Martin Scorsese wrote a passionate essay published in Harper’s Magazine this month, critiquing streaming services as catalysts of the downfall of cinema as an art form. His piece acts as much as an ode to the creators, whose works he grew up watching, as it does a farewell to the medium he loves, as it succumbs further to the grip of the invisible hand amidst the pandemic. As one of the great moviemakers of our time (broadly speaking), the Wolf of Wall Street director makes several valid points. But although he specifically curses streaming platforms, I believe tech’s larger impact on society should shoulder much of the blame.
If you’ve spent any time online interacting with popular books, movies, TV shows, or many other types of media, you have probably run across the concept of fanfiction. At its simplest, fanfiction involves taking already-established aspects of fictional universes, including characters, settings, and items, and employing them in new stories. Writers get to take the age-old question of storytelling – “What if?” – to the next level. What if Kylo Ren were a sullen closing-shift worker at a coffee shop? What if an adult Harry Potter went on a begrudging buddy-cop-style mission with his school rival? What if Sherlock Holmes – and you’d have to be specific about which incarnation of the character – had joined up with Moriarty to form a mob? Plot holes or gaps in storytelling are also creatively addressed; if a particular character wasn’t on screen, where were they and what were they doing? If they are introduced as an adult without much backstory, what was their childhood like?
‘Dystopian’ is often defined as “relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.” To say that we are threatened by becoming this version of ‘dystopian’ would be to say that the society we live in now is not violent or full of injustice. But it is. So, under the vague dictionary definition, we are living in a dystopia. But the key word that jumps out in this definition is ‘imagined.’ For me, ‘dystopian’ conjures up images of a dark grey filter overlaying a desolated, toxic wasteland or slums full of leather-clad teenagers who team up against the gaudy, corrupt, and wealthy leaders. It’s specific, a reality that makes permanent the injustices already present in our world, taking away any possibility of progression or change. This imagined version of a dystopia isn’t quite our reality.
Writing a blog post about a YouTube video should strike you as an odd choice. Isn’t this what callout or ‘response’ videos are for? I’ve even chosen an appropriately clickbait-y title! Look! I’ve hooked you, at least. But making a YouTube video and a whole YouTube channel about philosophy should strike you as even more strange. Isn’t philosophy too self-serious and academic to set foot on YouTube? Isn’t it dirtying itself by kicking around down here with the philistines? Oliver Thorn, the actor responsible for Philosophy Tube, would undoubtably say no. Thorn has been at this for 7 years. He’s been making YouTube videos through several vast changes in the culture of the internet. He has gone from hanging out in front of a bookcase chatting about Descartes to riding horseback while discussing the British monarchy and performing Platonic dialogues dealing with the politics of climate change. Costumes, makeup, and lavish sets all lend Thorn’s work polish and a district charm. Somehow, he takes the thought he engages with very seriously, but with a dash of good-humor. Though so much has changed, it’s clear the one thing has stayed the same. Thorn still believes in the value of philosophy to everyone. He would not have invested so much time and energy into this project if he did not.
The on-the-go streaming service, Quibi (short for ‘quick bites’) recently shut down, due to a lack of downloads and traction. Quibi was intended to be a ‘bite size’ streaming network with short episodes (under ten minutes each) that could be watched by commuters; and, it was only available as a mobile app. Shows on Quibi starred names like Chrissy Teigan, Chris Hemsworth, Sophie Turner, and Anna Kendrick. They had a cooking show, a true crime show, and a reality show, to name a few. They even did a remake of The Princess Bride, a cult classic (and my favorite movie), but it was all filmed from home by different actors—giving the impression of a bad Instagram sketch—while paying homage to the original cast with a sidebar on the screen.
The People’s Republic of China’s country-wide mass surveillance system has perhaps never been so prominent in the public consciousness as it is today, in a pandemic-stricken landscape where the state’s ability to track and trace citizens is instrumental to preventing the spread of Covid-19. Indeed, the ubiquity of state surveillance in China has become something of a bragging right, rather than a cause for suspicion. After all, the comprehensiveness of China’s Covid-19 prevention system is perhaps only achievable with China’s level of disregard for personal privacy and particular civil liberties.