Society. Bought and Sold.

“Gamer” quite obviously makes no attempt at subtleness. It actively takes entertaining and compelling elements to such an extreme that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch at times. I was extremely disturbed most of the time, although if given the opportunity, I would definitely spend more time watching gameplay of both “Society” and “Slayer.” I’ve been to the far reaches of the catacombs of the Internet, and generally feel appropriately desensitized to this kind of action. The fact that this movie was able to make me feel so viscerally disturbed spoke volumes. Honestly, while the gameplay in “Slayer” was over the top and gory, it didn’t really sound any alarms. During scenes depicting “Society,” however, I felt physically ill. The narrative tools used to depict “Society” are somewhat conflicted. Ultimately, it doesn’t appear to advocate that we should pursue anything close to this kind of socially accepted slavery, but that message could easily get lost. There are obvious negative attributes in “Society.” Beyond the naked obese puppet master in a mobility scooter, there’s a bit of blood, and the apparent eeriness that comes with how the players can’t say no to even the most ridiculous and degrading commands. These negative features, however, are easily forgotten if you’re not actively watching the movie for social commentary. The first introduction to “Society” is pretty overwhelming. There are bright, flashing colors, fun music, and not to mention a slew of breasts and butts. Naturally, it’s really difficult to reflect on social implications when that much nudity is presented. There isn’t really much in the way of story telling techniques in these particular scenes. It’s incredibly over the top. Colors and breasts largely replace substance, which may be a commentary within itself. The effect creates this kind of dualism with content that on the surface seems pretty familiar. We are obviously accustomed to seeing how humans interact, and this rigidity, and lack of autonomy is a pretty effective tool by these movie makers. In addition, many are familiar with the mannerisms of virtual humans, and seeing that in combination with people stripped of there autonomy is what allows this scene to strike such a chord. The filmmakers are exploiting our anticipations and completely changing the result, which I think is what makes this film so impactful. During these scenes this phrase kept resonating: “If you’re not paying, you’re the product.” This essentially describes the market of Internet ad revenue. We don’t generally pay to use social media sites, and therefore we allow ourselves to be bombarded by advertisements. The reason “Society” seemed so unsettling to me was because it’s something that we already kind of do. Honestly, there are enough humanitarian groups that we don’t really need to worry about anything comparable “Slayer” being a realized reality more so than it already is. We do live in a world where people are products; whether it’s the extreme of slavery or prostitution, or simply the fact that our personal information is constantly distributed through countless industries, the fact remains that unless you live entirely off the grid, someone is profiting off of you beyond traditional consumerism. Heidegger’s idea of a “standing reserve” seems pretty applicable in this case. His essay mostly discusses our over use of objects in our everyday life, and our need to assign everything constructive purpose. Industry now has an inability to look at something without trying to determine how it can either be used to improve our lives, or with how it can be used for profit. In this case, it’s not resources being utilized. It’s people, but not even in the conventional sense. Our standing reserve in this case isn’t anything to do with our intellect or potential for physical labor. It’s fundamentally who we are. In “Society” what’s being sold is the player’s physical body, but also their entire sense of self. Personal sovereignty becomes a compromised for profit. Although in the film the human brain’s wiring is being manipulated through technology, in the real world, people are just as easily impacted by changing social graces in the same regard. Our standing reserve consists of our personal information, our emotions, our habits, our relationships, and any other minute details we either knowingly our unknowingly provide through technology. Shaviro concisely describes the role of “Society” in his essay. He describes: “He or she is also selling his or her “life” as a commodity. Such a “biopolitical” mode of exploitation would seem to combine the worst aspects of slavery and of wage labor” (97). This is most obviously demonstrated in lower tiers of socioeconomic class, but this phenomenon is absolutely ubiquitous amongst all tiers of society. Let me heavily emphasize that I am in no way saying that issues like human trafficking are in any way comparable to being the target of Internet advertisers, but on a fundamental level the economic mode and motivation behind both are fairly similar. My thoughts, Internet history, and personal information are already a commodity, and therefore it really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to imagine that other aspects of my life might soon follow. The movie describes how originally this industry was a “beneficial” option for people who really didn’t have any other options. Naturally, those struggling financially were the first to volunteer, but Castle’s villain monologue describes a plan of expansion for mind control. Frankly, I think the anthrax-esque mode of execution for spreading the nanites wouldn’t even be terribly necessary. Many of us are eerily comfortable with the fact that where we are and who we’re with are very easily accessed if GPS services are turned on with our cellphones. We don’t read terms and conditions because we’re honestly not invested in whether our privacy is compromised anymore. Advertisers already target us to the point where it’s basically brainwashing. There is already such an established level of comfort and familiarity with being a commodity that it’s not too farfetched to see how we might end up with a complex similar to that of “Society.” Castle describes how we find comfort in someone else making the decisions for us. It’s easy to fall in line and accept whatever decisions an anonymous third party makes for us. I don’t have to think very hard about what brand of toothpaste to buy because someone has very effectively engrained that information into me. Many aspects of “Society” are morbidly appealing to us not only on a basic level of wanting to relinquish control, but also because from a social prospective, we are already well practiced in being bought and sold. “Society” isn’t desperately far off from the reality we are already living in. In addition, “Society” plays with our anticipations. We expect humans to act a certain way, and we expect virtual people to act a certain way, and when those expectations are messed with it creates a level of unfamiliarity that really exemplifies the dystopian elements of the film.

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2 Responses to Society. Bought and Sold.

  1. strikefacehwc says:

    “If you’re not paying, you’re the product.”

    I can’t even tell you how many times that concept entered my mind throughout this movie. I’ve never heard it phrased that way before, but the idea is the same. There’s an old(er) xkcd comic that addressed that very idea in regards to social media and it’s something that’s stood out in my mind ever since. It bothers me enough knowing that my personal “profile” is bought and sold by advertisers without a thought for my take on the matter, and I absolutely agree that seeing that kind of personal violation extend to a physical level in Society was very disturbing.


  2. theterribles says:

    I really enjoyed your post. I wholeheartedly agree to one of your early statements – really, the violence of this movie didn’t really affect me. I guess I’ve made a few too many risky clicks on /r/wtf. I think most of modern-day society is similarly desensitized. I think therein lies the danger – you say that “Slayer” could never really happen, but I disagree. I think with enough time and enough desensitization it wouldn’t faze the world as much as you would think, especially since they were all on death row and would die eventually anyways. I’d argue that in modern-day media suffering is more sensationalized than mourned. Perhaps that’s just my inner cynic though.


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