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Monday, January 22, 2018

VLOG: On "Perks" and Convention Guests

This weekend (as those of you who follow my YouTube channel have already seen), I posted a vlog/heart-to-heart on the subject of people who ask to be "tour guides" for major attendees at conventions. If you haven't seen it, enjoy eleven minutes of me trying to hold it together:

I actually snipped a lot out of this video concerning individual rights, what being a con staffer actually entails, etc. Because I needed the video to get to the point a lot faster. And considering it's already eleven minutes long, you can probably imagine.

Non-convention-knowing people will generally ask me the same sort of question whenever I go off on a tangent like this: "People actually do that?" And I can understand them being surprised, because cons have a real special dynamic when it comes to what people try to get away with.

So for those who are shocked that people try this, I'll lay out how and why:

1. The convention generally affords brief moments between guests and attendees in the form of autographs and photo ops. In most cases these are kept very short (timed, even), but it is still an opportunity for a fan to have face-time with a celebrity.

2. Con staff for fan-run events are not a faceless corporation. They have social media and they wander around the event. This means that the people who are presumed to have "full access" to the guests are "fully accessible" themselves.

3. Many smaller events are actively working to bring down the corporate barrier between creatives and fans, in a way that improves the quality of the event while preserving the guests' security.

All this put together means that attendees experience both an intentional and unintentional closeness to the guests... many of whom they've put in time and money and vacation hours to see. For most, that's a valuable experience. For others, it is a foothold.

Here's the deal many forget: cons are extremely structured, even if they don't see it. No matter how free and casual you feel at an event, no matter how accessible a guest is, all of that is tightly monitored. Meetings have been held in advance for months to dictate where attendees go, which guests want to be easily accessible outside autograph time, and how the whole flow of the con will run.

Attendees who want a little extra time with that guest -- be it "happening on them" in the bar or being chosen to be their personal tour guide -- are skimming over that planning. Because also into that planning goes sightseeing, as well as who they want with them.

My accessibility online, combined with my overall activity in Onezumi Events and my onstage appearance, means that I get lots of people asking if I can get them places. I won't list them off because hopefully the people who need to read this are reading this, and I don't want them to see themselves flat called out and get alienated. But the fact is, I've been asked repeatedly by strangers for personal access to guests in ways so weirdly casual and naive that I actually get a little scared.

Because when people ask me those things, whether they realize it or not, they sound like they're asking for a commodity. And considering that some of those "commodities" are friends or friends of friends... that really sucks.

I've tried to think of as many ways as possible over the last months and years to tell fans to please not just come up and ask for access to guests beyond what the con plans and the guest seeks out. I'm pretty sure I'll never find the right way to put it that'll click for everyone because everyone who asks is always the exception.

"No, no, this is because I really care and want to volunteer my time for them."

"No, I'd totally stay within your rules, you can vet me and everything."

Or the worst: "Oh, I was just kidding."

If you respect the guests, and you love the event they're at, stop trying to back-door in for extra access. Consider their feelings. Consider that, this weekend, they will be meeting a few thousand people (more at bigger events). Consider that we the staff work for the guest's comfort... and if you truly truly feel that the event you are at is not working in the guest's best interests, don't support the event.

As I said in the video, supporting smaller cons will help everyone. But not putting con staffers on the ropes about things they can't, shouldn't, and won't give you is another biggie. If you love the guest, respect the guest. Respect the business arrangement. And support the events that treat them well. If that's not enough for you... maybe it's not the guest's happiness you're interested in.


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Friday, January 19, 2018

On Penn Jillette's "Pain Addict" and Essential Gore

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the Black Mirror episode "Black Museum." If you have not yet seen it and are concerned about spoilers, please do not read on.

Technically I'm done with my deep dive on the latest season of Black Mirror... or as "done" as anyone can be. There will always be more to question or explore, and in the coming months I'm sure to run into friends who spotted things I missed entirely. But for blogging purposes, it's on to other things.

That said, I wanted to look back at a story within a story -- specifically, the "Pain Addict" segment of "Black Museum." The story was originally dreamed up by Penn Jillette, inspired by a hospital visit made difficult due to a language barrier. He wished for a device that would allow doctors to feel exactly what their patients felt... and, well, it escalated from there.

