Tales From A Red Wheelbarrow (eps1.91_redwheelbarr0w.txt) Part 10: God or Complex?

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Tales From a Red Wheelbarrow

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I am doing a deep dive into the book Red Wheelbarrow by Sam Esmail and Courtney Looney, which was released recently. Today I am covering the entries for May 29th and 30th. The name of the books is a reference to the William Carlos Williams poem "The Red Wheelbarrow," and I suspect the book is an attempt to hack tv through literature.

It would be insane for me not to pimp my Best of 2016 Albums list because I worked on it all year long.

Most lists just rearrange the same 20 albums everyone has already agreed to (don't mean to be snarky) but I listened to over 400 albums during the year and relistened to 150 over the last two weeks to put this together.

Anyway, my Best Albums of the Year 2016 Part 1 (#45-21) is HERE.

The companion playlist is HERE. #20-11 will be out Wednesday & #10-1 will be out Friday.

Also, as an aside, someone on Reddit asked me the other day if I had seen the new book about Mr. Robot called "Red Wheelbarrow?" I suggested that yes, I had heard of it.

If you have not seen Seasons 1 and 2 of Mr. Robot, and are not reading Red Wheelbarrow, it is possible that there will be spoilers * Spoiler Alert *

Insecurity and Protective Narcissism

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A quick recap, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) has told Santos (meaning, in effect, every other inmate in the jail) that Carla aka Hot Carla (Eve Lindley) has a sexually transmitted disease in order to "save" her from assaults at the hands of Santos and his goon squad.

A few weeks ago, I implied that maybe Elliot has a bit of a narcissism problem (after he had written and marked out that he and Mr. Robot were "God"). I found out again that people really seem to hate it when I imply that the larger Elliot (Elliot Prime) is often a bad actor. 

One reply suggested that it couldn't be narcissism because he is insecure and has social anxiety. 

To this, I have to respond from my own experience (and from years of talking to other people suffering from depression and addiction) that insecurity, social anxiety, and Narcissism are often close companions.

Narcissism can be a problem of unchecked Ego for some, but, for many other people, it is often defensive in nature. For many depression, anxiety, and addiction are rooted in traumas so severe that sufferers decide to put on socially acceptable masks in public while withdrawing the "self" into a safer interior universe  

One of the real dangers of living this kind of interior life is that you start to, even more than usual, see yourself (and your interior world) as more important (and maybe more real) than what is happening outside of yourself. 

While there is often no "real" difference between ourselves and the masks we wear in public, we (and I suffer from depression and am a recovered addict of 6.5 years) we believe that there is an extra layer of padding that exists between us and the world itself. 

Anyway, the point is, if you are not authentically interacting and experiencing real vulnerability and trying to create real intimacy with people outside of your head. YOU become all that you really know. It can become an intensely narcissistic world we can live in.

Remember, as Elliot says many times in Red Wheelbarrow, his "best friend" is also his worst enemy (Mr. Robot). What he leaves unsaid, his best friend is inside his own head. His best friend is HIM.

That is narcissism.

By the way, I don't mean at all to sound like a know-it-all here, I actually wrote an eBook about addiction (Writing Your Own Best Story, 2015) and as I have mentioned before, I have some (unfortunate) experiences with what Elliot is going through.

How Does Elliot Experience Intimacy?

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So, why did I choose a Bill Harper (Tom Riis Farell) pic? 

In a sense, Bill Haper might be nothing to Elliot but a security vulnerability that he can exploit to infiltrate Steel Mountain (a broken egg in Steel Mountain's omelet), in many ways Bill Harper is an actualized and authentic human being.

He seems sweet and open, he is comfortable with himself, and the opposite of cynical. Is Bill hip, or cool, or security-aware?  Of course not, but he does seem like a good human being. 

He is one of many examples of people who are left broken in the wake of Elliot's desire to save the world. We see detritus all around the first two season of the show in the wake of Elliot's social engineering. And let's be totally frank here, the casualties are almost all the result of Elliot's social engineering.

Part of the problem is that Elliot "gets to know" people through screens before he ever really meets them socially. In season one, he does deep dive's into the background of virtually every character (friend or foe) that he encounters and never with consent. 

When he "protects" Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben), it is because her metadata led him to Lenny Shannon's metadata.

When he tries to "protect" Shayla Nico (Frankie Shaw) by putting Fernando Vera (Elliot Villar) in prison it is because he dove into Fernando's metadata after meeting him through Shayla. As we all know, this did not end up well for Shayla (a character who authentically cared for Elliot). 

