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Mr. Robot, Palahniuk, + Pixies: m1rr0rr1ng Robots as the sincerest form of flattery

by Joshua B. Hoe Surfer Rosa, by the Pixies

The guy writing the Mr. Robot recaps for Grantland right now (Vann R. Newkirk) seems pretty ‘on it,’ he noticed Wellick’s uncanny resemblance to Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) and makes a point about Elliot (the protagonist) in his recap today that I made in my NWA posts as well (only he probably made it more eloquently):

“But Elliott is also not a great person. Elliot Alderson spies on people. He uses their secrets against them. He sets dozens of criminals free. He destroys his therapist in a moment of despair, and the reveal that the Mr. Robot persona is a part of his own adds even more terrible things to his ledger of deeds, including an original plan to blow up a building full of people. Are the hackers the heroes or the villains? Are they the ones or the zeroes? The problem, we’re learning, is that, like all humans, they’re something in between. Flawed, struggling, and as messy as can be.”

Newkirk, does a good job of talking about how the episode, the plot, and even some of the imagery fit the title m1rr0rr1ng fit….But, one thing he missed, perhaps because it is almost too obvious, is the m1rr0rr1ng Mr. Robot is doing of one of the only other cultural landmark productions about hackers (a specific kind of hackers) taking down the powers that be….

Where is My Mind?

I mean, I feel almost embarrassed to mention this...but, the end of Mr.. Robot’s m1rr0rr1ng episode is accompanied by a piano version of ‘Where is My Mind?’ By the Pixies.

Most famously, this song also was the most recognizable song in the movie Fight Club. And, it was also played at the very end of the movie (as everything corporate fell down and went boom and the world was about to change).

Yes, I know the influence of Fight Club has been obvious throughout Mr. Robot...but still, this was maybe a bit too much (maybe taking the show from homage into being derivative)?

It is certainly not coincidental that in Fight Club, the protagonist (also not a ‘perfect person’) is a schizophrenic whose alternative personality guides him to a plot to take down the biggest corporations in the world.

If you missed it (spoiler alert - do not finish this if you have not seen episode 6 on of Mr. Robot) Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is really a parental figment of Eliot's imagination...He is, Elliot’s Tyler Durden..But at times, as in this episode, also his decent parental influence (delusions are a complex stew apparently).

I mean this is not entirely accurate, Elliot’s Dad was at one time real, but died of cancer (as explained in earlier episodes). However, the ‘leader’ of Fsociety who got Elliot involved was actually a delusion….he happened in Elliot’s head...Elliot is the leader organizer of Fsociety.

I guess I feel a bit disappointed by this turn in Mr. Robot…(BTW for anyone who wants to win Mr. Robot trivia night down the road, the episode reveals that Mr. Robot is not a person, it is the name of the computer repair shop that Elliot’s Dad owned when he was a kid - hence the jacket Slater’s character wears).

One of the coolest things about Mr. Robot is that from the first moment you experienced Elliot’s character, you knew he suffered from delusions...which meant that virtually anything shown from his perspective throughout the show could be false or falsely represented. This made putting together the pieces and trying to distinguish truth from fantasy part of the fun of watching the show.

But, I think finding out that the major twist of the season, is the one that was most obvious...and which m1rr0rs the only other major cultural touchstone covering insanity and anti-corporate revolutionaries..kind of makes you feel that the entire production has been derivative maybe?

I kind of feel a lighter version of what I felt when I found out in the second and third Matrix movies that the culmination of a spectacularly inventive first film would really be another “love conquers all” ending in a flashy CGI shell. I am not sure I have ever been more disappointed in a fictional universe than I was with The Matrix trilogy (to be honest, outside of the Architect scene, I find the second and third movies unwatchable and mostly insulting).

I mean I feel like the Mr. Robot’s producers must have felt the same way...as if using “Where is My Mind” was almost half homage and half apology...As in, we are sorry we could not come up with a truly inventive twist to explain Elliot’s delusions.

Don’t get me wrong, if you are going to pick a modern movie to make an homage to, Fight Club is one of the best you could pick. It still holds up really well, and is actually about as subversive as multi-million dollar productions backed by corporations can be. But it is a modern movie...It is not that old...Are you really telling me that the only possible way that we can explain the battle against corporatism is through schizophrenia, delusion, and imaginary muses?

Mr. Robot is still really great television, I have enjoyed virtually every minute of the show (still cannot believe it is on the USA network). But, I think I was hoping for something with some ‘tips of the cap’ to Fight Club but not the full deep bow.

I would like to think there is more than one original story in the anti-corporate jungle...

