10 Best (Most Mind-Bending) Episodes of Love Death + Robots | Season 1-3

Recently I’ve been super busy and sitting down for a two-to-three-hour movie is difficult. So these short stand-alone episodes from Netflix’s Love Death + Robots were a great way to take a break and watch something without spending too much of my time. 

I was happy to hear that Netflix renewed the sci-fi anthology for a fourth season. I look forward to seeing how the different studios innovate on what they’ve already created. I love comparing the storylines, concepts, and art styles.  

From the first three seasons, a few episodes stood out. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today. If you haven’t checked out Love Death + Robots, watch these episodes. If you have seen it, then watch them again. 

This list is purely my opinion, so if you disagree and I left out one of your favorites, please let me know in the comments. 

Okay, let’s count it down! 

10. Zima Blue

The first time I watched this episode, I didn’t think much about it. Yes, the art style was cool—a thick-line comic book aesthetic that reminded me of the 90’s cartoon Daria—but I wasn’t sure what the deal was until it got to the end. 

There was a time when we were confident that art was the language of humans. We have experiences and emotions, and that’s what makes art meaningful. The sentiment was clear: Robots have no place in art. 

Today, with the advent of Dall-E, Midjourney, Lensa, and ChatGPT, AIs are coming closer and closer to creating art. They may only be interpreting our keywords to produce an image or write a paragraph now, but how soon will they be able to take their experiences and design something of their own? And when they do, what will they make? That’s the question Zima Blue poses… and the answer might be too simple for us to understand. 

9. The Tall Grass

There is something calming about a man smoking a cigarette and venturing into the tall grass. But the pendulum swings to fear quickly. We’ve been there before. How often do we decline helpful advice and go off on our own? How often do we find our curiosity and hubris leading us to danger? 

The Tall Grass is an episode where as a spectator, it’s so obvious the passenger was going to get lost. From our perspective, we’ve seen this a thousand times. 

After saving him, the conductor tells the passenger that out in the middle of nowhere, a door opens to another world, and those monsters coming through were once lost humans. That explanation is somehow terrifying and assuring. We are not immune, and we may be one bad decision from getting lost ourselves. 

8. Pop Squad

As a child-free person, this episode felt like an attack. In our current world, we are facing overpopulation, but there will be more older people than young. According to the US Census Bureau, in America, the fastest-growing population are people above 80. 

Depending on how you look at it, it can feel selfish to have children and selfish not to have children. While immortality is still fiction, the moral decision is worth debating. 

It’s well-documented that Elon Musk wants everyone to have more children, and he’s leading by example, but how will he feel when there is no more room at the party? What if someone needs to go for someone else to join? Do I believe Elon Musk love himself enough to want to live forever? Yes, I do. Is he seeing the world through the children’s eyes, or does he see them as resources for the future? Expendable like Twitter employees. 

7. Jibaro

Telling a powerful story without dialogue is tough. The soundscape, musical score, and audio mixing must be on point, and when it is I feel chills. It’s hard to find words to describe this episode. You can even say that at the end, I too was speechless. What did I just experience? 

This twisted episode is a feast for the eyes as well. The surreal mix of Spanish conquistadors, South Asian-inspired costume design, and the North American wilderness presents a story full of symbolism while leaving plenty of room for interpretations. 

Fear and anger drive this episode, but the temptation is navigating. Both the siren and the knight wear armor, one of steel and the other of gold and jewels, but neither can protect what’s within. Jibaro blends interpretive dance, operatic performance, and a hostile assault to tell a story about humanity’s true disabilities, not our inability to speak and hear but our sins: greed and lust. 

6. Life Hutch

There are several episodes in Love Death + Robots about malfunctioning machines going on a killing spree, including Mason’s Rats and Automated Customer Service. It also brings to mind that famous episode of Black Mirror: Metalhead. So what separates Life Hutch from other attacking-robot stories? 

This episode built tension and then held it. At no point does this feel repetitive, which can’t be said about some of the other examples. Whenever the momentum was on the verge of slipping, it cuts to a back story about surviving an army of aliens, space debris, and a crash landing on the rugged planet. It goes to show that in space, there is always danger. After all he’s been through, it’s so satisfying when he finally beats up the robot with its arm.    

HM: Lucky 13

Before we carry on with the countdown, here’s an honorable mention, Lucky 13. While the number 13 being unlucky is a bit cliche, I did enjoy the idea of superstition in a futuristic world. 

Whenever chance is in question, a bit of faith is required. In a dangerous situation, nobody wants to run out of luck. Yet, how much does a break in pattern matter? Good luck after a string of bad luck. Is it all in our minds? People want to feel like they can control the uncontrollable, whether they do or not, it’s the stories they tell themselves that will keep them going. 

Now back to the countdown… 

5. Beyond the Aquila Rift

The award for the most intense sex scene goes to Beyond the Aquila Rift, and that’s enough to get it into the top five. Okay, but seriously the episode about how an error in the routing system caused ships to overshoot their destination by hundreds of thousands of light-years away is a tragedy. A combination of Groundhog Day, the Matrix, and Interstellar, Beyond the Aquila Rift poses many questions. The twist at the end is a horrifying reminder that if something is hidden from us, it might be for a good reason. And so it goes with everything out there in space. 

