Be Right Back: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss Be Right Back, let’s rewind and take a look at the world when this episode was first released: February 11, 2013. 

Human existence didn’t end on December 21, 2012, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, instead, the world kept spinning, and the new year brought a lot of optimism. 

The scientific community had some breakthroughs. Gene switches were confirmed, proving that certain regulatory proteins in organisms can bind with genes and, thereby, turn them on and off. 

2012 also marked the end of a 40-year search for the Higgs boson. Discovered in the world’s largest and highest-energy particle collider in Switzerland, the Higgs boson, also known as the God particle, is said to be the cause of the Big Bang.

In 2012, Instagram was only a two-year-old photosharing app that allowed you to add fun filters, far from the social media giant it is today. Facebook purchased it for $1 billion in cash and additional Facebook stocks, and by September, the app had over 100 million users. But there was an upstart called Snapchat that was hot on its tail. 

Tablets were the new technology battleground as iPad, Kindle Fire, and Windows Surface were all duking it out to be consumer and industry standards. 

The United States Department of Justice seized and shut down the one-click hosting service, Megaupload, and its derivative websites, striking a big blow against digital piracy and marking a pivotal moment in the campaign for Internet freedom. 

In 2011, artificial intelligence came into its own. Siri was introduced to the latest iOS update, and IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy, beating out former human champions: Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. This new leap opened a lot of questions about our relationship with artificial life, and whether they are “life” at all. 

All this happened while mental illness and addiction continued to rise. In 2012, approximately 43.7 million adults in the United States experienced mental illness in the past year, representing 18.6% of all adults in the country. 

Now that we recall the state of the world entering the second month of 2013, we can talk about Black Mirror episode 1 of season 2: Be Right Back. 

Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? And have any of the predictions come true? If not, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out.

The Reliance on Humans and Technology

The episode opens in the pouring rain at a transition. The young couple, Martha and Ash were moving into Ash’s old family home out in the country. It should’ve been a beautiful beginning — a new life — but tragically, the very next day, Ash dies while returning their rental truck. 

Alone in a new home and pregnant, Martha is now faced with a daunting reality. Who will be there for her? 

As a society, we’ve been more isolated than ever, causing us to self-medicate like Martha or become addicted to social media like Ash. There are now so many ways to distract us from our need to seek human support. 

In 2020, when we were locked down during Covid-19, deprived of our option to see others, a national survey reported that excessive drinking increased by 21% and Internet usage increased by 50-70%, with 50% of time spent on social media.

At any point, we can be left alone. This a scary thought, because the truth is, our dependency on others has not changed. As advanced as technology has gotten, having gone through these past couple of years of pandemic life, we see that it’s still failing to serve our emotional needs. 

Intimacy was something else Ash and Martha’s relationship was dealing with, whether it be their inability to satisfy each other sexually or coping with existing trauma. In many ways, they were an apt reflection of modern-day relationships. 

A study published in 2021 by the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior showed that adults and young people in the US were having less sex than the previous generation. While the reason is nuanced, a theory is that people are spending so much time on social media and video games, that they are connecting virtually more than sexually. 

In additional qualitative research, women surveyed claim that they are often “too tired for sex”, and that “they had so much else going on in their lives”. 

We all need something to lean on, and with the rise of community and messaging platforms, there are more safety nets than ever. But are they really safe? Are we putting our reliance on the right platforms that won’t exploit us? Have these measures made us inattentive and addicted?

Our need to share is an essential part of what makes us human. At many poignant moments in this episode, the characters try to share their experience with others. Ash began by needing to share on social media, and Martha then needed to capture the environment in order to share it with the artificial Ash. 

The tragedy after Ash’s death was that Martha continued to live in the house full of her boyfriend’s old memories, memories that the real Ash would never be able to share with her. Robots don’t have the need to share authentically. When they do it tends to be awkward reminders of cringey moments, such as Facebook’s On This Day Feature, which brings up embarrassing pictures from the past with no context. 

In order to protect our mental health many have removed social media or gone on detox. But those are only platforms, we may be addicted to them, but we aren’t attached to them. What if these relationships with AI run deeper? What if it doesn’t work out? How do we divorce them? How do we delete them? How can we avoid becoming trapped by them like Martha was when her daughter became reliant on the artificial Ash as a member of the family?  

The fear of letting go is engrained in us. Even if something isn’t working, it is much harder to lose it than it is to keep moving forward and adding on. We feel this way for people, and we can feel this way for technology. 

Instead of removing the technology, we keep innovating protective measures, often creating more in progress. A case and point is a car that requires the driver to lock away their phone before driving or in reality, a feature on your iPhone that forces you to click a button to operate it while driving. Is it effective? Not really, all we have to do is lie, but it’s a start. There is no removing the technology; we must coexist with it. We create something, encounter the harm it does to us, and then invent something else to protect us from it. We set the snakes loose to eliminate the rodent infestation, only to be infested with snakes. 

Artificial Intelligence and the Rise of Deepfakes

The advancement of artificial intelligence in the past decade is impressive. From voice assistants such as Siri, Amazon Dot, and Google Home to facial recognition on smartphones, AIs are now integrated with our daily lives. In doing so, they are learning a lot from us — and about us. 

Many had voiced concerns, including Elon Musk, who said in an interview in 2014: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with artificial intelligence.” 

Since 2016, many guidelines have been published regarding the control and regulations for managing the associated risks of deploying AI. Artificial intelligence doesn’t need to be evil. Much like how artificial Ash obeys Martha’s every command even when it frustrates her, an AI will follow its operative goal without any emotional restraints. If they need to fake emotions, they won’t feel guilty doing it in order to deceive us or appeal to our human weaknesses. 

Robots programmed to replace factory workers are old news, but how far away are they from replacing roles that require more social aptitudes and soft skills such as communication, empathy, and creative thinking? Martha’s job as a designer is a fun area to explore in that sense.

Many in the creative field today are wary of how AI has penetrated the market, replicating art styles and generating ideas and rough concepts of their own. Give an AI enough data, and over time, it’ll be capable of creating its own version, whether it’s a script, design, or video. 

Machine learning models like Dall-e and Midjourney can generate unique content with simple keyword descriptions. These new tools allow people with no technical skills to produce quick images to help communicate. Will it soon render the jobs of designers and creative professionals redundant or will it just be another asset in their toolbelts?  

Related to the episode’s theme about replicating another person, deepfake technology has made huge advancements in the last decade. What began with Internet memes of Nicolas Cage’s face swapped onto different movies, deepfakes were soon used to generate pornography and facilitate financial fraud. 

Black-and-white use cases were established for this type of technology. A white case for deepfake is how Hollywood can use de-aging to make actors look younger, such as what they did for Robert Deniro in The Irishman. However, there are still some gray areas. 

The use of AI to bring back the dead is at the core of this episode. One of the most controversial uses of deepfake was in 2020, when a victim of the Parkland shooting, Joaquin Oliver, was brought back to life virtually to advocate gun safety in a political campaign. 

This event calls to question the method of acquiring consent for deepfakes. In 2018, US Senate introduced the Malicious Deep Fake Prohibition Act, leading to many more bills to prevent the use of deepfake without the consent of the real subject. Since then, Internet platforms like Facebook, Google, Discord, and even Pornhub had taken action to ban all deepfake content, as many of which were deemed non-consensual, fueling the arms race between deepfake detection and deepfake production.

That’s the first of many ethical questions for legitimizing AI replication: does the person who is being replicated — in life or death — approve? Would Ash want to be brought back? Or would he want Martha to move on without him? Does he even have a say? 

The Dead and the Never Alive

The creator of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker, came up with the idea for this episode when he was considering removing a deceased friend from his contacts and feeling “weirdly disrespectful”. 

Just because something is digital, doesn’t mean letting it go is any easier. How we handle death in this new age is fascinating, as this is something that social media platforms have had to reckon with. Take, for example, how Facebook allows you to appoint a legacy contact to manage your account after your death or allows your account to be deleted after your death had been notified. Consider it a social media will.

