Wednesday, September 30, 2009

District 9, when it takes the alien to be more human than human

After the emotional firebomb that happened to be Surrogates, starring one of my favorite action-hero actors—Bruce Willis—I didn’t quite know what to expect from District 9.

One thing that I must absolutely say is that I am thoroughly pleased with that movie.

Shot a little bit gonzo, rogue documentary style in the beginning, it manages to weave a narrative out of the videography and into pure storytelling with seamless ease. It tells a story of a not-so-empathetic main character who exhibits numerous, severe character flaws in the romantic-hero department, but is still very much a person. Albeit an otherwise callous and naive person at the beginning trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances.

The movie does an excellent job of not preaching or shoving ideas in the face of the audience while portraying scenes of what could best be described as racial violence, racism, classism, and population clashes. Displayed especially prominently because instead of setting the scene over a well-known, large US City (like Alien Nation with Los Angeles) it instead uses Johannesburg.

The aliens themselves, aka Prawns, happen to be both cardboard cutout ideological stand-ins for every minority; but have a compelling, and extremely evocative protagonist who comes across as a much better, more emotionally capable human being than the main character.

In the time allotted, the movie doesn’t manage to explore some of the problems as deeply as it could—especially noting the secret-government parts of the story. The fact that it’s not set in the US resolves a lot of cultural issues with government and racial divides (the use of mercenaries in lieu of military and civilian oversight) and it also provides a backdrop to juxtapose the treatment of the prawns vs. the external community, without actually invoking the outside community as a preaching point.

The action scenes are active, heart pounding, and I found myself caring what happened to both prawn and human—worried not just for the humanity of the human characters, but for the very life and love of the alien characters.

I’d love to see this again.

Perhaps it just resonates too much on the tuning fork of the dark side of human behavior.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There’s a zombie on the lawn

So, I’ve been neigh addicted to this wonderful casual game by Popcap games. It’s a good way to burn some time when there’s nothing to do. Plants vs. Zombies. And a couple weeks ago I found a live action video of the credits on Boing Boing. For anyone who hasn’t seen this yet, it’s a must see; for anyone who hasn’t played the game yet, get the trial.



Zombies…are coming.

…for brains!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Surrogates, a case for missing the point

One corporation to rule them all…

Sure. Only Apple makes the iPhone, but they don’t make every cellular phone in existence and never would be able to. Wouldn’t there be the i-surrogate and every other surrogate made by other companies? Somehow all surrogates are made by one corporation and one alone in an extremely unlikely coup d’etat.

Ignoring anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws, the existence of this technology, the networks that must run it, the technology, software, and components to them a great deal of how the capitalist world works would have to be swept away for it to function in this manner in the first place.

Where are the accessories and software upgrades written by other companies anyway?

And in one network bind them!

While the networks that drove the surrogates seem to have some sort of wireless technology, apparently it’s all together on exactly one interpolated system. Even in modern day with technologies like cellular this is not just difficult, it’s near impossible. Multiple carriers would be vying with each other for customers, they’d be paying each other to run time on each other’s lines. But this isn’t the worst part about the scenario.


Why exactly would a single computer in a remote city ever be permitted the ability to subject its will outside of its own bounds, and what sort of software would be required to allow it to do that in a physical sense anyway? This refers to the ability for one computer, in a remote city, to affect every surrogate everywhere without even hand waving to explain why.

Why wouldn’t other networks require some sort of negotiation? Other cities, other states, other countries. The information traveling over those wires could be considered subject to different laws, espionage would become a huge issue, Passports and Visas would mean something else altogether. (Or, as the movie suggested, this only occurs in the United States?)

Everyone runs the same Operating System?

Even with the presence of antiquated surrogates, lorries, loaders, pleasure models, soldier models, from mark one to mark fifteen (or whatever) every surrogate runs exactly the same way, on the same software, and connects to the network in the same way. No popular modern technology works in this way and never has.