What this episode does great is show the significance of space travel and the power of technology. We, humans, should be careful where we wander, but the fact of the matter is that we may already be trapped. If you ever feel that life is a simulation, that’s okay because this reality may be the most ideal version. 

4. Sonnie’s Edge

Just failing to make the podium is Sonnie’s Edge. This gritty, gruesome, and erotic Pokemon-esque episode has everything I want in a sci-fi/fantasy short, including an epic battle between giant monsters.

On the surface, this episode appears to be a feast for our obsession with violence and sex, but beneath, it has a powerful message about the corruption of men. Driven by overconfidence and pride, the upper class feels secure when they shouldn’t, for there is an edge that those living below have. Fear. A story about feminism and the strength of women, Sonnie’s Edge is layers upon layers deep. 

3. Helping Hand

If you enjoyed the movie Gravity, Moon, or 127 Hours, you’d like Helping Hand. Nothing captures my attention like a survival story. I consider what I would do in that situation. What would I sacrifice to save my life? They say there is no will more powerful than the will to live, and until you stare death in the face, you will never fully know how you’d respond. 

Small debris causes the greatest devastation. And no instrument of destruction is more powerful than our thoughts. Can we break free of the inertia that will carry us deeper and deeper into darkness? Or will we be able to throw what we hold most precious and change the momentum? Helping Hand is an incredible short because it hits on something real: the perseverance of humans and the coldness of space. 

2. Bad Traveling

This episode might be about a giant crustacean taking over a ship and causing havoc but it’s also about the deceit of democracy, the power struggle within a workforce, and the negotiation with an enemy. The theme of Bad Traveling is so relevant to the world we are currently living in. Are we making cowardly choices because we fear the enemy or mistrust those who are in charge? 

What makes a good leader? Is it someone who can manipulate the monsters we’ll face? Or is it someone who can see the evil within ourselves? Perhaps it’s both. In which case, how will he make choices when theoretically there is nobody on his side? Taking action for the greater good is as isolating as being alone on the ocean. 

1. The Witness

The Witness is an incredibly stimulating experience with the topsy-turvy comic art style, the titillating performance, and the claustrophobically tall buildings combined with a disorienting soundscape and fast cuts. The story starts with a sex worker witnessing a murder in the apartment across the street, then a chase through a populated city that doesn’t seem to care about anything but itself, and concludes in a chaotic struggle.

This mind-bending story about infinite loops is so brilliantly done that I don’t know if I can ever get the visuals out of my head. The way the characters breathe, so realistically, right onto the camera lens—I can feel it. The insanity of the situation. The need to know, the need to save ourselves, the fear of being caught. In such a diverse collection of stories, The Witness stands out on its own. And the open-ended conclusion leaves us wanting more, almost daring to chase it down ourselves, drawing our conclusions like the characters in the story. 

There you have it! Those are my top 10 episodes of Love Death + Robots. What do you think? Did your favorite episode make the list? Let me know in the comments below. As I mentioned, I’m excited that the sci-fi anthology was renewed for another season. I can’t wait to see what other trippy, scary, and bizarre stories creator Tim Miller and his contributing filmmakers will have. 

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Write a Story Using These Five Narrative Modes

Is a scene not working? Are you failing to create intrigue, establish tone, or captivate an audience? Consider what narrative mode you’re using to tell your story. 

If words are the building blocks then narrative modes are the design of your story. Whichever ones you pick will yield a different construction, and therefore, a different experience for your readers. 

There are five narrative modes: description, dialogue, action, thought, and exposition. Today we will look at these five forms and how you can experiment while editing to determine which works best. 

To put it in context, we’ll explore how different authors use varying narrative modes to start their stories—but this approach works anywhere: beginning, middle, or end. If something isn’t working, change the narrative mode and see what happens. 

Let’s get into it! 

Description  

Descriptions are great for establishing a setting or character

It’s most effective if it’s an intriguing image. If you waste too many words describing something obvious or mundane, you won’t hook your audience or keep them turning the pages. To write effective descriptions, activate the senses: what do you see, hear, smell, feel, or taste? What’s unusual? 

Alternatively, you can use descriptions to establish context, for example, a before or after image. Take the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Amazon). He starts the story with a description of an average house before the chaos and destruction: 

The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village. It stood on its own and looked out over a broad spread of West Country farmland. Not a remarkable house by any means — it was about thirty years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye.
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Dialogue

Starting a story with dialogue can grab the reader’s attention. It jumps right into the middle of a scene, introducing a character and building a connection. Hearing a character speak makes them more personable and is often more engaging than having the writer paraphrase what’s been said. When it’s well-written, dialogue can give a sense of who the character is, where they are, and what they want. 