There is still a lot to learn about death, even with the advances in medicine and cryogenics. What does death really mean? See, the thing is, when we are freshly dead, our brains are still functioning. Bringing someone back from the dead once felt like a miracle, but we now know that after breathing stops, the brain will still have some activity, and hours can pass before someone is fully dead. If that’s the case, under ideal circumstances, modern medicine is currently able to bring someone back to life. 

Will there come a day when we can upload our brain to a server and preserve it for the future? Maybe, but neural scientists are still trying to understand how much information a brain can hold. How can we find a large enough storage when we don’t know how much is there? 

The search for immortality continues, and when the technology becomes available, there is no doubt it will be commercialized. If we are willing to pay outrageous prices for funerals, imagine how much we would pay to bring someone back.

Grief is an overwhelming emotion, and regardless of how well we prepare, when that painful day finally strikes, it can leave us reeling for weeks, months, or even years. We look for ways to dampen the horrible feeling, and while holding on may give us some temporary relief, it’s rarely the solution. In our moments of vulnerability, that’s the message we must remember. Will the solution help us move on, or is it holding us back, trapping us in the stages of grief? A helmet for a harmful pursuit. 

Since the release of Be Right Back, there had been many representations of AI in pop culture, from Scarlett Johansson in Her in 2013 to Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina in 2014. In 2016, Sophia, a humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, was introduced to the world. While still a bit freaky, Sophia is programmed to provide care for the elderly and, over time, gain social skills. 

Also in 2016, Miquela, aka Lil Miquela, a CGI character and virtual influencer, amassed millions of followers on Instagram. In 2018, Times magazine named her one of the 25 most influential people on the Internet. 

Whether for societal good, entertainment, or marketing, AIs have come a long way from ELIZA and other chatterbots of the 60s. While much of the technology is incredibly convincing and has come close to passing the Turing test, the good news is, as of Oct 2022, none have been able to fool all the human judges. 

Be Right Back plays off a universal theme of loss and rings with a long melancholy note. This episode is a reminder of the soullessness of technology, and while humans can be distracted, self-obsessive, and inconsiderate, those imperfections are what make us human. A world where everything functions off of recycled moments will never be able to fully recreate those unique brush strokes that make authentic interactions surprising, disagreeable, and real. 

We have lost so much in the past decade — lost people and lost trust in people — and while this episode acts as a warning, many of us would happily ignore it and sign up to have a Frankenstein monster of our parents, spouses, children, and friends if such a technology existed. That is why Be Right Back still resonates. It taps into the desperate part of our psyche. 

So how did this episode age? Well, moving on is not easy, and with relics of the past physically and virtually all around us, it’s only going to get harder. It makes us want to scream because as technology advances, we long for some idleness, but as this episode shows, we are already rolling down a slippery slope. 

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Write the First Draft of a Novel in 3 Steps

For some people writing the first draft is the easiest part, but for others, a first draft is never complete. First drafts are where so many of my projects die. Recently I’ve been able to push past that stage and get my projects closer to completion — or at least publication. 

I break my first draft writing process into three different steps so that I can finish the story, get it down on paper, and make sure I’m ready for the second draft. 

Step 1: Write Longhand

When working on a first draft, I find that turning on a computer, locating the file, opening it, scrolling down to the part I left off (which doesn’t take long, but every second counts), and then finally starting is a long time between going to write and writing. This friction daily is enough to throw me off. 

That is one reason why I prefer to write in a physical notebook. All I have to do is open it and continue where I left last. I don’t get distracted by the Internet, I get to take a break from screens, and above all, I can’t easily hit the delete key and erase everything I wrote. 

Writing a novel takes a long time, and when you’re working on the first draft, your goal is getting the story written. You can’t do that if you’re deleting ideas at this step. You need to keep moving forward and figure it out as you go. If you have an outline, keep following it until the end. 

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Step 2: Transcribe to Computer 

Now that I have the first draft on paper, I can prep it for the second draft. Some may consider transcribing the story onto the computer as writing the second draft, but I don’t. I don’t plan to make any major changes because I don’t want to put that pressure on the process. My main goal is to experience the story for the first time as an active audience member, not as a critic. 

However, during the transcribing phase, I may fill in blanks or make small changes that I couldn’t focus on while I wrote. When I’m writing, I need to move fast. While I still move quickly in the transcription stage, I do have a bit more time to look around. Updates such as changing characters’ names, attributing dialogue to different characters, or removing repetitions are all small changes I can make without delaying the process. 

While transcribing, I don’t spend too much time editing. But when something critical comes to mind, that’s great! I’ll add it and let future me smooth it out later. Nevertheless, the primary objective of this phase is to get it onto the computer in an editable format. 

Step 3: Read, Highlight, and Comment

Once all the words are on the computer, I can start the second draft and go into making changes. But wait. Editing a novel is a massive project that can be very discouraging. This is a process that will take weeks, if not months. I want to prepare and go in with momentum and a clear idea of what to do each time I sit down to work.

In this step, I read through the whole novel and make comments along the way. Anything that occurs to me, I’d leave a note. This can be something along the line of “describe more” or “rewrite sentence” or “cut” or “can I move this earlier in the story?” 

I don’t need to make the changes at that very moment or touch the delete button at all. I just need to mark down how I felt while reading. I can come back to work on the draft later and get a second opinion. Do I still feel the need to cut or make the change? Or does it read better on the second visit?

Comments and highlights give you a focus when you sit down to work. Without that focus early in the editing phase, you may get stuck adding and removing commas for hours. 

Writing the first draft may sound easy. It’s just one task, write. While that may be true, I believe a process with multiple steps helps me move forward and reach the bigger milestone. Not only do I want to get it done, I also want to prepare it for the next phase. I want to set it up so well that if I die, another person can take all my notes and work on it the way I wanted them to. I see it as creating a plan for myself in the future. And with personal projects, the future me is another person. 

There you have it! That’s my first draft writing process: Finish it, make it editable, and prep it for the second draft. Remember, there are as many ways to write the first draft as there are writers. The key is to find a method that works for you. If you’re stuck, give this approach a try or check out these videos here. 

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What To Do When You Write Yourself Into A Corner

In an interview with Ali Abdaal, Brandon Sanderson, the author of Mistborn and The Way of Kings, shared productivity tips for writers. One that stood out to me was “outline backward, write forward.” By outlining backward, he knows how his story will end, and he can work to fill in the middle and the beginning to get there. This way, when drafting, he will always have forward momentum. 

I love this tip because it’s so effective, especially when working on a complicated storyline like a murder mystery or a thriller with a big reveal. This method allows you to lead your readers to that critical moment while misdirecting them with red herrings and weaving a story full of twists and turns. The better you know your direction, the better you can deliver a satisfying yet surprising ending. 

By outlining backward and writing forward, you have a destination on a map, which is what you want before you leave for a big trip — or start a big project. 

This links with another piece of advice I love, which is that “writing is like traveling at night, all you need is for your headlight to see a short distance ahead, and gradually you will get to your destination.” 

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

As a pantser, I’ve written many stories traveling by a dim light. All I needed was to know where the next chapter was going, and eventually, I’d get to the end. When I write, I don’t always have a destination. I just set out and go. I like it. It’s exciting. When traveling, I like getting lost in a new city. Sometimes that’s the most thrilling experience. Other times you wander into a sketchy neighbourhood and need to get out quickly. The same goes when writing without an outline. It could lead to fun exploration or anxious backtracking. 

Most recently, I’ve been using outlines when I get stuck and write myself into a corner. When people ask me what’s the hardest part of writing, I like to say “Act 2”. The beginning flows easily, and the ending is exciting to write, but the middle is the bridge that holds the whole story together. The thing about my bridge is that it can split off into a bunch of exits, causing me to stray off course. That is if I didn’t have a map. 

