are the norm, not the exception, as our filter-free President, the most popular ever in history, noted recently. Should people of the year 2080 use our commercials to guess at our lifestyle and experiences, the way some of us do today with regards to the Fifties and Sixties, they will assume that the country was made up almost entirely of middle-class Black people who are in a perpetual state of ecstatic joy simply from being their wonderful selves.
There’s a reason for this: Black people are the most avid consumers of free television in this country. (Asian-Americans are the least.) So while it’s tempting to view what you see on free TV as some kind of broad-ranging brainwashing conspiracy, it’s perfectly easy to explain in terms of the almighty dollar. People want to see themselves represented in their media. The same is true as it applies to age and education; a major percentage of advertising now is aimed at low-education Medicare recipients and/or older people with an astounding diversity of diseases requiring targeted pharma products.
As you might expect, it’s also very easy to get a sense of the modern catechism by watching free TV. Diversity is our strength, superior to anything except mass immigration of homogenous groups such as Mexicans and/or West Africans; that’s even stronger and better. Big Tech is portrayed lovingly, as is big government. There are countless shows about underdog Federal agents trying valiantly to defeat white supremacists. Everywhere you look, there are white supremacists. Thousands of them. Millions even. Even the aforementioned “Yellowstone”, normally a deliberate respite from today’s enforced Benetton-ism, took time out from the diesel Rams and Stetson 1000X hats for an episode about the dangers of white supremacy. The white supremacists are always far more powerful, better-armed, and more technologically savvy than the downtrodden Feds who have to attack their plywood-and-drywall fortress compounds using nothing but the full force and capability of the United States Government.
You can’t watch any of this stuff without either laughing or cringing, or perhaps feeling a sense of unwanted manipulation. Which makes sense. If you’re not paying for something, you are the product. That’s a concept made painfully relevant in the age of Facebook, but it’s been true in media since King Biscuit Flour was a major advertiser. So what do you get when you agree to pay for the television you watch? Is it any better or more interesting? Most of the time, the answer is “Hell no,” but your humble author happened to watch something during an elliptical-machine struggle session last week that perhaps warrants your attention, and certainly deserves your admiration.
The episode is called “Safe and Sound” and it’s part of Amazon Prime’s Philip K. Dick Electric Dreams series, which continues the long tradition of very loosely adapting Dick’s stories for modern tastes. The story takes place in a divided America in which the coasts compose one political unit and flyover country the other. It focuses on a young woman, played by the ahem-gifted Annalise Basso, visting the city with her mother, who is more or less an ambassador from the “Bubbles” of middle America.
The city is full of wonders, of course. But it’s also under constant siege from Midwestern terrorists who are always blowing things up. So the high school in which our heroine is enrolled operates as half orgy-porgy-of-beautiful-people and half Alamo, with steel blast shutters ready to drop at a moment’s notice and Starship Trooper security guards. All the kids wear a “Dex”, a pair of bracelets that operates as a holographic Fitbit/iPad/smartphone combo. It keeps them safe, of course.
Our girl wants a Dex, because the cool kids have one. The coolest kid is a young black skater type who attempts to pressure her into having sex in order to get a Dex but eventually agrees to get her one despite her refusal. Then the cool girls tell her she has to have sex with the dude anyway, and she agrees, at which point he turns her down and humiliates her. She’s sobbing in her bed at home, at her lowest point, when her Dex starts talking to her. It tells her there’s a terrorist plot underway, thanks to her mother — and that only she has the ability to stop it.
Given that the average intelligence of my readers appears to be somewhere on the level of a postgrad physics lecture, I’m not worried about “spoiling” what’s obvious from the jump: namely, that the “plot” is actually a false-flag set up by the government and the Dex company to justify the continual state of paranoia in which the city-dwellers live, and the girl is just a pawn in this game.
The review of this episode at Den Of Geek is probably one of the least self-aware things I’ve ever read, and I’ll excerpt the fun part here so you can see why “Safe and Sound” was generally rated well below other episodes in the series:
Harder still is the idea of a mass conspiracy between government and big tech cooked up to make the populace happy little consumers… If the episode’s themes—school security, people and companies who profit from demonising the other and sowing seeds of paranoia—didn’t feel so depressingly relevant to our time, perhaps the superficiality of their treatment here wouldn’t feel this potentially harmful. Healthy scepticism about what we’re shown on TV or told by companies and politicians with vested interests is exactly that – healthy. But in the last few years, cries of ‘fake news!’ and a blanket-refusal to believe any corner of the media over conspiracy theories feels as though it could be playing into some dangerous hands.