Or, maybe all anti-corporate revolutionaries talk to their own fish...as Frank Black put it:

"I was swimmin' in the Caribbean

Animals were hiding behind a rock

Except the little fish

Bumped into me

I swear he was trying

To talk to me talk to me

Where is my mind?"

Disgruntled and Crazy - What’s to Come?

I have been interested in the recent trend in Tarantino movies of literally re-writing established histories to fit his own dramatic purposes (so far, he has rewritten the history of Nazi Germany and the Old West but not the South..his vision of that was pretty accurate, sadly)

Now that the two literally insane characters (Wallick and Elliot) have found each other and linked up, and Wallick is a full-on psychopath bent on revenge...I wonder if this show, based at least loosely in our current timeline...will start to mess with the boundaries and possibilities of our current reality (timeline). I think this would be the most interesting, if least likely, outcome (even Tarantino only messes with established history, at least so far).

While “Evil Corps” is a fiction, it could easily be Elliot’s delusional translation of the real octopus of our current corporate/banking system (I do not see Mr. Robot as presenting an alternative future...I see it as a representation of now..you know as a representation of our real world).

I think another interesting outcome is Angela embracing the corporate job and counterpoint to Elliot’s hacker revolutionary...Since she is a largely sympathetic character, it would be interesting to juxtapose her recognition that the revolutionary and the soldier for the status quo can both be fascists and idealists. And that the evil that happens, is excused on both sides for similar reasons.

It will certainly be interesting if the first season concludes with a recognition that both sides in this puzzle are equally complicit….That what is really operating here is the banality of evil (often represented by ambition and ego) that resides in both the revolutionary impulse and the impulse to preserve the status quo. That a corporate Angela can be good and bad all while anti-corporate hacker Elliot can be good and bad as well.

What is really at the heart of what I am trying to say is that maybe the truth is that a corporation or bank can both make the lives of millions of people better and engage in practices that make millions of people’s lives worse.

Revolutionaries can both change the world, and negatively affect millions of people often with terrible consequences for many and great results for others.

The real enemy might be simplicity itself. Our desire to engage in neat and simple narratives. Maybe this is our delusion (good and evil are always easy - there is always a good and bad).

Two previous examples of this kind of exploration jump to mind:

  • Terry Gilliam’s (still) brilliant classic Brazil...where both the rogue refrigeration repairman and the disaffected official torturer are equally complicit in maintaining the functioning of the bureaucratic terrors at the heart of the system.
  • The one great scene in the second Matrix movie (the Architect scene) where the Architect of the Matrix reveals that saviors (like Neo) are generationally (designed) created by the system to drive rebellions and rebels into predictable and manageable avenues. The architect reveals that so-called saviors are really a pressure release valve, not a systems corrective.

Things are rarely simple, no matter how much we want them to be. It is possible, we will find out that Elliot is delusional just like we are delusional...we want so badly to be morally pure that we stop seeing our own participation in evil systems clearly.

I think the real answer, if an answer exists, is what Martin Luther King suggested (more or less)...we should hold our revolutions and corporations to basic moral standards. We should expect ourselves, and everyone else, to not doing damage to themselves or to others. We should have an ethical core beyond the sides we are on:

  • Police should not be okay with other police committing crimes of violence
  • Corporate stewards should be happy that they make the lives of people better, and provide jobs, but they should also care about the costs to the environment etc.
  • Revolutionaries should remain steadfastly non-violent and not engage in acts that hurt other people
  • Maybe we could recognize things like that we individually have the right to not vaccinate our kids, but that right should be outweighed by our collective duty to go ahead and vaccinate..no?

Naive, perhaps, but less naive than the good/evil binary we all live with now.

Wellick is not conflicted at all about the violent revenge he wants against Evil Corps, Elliot has been conflicted but is still fully participating in events that have huge costs, his sister seems to be 100% on board for revolution no matter the costs, and who knows where Angela will end up.

I guess I just hope Mr. Robot actually ends up about presenting the complexities of the world it has built...I guess I hope it does not settle for easy answers...I hope it does not end up derivative or worse (love conquers all).

It is a little sad that the major twist of the season was something I have seen before.

Postscript:

If the end of Mr. Robot ends in the love conquers all trope - I might actually quit watching television...Of course, since Elliot does not currently have a love interest, I think I am probably okay..at least for the end of this season.

What do you think of Mr. Robot? What are your hopes and fears for the direction of the show? Feel free to leave a comment!

Dreamy Sunday Afternoons + Beach House

Sleater Kinney + “The Gift,” Subtitle: Another Movie where Men play games using Women’s bodies