When I get stuck, that’s when I’ll outline and figure out how to reach the end from the midway point. Often, I find that I’m not too far off. I’m usually four to five major scenes from getting to the climax or conclusion. What a relief. I’m not as lost as I thought. Thank God for the map for that peace of mind. Otherwise, I might’ve given up. 

Outlining backward and writing forward is not only a great method for starting a project, but it’s also a great tool for getting unstuck. It’s a lifeline that I rely on, regardless of the scope of my story. 

As a discovery writer, I can work on a story forever. I can keep sending the protagonist off on bigger adventures, adding more characters, and giving them more obstacles to overcome, but what’s the point if it doesn’t lead anywhere? 

If you’ve ever watched a tv series and found the first few episodes encapsulating, but then in the middle, it felt repetitive, and by the time you reached the end, your interest was gone? That’s usually the cause of a meandering second act. If you’re not careful with your second act, you can go from building tension and increasing the stakes to repeating scenarios that don’t add to your characters or plot. 

The second act is an excellent point to outline backward and ensure you’re on the right track to wrap up your story. I believe that a piece of solid advice can work in balance with another piece of solid advice. You increase your arsenal of writing tools and knowledge, so regardless of what you want to use, you are well-practiced in using them. 

If you’re a discovery writer like me and you sneer at the idea of starting with a complete outline, consider this: start writing, go as far as you can and discover all the twists and turns along the way, but once you reach the middle, once your character is deep in a crisis, jump to the end and outline backward. See where you want to finish, and wrap up your story. 

Much like being lost in the real world, sometimes it’s better to stop and think. We can keep writing and writing, hoping that more words can get us out of a jam, but even if we do, it’ll be a pain later during the editing stage. To avoid cutting out large passages, outline backward and write forward from the midway point. When it comes to stories, it doesn’t count unless they are finished. So get to the finish line and bring your story home. 

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The Entire History of You: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we talk about The Entire History of You, let’s take a trip back to when this episode was first released. December 18, 2011. 

2011 was the year when we started seeing holes in technological security. Major websites, platforms, and industries experienced hacks and breaches, including dating websites Plenty of Fish and eHarmony, which exposed users’ personal data for over two weeks. 

The result of lost or stolen equipment led to the second biggest healthcare data breach, as of 2011, exposing over 10 million data sets. This event included TRICARE, Health Net, and The New York Health and Hospital Corp. 

The 2014 celebrity nude photo leak was the peak of the revenge porn culture. But in 2011, Danish journalist, Emma Holten had her private photos stolen and shared on the Internet. She foresaw how others can be vulnerable like herself, raised attention to the harassment and abuse, and called for action from technology companies, lawmakers, and individuals. It took time, but as of 2021, 46 states and Washington D.C. had passed laws against nonconsensual pornography.

Our personal information was exposed, but our memories remained unreliable. In 2010, paranormal researcher Fiona Broome shared a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect. She reported that since 2010, about a thousand people have written online claiming that they thought South African leader Nelson Mandela had died in 1980. As of 2011, Mandela was still alive. However, learning the truth didn’t mean accepting false memories. Those adamant that they remembered Mandela’s death proposed theories that we may, in fact, be living in a parallel universe. 

2011 was a nervous time. Reliance on our own brains was decreasing, and our dependency on technology was raising, while the measures to protect us have not. These events set the stage for one of my favorite episodes of Black Mirror, episode 3 of season 1: The Entire History of You. 

Knowing what we know now, I must ask. Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? And has any of the predictions come to fruition? If not, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out. 

False Memories and Cancel Culture

The Entire History of You is a story about memories. Your memory is your life, but what if you have a device embedded into your head that allows you to record and save everything you see and hear? What kind of life is that?

If you’ve ever lain awake at night, replaying an awkward conversation or a past argument, you know that memories could be twisted to tell whatever story you want. That’s what happened to our protagonist, Liam, as he struggles with his anxiety, career, and marriage. 

Whether he was reviewing his appraisal at work or refreshing his memory before attending a party, anxiety clouded all of his judgments, even though he could view his history. 

This brings up some interesting questions: Are memories merely sights and sounds? Can we even call it memory if we impose a separate feeling on it? A feeling of suspicion? A feeling of nostalgia? Is it still the original memory if we over-analyze and deconstruct it? Without a Grain, every time we remember something, we have a tendency to change a small detail here and there before returning it to the storage in our minds.

Liam questions the faithfulness of his wife, Fi, when party guest, Jonas refers to his past as “hot times” and “greatest hits”. Liam starts digging up the past, as many do today on social media when they seek to shame or incriminate someone. 

An example is what happened to James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy. In 2018, after criticizing Donald Trump, a series of tweets — posted between 2008-2012, poking fun at pedophilia and rape — were discovered on Gunn’s account. This event led to discussions on how we should handle these artifacts, and if we were to start scouring through each of our memory banks, can we all say that our histories won’t reveal skeletons? 

While we seek dirt on others, we may find our own. This is demonstrated in the episode when Liam rewatches his memory and sees himself making an off-colored joke with the babysitter present. 

These days, we’ve learned to watch what we post online because anything could be taken out of context. Cancel culture has become an effective weapon against the powerful and unruly, and bad jokes may cause self-inflicted wounds. Take, for example, the story of Justine Sacco. In 2013, upon landing in South Africa, she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Sacco was vehemently shamed online and ended up losing her job as an executive. 

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, reports that after 2011, mental health issues have “sharpened”. She doesn’t believe the cause is genetics or economic reasons, but rather due to the cultural shift. Over a decade later, The Entire History of You remains to be a great representation of our declining physiological well-being. 

Laws and Lies

The role our memories play in privacy and law enforcement has always been a topic worth examining, and this episode does a fascinating job of scratching the surface and exploring it in a domestic environment. 

These characters are no longer surprised by the external world reviewing their lives as a security measure, although it is still as uncomfortable as taking off our belts and shoes at the TSA checkpoint. 

Today security cameras are planted all over public places, and the devices we carry and wear can track us constantly. But having neuro implants intercepting our thoughts and memories is still in the future. Although, Elon Musk had announced his Neualink technology would commence human testing as early as 2022. Neuralink has been called a “Fitbit” for your brain and will allow a computer to translate your thoughts into actions and records. What it all means for us is still speculative, but the tech is hauntingly similar to the Willow Grain. 

How do we feel about having our lives entwined ever more with technology? How does that affect our privacy with our friends, families, and law enforcement? With greater reliance on tech, we may mistrust other people like the characters in The Entire History of You. If we were to tell our truth without having the confidence to show our memories, then like pleading the fifth, we raise others’ suspicion that we are lying. 

In the first act, Liam was pressured to show his appraisal in front of the group. His refusal to share made it apparent that he was not proud and that it would be evidence against him if he did. 

Later in the episode, Liam demanded that Fi show him the evidence of her infidelity and how she had deleted the memories. This scene brings to mind recent technology that assists with adultery, including the application Ashley Madison, which had its own high-profile data breach in 2015. 

Much like how we can dig into the past, we can now dig into a lie and see how deep it goes. One lie ultimately connects with another, and if we can save all our memories — especially the ones we have a guilty pleasure in revisiting — it is only a matter of time before the incriminating material comes to the surface. 

In the episode, Fi says, “Not everything that isn’t true, is a lie.” And that seems like a message today. Fake news and alternative “facts” show us that there are indeed tiers of truth. The deeper we go, from white lies to pure betrayals, the more destructive it becomes. Once the surface-level lies are unearthed, it’s now up to us to choose where we want to stop digging. 

Even if memories are easily accessible, it doesn’t change the fact that we are still humans. Deception is necessary for our survival. What this episode tells us is that on-demand memory will only complicate trust. It becomes ever harder to let things go, and unless there is clear evidence to exonerate the liar, then this is a world where we will no longer believe words alone.

But this episode poses an argument: Organic memories are unreliable and can be used to trick us. Like the Mandela Effect, we can end up believing our own bullshit. These events have led to mistrials and false accusations, most commonly in rape, murder, and child abuse cases. 

