CUTTING TO THE GRAIN ‘THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU’ LIFTS THE VEILLANCE OF TRANSHUMANISM

The text under analysis here is an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series called ‘The Entire History of You’ (2011). Like all of the episodes of this series which I have currently seen, this episode does not appear to espouse an ideology per se. Rather, the genius of texts of this nature lie in their taking ideologies which the audience has likely internalised – and thus normalised – and reflecting them back through novelties embedded within their narratives, creating a situation where the audience is confronted with hitherto unseen consequences of said ideologies. The meanings which will be looked at here are those pertaining to surveillance, sousveillance, and transhumanism.

The episode begins within what appears to be a fairly standard present-day boardroom, in which a young lawyer named Liam is being appraised by his corporate superiors. It’s all quite standard, though the significance of the phrases deployed in that scene such as ‘exhaustive redo’ and ‘major deletions’ is not made clear at that juncture. The novelty employed by the text is soon revealed:- a device called a ‘Grain’ – a sub-dermal implanted chip which records sensory information (sight, sound, smell, and more) which allows its possessor to ‘redo’ (read ‘relive’) any period in their recorded personal history. We are treated to a form of sousveillance – that is, ‘watching from below’ (Mann&Ferenbok, 2013, p. 19) – with Liam ‘redoing’ his appraisal in order to obtain a better insight into the attitude of his bosses (Appendix 1). That is, Liam is ‘watching his watchers’. However, for this to be truly sousveillant, the ‘mechanism of undersight and the power required to enact change [must be] approximately equal, [for] a kind of equiveillance..[to be] achieved’ (Ibid, p.29). It is clear that within this text that this necessary egalitarianism is not present. Indeed, a potentially leftist sousveillant paradigm in which the interests of the many are protected from the interests of the powerful few, is most likely utilised by a rightist surveillant paradigm in which the interests of the powerful few are protected from the interests of the many (Gil-White, 12th April 2006). This stark paradigmatic shift is portrayed in the scene where Liam is traversing airport security and is required to have his memories subjected to analysis by the security computer which, inter alia, performs facial recognition scans on the people he has seen (Appendix 2). This portrayal is amplified through the brief use of a camera angle which panoptically gazes down upon this security process through an upstairs window (Appendix 3). This dynamic is articulated by Michael Kowalski (2014) who suggests that ‘…[sousveillance] could be used by official oversight bodies to feed their own work‘ (p.284, Emphasis added), though it must be noted that he also suggests that ‘…civil society as such could also be strengthened by this kind of [grassroots] involvement’ – a theme not present in this narrative.

The social implications of the Grain are explored textually through the narrative device of a party which Liam arrives at and at which his wife, Fi,  is already present. It should be noted at this juncture that the Grain is the only item in this story which is futuristic. The houses and other props seem very much present-day and appear to portray what may be described as ‘middle class professional Brittania’. This is significant as it clearly implies that the Grain is not so much a representation of future technology, but a metaphor for current technology – the smartphone and related social media usage, it would seem. Curiously, the automobiles seen to be driven by the characters are all 1960s models, strongly suggestive of the notion that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ – that this a portrayal of a timeless Human condition, more than a Human future.

At the party, we are treated to the mundane and inane usages of the Grain as we witness one character redoing footage of frayed carpet in a 5 star hotel as he complains about the same, and the hedonistic and narcissistic character Jonas – who Liam takes an immediate dislike to and who, it is later revealed, his wife has been having an affair with – explaining how he masturbates to ‘redos’ of his previous sexual encounters. This is a reflection, not only of some of the mundane and inane uses to which current new media technologies are put, but of the concept of the spectacle, which Turner (1998) defines as ‘…an umbrella term suggesting…a “new opiate-of-the-masses,” or the “figuration of a radical shift in the way power functions noncoercively within…modernity” ‘ (p.95). Certainly, there is no indication that any of the characters are utilising Grain technology for any truly empowering purpose. It seems that, implicitly in the shadowy background, a ‘noncoercive’ power elite are utilising the mass deployment of Grain technology (read ‘new media technology’) for the purposes of maintaining what anthropologist Dr. Francisco Gil-White (August 2015) has dubbed a ‘sloppy totalitarian’ system.

This spectacle induced disempowerment is reflected in the text’s deployed term ‘redo’. It is axiomatic that someone who is a spectator of their own or others’ personal history is not re-doing anything. The notion of ‘redo’ here is a clear example of the ‘… [spectacular] moment when sign-value takes precedence over use-value’ (Turner, 1998, p.95).