Oh, and this did not just cause the death of Shayla, as a result of his dive into Fernando he also releases the entire population of the jail where Fernando is housed.

When he tries to "protect" or "save" the entire world through the five-nine hack, we see the wreckage strewn throughout Season 2 (normal people who lose all of their money, the store-owner who is losing the store etc.).

And, when he tries to "protect" Carla he does it in an extremely narcissistic way. Now remember, he has leaked, to the whole jail population (and jail populations are particularly germ and disease phobic and intolerant) that Carla most likely has HIV.

Let me quote from the book:

"She [Carla] pulled me under the bleachers. She said she's mad at me because I'm oblivious or just a major narcissist. She said I sit there and write down everything as if I'm so important as if my thoughts are worth putting down on paper. But, she says the problem with me is that I don't ever look outward. I only see things from my perspective and in how they pertain to me. She said if I didn't do that, I'd actually be able to realize how humiliating what I did to her was."

When Elliot and Carla reconcile, she sits down with him and Leon and asked if they are "too embarrassed to be seen with the diseased whore."

Please remember, that Carla is seen as a whore despite being continuously raped and diseased because Elliot tried to "protect" her.

It seems pretty likely that what Elliot was trying to do was reduce his own discomfort as much as hers. At no point did he ask permission or even consult her. Like GOD, or at least a GOD, he decided what was best for her and did it.

That is narcissism.

The opposite of depression, addiction, and anxiety is a real connection with other people (not in a good therapeutic solution, sobriety, or isolation). You can't be anything other than a narcissist when you try to solve people's problems without knowing them or affording to them the agency to choose.

Luckily, Carla breaks through here, as Elliot continues:

"What she's really pissed about is that I didn't really involve her in something that was all about her and her well-being. She feels like I made choices FOR her."

Exactly, and this is what leads Elliot to reconnect (through writing a letter) with his therapist Krista Gordon. 

If you think you make the decisions, that you are the key actor, it is harder for you to be hurt by the people who have control over you. By seeing the jail as Mom's house, Elliot isn't just dissociating from an unpleasant reality, he is also saying that, in his head, he is still the one in control.

The Seductive Promise in Playing God

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One of my favorite scenes in the original Ghostbusters is when Ray (Dan Aykroyd) is asked by Gozer the Gozarian if he is a God. When he chooses to demur, Winston (Ernie Hudson) pulls him aside and says:

If someone asks you if you're a God, Say Yes!

We have demonstrated that, until now, Elliot has no problem saying YES to the "God" question.

The seductive promise of playing God is that you could be remade as invulnerable, somehow outside of the pain of connection and intimacy. You could feel above the world when in reality you are only really holding it at an arm's length (because it hurt you so badly, usually as a kid - like with Darlene and Elliot).

But, the promise is never realized because you end up trapped alone in your own pain, not liberated from it.

Sadly, the correct answer is usually found in recognizing and accepting your own vulnerability, in opening yourself to other people hurting you all over again. In accepting your role as just another of the many merry "men" (or women, beings who will likely live and die on terms they don't entirely choose) instead of insisting that you play Robin Hood.

The band Echo and the Bunnymen called the well-adjusted, the people in tune with this mortal coil, "Happy Death Men." This was either a cynical way of looking at people who are happy to march their lives away inside the mainstream of life or reflection on the pointlessness of existence.

When I was young I was in punk bands and eventually industrial bands, I still live outside the mainstream of life in many ways, but I don't try to keep myself at a distance from people anymore. And I have decided, after much reflection, that existence is anything but pointless.

I may still prefer Punk to Pop, but I don't spend a lot of time being cruel to people who like Pop music. I may still fear the grave (suffer depression), but not to the exclusion of enjoying the life I have. I hope people inspired by Elliot's journey see he is trying hard to do the same thing.

I still love Echo & the Bunnymen, but I embrace that we are all Happy or Sad Death Men (as they said in the movie Hud, "nobody gets out of this life alive"). 

If someone asks me, if I am a God, maybe the correct response should be that I am a "Happy Death Man." 

In this same way, Bill Harper is a Happy Death Man.

He may be sad, but he tries.

He is not a cynical person, he is not hiding behind his pain.

He wants badly to make the sale, to be a good employee, and for Elliot to like him.