However, bad dialogue can confuse readers because they don’t know who’s talking or why they should care. Don’t begin with your characters making small talk or a boring conversation that the reader may have in their own life. If you’re opening your story or maintaining narrative momentum, make sure the dialogue is compelling. If you want to hit your reader with something unexpected, dialogue is a great way to do it. Check out how Douglas Coupland opens his novel Jpod (Amazon):

“Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”

“That asshole.”

“Who does he think he is?”

“Come on, guys, focus. We’ve got a major problem on our hands.”

– Jpod by Douglas Coupland 

Action

In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of action” and that’s what you should consider when writing an action scene. Start your scene in the middle of an event and create stakes, tension, and strong pacing that will hook your reader while still giving them relevant details like time and place. It doesn’t mean you begin at the climax or the most intense part. It means you place your readers at a link in the continual chain of cause and effect: Because this is happening, this is happening — and because that happened, this is now happening. 

In an energetic action sequence, use active voice and remove filter words, such as saw, felt, and thought. Writing a good action scene doesn’t need to include characters, although a goal or a conflict is necessary. Action is great, but always ask: Why should the readers care? 

Take a look at this opening to The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (Amazon). 

The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were the sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The animal was dying. – The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Thoughts

A story that opens with a thought, is a story that opens in the past, a reflection, a flashback. How is this effective? 

Thoughts allow the readers to understand a character. By seeing how they think or relive a significant memory, readers learn about their motivations and personalities. We view the conflict from their perspectives. Thoughts allow the author to convey the theme quickly. With thoughts, you can establish a pivotal scene, like a murder, a love loss, or an important lesson, and have that guide the character for the rest of the story. 

A great example of this is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (Amazon). The narrator, Nick Carraway’s thought has nothing to do with the plot directly, but it shows his principles. The opening gives him the integrity he needs to tell the story and for us to trust him.  

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Exposition

We are told that expositions should be avoided because they’re info dumps. Unskilled authors use them to give the readers all the information they need to understand some convoluted plot. Think of the opening crawl of any Star Wars movie where the floating text sets the stage for the galactic confrontation. Phantom Menace literally begins by explaining the details of space tax and trade routes. 

While exposition has a bad reputation for pushing the readers out of an emotional or visceral experience, it’s a reliable mode for explaining a character, a historical event, or a critical mission. With that said, here are a few notes to consider when using expositions for your story: 

  1. Make sure the details are intriguing: don’t share information that the reader can assume. 
  2. Create a sense of place: ground your story and connect it with a specific scenario. 
  3. Pay attention to the tone and mood: Just because it’s an info dump, doesn’t mean it should take the reader out of the story. When writing ask: how do the characters feel about these details? Is it dark and scary, or is it hopeful like at the beginning of The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (Amazon)? 

This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. – The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Whether you’re editing the beginning, middle, or end of your story consider the narrative mode. Remember, you are not tearing down your house, you’re redesigning it so that everything works better together. If you’re stuck and a section isn’t working, consider changing how you deliver the information. Switching the narrative modes can give strength to different aspects of the story; you change the pace, mood, and intensity. Practice each one, because you never know when a dialogue scene can work better as an exposition, or an action can become a thought.

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My Current Writing Fears and Struggles

2022 has been a tough year. One of my saving graces has been my creative projects. If you’ve been following my channel, you’d know I’m deep in some pretty big projects, including my novel and short stories.

However, even my passion project comes with its struggles. As with all daily grinds, some days it feels like I’m making progress, and other days it feels like I’ve wasted my time, regressed in my skills, or even set myself up for embarrassment. When this happens, I want to shut it all down and give up. 

Now, I’m no expert in overcoming struggles. As much as I appreciate stoic philosophy, it’s not easy to practice it in real life. Sometimes I find myself frustrated and confused, but I always get myself back onto the metaphorical horse. In this article, I’ll share my most notable writing fears and struggles and what I might do to overcome them. 

Comparison with Others

As I follow more and more artists, writers, and all-around successful people on social media, I often notice the jealousy that brews beneath the surface of my cheerful exterior. Every day, I see writers celebrating their milestones, showing off their book covers, and getting profiled by publications, while for the past few years, I’ve been in the weeds with my work. 

Seeing others celebrate while I’m still in the middle of the grind is painful. I’m putting in all this effort, but where is the payoff? This is, of course, a dangerous mindset. When these feelings bubble to the surface, I repeat a quote that has always stuck with me, and that is: your success is your success, not my failure. 

We can sometimes see life as a zero-sum game. For my team to win, the opposition needs to lose. If someone buys their book, then they won’t buy mine. When they win, I lose. But when it comes to creativity, that is not true. When people read, when people watch videos, and when people appreciate others’ creative work, it elevates all of us. 

I try to hold onto that whenever I see others achieving their goals. I want to be someone who rises and meets them at the top, not someone who tears others down so that they are in the pits with me. None of us will succeed that way. 

