It’s Hard to be Good


Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.47.47 PMJared from “Silicon Valley” is a pretty nice guy. He is the most compassionate voice on the show. Sometimes to get a laugh the show will also have him say something incredibly dark and tragic about his past. His childhood, thru several grim anecdotes, was a bleak affair referencing intense loneliness and poverty.

One example painted so dark we can only laugh follows:
Jared: I had a stuffed animal named Winnie.
Winnie: Oh, wow.
Jared: I mean, it wasn’t technically an animal, I took a Ziploc bag and I stuffed it with old newspaper and then I drew a smile on it.

Its super sad, but it also reveals how even then Jared was an eternal optimist. I have had several favorite characters on this show. The entire cast is very funny and each person is a well thought out and acted character, but Jared really won me over this season as favorite.


Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 3.23.26 PMIt was completely crushing to see Jared’s final action of the season, but it also felt so real.  Jared knows poverty better than anyone else on the team and his action shows us he is willing to go further than anyone else on the team to never be poor again.  For the rest of the team success is movable swimming pools and celebrity, for Jared it is finally killing the ever present specter of poverty he has known all his life.

If you haven’t seen the show I’ll briefly explain.  The main cast of characters in “Silicon Valley” have been trying to release what they hope will be a successful new technology and make them the next Apple, Google or Facebook.  They finally launch the app and after a brief initial success the app fails to attract and grow it’s userbase.  This is very bad for a want to be technology giant.  Jared secretly hires an offshore clickfarm service to make it appear that the app is successful.  A clickfarm is essentially an internet sweatshop where hundreds or thousands of humans sit in front of computers repeating menial tasks over and over for third world wages.

Jared knows exactly what it means when he hires this company. Poor people, even well meaning poor people, will continue to screw over poorer people as they claw their way up for the chance to be slightly less poor. And technology remains a revolutionary product for a very few already very well off westerners.

Ghost in the Shell

With the upcoming live action Ghost in the Shell three dimensional experience approaching, it feels like a good time to revisit the ghost hacked garbage truck driver who asked “[w]hat does a virtual experience mean then?”  Probably not a three dimensional movie, but those kids at Dreamworks and all the punks who have the skills but moved to New York to cut their teeth on freelance benders are making it pretty damn difficult to tell if the pixels I see on the way to work are forming Time Square in my reality or yours.

“I am a life-form that was born in a sea of information.”

Speaking of Times Square, school is out, and teenagers instinctively know that Times Square is their territory.  I am more afraid of a group of teenage boys than anything else I encounter on a regular basis.  When they suss out that deep dark insecurity you didn’t know still lingered, they let their insults fly casually so you know how easy it is for them to hurt you.

These kids.  They were born in a sea of information.  They don’t, as far as I can tell, have George Church’s sili brains, but they do carry a rough draft around with them like the rest of us.  Will they give us a choice when they merge?

Released at the end of 1995, which began with the opening statements of the OJ Simpson trial, Ghost in the Shell was both ahead of its time and right at home in the same year that witnessed the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber when some of us were naive enough to believe that tragedies on US soil were by definition outliers.

The film did not depend on special effects or violence to the same extent The Matrix franchise would a few years later, instead, it asked a serious question about the future of humankind.  These Times Square kids might be surprised at how much dialogue is in this film.  It is thoughtfully constructed, and its spirit is more in line with Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker than most stories involving cyborg assassins with ghost cloaks.

Ghost in the Shell was visually inspired by Blade Runner, and that is beautifully evident in the final scene, which takes place in a large room with a domed ceiling that intentionally or not looks like a sly nod to the impossibly fresh view of LA’s iconic Bradbury Building seen in Ridley Scott’s masterful adaptation of PKD.

If you’re feeling broken, take an evening to re-watch this classic before the marketing blitz for the live action remake assaults you.  Watch the subtitled version and, if you can, try to get a teenager into it.


Although the short film Sunspring is more s.f. than dystopian, it belongs here because of its author, Benjamin.  I suspect that the last thing a truly terrifying artificial intelligence would do is let us know that it exists.  It would probably spend more time learning to hack our brains to distort reality.  The two humans who created Benjamin, which named itself and ensured a victory at the annual film festival Sci-Fi London by voting for itself 36,000 times per hour, fed Benjamin a list of scripts from a variety of s.f. films and television shows.  The resulting short film and what it teaches us about the scènes à faire for the genre should not be ignored.

Watch the full short film here.


The Maze Runner

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?  Months after watching The Maze Runner, I feel a lot like the main character.  I can’t remember much.

The film jettisons narrative in favor of a loosely stitched collection of heavy handed simulacra reminding viewers that they are watching a dystopian film.  In that sense, a symptomatic reading of The Maze Runner could give it value as a harbinger of our own unfolding apocalypse.  That said, I think I might have mindlessly enjoyed portions of the movie.  I have no idea what it is like to be a parent, but I do not think this film is suitable for children who might mistake it for something other than a commodity.