The Scion and Mr. Robot

October 12, 2017

We watched the first episode of Mr. Robot’s 3rd season tonight, alerted that one of our son’s (aka Dubvirus, aka The Scion) compositions would be on the soundtrack. I am so proud. The clip doesn’t last long, but it’s recognizably in his organic-dubstep style, and in an appropriate place – a clandestine den of hackers involved in an international hacking competition during a total metropolitan power-outage. It probably took this filial connection to get me back into Mr Robot. Etti and I liked the first season a lot. It was a bit like a dream come true. We had fantasized, back in the 70s, of writing a story about a cyber-auditor who becomes involved in an anarchist hacker-conspiracy against the corporate state, bringing down one mega-server structure after another. (We never wrote it, but the concept has been a touchstone with us ever since.) The first season of Mr. Robot seemed to be headed in that direction. The second season did not work for me. Too edgy, not enough boot up on, as Bruce Sterling would say. But the feel of this third season is much more inviting. I haven’t seen the new Blade Runner yet, but from what I read from acute friends it is titanic eye-candy, with very little advance of the now ass-dragging themes of implanted memory, artificial personality, the tired cyberpunk clichés of yore. (Please, someone! Deal with how opposed the Blade Runner visions are from Dick’s novel.) The third season of Mr. Robot seems much more engaging. I see that Remy Malik wrote and directed the first episode of S03. That’s impressive – the writing is sharp, immersed in cyberculture, and incredibly efficient. But the main thing is the look. The show’s noir sensory world owes a lot to Strange Days, Children of Men, and Penny Dreadful. Visually, it’s gorgeous without being ostentatious. The soundtrack is iffy for me – other than the superlative Dubvirus moment! – but I’m reserving judgment. The new science fiction is using songs with a complex irony that was rare in the past. (Though you can feel it coming at the end of Dr. Strangelove. But the best case in point is the theme song of Man in the High Castle.) Without becoming sentimentally romantic, the mood has become much more “human.” I’m not a big fan of spectacles that use contemporary cyber-savvy to deliver conventional sentiments, version 2.0. I much prefer dramas that try to incorporate the full-body dislocations of cyberculture, using concrete knowledge about what Kate Hayles calls the “cognisphere.” I’m no fan of so-called posthumanism. It’s too shifty, slipping from “posthumanism” (a philosophical position) to the “posthuman,” a speculative vision of material transcendence that jettisons history and compassion for some fantasy of apocalyptic improvement, courtesy of high-tech. So I have special affection for stories that get into the problem of promise versus corporate capitalist manipulation. (Just re-viewed Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous to report on an academic article – a really good one – on it. That’s a lovely film.) Even some of the most acute social critics in science-fiction studies can’t seem to get free of techno-utopian fantasies that can only end in misery. But things like Mr. Robot (and Halt and Catch Fire, which isn’t science-fictional, but totally gets the cogni-struggles involved) make fewer compromises. I’m a proud Dad that The Scion is associated with such an original work of art.




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