Where are the DIY hackers? The people who get their kit out of the box and hack it to their own specifications. Sure, there might be laws that make modifying their surrogates a felony—but why would this stop the most staunch technologists? Apparently they didn’t exist in this society for no given reason. I’d be one of the first people to turn automatic updates off on my surrogate. See: experience with Windows OS. A world without Linux geeks to say the least.

Being without a surrogate makes you a bad person.

People on the street treated people out of their surrogates as if they’re making a political statement. They have a derogatory nickname for them: Meatbags.

This ignores the possibility that a person is out on the street without a surrogate because of some other reason. Maybe their surrogate is in the shop and they don’t feel like running an antiquated, stuffy model that they’re not used to. Perhaps they’re going to court and cannot be in a surrogate at the time (see below.) What if they have a disability based on brain physiology that makes it impossible for them to use surrogate technology.

What about the judicial process?

Keying into the fact that people as themselves on the street are “meatbags” and treated as if they’re making some sort of political statement: what about judicial proceedings? Why would anyone except perhaps bailiffs and officers who protect the court (but aren’t part of the proceeding) be permitted to wear a surrogate? Certainly the judge, lawyers, defendant, plaintiff, and witnesses must be physically present as people.

What exactly happens to habeas corpus in a surrogate society? How can a witness work if it’s not the actual person on the stand? Sure, it’s a felony to run in a surrogate that’s not registered to you; it’s also a felony to perjure yourself on the stand—but in the case of perjury in our society there’s no weird concern about identity. We have you, in body, on the stand making comments. What complex, weird, and otherwise highly fallible mechanisms would be introduced to have surrogates go to court and reliably make certain that corrupt non-persons attended instead?

People going to and from court would be walking on the street out of their surrogates.

Violent crime almost totally eliminated… Really?

What precisely caused people to suddenly ignore the fact that while running a surrogate a human is essentially a helpless lump of flesh, laying on a couch, in an easily entered room somewhere. Sure, it’s harder to kill someone in a passion when people look at the other form in front of them—another surrogate—and fights don’t end in death. But how many cold-blooded murders, or otherwise passion-to-cold-blood over a jilted lover would go away?

Steal someone’s wife and they show up in your room with a gun, not aiming the lethal bullet at your surrogate—but at your fleshy brain. It happened in the movie, after all.


I just couldn’t be impressed by how far the movie Surrogates made it down the rabbit-hole of identity with this antiseptic premise. It got one foot in, and then got stuck. That screaming is the sound of it spraining its ankle. Surrogates could have gone a lot further, done a lot better, and told a much better story if it had let the world be a bit more messy than it presented. The premise is too clean, ignores too many parts of the human condition, and promotes a foolish outcome.


My final observation: At the end, Bruce Willis’s character decides that while the surrogate operators are now safe the surrogates could be then destroyed to create a human revolution back to the norm society before their introduction. A radio message while every person on the street fell down “deactivated” their surrogates destroyed, claimed there were no reports of casualties. Sure, it would not mean the deaths of millions—probably just tens of thousands.

What happens to people currently in surgery under the care of surrogates? How about all the roads now clogged with crashed and deactivated cars: emergency vehicles certainly cannot reach them—that’s assuming that the hospitals have been brought back online already because everyone in them also fell over “dead.” How about the surrogates currently doing extremely dangerous work on buildings with fleshy people in them? Or, surrogates piloting vehicles in the air (planes crash!) and driving trucks filled with dangerous chemicals colliding in the middle of cities, or near population centers as their drivers are suddenly taken offline.

No. This decision may have been less horrible than killing everyone with a surrogate but it’s equally reckless endangerment and mass murder through reckless disregard for human life.

Big things on the horizon

Well, at least it looks that way.

I have Vexations volumes 13 and 14 written and in editing right now. The artwork for the insides is being commissioned and there’s a cover for 13 being commissioned also. So I’ll have some pretty stuff to show off soon!

It’s almost October, so it might be time again to start speaking up about the wrong messages about Halloween/Samhain/Concost that will be flooding Mill Ave. And also, my return to the place that I love the most.