The story was considered too dark for a short story anthology, too dark for Hollywood, but on point for Black Mirror... and so it became an essential part of the "Black Museum" story.

"Pain Addict" is a typical addiction story with an unusual skin over it. The story of a crash-and-burn over anything tends to follow the same general beats: everything's fine, an element is introduced, it becomes addictive, then necessary... then either deadly or negatively transformative in some way. But this story is, to put it bluntly, a lot more on the nose when it comes to its metaphorical depiction of an addict.

Now, a little thing about me: I'm bad with gore. Well, specific types of gore. I can watch some crazy shit go down and be generally fine. But if what's onscreen is surgical or at all medically intelligent, I can't handle it. Basically, if what I'm seeing is something that could happen to me tomorrow, played out the way it would look if it did, I lose it.

I can handle being shown some pretty ridiculous stuff. But if the scene was vetted by a real-life surgeon, all bets are off for me.

In most cases nowadays, gore exists for shock value -- especially in horror. It's not to create a particular effect essential to the story. Just to get the audience freaked.

But then you have stories like "Pain Addict" -- where the gore is motivated both canonically (he's a doctor, he has an addiction, and he knows his stuff) and metaphorically.

It's a rarity to have a story where gore is actually necessary to the end result, let alone sensible to include without having to introduce a serial killer and a garbage disposal. But the way it was carried out -- clinically and with intent -- adds so much to an already very telling piece.

In modern horror, especially indie horror and Internet-propagated creepypasta, The Addict is something of an archetype. They're rarely depicted as someone actually doing something to get chemical or sexual gratification, but rather as someone changing slowly due to a new activity or obsession that makes no sense.

my father's long, long legs and The Minimalist are two of my favorite examples: cases of people who take up something new, something the narrator can't quite wrap their head around. Usually there's a period of detachment, where the narrator has to separate from the subject to keep sane, or where the subject cloisters themselves. Then comes the reveal, days or weeks or even years later: the subject is somehow deformed, either by self-mutilation or via fantastical circumstances, but always as a direct result of their fixation.

We don't have quite the same friend/family tie between narrator and subject in this story, as Haynes has very little regard for his subjects from an ethical standpoint. But we do still see a similar "transformation" -- as our pain-addicted doctor begins carefully dismembering himself onscreen. He's a doctor, we're reminded; he knows how far he can go without actually doing himself irreparable damage.

Just like any addict. He knows when to stop and he can quit anytime he wants.

As with the Addict Archetype in creepypasta, Jillette's pain addict undergoes his grotesque "transformation" as a necessary facet of his story. We do see some unpleasant sights prior, of course -- but it's in a venue that allows, almost demands, that sort of imagery. It still may be difficult to stomach, but used correctly, that's what you're going for. And for very good reason.

Not that I doubted that the combo of Charlie Brooker and Penn Jillette would turn around something both terrifying and smart. I can only hope that, now that this weird little story has broken out into the world, we can see the original in an anthology.


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

VIDEO: "Angel of the Stage"

So this was much fun.

I loved doing the cover of "Doki Doki Forever" a bit back, so I'm going to see how I fare at a few others. The latest is "Angel of the Stage," originally composed by YouTube's TryHardNinja (all links in the end card of the above video).

The harmonies on this one, for whatever reason, just didn't land for me the way they did for the original singer. So I, uh. Well, I left them out. I could probably have fine tuned them, but I enjoyed doing a somewhat shoutier take on the tune. Especially since, with Chapter 3 of Bendy and the Ink Machine out, we see that Alice Angel hasn't stayed quite as sweet as she used to be.

I'm especially flattered that TryHardNinja commented on and shared my video. The channel has some amazing songs, and to get a compliment from the composer is high praise indeed. Of course, I hear all my own mistakes if I listen... but that's just an impetus to try harder.

My next cover is already underway. This time, I'm working on English lyrics for some Japanese tunes. We'll see how that goes. I don't expect the next one to be up soon, since I've got January book deadlines, but I can't wait to share when it's ready!


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Monday, January 15, 2018

BLACK MIRROR: "Black Museum" ~ What If "Black Mirror" But Too Much?