Take, for example, the case of Tammy Smith. In 2006, while she was washing the dishes, her 4-year-old son, Gabriel, was whimpering downstairs in the basement, his right arm injured. During the trial, Gabriel testified, but his inability to communicate clearly led to Tammy being charged with child abuse, 10 years in prison, and Gabriel being placed in foster care. 

Only when Gabriel was a few days short of turning 9, and his verbal communication improved, was he able to share his story. His mother did not abuse him, and his injury was the cause of a broken dryer. A situation like this, and many others, could have been prevented if we were able to see the child’s memory, like how Liam and Fi reviewed their babysitter’s performance by watching the baby’s perspective. 

So what do you think? Do we want technology to be more involved with our security and safety? Yes or no, it doesn’t really matter. It seems like we’re en route to a world like the one in The Entire History of You. Even cars that can detect if you are drunk are in the works. In 2021, during the aftermath of a tragic car accident that took a family of five, President Joe Biden signed a bill that requires Passive Alcohol Detection Systems to be installed in all new vehicles by 2026. 

The Entire History of You is a great jumping-off point for so many conversations around the validity of our memories, the path we take towards singularity, and the complexity of trust and privacy. With such a broad topic, this episode tells a localized story, one incident out of billions. Not only do I feel that this is an episode that has aged well, I think it’s worth revisiting regularly so that we can check in with ourselves and see where our obsession with “the truth” is steering us. 

So much of the trouble today starts with our failure to let go. We are failing to let go of past arguments. We are failing to let go of slights from people we loved and trusted. We are failing to let go of a simpler time. While it’s important to learn from our history, at some point, we must look forward and know that dwelling on the past doesn’t help. 

This episode is a warning. It’s not a warning to the world. No, that we cannot control. It’s a warning for the individual, us. How do we want to respond to this change? How do we want to use the data? Which metric matters? Which memory is worth forgetting? And do we have the strength to move on? 

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Fifteen Million Merits: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we get into Fifteen Million Merits, let’s first flashback to the year the episode was released. 2011. 

In 2011, eCommerce entered its adolescents with $194.3 billion in worldwide sales, compared to $4.9 trillion in 2021. Amazon only had 56,200 full-time employees globally compared to the 1,608,000 as of 2022. 

Metaverse and cryptocurrency, however, were way in their infancy. At the start of 2011, BitCoin was on par with the US dollar for the first time. Ten years later, at its highest point, one BitCoin was worth $64,400 USD. 

The metaverse was still science fiction, as the main reference to the concept in 2011 was the novel Ready Player One. 

American Idol was entering its 10th season, and the hit singing competition show was fading out of relevance and facing stiffer competition as The Voice was released that year. 

In 2011, YouTube allowed everyone the ability to monetize their videos with ads and had no worries about the impending ad-pocalypse.

The exercise equipment company, Peloton didn’t exist yet. And the latest Internet trends were planking and first-world problem memes. 

Now that we’re refreshed on the state of the world in 2011, we can get into Black Mirror episode two of season one: Fifteen Million Merits. 

Did the episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Did any predictions in the show come true? If not, is it still plausible? Let’s find out.

The Absurdity of Making Money 

Making money and powering the society that we live in is an endless cycle. Fifteen Million Merits begins with the workers engaged in this absurd way of life. Surrounded by screens, whether he’s working, relaxing, or seeking pleasure, the protagonist, Bing questions his purpose. Wealthy because of an inheritance from his late brother, he recognizes all the traps in his fake reality.

Games, pornography, and unhealthy food, these vices still lure us now. App developers, game makers, content creators, and marketers have learned to abuse our addiction to the screens. Whenever we make an online purchase, we must resist being upsold by an algorithm that understands what we want. Every day we pay for our subscriptions to skip ads, putting a price on our impatience. 

What’s the point of staying in shape, practicing art, and earning money when nothing is real? Money means freedom, but what do you buy to get this freedom? 

Bing didn’t care about his merits until he met Abi. He convinces her to enter the Hot Shot competition and buys the expensive ticket for her to enter. He finally feels he has invested in something worthwhile. And even though he subsequently loses her to the corrupt world of adult entertainment, he saves up to have his own time with the judges. He now has something to say. 

Today we are hustling, making money, and growing followers to impress some invisible judges, but what’s the end goal? Who are we doing this for? Are we helping people? Are we sharing an important message? 

When Bing returns to the stage and confronts the judges. He blames them for taking the only real thing he had. Everything else was fake fodder. This is a reminder today, as we spend money dressing up avatars on the Internet to take a moment and question why people want us to do this. Who is benefiting from this? And is there a reason for this distraction? 

The powerful will try to relate with us; they will use our needs, desires, fears, and even disobedience against us. There is always a carrot dangling in front of our faces, whether it’s money, followers, or approval, but the question remains: Where is this carrot guiding us? 

A New Version of Reality

Many have already taken a step into the virtual world by creating avatars on social media, in the metaverse, or on other digital platforms. 

When we create an avatar, we brand ourselves. We’re no longer a number on the screen. We get to be goofy characters or have funny names. While we can choose how we appear, we still can’t control how the world perceives us. 

Perhaps the approach is not to be so different. We should still look like ourselves and hold onto what we know is real. If we are riding a bike, we shouldn’t be so detached; we should make the experience feel as authentic as possible. 

Digital exercises can perhaps keep us tethered to reality while acting like a bridge into the virtual world. We’ve seen major innovations in this industry over the past decade, from the early days of Wii Sports to pricy home workout equipment today, such as a Tonal fitness mirror or Peloton bike. 

While exercising will always require our bodies, many activities will not, and those are the ones that will bring us deeper into virtual reality. Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert in 2020 drew over 12 million gamers. It’s not unusual for people now to go to live events exclusively in the digital world. 

Fully immersive virtual reality is becoming a norm. To connect the physical world with the virtual one, we will likely start with self-contained rooms where people can interact with screens around them, similar to the characters’ rooms. Arcade-style VR games are popping up all over big cities. Other entertainment and community venues, from art galleries to restaurants, are adding immersive experiences to their offerings. Take, for example, the Silicon Valley restaurant, iChina, and its futuristic dining experience. 

We fear the virtual world would make us less human, but, as humans, we often try to escape our dreary reality. 

When Bing is convincing Abi to audition for Hot Shot, she speaks of how cheesy reality can be and how wanting more is cheesy. Ignorance is bliss, and those in power want to keep us happy and distracted. We can’t help feeling a little jealous of the guy enjoying all the idiotic shows while riding his bike beside Bing. He successfully escaped reality and found contentment. In a way, it must be nice to live without that existential dread.

Today we are more conflicted than ever. We question the reality of the news, money, and even people thanks to deepfakes. How is all this dulling our senses? At this time, it’s the virtual world that seems cheesy. Spending too much time there is not typical. But since Facebook changed its name to Meta, a crazy amount of money has been dumped into metaverse technology. And while the technology is still finding its footing, we wonder which company will come out in front? When will remote workers be forced to adopt this tool? If that happens, will we be able to go back, or will we find ourselves too reliant on the virtual world, questioning the value of the physical one? What will become of us when our avatars are the ones having all the experiences? 

The Lure of Fame

In a world where competition is stiff, we tell ourselves a story: we can do it. We are special. We are dedicated. Others have done it in the past, so why not us? Others have saved up, starved, and taken a chance on themselves, and we can do it too. But there’s a concept called survivorship bias, where we only hear success stories. How many have failed and never got a chance to warn others before their voices were drowned out? 

Like art, podcasting, publishing, athletics, and many other pursuits, the world of Fifteen Million Merits is ultra-competitive. Gatekeepers control everything on the screens, giving them full command of the culture. 

When a trend hits its saturation point, the gatekeepers drive up another. After all, there isn’t room for everyone to be a star in the same genre. We see much the same today in the TikTok generation, where everyone feels they can be famous. The reality is that there is only so much room for dancers and singers. If you’re not on the top tier, you’ll need to find a niche or a gimmick. 

