Tuesday, April 09, 2013

"Chain Letter": in email, it's probably a TOS violation; in life, it can be deadly

In the early days of email, especially on AOL, sending or even forwarding a “Chain Letter” was against Terms of Service, for “collective” reasons.  I can remember, back in 1964, getting a real chain letter in the mail.  If I would send a quarter, I would get back $64 in quarters.  I actually got back 2.

The horror film “Chain Letter” (2010)  starts with a principle and a premise.  After a graphic opening, which is repeated to close the film and give it an incomplete “Pulp Fiction” structure, we see a high school history teacher lecturing students on the idea that technology may have cost people their privacy. In the good old days, before cell phones, your phone messages waited for you at home.  By the mid 1970s, having an answering machine was considered a necessary advance.
In the movie, some likable high school kids (some of whom look a little too mature, with widow’s peaks or thinning hair) start getting chain letters (sometimes in chat rooms).  Students who delete their instance of the chain letter get hunted down and dealt gruesome deaths with S&M chain equipment.
There is a theory that the lone wolf (or maybe groups) is another super Luddite of the Unabomber or Ted Kaczynski (mentioned in the film), who wants to make a point, that those who “depend” on technology will get their just desserts.  Of course, one can extend that point into discussions of our whole society’s vulnerability to severe or even permanent disruption from solar storms or terrorist EMP attacks.
The word “chain letter” is also used in epidemiology, of course.

The site for the film, directed by Deon Taylor, is here. The DVD is distributed by Image, and the original release was from New Films International (no relation to New Line Cinema). 
For today’s short film, look up “Lloyd Neck” (15 min), by Benedict Campbell, from 2008 Sundance.  In this gentle film, college track star Taylor (Aaron Michael Davies) begins to realize that his younger sister Alex (Carina Goldbach) has a crush on his own techie boyfriend Jesse (Brian Dare).

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