Comparing yourself with others is dangerous, especially when you think they are stealing from you. They are not, they are on a different journey, and their work doesn’t impact yours. Don’t compare your work in progress to someone else’s finished product. It’s all a distraction. I could be jealous, or I could be inspired. Examine their work, see how they did it, and maybe we can learn something. 

Fear of the 1-Star Review

While I struggle with the success of others, I also struggle with my failures, and nothing epitomizes that more than the fear of getting a one-star review. 

This fear is irrational because I haven’t even completed my novel yet, and here I am, anticipating the criticism and haters. Jumping to a conclusion can lead to a lot of anxiety, and that can throw me off. It creates unnecessary pressure that causes me to second-guess every word I write and every piece I publish. 

Here’s the thing, I’ve yet to get a one-star review for my work. One day I will, but for now, I have no real experience. While I’ve gotten negative comments from instructors and on social media and can imagine a similar pain, I don’t know what I’m dealing with. It’s that unfamiliar negative feeling that scares me. It’s like anticipating a car crash while your friend is driving; nobody feels good about that. 

We, as humans, put more value on negative comments than on positive ones. We’ve all been there. We share our work with someone, and they praise us for this and that, but end with one thing that they didn’t understand or a suggestion. All the nice things they said disappeared, and now we’re fixated on that negative comment. What hurts the most is that there is truth to that comment. But I try to look at it this way: isn’t it kind that they gave you any feedback at all?

Reviews are important for creative writers, especially in a saturated market. It’s painful to work on something for so long only to have someone trash it. But as Gary Vee would say, ignore all of it. Good and bad. None of it matters. Take constructive feedback when it’s offered, but when it’s unsolicited, criticism is a gift you don’t need to accept. You don’t need to apply it to your work. 

Fear is not a bad thing. The fear pushes me to work hard, do everything I can, and make sure it meets my standards. Once it does then it doesn’t matter what other people say because I approve of it. I stand behind it. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can hold my head high. There are bound to be people who hate my work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It sucks that they have to give me a one-star and hurt me, but hey… it wasn’t made for them. But here’s the good news, they chose to engage with it, and that’s worth celebrating. 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Reward May Not Be Worth It

From the start, people have told me that there isn’t a lot of money in creative writing. Only a small percentage are lucky enough to make a comfortable living, while others need to hustle or subsidize their creativity with other jobs. This is the reality all writers need to understand when they pursue this craft. The reward at the end may not be a pot of gold. The reward may be just more creative work

While that may sound fruitless to some, and money causes stress, it can also be a positive. If you’re a writer chasing fame and fortune, good luck. However, if you’re a writer who wants to be able to write consistently for your whole life, then you should reframe your mindset. 

You’re not writing to make money, you’re making money to keep writing. The act of writing is the reward. The fact that you get to wake up every morning and work on something you’re passionate about is something you should be grateful for. Everything else: the money, the accolades, the fans, the New York Times bestseller ranking, the movie adaptation, and the lifetime achievement award — all that is a bonus. Don’t deny it when it comes, but don’t put those expectations before your work. 

When I get caught focusing on what writing can bring, I don’t pay enough attention to what writing does. The act of writing is a friend. Our friend is there with us through good and bad times. Our friend is kind and reliable. What our friend isn’t is someone that pays us regularly for showing up to hang out with them. We don’t expect anything in return for chilling with our friends. We should be so lucky to spend time with them. And so it goes with writing. At least, that’s how I try to see it when my word count increases, but my bank account stays the same. 

We, writers, are vulnerable, optimistic people. We put our hearts on the line every time we sit down to create in the hope of impacting our audience. With that pursuit come fears and struggles beyond story structures and typos. These are things I deal with daily, if not on an hourly basis. It’s easy to get caught up in our heads. Of course, it is! We are writers… we live in our imaginations. 

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White Christmas: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss White Christmas, let’s take a trip back to the past, all the way to when this episode was first released: December 16, 2014. 

In 2014, with over 70% of all internet using Facebook, it was the most popular social media platform. However, it was also reaching its peak as other platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Pinterest saw significant growth in the past few years.  

On May 15, 2014, Google Glass and its $1,500 price tag were introduced to the world. With cost and privacy regulations in question, the consumer market simply wasn’t ready for such a “cool” piece of technology. 

On November 6, 2014, the first generation of the Amazon Echo was released. This voice-activated device was anticipated to change how we interact with our homes and all the technology in them, and not merely be a glorified speaker system. 

2014 was the year Kanye West and Kim Kardashian married. The wedding cost $12 million, which included a Bespoke Calacatta Vaticano marble table worth $478,000 for the reception

In October, comedian Hannibal Burress called out Bill Cosby on stage for not only being smug but also being a rapist. That act opened the door for a slew of victims to accuse Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them. 

8 months earlier, 15-year-old, Breck Bednar was murdered by 18-year-old, Lewis Daynes, a boy he met playing online video games. Breck’s family claimed he was a victim of grooming — how his personality changed over the last few months — before he traveled to Daynes’ flat. There he was stabbed in the neck, and the photos of his death were shared in a gaming group on social media. 