In Abi’s naive and vulnerable state, drugged with compliance and feeling the rush of attention, she gets caught up, manipulated, and then agrees to do things she didn’t intend. No one is immune to those pressures and temptations, especially not after all they’ve fought, risked, and spent getting to that spot. 

The encouragement of the world can come from a sinister place. Consider all the Internet influencers who started as gamers, models, actors, or fitness coaches, who then opened an OnlyFans account to leverage a fanbase willing to pay for more. No shame, but know that some choices cannot be reversed and shouldn’t be made with hasty thinking. 

The number 15 in the title is so appropriate. The saying is that, in life, everyone will get 15 minutes of fame. How we capitalize on those 15 minutes will define us. In an age where attention is gold, and everyone is rushing to go viral and become famous in an instant, we all have the opportunity to grow a fanbase and leverage our uniqueness into bigger careers. That is if we don’t run out of time, have others copy us, fail to innovate, and fade into obscurity first. 

In the final act, Bing gives a dark and hilarious performance, turning his suicidal persona into a motivational speaker. Holding himself hostage allowed him to stand out and his unconventional approach made it marketable. He gets attention. He gets to escape his current reality and enter a new one. But is it all worth it, or is it the continuation of an endless cycle? 

Fifteen Million Merits’s satirical depiction of how we are trying to escape our current reality and the Sisyphean grind of capitalism is extremely relevant today. More and more jobs are starting to feel meaningless. The rise of quit quitting in 2022, shows us that our relationship with success and money has changed significantly. 

The idea that one person can stand out among millions is as absurd as humans pedaling to distract themselves from the bars of their cages. However, it also speaks to the power of the collective. While one person biking can barely power a lightbulb, a group biking will be able to power a community. Whether you’re unique or not, it doesn’t really matter. The reality is that we have to work together.

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The National Anthem: Black Mirror, Did It Age Well?

Before we can talk about The National Anthem, let’s flashback to when this episode was first released, December 4, 2011. Things were a little bit different back then…

Politically, the West was feeling strong. Barack Obama was still president. Britain was still a part of the EU. Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi have just been eliminated from the global chessboard. However, the American government was entrenched in the Wikileaks scandal, and the seeds of mistrust were sprouting. 

2011 was also a year of celebration. Prince William and Kate Middleton got married and the Royal Wedding was viewed by 72 million people on YouTube.

Many big social media platforms were going public or were in the process of it in 2011. Rebecca Black’s “Friday” went viral, and we saw how quickly fame can happen and how the world can relish in a person’s humiliation. 

For those already in the spotlight, social media revealed a lot, Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal and Charlie Sheen’s #Winning meltdown proved that once the news leaked, there was nowhere to hide. Public shaming became ever more prevalent.

Yes, it was a big transition year, full of optimism, suspicion, and schadenfreude. 

Now that we recall the climate of 2011, let’s jump into Black Mirror (episode one of season one): The National Anthem.

How has this episode aged? Are the themes still relevant? Did any predictions in the show come true? If not, is it still plausible? Let’s find out.

Social Media and the Spread of News

When the Prime Minster, Michael Callow first discovered the kidnapping and demands, his instinct was to stop the news from spreading by putting a D-notice, a request to broadcasters to hold publishing a piece of news for national security reasons. While a measure like that would have worked in a simpler time, it might not work in a social media age. 

Quickly, we see Callow turning into a dictator in an effort to protect himself from embarrassment. While there was pressure to find the princess, he was more concerned with having intercourse with a pig on national television. 

It’s been said that journalism is what keeps a democracy honest and functioning. When a ruler prevents the information from being released to the public, one must wonder how far he will go to tell his version. Today, we see leaders hiding news, censoring social media, and locking up people who speak up. 

If the public never knew the princess was kidnapped, and that there was an ultimatum, then there wouldn’t be any pressure on the Prime Minister to act. Keep the public ignorant, and he keeps the power. We see this all over the world, all the time, from China to the United States. The conflict between government and journalism is a good thing. Trouble starts when both sides are forced to agree with each other completely. 

Our Relationship with Politicians

Now that the news leaked, Michael Callow needs to confront this new form of terrorism. One specifically targetting him. Because this terrorist wasn’t endangering a large population of people, the public as the mass of influence, motivated by self-preservation, can be easily manipulated. 

His wife tells him that they were already picturing it. It’s already happening in their minds. If he allows the princess to be murdered, it would be on his hands. He was so worried about his own shame that he didn’t even acknowledge his wife’s. Even if he could control the public’s opinion, he could never repair his partner’s impression of him in those dire moments. Failing to rise up, regardless of the outcome, he was already ruined.

The boss is the boss, and when shit hits the fan, we expect them to take responsibility. We want a leader who will make the right choices for the people, not just for themself. But rarely do politicians fall on the swords for others. And Callow is no different, even though he finds himself in a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t scenario — sacrificing himself is the absolute last choice. 

When the kidnapper appeared to cut off the princess’s finger on television, the mood shifted to 86% believing that Callow should have intercourse with the pig. His last hope was to catch the kidnapper and save the princess himself. But, he failed miserably, demonstrating how the government and the press often cross each other up, resulting in friendly fire. 

Today, our political leaders fail us pretty consistently. That’s why in this episode, it’s almost surprising seeing the route that Callow took. In the end, he wasn’t tyrannical. He did the deed instead of amassing more power to defend himself or risk the princess. This leaves us with optimism, maybe there is some good once you peel away all the onion skins of politics. It might be a struggle, but perhaps given the right amount of time and information, they will come to the right conclusion. Yet, perhaps that’s what separates tv shows from reality.

Our Appetite for Humiliation 

If the world is a stage, we want to see the performers miss a line, fall, and completely embarrass themselves. Not much has changed, except now social media has amplified the shame, and everyone has an opinion. 

If you put yourself in the spotlight, you risk the wrath of the world. Name any politician, and you can find a scandal. From Justin Trudeau’s black face to the Finnish Prime Minster caught dancing at a party to Rudy Guliani in the Borat movie, we love seeing those in power in trouble. 

Perhaps no event is closer to the plot in The National Anthem than the David Cameron #piggate scandal in 2015. During the former Prime Minster’s time at Oxford, he allegedly placed his privates into the mouth of a dead pig. This scenario was so similar to the Black Mirror episode that the show’s creator, Charlie Brooker, had to make a statement saying that he knew nothing about the #piggate incident prior and that it was purely a coincidence.  

Politically, the world today is more divided than ever. We have dealt with far more traumatic events than the Prime Minister having sex with a pig. We live in a world where politicians have undoubtedly screwed us over. When this episode was first released, the plot of The Nation Anthem might have seemed laughable. But today, such an event would feel light. It’s not an invasion, a mishandling of a deadly virus, or the non-actions after a school shooting. 

The kidnapping of a princess isn’t so crazy either. Women go missing all the time, regardless of their status. From the death of heiress, Eliza Fletcher earlier in 2022 to Kim Kardashian being tied up and robbed in 2016 to the recent abduction fear of Holland’s Princess Catharina-Amalia, women getting kidnapped, bound, robbed, tortured, and murdered are still very much a reality. 

Overall, I feel The National Anthem stood the test of time, but the impact it once had is significantly dulled. Even though it was meant to be a parody of the TV show 24, it’s now an old joke, somewhat funny, but lacks the timeliness to have any effect. And with comedy, timing is everything. This episode barely fazed me this rewatch, perhaps I’m too desensitized to the bullshit of journalism, politics, and social media. 

This episode reminds us that the government we put so much of our faith in are people — simple people — and they are vulnerable. Like all vulnerable animals, they’ll protect themselves first. So it’s up to us to keep them accountable, regardless of who we are… medical workers, the bloke at the bar, or even their husbands and wives. 

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Mr. Plow or Flaming Moe’s: Which is the Better Episode of The Simpsons?