SPOILER WARNING: This post covers "Black Museum" and several other elements of season 4 of Black Mirror. If you aren't caught up and don't want spoilers, please hang back from this post.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This episode hits upon a variety of issues that, though I consider them essential to the read of the story, I also consider myself unqualified to speak intelligently on. I recommend you read this piece and this piece to fill yourself in on the underlying social issues brought to light and critiqued. I am not ignoring them in my piece -- I just know that I am not the person to elucidate them properly.

As I mention in my note above, the overarching story presented by "Black Museum" is not one that I can necessarily give the proper weight to. In turning this piece over in my head, I realized that my choices were either to speak on it with the same level of authority as my previous pieces (uncalled for) or ignore it entirely (also uncalled for). My happy medium is the link above. And I deeply encourage any of you watching it to pursue further critiques on the racial issues presented in "Black Museum." There's a lot to take in, and much of it flies at us in the final minutes, but it's also inherent to the episode's structure.

While I don't consider myself an educated enough mouthpiece for that particular angle of it, I do note that there is a great deal going on in the story as relates to Brooker's work as a whole. Returning to the format of "White Christmas" -- three stand-alone stories inextricably linked and waiting until just the right moment to show us how -- we see a complicated web of issues emerge linking the rights of both humans and those that people aren't quite ready to call human without a few legal rulings in place first.

The Mirrorverse has evolved a bit since "White Christmas," though -- sentience is established based on the number of observable emotions a being is able to exhibit. And the fact that that's even a point reveals something that's been snuck up on us for four seasons now: there is a caste system in this world, and our understanding of it has grown at a fairly consistent pace despite the time period skipping around.

From Remakes to Ride-Alongs

Our first glimpse at any sort of artificial intelligent in Black Mirror was in "Be Right Back" -- the prescient story of a woman who recreates her late lover via his social media activity, only to discover that it's not him at all. As a stand-alone piece, it's a very straightforward observation on the concept of humans vs. their social media "characters" (for extra context, remember that Brooker has referred to Twitter as the world's largest MMO) and how what we share and craft for the outside world doesn't truly define us.

However, Ash Mk. II is also something more historic in terms of the series: he is Black Mirror's first AI. And despite the fact that he is an incomplete construction of someone else's life and lives to serve his lover, the show still humanizes him and begs empathy for him.

We first encountered truly complete copies of people in the form of the cookies of "White Christmas" -- both of them fully believing they are their source human and fully able to express joy, sadness, fear, pain, anger, and a whole slew of emotions. Too, both are subjugated by the same Ellisonian time dilation, driving them into madness for largely inhumane reasons.

Not until Season 3's "San Junipero" do we see any respect for a digitized life; and then, it is because said digitized life is the "source," the soul made data. Even so, in this case we are asked to empathize because they are The Actual Person continuing forward. As far as we know. We get a brief flash in "Hated in the Nation" that tells us that cookies are ruled (at least in Europe) to have human rights.

Then came Season 4, with more AI characters than we've seen yet. And here, where "White Christmas" left us to decide how we felt about the AIs' treatment (with a gentle prodding toward shocked disapproval), "USS Callister" handed us the show's truth: these digital copies of humans can think and feel and express, enough to be the audience-association characters, enough that the source humans become stooges in a side story.

"Hang the DJ" shoots out 2,000 thinking, feeling copies of humans to see if they'll get together all right. And finally, in "Black Museum," we confront whole new levels of digital beings' rights: forced into eternal pain, shaved off into smaller sentient copies who live in one-second pain loops, abandoned and unable to express anything but "happy" or "sad."

It's Nish who steps in and begins to make that change. For her father, yes, but she doesn't leave other innocents behind.

Even with the time-jumping nature of the show throughout an indefinite timeline, we see linear progress:

-- Digital beings are are scary vaguely humanish freaks, to
-- Digital beings seem to have feelings but whatever, to
-- Digital beings deserve respect but only if they used to be human (I guess), to
-- Digital beings have rights overall (I guess), to
-- Someone's gonna come kick your ass if you don't respect the digital beings.