As someone who lived in cynicism and kept the world at arms-length for the vast majority of my life, I believe that it is better to be an emotional Bill than an Elliot (not talking about the relative talents talking about their approaches to encountering people in the world). 

And Elliot is starting to realize that he wants to be Bill too. I also suspect that part of why we are so afraid of being emotionally open is because we fear that what people will see is our own inner Bill instead of the cool person we wish people would see.

Last time I mentioned Elliot's dream, the one where all of his friends are having a party but he is trapped in a limbo, with them, but not capable of connecting with them.

For only the third time on the show, Elliot is starting to try to be "with" and not "apart."

In case you are wondering, the first time he tried was with Shayla, the second time was with Darlene Alderson (Carly Chaikin), and now he is trying with Carla and Leon (Joey Bada$$) and Krista. I suspect, once he allows himself to remember Phase 2, a fourth time will be with Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) and maybe also concurrently with Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom). 

At the end of this two-day period in Red Wheelbarrow, Elliot shares the rough draft of the letter he is writing to Krista, but what he is really doing in writing the letter is investing in the dream from Season 2.  

The dinner dream where, instead of being in the same rooms with his friends but separated from them, he sits down to dinner and has a good time. In the dream, he is connected and happy.

Given this show, and its protagonist, speaks directly to the experience of so many of us (of all ages) who struggle with mental illness and depression, I can only hope that eventually the part of Elliot that is capable or connection and joy becomes more fully realized despite Sam Esmail's recent promise that Season 3 will be characterized by "Disintegration."

Sad News on Rule 41

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Given some of the larger issues that the show covers, I want to say how mortified I am that Rule 41 was not debated or opposed in the US Congress, it was allowed to go into effect without debate or objection (it was a DOJ rule).

Obviously, much like the Patriot Act, this was passed to help Federal Agents "fight terrorism."

But, If you are unfamiliar with the implications they are vast, as Big Think put it:

"What concerns many privacy advocates and what should concern many citizens is innocent bystanders can become collateral in these searches. in which hackers took advantage of weak security protocols on routers, security cameras, and more IOT devices. While innocent of the crime, the new rule would allow federal agencies to copy all material on these hacked devices."

As The Electronic Frontier Foundation put it:

The change to Rule 41 isn’t merely a procedural update.  It significantly expands the hacking capabilities of the United States government without any discussion or public debate by elected officials. If members of the intelligence community believe these tools are necessary to advancing their investigations, then this is not the path forward. Only elected members of Congress should be writing laws, and they should be doing so in a matter that considers the privacy, security, and civil liberties of people impacted.

My point is not that the Government should not be able to access the information of criminals and terrorists, but they should not be able to search the computers of the hundreds or thousands or as, Wired recently pointed out millions, of people who were infected in the commission of an attack:

"Despite a concerted effort to stop it, proposed updates to Rule 41 went through this week. With these changes in effect, the FBI can now use malware to hack into computers belonging to ancillary parties, or even to victims, when investigating cybercrime. To put it in even more stark perspective, a single warrant could empower the feds to hack a million computers or more." 

We need to find new ways to engage with our elected representatives, and we need to be as worried about legislation and rules in the Congress as we are about Presidential politics.

We need to care as much about the rest of the Bill of Rights as Gun Advocates do about the 2nd Amendment.

Things are slipping through the cracks that will eviscerate what little is left of the Right to Privacy.

I tip my cap to Democrats Ron Wyden and Chris Coons who along with GOP Senator Steve Daines tried unsuccessfully to stop the rule from taking effect. One wonders where Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren were?

Wrapping Up

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Anyway, that is the end of Part 10.

Normally, I write a recap of Mr. Robot called “Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord.” I also recap Black MirrorGame of ThronesHalt and Catch FireThe FlashBetter Call Saul, and put out new Spotify playlists every Tuesday (among other music content).

If you are not familiar with my writing on Mr. Robot, check out The complete #OPS Guide to Season 2 of #MrRobot. Mr. Robot tries to hack tv and I try to hack Mr. Robot.

And if you need to catch up on this series:

Missed Part One? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Two? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Three? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Four? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Five? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Six? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Seven? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Eight? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Nine? Catch Up Now.

Don't forget, my Mr. Robot eBook is coming soon too.

Thanks for reading!

What do you think about the Rule 41 expansion?

What do you think of Elliot's moves to reconnect and get out of his own head?

What do you think that Sam Esmail means by "Disintegration (I suggested Elliot will listen to the entire album next season instead of just Pictures of You)?"