There are two episodes of The Simpsons that stand out in my mind. These two episodes aren’t the bests but definitely make my top 20 list. I’m talking about Flaming Moe’s (season 3 episode 10) and Mr. Plow (season 4 episode 9). 

These two episodes had a lot in common, mainly they shared the theme of “stolen credit”. In both episodes, Homer encounters good ideas — or rather, stumbled upon happy accidents — only to have the success taken from him by a close friend. In Flaming Moe’s, it’s Moe, and in Mr. Plow, it’s Barney. 

While both episodes are pretty similar, one must stand above the other. Subjectively, one must be better. In this video, I share my thought process in making this very important, very valid judgment. 

But before I get into it, tell me, which one did you enjoy more? Which do you feel is the better episode? Feel free to let me know your reasons in the comments. I love to hear why! 

I also must say that these opinions are just that — opinions. They’re both awesome episodes, or terrible episodes, or whatever you want to believe. There is no wrong answer. Okay? Now that I’m done appeasing you, on with the video. 

The Opening: 

Both episodes begin in the same way, with Homer watching TV. This is one of my favorite opening structures because it always lends itself to ridiculous jokes with no setup or context.  

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer is watching at home while Lisa is having a slumber party upstairs. On the TV, it’s Eye on Springfield with Kent Brockman, previewing the episode, which includes the Silver anniversary of the Springfield Tire Yard Fire, Springfield’s oldest man meets Springfield’s fattest man (who isn’t so fat), an interview with Drederick Tatum, and part seven of the eye-opening look on the bikini. 

Whereas, in Mr. Plow, the kids are watching Troy Maclure in Carnival of the Stars. In this segment, we see Angela Landsbury walking on hot coals and Krusty getting mauled by three white tigers. Shortly after, the kids switched to the Bumblebee Man Show.  

Hilarious, but no context. 

When it comes to the opening scene, I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. It was an overall funnier segment of Springfield television.

Flaming Moe’s: 1

Mr. Plow: 0

The First Act: 

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer decides he has enough of his children and heads off to Moe’s. However, the tavern is a failing business, and Moe is all out of beer. In a sober panic, Homer recalls a drink he made on a boring night watching his sisters-in-laws’ vacation slides. Blending random household liquids, Homer made a pretty good drink. But when Selma’s cigarette ashes fell into his glass and set it on fire, balancing out the alcohol content, it got even better! 

He shares the recipe with Moe, and the bartender recreates the drink. It’s as good as he last remembered — after it’s set on fire, of course. In order to please another customer, Moe slides over Homer’s concoction, and the customer loves it too! But just when Homer is about to tell the random what the drink is called, Moe cuts in and steals his credit. A shocking moment for viewers. 

In Mr. Plow, Moe’s Tavern is also the setting of the inciting incident, proving that bad stuff happens when you go to Moe’s. Amid a snow storm, Homer attempts to drive home and ends up smashing his car into Marge’s, a hilarious turn of events that nobody expected on first viewing and remains funny still. Suddenly, the Simpsons totaled both of their vehicles. 

The first act ends with Homer attending the Springfield Auto Show, where he eventually gets pressured into buying a snowplow over some sexist gesture from the salesman. So Homer! 

In terms of story structure, Mr. Plow has a more straightforward first act. Very effective, clear, and packed with a lot of jokes. The most notable one is when Homer’s thinking on his feet, coming up with another location that would have him returning home in the middle of the night. And don’t forget about all the antics at the auto show, especially with the one true Batman, Adam West. This opening act is hard to beat.

However, Flaming Moe’s is a quintessential Simpsons first act, because, for the first four minutes, you think the episode will go in one direction, but then it takes a turn into another. A classic Simpsons opening. 

I’ve seen this episode a hundred times, and I still love the twists and turns it has — especially the betrayal right before the first commercial break. Was Moe seriously going to take his credit? Was Homer going to sit there and allow it? 

Beyond the Homer-making-the-drink flashback being one of the most iconic moments in The Simpsons, it also explores Moe’s character in a way that made him human — despicable — but human still. Moe is one of my favorite characters, and I think this episode is a big reason why.  He’s more than just a catchphrase. He’s dark. 

While both these episodes effectively created drama in the inciting incident, it’s Flaming Moe’s that takes the two-nothing lead over Mr. Plow. 

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 0

The Slight:

Next, let’s look at the severity of the slight against Homer. Which stolen credit is actually worse? Which is more realistic? 

While the name Flaming Moe’s can be trademarked, the recipe can’t. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe if Homer wants to compete in the market, he can. He didn’t sign any contracts. He just can’t call it Flaming Moe’s, and likely can’t call it Flaming Homer’s either. 

Homer could still beat Moe to the national market and sell the recipe to major manufacturers first. Legally there was nothing stopping him. But he didn’t. Perhaps even while bitter, he exemplified goodness. Or more likely he was too stupid to realize that that was possible. 

When you think about it, the slight had nothing to do with the drink or Moe’s fame. It was about the betrayal between friends. Had some other person stolen Homer’s idea, he might not have been so angry that he hallucinated that person’s face in flowers. No, it wasn’t that Moe stole the drink’s name. It was that he didn’t even ask for it or apologize. 

While the conflict in Mr. Plow is similar, the episode’s structure is quite different. Homer spends the first half of Act 2 growing his snow plow business by using strange marketing tactics, including hijacking a church sermon, planting windshield wiper flyers, and producing a 3 am commercial.  

Homer is struggling, hustling, and still, he’s barely successful. 

To best understand the slight, one must ask how Barney acquired the plow. From Marge’s reaction, we know that plows aren’t cheap. How did a deadbeat like Barney buy one? When you think about it, unless Barney inherited the plow, he’d made the same risk as Homer. And, in a way, should be commended. 

It’s true that plows are most common during the snowy seasons, but many with plow trucks also find work during the summer in construction or for the public. There is work out there for people with equipment. Homer just needed some business acumen to see beyond the obvious clients. 

Much like Moe, Barney took his idea right from under him and sold it better than he could. While the slight is real, it is never about the originality or lucrativeness of the business plan but rather the way it was taken. If, at any point, they partnered up, they could’ve built a sustainable business. 

There were flaws in both of these slights, which were exaggerated for the purpose of comedy. But I cannot ignore Homer’s hustle to grow his business in Mr. Plow and all the belief and effort he put in, despite being a mediocre plowman. That’s why, for the category of slight, I’m giving the point to Mr. Plow. 

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 1

The Villian’s Intent: 

Now let’s look at the antagonists: Moe and Barney. Which one is the more convincing and despicable villain? 

The thing is, both were at a low point when they betrayed Homer. Moe’s Tavern had completely run out of beer, while the only work Barney could find was as a giant baby handing out flyers. 

Where they confronted their devils was at the high point. Moe, blinded by fame, fortune, and Aerosmith, ignores Homer when he tries to tell him how he felt and that Moe had lost not only a customer but a friend. Greed and pride had turned Moe into a monster. 

Only when Moe was at risk of losing a beautiful woman did he reconsider his stance on giving Homer a portion of the sale, a conversation that perhaps didn’t need an ultimatum. 

Barney’s darkest moment was during a Plow King commercial when he bashes the Homer cardboard cutout. That’s when we see Barney guided by wrath. Even though he was once a dear friend, Barney wanted to destroy Homer and eliminate him as a competition. 

Fun fact: In the original script, it was Lenny who was supposed to betray Homer and become his plow business rival. It was a smart choice to replace him with Barney because can you really see Lenny doing such an evil act? 

So, comparing Moe with Barney, who is the greater villain? When we look at it from Homer’s perspective, Barney is far worse. Not only does Barney steal his idea, but he also takes all the achievements away from Homer —the clients and the key to the city, which is not made of chocolate — and shames him publically. Barney is far more ruthless. With that, I’ll give the point to Mr. Plow.

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 2 

Celebrity Cameos and Musical Numbers:

What makes these classic Simpsons episodes great is the seamless incorporation of celebrity cameos and musical numbers. These two episodes have some really good ones. 