In 2014, abortion was a key issue in American politics. Republicans began to shift their focus from implementing outright bans to attacking the resources. These initiatives include limiting health coverage for abortions and driving clinics out of business. 

Now that we recall the state of the world during Christmas 2014, we can start our discussion on Black Mirror, episode 4 of season 2: White Christmas. 

How did this episode age? Are the themes still relevant? Have any of the predictions come true? And if they haven’t, are they still plausible?

Let’s find out. 

Bad Conversations 

White Christmas is an anthology within an anthology: three separate tales loosely tied together with one central storyline. In the first, we hear Matt’s story about his former role as an online consultant, who used a live streaming technology called Z-Eyes that allowed him to see and hear everything his client was experiencing. 

On this night, he followed the POV of an insecure man named Harry as he searched for a date at a work party. Matt’s advice to Harry reminded me of The Game by Neil Strauss (Amazon) and the techniques that pick-up artists would use to seduce women. One approach was to pay attention to the less attractive individual or the person you’re not as interested in. In doing so, you appear more appealing to your “target,” thus making it easier for you to seduce them later. Published in 2005, The Game is still regarded as a reliable resource for 17-year-old bros and the desperately hopeful. 

Only in 2019, did the rise of the term “toxic masculinity” reach the mainstream, and cis-gendered straight men had to relearn proper etiquette, including the need to stop negging and gaslighting women. Rather than manipulation and dominance, this new education was focused on respect.

In 2017, Alyssa Milano shared a tweet encouraging all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to post “Me Too” as their status on social media, in an effort to end the stigma and silence. This act led to The Me Too Movement, which raised awareness of sexual assault and brought down powerful offenders: Harvey Weinstein, R Kelly, Kevin Spacey, and many others. 

However, while the waves were crashing around all the rapists and our beloved idols were getting canceled, a few incidents made us question the severity of each individual accusation. Every case is unique, and therefore, the level of outrage and condemnation must be determined after we hear both sides of the story and carefully assess the evidence. The allegation around Aziz Ansari is a good example.

In a blog post titled, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life”, posted on Babe.net, a woman with the alias “Grace” allegedly went on a date with the actor from Parks and Rec. During the course of the night, she felt forced into having sex. According to Ansari, it was all consensual, and there wasn’t much to prove otherwise. 

This incident fueled debate: while many women could relate to what Grace had gone through — interacting with a man who was only in tune with his own desires — many also wondered if attempting to destroy someone publically was the proper way to respond to an uncomfortable date.  

With the change in the technological landscape, dating was evolving as well. In a way, it was becoming dangerous: more automated, addicting, and riskier. In the summer of 2018, Danueal Drayton used Tinder to lure Samantha Stewart on a date to the race track and eventually to her apartment, where he sexually assaulted and then strangled her to death. After his arrest, the authorities linked Drayton to at least 6 other murders, where he also used the dating platform to prey on women expecting to find love. 

One core theme of this episode is the challenge we have with communication. While it’s not easy speaking from our hearts — or with our minds — we are called to raise our voices more than ever these days. Whether trying to seduce, convince, or condemn, we must speak up. But how will these new methods of communication change the things we say and the way we say it?

A Copy of You for You

The second act in this episode follows Matt as he describes his former role as a technician that instructs digital clones called “cookies”. Like having presets for every household technology, these digital copies are designed to help the original humans live more convenient lives by understanding them without any instructions. Gone are the days of machine learning; your clone already knows. 

However, this episode brings up some old philosophical questions: what is consciousness, and what does it means to be alive? When our minds are replicated and transferred into strings of code, does that constitute creating life? Do the “cookies” have a say in how they should live? 

The Internet of Things is a concept that describes physical objects with the ability to connect and exchange data via sensors, enabling them to gather information from a network and provide a wide range of services. The Internet of Things has already revolutionized the commercial, healthcare, and transportation industries. 

For wealthy consumers, one area that has benefited from the Internet of Things is recurring tasks like grocery shopping. Samsung recently released the Family Hub refrigerators that recognize when you’re running low on an item and order it for you before you are out. Imagine all the arguments you’ve had in the past about dinner; wouldn’t it be great if all your appliances knew what you were craving and ordered it for you?

Currently, all the data collected are stored in a network and require the devices to pull it out when necessary. But what if the network is just a clone of you? 

There are two major steps to the process known as mind transfer, where we reproduce the contents of our brains onto computers. That’s turning 86 billion neurons interconnected by 100 trillion synapses into code. 

The first challenge is building an artificial brain that can simulate neurons, and the second is to scan the brain, measure all the neurons and how they are connected, and then copy the patterns to the aforementioned artificial brain. 

The first step is achievable today. We have built artificial neurons connected through synapses before; tools like Siri and self-driving cars already operate on this system, but Siri does not have 86 billion neurons. In fact, Siri only has an IQ of 23.9, which is well below a human toddler. 

The second step in mind transfer is still decades, if not centuries away. The ability to extract the contents of someone’s brain without possibly killing them is not currently available. Unlike software like Siri, our brains have amazing plasticity. 