Setting Them up to Knock Them Down

In "Black Museum," the world of the show finally has one villain-esque entity: Rolo Haynes, the owner of the Museum, neurological researcher, and all-round garbage fire of a human. As with Jon Hamm in "White Christmas," we get a sense quickly of just how many Black Mirror pies Haynes has indirectly had his fingers in. And, red-stringing it all together on the bulletin boards of our minds, he and others like him can be considered heavily responsible for the state of artificial intelligence in the show's world.

Fans were not slow to notice Haynes's familiar look. Despite the dissimilar features and the lack of that fabulous quiff, Haynes's look and wardrobe and role as tour guide through digital atrocities link him back strongly to showrunner and writer Charlie Brooker. In fact, it led some to believe that "Black Museum" was, rather than a takedown of modern racism, a takedown of Black Mirror audiences for eating up the dark material. One publication even called the episode Brooker's "cry for help" and wondered if he was still happy in his show.

Obviously, it's hard to make a choice like this accidentally; we can assume Haynes is a Brooker analogue completely on purpose, and made so by Brooker himself. But as a cry for help? As a judgment of his fan base? That seems unlikely.

The "why" is up in the air. Perhaps he needed a white male media mogul to place as bad guy, and realized the only one that wouldn't take him to court or hell for it was himself. Perhaps, as the creator of the shared universe, he is acknowledging his role as the arbiter of his characters' suffering. Perhaps he was having a laugh. All are equally possible with him.

But four seasons later, it all comes back to Haynes and his company. Something is unfolding here -- the life cycle of a digital (and digitized) society -- and we've watched it rise from feared to abused to pitied to fought for.

The metaphor is strong here. Of course. But the slow burn of this feels like a story slowly drifting to the surface. And while Black Mirror is absolutely a long-form morality play, Brooker is also a writer, and a lover of video games and science fiction. It wouldn't be shocking for him to play a long game.

It's not a certainty. It may just be an idea he's been toying with. Hell, he may not even be entirely aware that he's doing it; it, like many great ideas from great writers, may be finding its way to the page on its own. But just as Black Mirror is and has always been an episodic critique of the human condition, it's also shaping up to be a slow-burn story of the rise of the Digital Human.

Will it continue when (if) we see a Season 5? Were "Metalhead" and "Black Museum" our closing-out of the strange, doomed world of the series where people bend hard tech to their will and eventually pay the price? Or are we still on our way to seeing the full hybridization of humanity and technology in Brooker's world?

If we're going to find out, I hope we get word soon.


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thank You, YouTube, for Putting a Price Tag on Stupidity

I was going to talk today about "Black Museum," the amazingly written and extremely heavy final (so far) episode of Black Mirror, but I have one more thing I want to bring up instead while my anger circuits are still popping on it.

Yeah, yeah. Logan Paul and his bullshit.

I'm assuming the majority of you know by now what he's done. For those who are fortunate enough to have missed it, here's the short version: dude who makes bank uploading daily 15-minute videos went to Aokigahara (Japan's "suicide forest") to film a spoopy video, discovered a recently-deceased person still hanging from a tree, and then did exactly what we all would have done: is turn off the camera and call the authorities and leave to film somewhere else.

Nah, I'm just kidding. He took tons of video of the corpse and uploaded it with the dead body as a thumbnail.

But he demonetized the video and put in a thing about how suicide is bad with Royalty Free YouTube Music from the "Sad" playlist so that makes it a public service or something?

For those unfamiliar with Aokigahara and how Logan Paul's behavior conflicts with the traditions of Japan... well, I'm not the one to verbalize that. I direct you instead to this video by Reina Scully, who made a wonderful video about her feelings and the implications of Logan Paul's behavior.

So there's that... but the thing is, as horrifying and disgusting as this is, it wasn't the only thing he did. This supercut created by We the Unicorns pulls together the rest of his delightfully madcap adventure: throwing plush Pokéballs at citizens, breaking merch in stalls and asking for discounts, screaming out his shop URL in a busy street, and generally behaving in ways that would get me grounded, arrested, or groundarrested. (Warning: This will be the longest 2 minutes and 14 seconds of your life.)

Now that we're all on the same page.

So, as for YouTube's part in it? After only an hour online, the video was immediately pulled, Logan Paul's account banned, and Paul sued for a substantial fee that was then donated to mental health centers around the world.

