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The 100 and Looper – Notes on American Violence in Action/Sci-Fi

The 100 is a remarkable piece of reactionary TV propaganda. Within it, one sees an on-going apology for violence, of American imperialism wrestling with its conscience and always returning to find justification for its heinous acts under the banner of necessity.

 

“I’m so, so very sorry, but I just had no choice, I did what I had to do to protect my own”

 

While this reactionary justification for violence is common to most violent regimes, The 100’s version of it specifically American for a number of reasons I will examine in in this post. The narrative premise of The 100 begins with the story of a few thousand survivors of a global nuclear apocalypse living in a cobbled together space station. The nuclear conflagration event has supposedly made the earth uninhabitable for 100 years, and story begins just a few years shy of this date. The space station is not able to support the survivors for much longer. For almost 100 years the survivors have lived under a disciplinarian regime – in the name of necessity – where the only punishment, for even minor offences, is ‘getting spaced’.

 

The space station has a number of imprisoned juveniles (100 of them, to be precise), who thanks to their minor age are spared the capital punishment that would otherwise await them. The space station leadership decides to use them as human lab rats by sending them down to earth, thus delaying the immediate problem of too many mouths to feed, and also exploring the survival of Earth. Once on the ground, the youths discover two things. Firstly, the surface of the earth is survivable. Second, they are not the sole survivors. The other surviving humans have reverted to a hunter-gatherer state, with various warring tribes. They come to be known as ‘grounders’. With thoughtless ease, the photogenic youths enter into conflict with the grounders. Although hugely outnumbered, their superior weaponry and technical knowledge allows the space youths to just manage to survive.

 

One key narrative element that makes this dystopian SF specifically American is its conflicted relationship to history. The notion of a clean break with the decadence of the past, here portrayed by the global nuclear event, is a key part of the premise. The ‘clean’ future that awaits is one in which youth, full of vigorous good intentions, is bound by tribal loyalty to protect their own against the Other. They have no choice but to make decisions which result in the deaths of dozens of grounders. Moderate characters on both sides attempt to find alternatives to violent conflict, but the writers continuously place even these moderates in situations where it is necessary to kill a few hostiles for the good of the many.

 

In true puritanical vein, violence is purifying and the erasure of history necessary for the western frontiersman fantasy to continue. The global nuclear event purified and liberated the 100 from history, and the violent acts they commit are necessary to expunge the evil in the Other. This conception of evil is also distinctly a feature of the protestant American subconscious: evil as something real and external, which is not only possible to expunge, but morally necessary. This insight is not new and has long been noted as a key feature of American culture, but it is interesting to see this notion of evil justifying war and violence continue so prominently in contemporary SF given the important place that SF has in speculating about possible futures.

 

While the characters in The 100 are torn by guilt and remorse, yet continue to be forced by necessity into further violent actions, Bruce Willis represents the remorseless avatar for American violence in film. Nowhere is this this better characterized and problematized than in Looper (2015). The Bruce Willis character does what we all expect him to do – kill bad scores of bad guys – but in Looper the violence is never redemptive. His character’s narrative, taken on its own, could easily have been the story for a typical Bruce Willis action film: tough, violent guy redeemed by the heteronormative love of a beautiful woman, who ekes out revenge on the bad guys who take him from her. As with all action films, the bad guys never have children, lovers or parents who are affected by their deaths. At the forefront are the heroic actions of redemptive violence of the protagonist, all the rest is mere backdrop to the hero’s quest. The hero and his woman, of course, who is also nothing more than the nurturing female support to the master signifier of the narrative.

 

Looper problematizes this by making us aware of the consequences of violence, regardless of who is performing these actions. Actions have consequences, we are affected by history. There can be no clean break with history, and there is no such thing as clean violence. Every drone strike creates more ‘extremists’, every violent action has devastating consequences on the survivors. There is no walking off into the sunset, Looper reminds us.

 

You want me to shoot some bad guys?

 

Bruce Willis does just as we expect him to, for the love of his woman, his property, he kills a bunch of bad guys and then goes into the past to continue the cleaning operation. But in Looper, the bad guys are never portrayed as simple gun fodder. They are themselves the traumatised victims of violence, and the violence they mete out creates more lost, traumatised kids, who in turn commit more violent actions. The redemptive violence is shown in Looper as either the cause of future problems, or it is portrayed as completely ridiculous. The ridiculousness of justice, Bruce Willis style, is clearly shown in the scenes where he escapes capture and imminent execution by killing the entire gang and its leader. There is no moment of glory, no granting of satisfaction to the audience that the nemesis has been vanquished, no gloating over the corpse of the boss, what remains is the protagonist and his personal trauma, still unresolved through the inflicting of yet more violence on others.

What to do with freedom?

One of my favourite films is La Grande Bellezza, even if it portrays haute bourgeois life in Rome beyond the reach of most of us. This is a valid criticism of the film and the director, who is not known for being particularly progressive. Any yet, imagine for a moment if you could live off a sizeable income, the kind of life mostly found in depictions of 19th century aristocrats. Imagine if you were given the complete freedom from material necessity to pursue the things life is supposed to be about. No more alibis for delaying and no more material constraints holding you back from the labour of self-actualisation.This is the state of most of the characters in the film. Sorrentino’s view is that even these elites, and not mere elites financially, but those few who manage to get to that economic position their due to luck and skill as writers or artists, are pathetic humans. Their desires, insecurities and longings are profoundly pathetic. This film makes a speculative proposal, it asks, what would you do with freedom once you aren’t struggling with necessity?

