Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Surrogates": robots, puppets, Second Life, the Internet, and viruses


Jonathan Mostow’s swift sci-fi thriller “Surrogates” for Touchstone Pictures certain provides a clever metaphor to what has happened to our culture since the 1990s. We could look at our profiles on the Internet (in social networking sites, maybe even “Second Life”) as our “surrogates”, and we can get addicted to our virtual activity.

But “Canter” (James Cromwell) had invented “surrogacy” as a way to give handicapped people good lives. But corporate America (VSI) picked up on it, and pretty soon every middle class person owned a surrogate, financed the way autos are paid for (maybe surrogacy takes us out of this recession – good for our “love story” with capitalism; it also supposedly ends racism and discrimination). And like the Internet, anti-virus software (probably McAcfee, Norton and Webroot) protects the “operators”, until one day a hacker places a virus in the system that causes an owner to die if infected. The analogy would be your getting infected by a real virus by typing on your computer (maybe H1N1 is on your laptop), or somehow the virus comes from the Internet application into your brain (like in David Cronenberg’s 1983 horror film “Videodrome”).

In Boston, in the Southie back alleys, there is this colony for “humans only” that seems to be deploying the virus. We’ll face the idea that if all the surrogates are disabled, macro-society will have a big smashup (just like in “FlashForward”).

Bruce Willis, as detective Tom Greer, is less hard-edged than usual, even as a real person; his surrogate looks downright foppish. In fact, all the surrogates have Pixar-like faces (Touchstone is Disney, after all), and in a disco with dirty dancing, all the men’s chests are hairless. It’s not the real world, even the real straight world – and we have the term “meatbag.” (The “don’t ask don’t tell” phrase comes up once, cleverly.)

The closing credits have some disco music that I've heard before upstairs at the Town DC. But I don't think that disco is populated with surrogates, despite aspirations to physical perfection.

After the show, I said, within earshot of who I think was a military officer in civies at an AMC theater (well attended for a Sunday night), “I hope this doesn’t happen to the Internet.” No doubt, his job at the Pentagon was to protect the “surrogacy” of the Internet.

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