Ah, nah, I'm just fucking with you again. YouTube didn't do a damn thing, and it even got up to trending until Paul himself pulled it five days later, uploading a tearful apology about how famous he is and stuff.

In the wake of that, YouTube has posted a Twitter thread letting everyone know that they're doing all they can and they expect the best of their creators, using much the same language I've been forced to use as a news writer in the past when standing between an angry readership and an unchecked tire-fire. The action taken? Taking him off their Preferred ads program and cutting his next YouTube Red original. That'll show him.

So far, the most action has been taken by clothing line Maverick, who have issued a $4 million lawsuit based on Paul also using the name "Maverick" extremely heavily in his branding and his own clothing line. No word on how that's going.

So the millionaire jackass effectively gets a slap on the wrist, and YouTube continues to knock the income of smaller creators for far lesser sins (and neglects oversight on bullshit like white noise getting hit with copyright claims). And I had to ask myself... what does he make?

I was answered quickly: Logan Paul has the capacity to rake in more than $1 million per month with his videos, and his daily channel subscriptions are in the five digits. This, of course, makes plenty of money and traffic for YouTube, though what their cut is, I can't say with any certainty. They're not making small change off him, though.

There are a lot of things I wonder about celebrity -- where's the line between "you're a fellow creator worthy of respect" and "you're a public figure so you have to take whatever I say." (I found that line last year, incidentally.) How much of an asset do you have to be to get to a point where your behavior doesn't affect your job security. Things like that.

Well, I've got a nice solid answer for one of those. If you pull in $1 million per month on YouTube, you are officially famous enough to desecrate foreign holy sites and not actually lose your career.

Thanks, YouTube. I now know exactly how much money I'd have to earn to get away with being an actual unfeeling sociopath on your platform.


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

BLACK MIRROR: "Metalhead" and the Mood Piece

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains heavy spoilers for Black Mirror season for, especially the episode "Metalhead." If you have not seen it and are concerned about spoilers, please do not read on.

Many fans of Black Mirror -- myself included -- felt that "Metalhead" was an odd sore thumb in the midst of a season building upon concepts of memory, individuality, sentience, and free will. We'd just come off the bait-and-switch romance of "Hang the DJ," and now we had... Terminator but with doggos?

In such a message-heavy show, where nothing is ever as it seems and technology is always a metaphor for something else, we were having the tables turned on us once again. The tech of "Metalhead" isn't a stand-in for human hubris, or the abuse of victims, or our need for approval. The tech is simply tech. The humans are on the run from it. And it's, for perhaps the first time in Black Mirror's history, truly just an episode where robots hunt people.

Sometimes a Robot Is Just a Robot

As someone who spends a lot of time pulling apart science fiction and genre entertainment for deeper messages, I've loved Black Mirror because it's happy to provide. So "Metalhead" left me baffled after viewing. The message seemed simple: humans fought to survive in a tech-ravaged wasteland, and they were willing to give their lives for something as simple and human as the happiness of a child.

Was there really no more to it than that? Was Charlie Brooker truly not giving us a quiet subdermal about Brexit or helicopter parenting? The more I looked over it, the more convinced I became: this was finally an episode of Black Mirror that was, in fact, what so many people believe the series actually is. That is, it really was an episode about a very specific piece of technology and how it could, under certain circumstances, destroy us all.

Not believably, of course. Brooker's tech is unbelievable enough to put us at ease, but believable enough to get us to suspend our disbelief. Sure, Robert Daly can scan a sentient digital copy of you off your Starbucks cup, but it's gonna take 19 hours to render. Sure, you can implant a Big Brother chip in your daughter's brain, but most countries are gonna outlaw that shit because seriously what are you doing.

The robot dogs of "Metalhead" are awkward looking, but also fearsome. As doofy as they look at first, it doesn't take long to realize that they really are effective killing machines who probably could destroy the human race.

And once I read an interview with Brooker on the inspiration for the episode, I remembered why they seemed so familiar.

These Absolute Bastards

If you live on the Internet enough to know who I am, you have seen Boston Dynamics and their foray into building and kicking over robot dogs. For the most part, they're pretty funny. And you do feel at least a little sad for them when they get kicked over.