Consider the cocktail party effect where you enter a noisy party: everything sounds chaotic, and then after a moment, your brain rewires to focus on individual voices and sounds. This plasticity is where voice-activated technology still has trouble. How many times has Siri registered the wrong sounds? How many times has Siri not understood the context of our request? 

I found this segment of the episode fascinating and relevant today. How do you punish someone with infinite time? How do you motivate someone who has a slave to operate everything? What kind of heaven will we create with convenience? What kind of inescapable hell are we constructing? Much like how religion can motivate us to be kind, can this alternate reality motivate us to be better humans? Or would it lead us to corruption, cruelty, and hunger to control what we can? Us.

Blocking and Confessing

A major conflict in the episode is Joe’s argument with his fiancee, Beth, regarding her pregnancy. While at first Joe was excited to be a father, Beth insisted that she wanted an abortion. 

The two go back and forth, and eventually, Beth blocks him, turning him into a grey, static distortion, unable for him to see or hear her. Estranged, Joe discovered that Beth had gone ahead with her pregnancy and ended up giving birth to a baby girl. But because he was still blocked, he couldn’t see Beth or the baby. 

After spying on the family for a few years, Joe learned that Beth had died in a train accident. Her death lifted the block, and Joe attempted to reconnect with his child — only to find out that she was Asian and Beth had an affair. 

Enraged, Joe killed Beth’s father, leading to the little girl dying in the snow. In a twist ending, we learn that Matt had been manipulating Joe so that he would confess to his crime; and that all this time, Joe was a digital clone, a cookie. 

The right to have an abortion is a political fault line in America, splitting Republicans and Democrats. While it may seem like society was moving towards respect and understanding, the unwavering force of the religious rallied on and on, preaching morality while overlooking women’s rights. Persistent and relentless, the conservatives knocked a progressive future two steps back on June 2022, when the Supreme Court of America overturned Roe v Wade, a landmark case that had set precedence since 1973. 

This push and shove showed how fragile our rights actually are. As of summer 2022, abortion is now illegal in 11 states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Idaho. These laws mean any person who gets an abortion or helps someone get an abortion could be criminally charged and face jail time. The loss of the right to choose puts the lens on other brittle regulations including same-sex marriages and contraceptives. 

As soon as a child is involved in a couple’s dispute, the complexity increases tenfold, often extending the length of the conflict and leaving one party at the mercy of another, whether by withholding the right to see their child or financial repercussions. 

Take, for example, the ongoing Brangelina saga. In September 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after two years of marriage, alleging that Pitt had assaulted her. They have six children together. As of the fall of 2022, the custody battle continues as Jolie demands sole custody, while Pitt is unwilling to give up the fight. 

The rise in social media has also led to an increase in abuse. In a study conducted by Pew Research Center, 41% of US adults have experienced online harassment, and half of those groups have experienced more severe behaviors. 

Since its inception, social media platforms have been figuring out how to effectively ban users that violate their terms. Hate speech, bullying, and threats are as hard to eliminate as cockroaches; when they remove one account, two more take its place. 

Twitter has been a prime example of a platform struggling to balance freedom of speech and the toxicity of a branch of users. From shadow-banning an individual to flat-out blocking the whole account, Twitter experimented with many forms of moderation. But the questions persist: What does it even mean to block someone? Does it block them from seeing your content? You from seeing their content? Can they not send you messages but still see your account? Does limiting amplification mean the same thing as censoring? 

A few high-profile blocks have included Donald Trump, Kanye West, and the misogynistic kickboxer, Andrew Tate. But since Elon Musk took over Twitter in the fall of 2022, those bans have been lifted, and all three returned to the platform in varying degrees. As of December, Kanye West is the only one to be banned again for his anti-Semitic comments.

Should you ever find yourself in a scenario where someone accuses you of doing wrong, you may discover that evidence doesn’t truly matter and that it all comes down to your confession. The world is always looking for a scapegoat. That is why you see police officers forcing people to make false confessions through tactics such as those Matt used on Joe, including isolation and wearing the subject down through lies, intimidation, and trust-building stories. 

While fingerprints and DNA have been reliable evidence in trials, our digital footprint may be more damning. One day when our minds are transferred onto computers, we might not only need to protect our physical beings but also our separate digital entities. 

In 2020, weeks before the US presidential election, the New York Post reported that a laptop allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter contained emails with evidence of corruption. As of spring 2022, the details of the computer’s content are still unclear. But consider this, what if Hunter Biden’s computer could speak on its behalf? What if Hunter Biden’s computer was actually a clone of Hunter Biden? 

Black Mirror episodes are already loaded with many concepts to discuss, but this one was definitely a stocking full of mind-bending ideas. The twist and turns this episode takes us on is still a fun ride. With references to prior episodes, these easter eggs and callbacks make it feel that all of Black Mirror is taking place in one universe. 