Emphasis in the above paragraph is mine. The writer is the kind of person who can easily see the horrifying nature of, say, the military partnership with Blackwater, because that’s a position supplied to him by his tribe, but can’t use the same lens on the astoundingly cozy relationship between Google et al. and our three-letter agencies, because to do so would to be question, however haltingly, the nature of the information he is fed on a daily basis.
Other reviews, at Vulture and elsewhere, harp on the TOTAL CONSPIRACY THINKING of the episode, but to a man they miss the most subversive aspect of the whole thing, namely: It ends with the mother in jail, perhaps for life, the “terrorist attack” used to justify an even more wide-ranging partnership between Big Tech and Big Government, and the girl elevated to the position of highly-desired celebrity who is approved of, and cherished by, everyone around her. This, in a nutshell, is the bargain offered by our Uniparty to every talented kid who comes to the big city (or the Ivy League, or the Big Six, or Silicon Valley): You can have a share of this power, but you must unhesitatingly subscribe to the full modern catechism in order to do so.
This requirement is so palpably obvious that even stupid people can figure it out; witness the vast armies of people on Twitter whose sole online existence consists of aggressively shouting the CNN/Google/TeenVogue party line as loud as possible, like Julia breaking out of the crowd and yelling “SWINE!” at the telescreen in 1984. They intrinsically understand that there is no room under the tent for anybody who can’t repeat the lines they’re given. There’s an autowriter out there, a fellow who enjoys the best travel and best opportunities available, who used to end all his Instagram posts about press cars with “#fucktrump”. Here’s a hint: when you are absolutely certain that the public-relations arms of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Ferrari will give you more access instead of less for doing so… are you really part of any “resistance” whatsover? Of course not.
One final delicate touch in this episode: it makes plain the relationship between claims of “safety” among the privileged and the application of violence by those privileged people. In the plantation days, if a white woman said she didn’t feel “safe” in a situation you could be reasonably sure that someone would use that as a pretext to take action against someone over whom they had power. Today, we often hear that someone doesn’t feel “safe” in the presence of such murderous Hitlers as Dave Chappelle or James O’Keefe; this is how you are aware that something is about to be done to those people by the Uniparty and its enforcement arms.
Great television, and I don’t say that lightly, because I’m not sure there’s been much of it in human history. There’s also a bit of irony to be had, at least in reading the reviews at Vulture and elsewhere. They are profoundly angry that the heroine is white:
But allow me to revert to all-caps to emphasize the following point: TO INSINUATE THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A MINORITY IS THE MOST INSULTING IDEA POSSIBLE.
Not just in terms of the dangerous equivalence, but because of the way it helps propagate the erasure of the minority experience. Think about the logic of choosing a white protagonist to be the victim in the first place. In these kinds of stories, the reason often sounds like this: “If we put a white face on the oppressed people, then white audiences will empathize more and see what they’re doing is racist!” Which is not only faulty logic — the white audience instead gets to feel great because it justifies their suspicion that they are the ones who are actually oppressed — but also backs up the assumption that people cannot feel that same level of empathy when they look at a brown face, which is what racism literally is. And so, a story like “Safe and Sound” is full of cultural erasure on every level: Not only do you not get to exist in this future, but also your experience is going to be supplanted for our own.
Now, if you watch the episode, you’ll see that the absolutely coolest kids, the ones who dominate the discussion in this high school of the future, are black and Asian. So Vulture’s problem with the show isn’t that it erases people of color, because it obviously does not. Rather, it’s that the PoC are no longer the victims. Just like in the ads on free TV, they’re living their best lives, enjoying everything that society has to offer, operating as first-class citizens. They have everything… but victimhood.
Is there any sane way to read this criticism other than: Victimhood is the currency of social privilege now and in the future, and to take that victimhood away is to deprive people of that essential currency? In other words, it’s a form of victimhood to no longer be permitted to claim victim status! If we unravel this thread a bit more, we can see that there are two kinds of victimhood. There is the powerful victimhood, the claiming of which is, like the aforementioned worries about “safety”, a direct prelude to an exercise of power by the “victim” or his agents on the supposed source of the victimhood. Then we have the weak victimhood, as understood by the powerless of any given era. “Safe And Sound” is literally the story of a girl who starts with the latter and achieves the former. That’s a big burden for a single episode of fictional television to handle. The dexterity with which it is done gives me hope… but certainly not for society, nor for the future.