Then they hop up again, and that ain't cool.

Now, I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, the same way I predict our doom when I see a squirrel outsmart a bird feeder. Boston Dynamics is doing some truly rad stuff with their experiments that could make great strides in engineering, hospice care, and whatever the hell else you might be able to dream up.

But I'm not gonna pretend that it isn't a little freaky to see a headless robot that's more agile than I am.

So is "Metalhead" really a case of "What if Boston Dynamics but too much"? Well... yeah. I think it really is. I don't think it's lacking as an episode for that. But, just as the Netflix move has allowed the show to take risks -- with happy romantic episodes like "San Junipero" and "Hang the DJ" -- it's also allowing space to strip the show down to basics.

With a three-episode BBC run, "Metalhead" would potentially have been a waste of space when there's a lot to say. The flexibility of Netflix and the roominess of six whole episodes (!!!) means that it's okay to play more. You won't be losing valuable air time to something that doesn't fly.

So Does It Fly?

It was interesting to me that the extremely on-the-nose "Metalhead" got a great deal of side-eye from the very demographic that expects Black Mirror to be a Luddite's Almanac in the first place. We're awash in interpretations of the show saying it's cursing everything from Instagram to Star Trek, which couldn't be further from the truth.

Then an episode comes along where it's exactly what many expect of the show -- a new yet familiar piece of tech taken to a dangerous extreme -- and there's a disconnect.

Was Brooker going for that when he made "Metalhead"? I don't think so. I'm not sure anyone is that passive-aggressive towards their audience save for Hideaki Anno. I genuinely do feel that "Metalhead" was a shoulder-stretch, a mood piece, a bit of playtime and experimentation.

There's no lesson to be taken away from it, except that humans are sentimental and that sentimentality both sets us apart from the tech we use and gets our dumb asses killed quite a bit. But even that's not a "lesson." More a quiet takeaway that we probably all already knew.

And the placement of it was, all things considered, extremely wise -- because the season finishes out with an episode that is nothing but lessons, call-outs, and morals for the State of Things in the modern age.


Do you enjoy posts like these? Want to see more genre fiction analysis, along with new fiction and writing advice? Drop me a donation on Ko-fi! Each month, I'll have new fiction, essays, and other goodies for my supporters. Even small donations help me do more of what I do and expand my reach, so I can help people like us do more of what we love. Thanks in advance!

Monday, January 8, 2018

BLACK MIRROR: "Hang the DJ" and the 99.8% Match

SPOILER WARNING: As with all my other Black Mirror pieces, this blog post talks in depth about the episode in question. Please do not read on if you haven't seen the episode and are concerned about spoilers.

The reality of match apps is that they don't actually improve the results -- they just widen the net. And if you found the love of your life on a dating app, trust me, that's not a knock against you. Again... it's widening the net. You found them because you looked somewhere you might not, not because the app actually plumbed your psyches any deeper than a few dates would have.

And yet every single innovator of every single new dating system swears they've found The Way to make sure you find The One. Checking the "important things" and such. That said, none of them really does. Whereas The System -- the real System -- of "Hang the DJ" tests to exhaustion the one most important thing in any relationship: how willing the couple is to make it work.

Romeo vs. Juliet

Arguing over whether the romance of Romeo & Juliet is two immature children making a horrible decision or a much deeper story or a potential jumping-off point for an adorable gay sitcom is for the Shakespeare scholars to answer. What it does show, regardless of value, is how two people in love cope in a situation in which their love is at risk.

This, unfortunately for anyone who pursues romance on a dating app (or even via a more traditional service), is the one thing that even the strongest expert/salesman/commercial face can't claim to scan for. Because they can't. Or because they don't think to.

Similar interests, similar career trajectories, and (bare minimum) a place of equilibrium on the subjects of politics and religion are important, yes. But relationships are tested when thrown into flux: when one is dishonest, when both are bored, when an outside influence rocks the boat. None of those things can be planned for via a questionnaire, partly because many of us will subconsciously put what we wish we'd do in dire straits, and partly because the intersection of those reactions is what counts.