In Flaming Moe’s, Aerosmith makes their cameo as a bunch of guys sitting at the bar and then pressured to perform on a stage that was already perfectly set up. Maybe it’s a little contrived, but what better way to show the height of a venue’s popularity during the 90s than having Aerosmith play Walk This Way? 

What really impressed me was the Cheers theme song parody. I love the old-timey crosshatching style and the way it transitioned right into the studio audience sitcom. The Woody Harrelson character greeting Barney as he entered and the laugh track in the background all flowed together so well. 

Not to be outdone, in Mr. Plow, Adam West gives one of the most memorable celebrity cameos ever. When Bart doesn’t know who Robin is, West goes off on a tangent at the Auto Show, with the camera shifting to a dutch angle, a call back to the old Batman episodes. It was such a clever way to incorporate a guest into the storyline. Using Adam West and the iconic Batmobile in an episode about awkward vehicles is just brilliant. 

Another cameo — this one went over my head because I’m not a country music fan — was Linda Ronstadt. All I know was that she was engaged to George Lucas. While I don’t know any of her original music, I still laugh every time I hear, “Mr. Plow is a loser and I think he is a boozer…” 

Both these episodes have knock-out cameos and musical numbers, but I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. The Cheers parody, the way the visual and audio all work together, is the element that tips it over for me. 

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 2

The Roles of the Family: 

Both these episodes focus on Homer, but the Simpsons family is essential in supporting him. 

In Flaming Moe’s, Bart is such a great character. First, he’s the victim of his sister’s abuse, which is a role reversal. Then Bart acts as his dad’s advocate by sharing his achievement in a show and tell. Later he flips and gets a Flaming Moe’s fan t-shirt. And finally, his phone call prank backfires on him. This is a refreshing episode for Bart, as he shares his father’s plight, making Homer more sympathetic.

Marge’s supportive bedroom scene is one of the most iconic compositions in The Simpsons. It’s so simple, yet so theatrical. And her muted expression only makes it better.

In Mr. Plow, the family is a support system for Homer. The first commercial, an homage to the late-night cable, is one of the funniest scenes in the entire episode. 

The relationship between Homer and Marge is an inspiration for all married couples. First, Homer recognizes that he should talk to his wife before purchasing the plow, however, ends up being manipulated anyways. Then when she confronts him, Homer accepts that it was a stupid decision and that if she were to keep getting angry at him, he would just have to stop doing stupid things. Very understanding. Finally, it’s perhaps Marge’s attraction for Homer and his Mr. Plow uniform that we remember best. 

There is so much to love in both these episodes involving the family, but the commercial in Mr. Plow, where all the family members are incorporated, even Grandpa as Old Man Winter, is what wins it over for me. I love that sequence, especially Bart questioning Homer about being “bond and licensed”. For that, I give the family involvement point to Mr. Plow, which ties it up at 3. 

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 3

The Conclusion: 

Now to break the tie, let’s return to the plot and talk about how Homer responds to the injustice and the episode’s conclusion.

In Flaming Moe’s, Homer responded well at first. He was reasonable in expressing how he felt to his friend, but when Moe consistently ignored him, jealousy and frustration started to boil over. Even when Marge attempted to calm him, it only sent him deeper into a mental breakdown. 

Once he spiraled out, Homer revealed the secret ingredient in front of everyone at the bar. If he was more sensible, he could’ve sold the recipe to Tipsy McStagger’s Good Time Drinking and Eating Emporium. Giving it for free in the way he did was a foolish move. And this reminds us that Homer doesn’t deserve fame and fortune either. 

In Mr. Plow, Homer nearly commits murder by misleading Barney out to Widow’s Peak where he gets caught in an avalanche. Luckily, he redeems himself by going out there and rescuing him. After stealing some of his business, of course. 

In both scenarios, Homer didn’t respond in the most moralistic way. He exhibited the if-I-can’t-have-it-then-they-couldn’t-have-it-either mentality. Still, both episodes return to neutral grounds, and he makes amends.

So which episode gets the point? For me, it’s not just about how Homer responds, but how his friend reacts in turn. The episode that ties it up the best, wrapping up the “stolen credit” theme in the most satisfying way is Flaming Moe’s. 

The last scene, where Moe offers Homer the drink with its original name, still melts my heart. And I believe that shows growth in the character that was missing from Mr. Plow. For that, the winner of this comparison goes to Flaming Moe’s. 

Flaming Moes: 4

Mr. Plow: 3

There you have it! Congratulations Flaming Moe’s. What an honor. 

Now there are many ways to measure and compare an episode. I chose to examine both through the lens of the theme and the story structure. If you disagree with this assessment or if you have an aspect that I missed in this article, please let me know in the comments. 

Check out these other articles about The Simpsons here:

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Why Censorship Can Be Good for Creativity

Censorship destroys ideas. Take, for example, a creative writing workshop where a small group deems a topic offensive and out of bounds. When that happens, a line is drawn, and the room for exploration is limited. Ideas that could’ve been will never be. In this new world where we’re redefining how we should speak and what subjects are appropriate, we writers need to walk that fine line without stepping on others. 

This type of sensitivity within a trusting group doesn’t only harm writing workshops but also workplaces, friendships, and even families. When one side is considered correct and the other wrong, even in the realm of creativity and art, the fun of creation is gone. But is it? 

In an interview with J Thorn on the Writers, Ink podcast, author Chuck Palahniuk describes how this type of censorship caused the demise of a writing group he had been a part of that lasted almost thirty years. 

“It’s a tragedy,” said Palahniuk, “but nothing lasts forever.” 

Values, words, or perspectives that you considered appropriate today can be offensive in the future. All it takes is a culture shift. 

Palahniuk recalled that after 9/11, transgressive fiction fell out of favor. Transgressive fictions are stories that focus on characters that feel oppressed by conformity and the expectations of society. Stories like Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and, of course, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Amazon) are all examples of transgressive fiction. 

In early 2000, the culture no longer wanted to be associated with a whole genre — not just a word, but an entire creative style. These novels suddenly looked terrorist-y, and anyone reading them would appear to be promoting real-world violence. Authors were worried about being labeled terrorists because of themes in their books, much like how someone today can come across as racist, sexist, homophobic, or body-shaming because they used a word or phrase. Transgressive fiction faded from the shelves, but as Palahniuk illuminated, in its place came horror fiction. 

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

Transgressive fiction also fell out of style at the end of the ‘60s. While serial killers such as Charles Manson and the Zodiac killer were terrorizing society, the public tried to come to terms with those events. This climate led to a slew of paranormal horror, slasher, and thriller movies. When there is a void, creativity will fill that space. People will always be curious about the darkness within a person’s soul. And while some genres make it raw and blatant, horror focuses less on the subject and more on the emotions during those frightening times.

Those who wrote transgressive fiction to share their message could now communicate through horror. Horror fiction acts as a cloak for those darker themes without directly reflecting the realism of current events. 

We can approach all censorship the same way. 

“A certain amount of censorship is creative,” said Palaniuk. “Because it does allow writers to veil their message. So their message needs to be a little more indirect.” 

Should your work ever be targeted by censorship, know that it’s not a war you could win. Instead, learn to cloak your message so it’s palatable for a greater audience. Your idea gets shared, but it’s not a confronting act. 

Give it a shot. If you’re exploring a topic that is frowned upon — something you wouldn’t talk about at a party — something political, religious, or your readership would be sensitive to, try to hide the message below the surface. Make your point without screaming it at the top of your lungs. Refrain, cloak, and see if you can write great work that makes a point without doing more harm. 

There is a lot of evil out in the world today. Although censorship might not be the cure for all of it, censorship can be a bandage that helps people heal. You don’t need to be the one to pull it off. But you can tell your story without causing scars. Do that by masking your message within another genre and allowing your creativity to conceal the reality of our troubled times. That way, you can convey your ideas and explore the topic you’re interested in, and nobody gets hurt in the process. 