 

 

NYE 2016 set

My new years eve set, possibly one of the hardest I’ve played. The crowd loved it and for once I wasn’t asked by the stage manager to play something softer. Needless to say I had so much fun playing this. I start off with some dub, dancehall and a Rihanna bootleg, then a touch of glitch hop leading into a few drum & bass bangers, the plateau is swampy dubstep. I found a couple gems of tracks while putting this together, a bootleg of Awolnation’s Sail, and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Since moving to Sydney, several peeps spoke of ‘swampy music’, I couldn’t figure out what this was, but was determined to do so. A new genre I hadn’t heard of perhaps? I’m obsessed with novelty in most things. It turns out ‘swampy’ is dubstep, cool, now I had something to go on, a theme, when putting this together.

The track list is below the Soundcloud link. I usually don’t enable downloads right away, but if you want an offline copy give me a shout.

 

Rihanna – Birthday Cake (Liquid Stranger remix)
Liquid Stranger – Golden Property (ft Mc Zulu and Nina)
Liquid Stranger – Tremor (ft Ragga Twins)
Liquid Stranger – Brass Taxed
Liquid Stranger – Bushwacka
Glockwize – Okvy (Original Mix)
AvishaYork – Extreme Mode (Original Mix)
Snoop Dogg, Datsik – Smoke Bomb feat. Snoop Dogg (Original Mix)
Zombie Penthouse – Basic (Original Mix)
Zorqman, Kate Quesza – Red Street (Original Mix)
The McMash Clan – Jericho (Dodge & Fuski Remix)
Unsampllex – No More (Original Mix)
Kronic – Feel That Feat. Raven Felix (Original Mix)
Speaker of the House – Finding You (Original Mix)
Liquid Stranger vs ludacris – Octagon Move Bitch Mashup
Liquid Stranger vs Run DMC – Crush Groovin
Modestep – Rainbow feat. The Partysquad (Original Sin Remix)
Mayhem, Dieselboy, Downlink, Mark The Beast – Carcosa (Original Mix)
Excision, Datsik – 8 Bit Superhero (Original Mix)
Bird of Prey & Gibson – Sonic Bloom
Bird of Prey – Kiva

(tracklist continued)

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Data Loss Prevention in the Post-Snowden World – Technology’s deep ties with society and the normative

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Originally a Linkedin post, thus the tailored tone.

Before looking to technology to prevent a Snowden event, it is important to understand what motivates those behind insider threats. Before looking at expensive DLP solutions or encryption technology that will inevitably impact the end user experience and frustrate employees, one must understand what motivates whistleblowers, and understand the difference between whistleblowing, sabotage and burglary. What causes an employee to grow so dissatisfied and disgruntled that they sabotage their own organisation and livelihood?

Let’s leave aside briefly the non-trivial privacy concerns that Snowden raised and imagine he was an employee in a large organisation. Snowden was not a saboteur nor a burglar, the motivations behind his actions were not driven by financial or retaliatory intents. On watching the many interviews and documentaries, is it clear that Snowden is an independent, analytical thinker with an above-average intelligence, a person of strong personal values who places high importance on ethical behaviour. He also clearly has a passion for his work as an information security professional. Regardless of what one thinks of his motivations or politics, he has shown no signs of mental instability or resentment for his former organisation. He sounds more like a model employee. What led him to commit those actions whose results he was well aware would lead to the loss of a well-paid job and a comfortable life?

It is clear that he felt his employer was engaging in unethical and illegal practices, and he either had no way to raise his concerns without fearing repercussions, or he did raise them and was ignored. Taking the Snowden affair as an analogy, imagine he worked at Enron, or at Volkswagen. No one is suggesting that Volkswagen should have used better software development techniques to make their fraudulent car software harder to detect. No one is suggesting that Enron should have been more clever, and made their embezzlement and deception more ‘sustainable’, perhaps with the use of better big data and BI solutions. Yet this is exactly the reasoning we hear coming from information security vendor marketing shills. As if a technical solution can fix what is mostly caused by toxic work environments and bad management, even if it is made possible due to insufficient information security practices and processes.

Protecting critical data with good technical solutions and processes is still important, as there are many more cases of data theft were the motivations of the attackers are guided by self-interest, much like regular burglary. To again use an analogy, it is one thing to defend your home and family from burglars, it is quite another thing if you consider your family members a threat. Organisations are not the same of course, and the trust levels are lower too. This is the normal societal trust hierarchy, with close family being at the pinnacle, and work colleagues being just a couple rungs below, yet the analogy holds. What solution presents a better value proposition for dealing with a situation of internal family conflict, a hidden camera system or family counselling?

To consider technology in isolation from the normative and the societal is of little use in real-world risk management and information security. Investing in treating employees with respect, better pay and working conditions, better corporate governance, ethical business practices and more tolerance for atypical but original thinkers will probably provide a better return on investment than clunky systems which with enough determination – due to the need to balance security and usability – can usually be circumvented by determined attackers. For every Snowden there are hundred unimaginative employees who might lack the initiative for whistleblowing but also lack the originality and proclivity for independent, analytical thinking that are critical requirements for an organisation’s survival. Snowden’s skills and aptitude are exactly those skills of tech workers that has the tech giants tripping over themselves to find, poach and retain.

If employees feel valued and respected, if the work they do fills them with pride, if independence and critical thinking are encouraged, if business practices are ethical, then the best employees will also be the organisation’s best allies. Leaving time for management to focus on defences against burglars and criminals rather than on finding ways to make it harder for the most valued employees to do interesting things.