The System of "Hang the DJ" is weird, unpleasant, but ultimately quite helpful. "What would you do if you fell in love and suddenly the world conspired to make it impossible to do anything about it?" "Would broadly accepted statutes or systems keep you apart, or would you rebel against them?" "How well do you handle uncertainty?"

And, most important of all: "What happens between the two of you during a falling-out?"

There's nothing that answers those questions better and more accurately than experience. And with one life to live and a million feelings to shred, a rapid-fire check of how likely you and a potential partner are to not absolutely destroy each other in a dating scenario is a bit of a nice dream.

The Built-In Safety

There is, if a bit of Fridge Brilliance is applied, even more to the System than just predicting to within a fraction of a percent if you'll fare well together with someone. Simply based upon the nature of its simulation, it also confirms that both parties are willing not to trust it.

99.8% sounds like an extremely favorable rate. They're odds I'd take on just about anything. But it's not 100%. Does this mean The System shouldn't be trusted at all? Nah. It's done its homework. We watched it do its homework.

But look at what the simulation was: an entire society relying on The System to choose their matches, with the Good End being them deciding not to listen to it and to go their own way. This presents us with two very important pieces of information about the relationship between Amy and Frank. One, as established before, they are almost entirely likely to work through any problems, between them or in the outside world, that may threaten their relationship.

But two -- and potentially most importantly -- they are willing to abandon a near-foolproof system if it doesn't work for them.

That is, sadly, one of the most important parts of relationships. If it's not working, it doesn't matter how "perfect" or "meant to be" it was. And something as intricate and deeply researched as The System is likely to be trusted implicitly by its users. Which is bad. There are very few things in this life that deserve our implicit trust.

We have a very, very good match in Amy and Frank. They're both flawed, but work through their flaws. They're willing to take huge risks to maintain their relationship. And, should that 0.2% disparity prevail in their real-world relationship, they will both have the strength to say "screw the infallible system" and err on the side of happiness rather than destroy themselves and each other to cling to what they're told is "right."

But I Have One More Question...

What about our digital duplicates?

Now, this is a question outside of my main read. Because in order for that read to serve its purpose, we have to take it for what it is, and accept that these tiny slices of people's lives are collated into a dating app. And it's made fairly clear from the outset that these are not full copies of our subjects. They have no previous memories of life outside the app. They live unquestioningly (at first) in a world where you don't work, go to school, or pursue self-improvement. They have only two tasks in their little lives: date, or wait to date. (Hell, we don't even have any indication of whether they're living through the offscreen time spans or if they're just being conveniently time skipped -- what we see may be all there is.)

Even in a dystopian world where an infallible System picks our mates, that's oddly laser-focused. There is A Restaurant. A Mall. A Park. Despite the detail of their situation, the whole thing is very bare-bones for a real-world living situation of any type.

So are we dealing with an entire copy of Frank and an entire copy of Amy? No. They have no previous memories. But they're copy enough that they can stand in for Amy and Frank in unfamiliar scenarios. And Black Mirror has, several times since "Be Right Back" (and already this season in "USS Callister"), begged our empathy for AI.

In this Mirrorverse or Brookerverse or whatever, sentient duplicates have already been established as deserving of our care and empathy, as much as their source. And according to Brooker himself, when each couple's simulation is over, their "world ends." We do see the Franks and Amys of the app ascending up into the circle of data, which is a far kinder visual than we might get otherwise. So it seems that there was an awareness of our previous encounters with AIs in Black Mirror and how to potentially make their "end" seem a little less cold.

But I am left with a pair of questions...

One. What is the mindset of the company who created the app? Are they aware of the sentience of the AI and consider it a small price for each of the 2,000 little lives to pay? Or are they not as clued in to the lives of the characters as the audience is.

And two -- how much of the app's functionality is known to the users? And would Frank, Amy, and other clients still use the app if they knew that each scan required 2,000 digital people to spend the equivalent of several years going through emotional trauma?

Would you?

What Are the Lessons?

1. True love can be influenced by many things, but a functional relationship relies heavily on both parties' ability to work through their problems.

2. A healthy relationship entails not only love and trust, but also the ability to end it if it is not serving its purpose.

3. It's well past time for all of us to remember how good "Panic" by The Smiths is.


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