As we approach this holiday season, coming close to the end of a pandemic, and emerging from nearly three years of trauma, White Christmas is as comforting as looking at an old album of friends and families. While we may often recall details through rose-tinted glasses, we also remember the arguments we had back then are very much the same ones we are having now. Like days and years in a cookie, time will pass, the world will change, but the holiday season will still feel the same. Cold. 

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The Waldo Moment: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss The Waldo Moment, let’s take a trip back, about a decade ago, to when this episode was first released: February 25, 2013. 

On January 21, 2013, the United States inaugurated Barack Obama for his second term as President. In March, China appointed to power Xi Jinping, who was set to turn the page and regain a sense of national greatest. 

Donald Trump was only speculating about running for the 2016 election. And in the coming weeks, The Apprentice season 13 would air on NBC. 

A year prior, Sasha Baron Cohen released his political satire The Dictator. And in 2013, the first Netflix hit, House of Cards proved original series created by streaming services could succeed. Kevin Spacey wasn’t canceled yet for sexual assault but rather acclaimed for his role as the power-hungry Frank Underwood. 

Jon Stewart was reaching the end of his tenure as the host of the Daily Show. In June 2013, he stepped away from the desk to direct a political drama, Rosewater, allowing John Oliver to fill in for a couple of months.

In January 2013, the first video episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience were uploaded onto YouTube. These videos would get hundred of thousand to a million of views regularly. 

While it may have felt like it was all fun and games, someone was bound to get hurt. The Kony 2012 online campaign fooled many. Cyberbullying became ever more prominent in the news, including the story of Amanda Todd’s death in October 2012. Eight months earlier, Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting by vigilante George Zimmerman, fueled tribalism and demonstrated the ineffectiveness of social media as a communication tool. 

The flowery utopia we were hoping for was wilting. The joke was over. The systems were breaking, and no one was capable of fixing them. According to the political online magazine AlterNet, 1.4 million Americans voted for Jesus Christ as the president in the 2012 write-in ballot to show their displeasure for both Obama and Mitt Romney. 

So that’s where we were in February of 2013. A simpler time, when we have only started to divide, forced to pick between two unsatisfactory options on all levels. With all that said, let’s get into our discussion of Black Mirror episode 3 of season 2: The Waldo Moment. 

Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Did any of the predictions come to fruition, and if not, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out. 

The Jester King

The Waldo Moment follows Jamie, a comedian who plays Waldo, an animated blue bear that makes vulgar jokes on television. Set during a political campaign, his opportunistic producer, Jack, convinces him to run as a member of parliament under the guise of Waldo. This episode mirrors modern political satire and its power to reflect important talking points in an approachable way, while being implicit in sparking its own misinformation. 

Satire can be used to raise awareness without the drabness of journalism and public records, and it’s an effective method to criticize factors in a society without applying the full weight of the problem. In another word, satire is the sugar that helps the medicine go down. 

Many young people of my generation got news from comedians as opposed to reporters. There was often more truth in the comedy, and that’s what made The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report so influential. 

Recently, satire and the freedom of speech in these realms have been under attack. With the rise of fake news, including the Russian-backed stories shared all over Facebook during the 2016 election, the role of satirical publications was placed under the microscope. A rising concern occurred when various third parties began citing The Onion as a real news source, including such gems as “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012″ and “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.” 

On January 2015, two Islamic terrorists stormed into the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people and injured 11 for publishing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. 

Our trust in politicians and the press were decreasing, and we wondered if we could reign in satire without limiting freedom of speech. And that’s what makes The Waldo Moment so interesting. This episode shows that given the right circumstances a joke can take a life of its own. 

Comedians running for government is not a new concept even during this episode’s time. In 2007, Stephen Colbert, playing the role of his well-intentioned, poorly-informed character, ran for office during the 2008 Presidential Election. Although Colbert ended up dropping out, the Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert” surpassed its one million member mark in less than ten days, making it the fastest-growing Facebook group in the site’s history. Did Colbert ever intend on becoming President or was it all for the show? 

Comedy and politics share a lot in common; they’re show businesses. While both may seem like it’s a one-person performance, there are many behind the scene pulling the strings. The figurehead ends up being the puppet that protects the party. 

Jamie can make Waldo say whatever he wants because the blue cartoon bear protects him. Characters and personas can create invisible shields. A politician can protect himself as long as he plays himself up as a character that’s defending a group of people or an ideology. 

Donald Trump did that during his first impeachment, which incidentally involved an allegation that he withheld military aid from Ukraine, attempting to influence them to investigate Joe Biden. Of course, we are now familiar with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. So in that exchange, we had Trump, a former reality television star in negotiation with Zelensky, a former comedic actor. 

See the wild ride we’ve been on this past decade? You’d think we’ve learned our lesson, but no. Voting an animated blue bear to a leadership role seems plausible, and the scary thing is that it might not even be the worst option. 

Democracy is a Joke

A key marker in this episode was when candidate Liam Munroe explained why he wanted to run for the position. He answered that he wanted to make the world a fairer place, and that’s the role of a politician. 