The dysfunctional zeitgeist is further revealed in the characters’ reactions when it is revealed that the young woman, Hallam, does not possess a Grain as she was ‘gouged’ – that is, subjected to a criminal assault and theft of her Grain (a reflection of current ID theft and privacy invasion) – and who has not replaced it as she found she is happier without one. While not exactly shunned by the others because of this – and indeed receiving superficial expressions of sympathy – she is treated as something of a novelty who is brave and/or foolish for taking this stance. This is symptomatic of the spectacle tending ‘…to reduce the world and its inhabitants…into “mere representations,” encouraging us to see them as something less than they are: less real, less sustainable, less human’ (Turner, 1998, p.95). This attitude is reflected in the disapproving response and quizzical facial expression (Appendix 4) of the ‘Grain developer’ who manifests a transhumanist ideology. Transhumanism has been described by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (2012) as a secularist faith, and by Steven Jensen (2014, p.215) as ‘…a movement that has lost sight of the simple goods in human life’. The views of these two academics are also given expression by vlogger Jarrod Schneider (YouTube, 21st December 2014) – who may be described as a lay-scholar/philosopher – in his highly esoteric discussion of transhumanism from an occulted and philosophical perspective. Schneider posits, inter alia, the notion that transhumanism must fail as its advocates have not determined what it actually is to be Human, nor do they advocate Humans (or ‘transhumans’) aligning themselves with ‘Universal Truth’.

The utter bankruptcy of transhumanism as a means to transcend the Human condition is exemplified by the sequence of events leading from Liam’s discovery, after a quasi-sousveillant investigation, that Jonas is the father of his child. It was after all Liam’s own Human intuition, not the Grain itself, which caused his suspicions to arise – the Grain merely provided the technological means for him to confirm his suspicions more easily. After the destruction of his marriage and fatherhood, we see Liam apparently wallowing in Grain memories with an expression on his face which may be anguish, or perhaps shock at how he’d deceived himself, or perhaps both – something which the Grain cannot provide relief from, as while it may have assisted Liam to discover a truth, it cannot assist him to discover the truth about his situation. The ‘eye-clouding’ effect of the Grain begs the question:- is our vision enhanced or diminished by transhumanist ideology? (Appendix 5)

As Liam gouges himself, the Grain ‘protests’ by sending a garbled tormenting stream of his personal history into his mind before the screen goes to the end credits, leaving us to ponder:- Just how evolved and advanced is Humanity, really?

 

WORD COUNT:1343 (Including citations; not including reference list & appendices)

 

LIST OF REFERENCES

 

Gil-White, F. 12 April 2006 ‘On the Orwellian use of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right,’ and on the dangers therein to Israeli politics.’

Historical and Investigative Research http://www.hirhome.com/israel/left_right2.htm

 

Gil-White, F. August 2015 ‘‘Sloppy’ totalitarianism : a much needed category of political analysis’

Historical and Investigative Research

http://www.hirhome.com/appendix-a-sloppy-vs-tight-totalitarianism.htm

 

Jensen, S.J. ‘The Roots of Transhumanism’

Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2014), pp. 515-541

 

Kowalski, M. ‘Between ‘sousveillance’ and applied ethics: practical approaches to oversight’

Security and Human Rights Vol.24 (2013) pp.280-285

 

Mann, S., and Ferenbok, J. ‘New Media and the Power Politics of Sousveillance in a Surveillance-Dominated World’

Surveillance and Society 11 (1/2) (2013) 18-34

 

Tirosh-Samuelson, H. ‘Transhumanism as a Secularist Faith’

Zygon, vol. 47, no. 4 (December 2012), pp. 710-734

 

Turner, J.S. ‘Collapsing the Interior/Exterior Distinction: Surveillance, Spectacle, and Suspense in Popular Cinema’

Wide Angle, Vol 20, No 4, October 1998, pp. 93-123

 

YouTube ‘Left-hand Apotheosis: Transhumanism and the Rulership’s Quest for Godhood (part one)’

Jarrod D. Schneider’s channel:- https://www.youtube.com/user/JarrodDSchneider

21st December 2014

 

APPENDIX 1 – 2:57

 

appendix_1_2_57

 

                                                  APPENDIX 2 – 4:00

appendix_2_4_00

 

                                                    APPENDIX 3 – 4:10

appendix_3_4_10

 

                                                     APPENDIX 4 – 12:43

appendix_4_12_43

 

                                                 APPENDIX 5 – 46:21

appendix_5_46_21

 

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