Good art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. Good art does not do unnecessary damage. Learn to dance with censorship and see it not as the enemy of creativity but as a road less traveled. 

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5 Productivity Tips For New Creative Writers

New creative writers, if you’re struggling to find the balance between living life and writing, I’m with you. I’ve been chipping away for a while, and most recently, I got into a good writing flow, producing a lot of work and making solid progress. I wrote these five tips as a reminder for myself in those moments when I need to grind, but I hope you get value from them, as well.

1. Don’t Wait:

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to write? Don’t. A perfect time may never come. You’ll need to work with imperfect time. The time you can sneak in. That’s the best way to finish a big project, bit by bit, a little every day. Be consistent, and over the course of a year, those hours will add up, and you will look back and see the progress you’ve made. But you won’t make any progress if you wait.

2. Always Be Learning:

At many points in the journey, you’ll feel doubt, like an imposter, but I assure you, those feelings are normal. In those moments, don’t be discouraged. Stay humble. There is no secret formula for what you’re pursuing, and it’ll take experimentation: trial and error. Through the successes and the failures, you’ll learn. And from there, your craft will improve. Have compassion for yourself and always be learning.

3. Schedule It In:

When working on a personal project, you’ll need free time. The thing about free time is that it can fill up fast if you don’t prepare for it. When Saturday comes along, and you don’t have any commitment, it’s easy to get distracted by chores, errands, and outings with friends. While you can still do those things, you must set aside time to work on what you had wanted to do all week. Be disciplined with the time you’ve set aside for your side project. Schedule it in. If you find that your free hours are constantly slipping away, mark them down in your calendar and block them off.

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

4. Set Small Milestones:

Chipping away at a big writing project can mean going days and weeks without seeing any progress in your work. That can be discouraging. Too many days where you feel like you’re going in a circle can cause you to quit. But don’t. Instead, take a step back and view your project as a whole. Then break it up into smaller, manageable milestones that you can hit on a foreseeable deadline. Once your start reaching milestones, you gain confidence and see progress. By seeing progress, you will have evidence that you can achieve your goals

5. Be Unborable:

In any Rocky movie, the training montage is the shortest part of the film. When in fact, it should have been the longest part of the film. Imagine if Stallone decided to make that sequence in real time. You’d probably be bored. That’s the thing about training: it’s long and tedious. But it’s an essential part of the journey. Life is not a movie, and you can’t just have Eye of the Tiger playing in the background, and once the song is over, you’ll have reached the next level. You cannot expect your work to exist in a short montage burst. You must be present, enduring the struggle, battling the bureaucracy, and overcoming the boredom of work.

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How Do You Make Something So Bad It’s Good?

When there’s a fight scene in a cartoon, exaggerated kicks and punches with “POW!” and “KABLAM!” popping up are expected. 

Or if you’re watching a cartoon and there’s a horror scene and the monster eats the cheerleader — and her body is bloodied and gushing. That’s all right. 

Or you’re watching a cartoon of a detective standing over a dead body, realizing a critical piece of evidence on the crime scene. And when he pulls off his glasses and says — “Well, I guess he died of a broken heart!” — that won’t be too jarring. 

However, when these scenes are happening in a live-action movie or television show, with actors portraying these exaggerated characters, you can describe this experience as campy. 

Cartoons are inherently over-emphasized. That is the nature of the medium. A key principle of animation, after all, is “exaggeration”. However, when we watch real people in the real world, behaviour and emotions are often dialed down. Generally speaking, people are subtle. 

Subtly is great! Subtly is The Godfather saying, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” without causing us to cringe. 

Subtly is in Gone with the Wind when Clark Gable says “Frankly My Dear, I don’t give a damn!” and we feel the pain. 

Subtly is the snow globe falling out of Charles Foster Kane’s hand and being an emphasis without it being exaggerated. 

The refined nature of a subtle performance or design is often regarded as high art, and it can be associated with a bit of pretentiousness. 

As you can already tell, campy is the opposite. Campy is not subtle. Campy is flashy. Campy is exaggerated. And because of this, it’s often perceived as being in bad taste or ironic. 

The argument against camp is that it’s the result of incompetence and inexperience. If they can’t do it well, so they’ll do it bad. To say you’re trying to make something campy is to say that you want to make something poorly by being ostentatious, sensational, and excessive. That’s why many campy cult classics are described as being “so bad it’s good.” 

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Proponents of campiness will tell you that the style, in fact, challenges the audience, pushing them to experience the genre, theme, aesthetic, and milieu in an unfamiliar way. It’s not trying to replicate life, it’s attempting to stretch the boundary of our comfort and security. It allows us to lower the mask of seriousness we constantly hold up to the world. 

For many years, “camp” was the style adopted by the gay culture. It was a catalyst to have a deeper conversation about the narrow-mindedness that a middle-class society could often trap itself in. 

In Susan Sontag’s essay entitled “Notes on “Camp” [Amazon], she describes camp as the love for the unnatural. It is not fake elegance but rather a surreal occurrence of beauty, and it can be applied with intention.

Today, there is a slight difference in usage between the terms: campy and camp. “Campy” describes the misuse of an exaggerated element in a piece, while “camp” is a well-thought design emphasis or aspect that offers an unconventional view.   

It’s this gray area that causes many campy works to be so polarizing. Was The Room by Tommy Wiseau a masterpiece created by a visionary of camp? Or was it a troubled project built upon rudimentary plot devices and unfit performances? 

Yes, while it’s common for critics to hate campy entertainments, audiences often flock to them. 

Horror is one of the most popular genres that thrive on camp. One reason is that we go in not taking it too seriously. We watch horror movies through a cartoon lens, distancing ourselves from the actors on the screen and accepting that those people aren’t real, and their certain demise will not be a tragedy. We can just sit back and enjoy the blood and gore. 

Of course, not all horrors rely on camp. Some resemble the anxiousness of reality. Slow and tense.  That’s a physiological thriller. That’s Silence of the Lamb. That’s not an amusement ride the way a campy horror movie is. 

Audiences love campy movies because it’s not serious. It’s fun — and the moment you start analyzing it is the moment you kill the spirit. However, people are smart, and they can often tell if an element of camp was intentionally added or if it was a clumsy mistake. 

A poorly dubbed movie. An out-of-placed romance. An over-the-top fight scene. 

Campiness can also ruin an experience when the audience’s expectations are not met. They would wonder what was going on if the actor gives an exaggerated performance in a moment that was supposed to feel real.

Photo by Marc Schaefer on Unsplash

That’s why campiness is best done with the audience in mind. You cannot throw a campy element into a piece and expect everyone to respond in the same way. Campiness, in its nature, is a bright color or an eye-catching pattern. So when you use it, make sure it’s pointing the attention at the right thing, because the viewers will notice. 

So, let’s get back to the ultimate question. How do you make something so bad it’s good? There is no secret formula. But being purposeful with camp is certainly one strategy. 

When you’re judging a piece of work, ask what criteria you’re using to evaluate it. Those that will criticize a movie as campy are those looking for elevated conventional traits. Anything outside of those bounds is deemed bad. They’re comparing it to great movies of the past. However, a good campy movie isn’t like anything they’ve seen before. 

Those who appreciate a campy movie are analyzing it through a completely different lens. They are seeking something outside of convention. A novel ride or the surrealness of beauty. If you want to reach this crowd, ask what hasn’t existed before and then bring it to life — and make it fabulous. 

Campy has a bad connotation. And it’s not fair, because while something may not be to your taste, it may also not be made for you. So whenever you see camp, ask yourself, “What is the artist trying to portray?” Examine whether it’s done intentionally to make a statement or to give you a surreal experience. Or perhaps it was just a sloppy exaggeration. 

Entertainment is riddled with camp. The longer you search, the more you will find. By seeking out camp, you begin to recognize your own taste for genre and style. How can you use camp to highlight a point in your next story? 

And for more in this series, check out these articles here:

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