This brings up the question, why do people want to run for office? While they might say all the right things in front of the voters, we can sometimes see their underlying reasons. 

In 2011, during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Barack Obama gave a speech commenting on the “birther” movement, a conspiracy theory where Donald Trump, along with other Republicans, demanded to see the President’s birth certificate to prove he was actually born in America. In a mic-drop moment on stage, Obama roasted Trump, bringing all the influential people in the room together with laughter. 

Trump’s anger likely fueled his campaign in 2016, and the rest is history. 

While a grudge can be one reason to run for government, another reason is for fame and notoriety. Munroe’s competitor, Gwendolyn Harris was using the campaign as a “stepping stone” to build her showreel. 

This is a common practice in politics these days. Running for the government doesn’t need to pay off in having a seat in the House, because public appearances, keynote speeches, and book deals can make up for that investment over time. Not all the numbers are disclosed, but according to a report by Insider, members of the US Congress earned $1.8 million in 2020 from book advances and royalties, with at least 26 members earning a large amount in their side projects. 

We can often feel cynical looking at the democratic process. Gerrymandering, the electoral college, and other nonsensical procedures can make one feel like their votes don’t matter. 

Trash votes have long been a protest against a dysfunctional system. This act of wasting votes can take form in two ways. It can be a high-profile celebrity running to steal votes from a challenging party, like in 2020 when Kanye “Ye” West ran for president as an independent. What caused suspicion was that he was getting support from former Republican Party operatives. Who knows what Ye’s real reason for running was? But if nothing more, it distracted us from real talking points and swayed a few undecided voters to waste their votes for a laugh. 

The other way is by spoiling their votes right in the ballot or not filling it out at all. In a primary election in Finland and Sweden, Donald Duck earned a significant amount of votes. In Ukraine, the Internet Party nominated Darth Vadar. In the 2017 French presidential election, 4 million blank or spoiled ballots and 12 million abstentions won Emmanuel Macron the position. Protest or absenteeism in voting are symptoms of dissatisfaction with the political system. When society sees a rise in this, they must question their candidates and their processes. 

The responsibility of a politician is to make the world a fairer place. That’s a tough order. And we no longer believe that is something our leaderships are capable of, not with the system in place at least. While it may be scary, many are choosing instead to tear it all down. In 2019, Joaquin Phoenix played Joker, a character that encapsulated that feeling. It makes us all feel like clowns when, in reality, it’s the ones in power that are jokes. 

The Vote for Violence 

At the end of the episode, Jamie abandons his role as Waldo. As he doesn’t own the right to the character, his boss, Jack ends up taking over. When Jamie tries to destroy what he’d built, under Jack’s control, Waldo incites the public to attack Jamie. This type of violence occurs again when Munroe wins and Waldo tells the crowd to riot and strike Munroe. 

This call to violence brings back recent memories, most notably the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill. On the day Joe Biden’s presidency was to be certified, in an attempt to overturn the election, more than 2000 Trump supporters broke into the Capitol Building. The result was five deaths and a black eye for democracy visible around the world. 

This event was not spontaneous. For a few months, Trump stoked his loyalists, sowing mistrust, and giving permission to prepare an insurrection. 

Politicians have the power to embolden people, giving them a sense of righteousness and a feeling of immunity if they take action into their own hands. Much like how people listened to Waldo, people listened to Trump. All they needed was a symbol to band together on. 

But this amplification of violence is not only available to politicians anymore. Misinformation and validation for hate can come from anyone who has a platform. Take, for example, the criticism against Joe Rogan these past few years. With the largest podcast in the world, millions of people hear his words. That’s why when he questions vaccination or repeats conspiracy theories, even with a frame of innocent curiosity, he divides people. Despite claiming, on multiple occasions, that he’s not a doctor and he’s a “fucking moron”, his words can rouse other morons to act dangerously. 

A repercussive example was on July 14, 2022. On his podcast, Rogan joked about shooting homeless people in LA. The joke itself wasn’t particularly funny, but what was most surprising was that it came during a time of crisis. In 2020, over half a million Americans were unhoused. While we can all defend a joke in a society where everyone is of sound mind, we, unfortunately, live in a world where all a crazy person needs is a spark to unleash violence on others. Therefore, we, like Rogan, must examine whether there is a relation between crimes around us and what high-profile individuals say. 

Six days after Rogan’s joke about homeless people, I woke up to an emergency alert on my phone. The message warned me that a shooter killed three homeless people in my neighboring city of Langley, BC. Whether Rogan’s words had any influence we will never know for the suspect was shot dead by the police, but the fact remains. 

Recently, the news has been about “Ye” and his antisemitic comments on social media. When one of the loudest voices of our generation starts spewing hate, the world notices. Many condemned the message, while some flew banners on the Los Angeles freeway saying, “Kanye is right about the Jews”.

Violence does not begin with gas chambers. That’s where the story ends. Violence begins with hate speech and blame aimed at a group of people. Whether we are trying to bring down a government or clear out vermins, violence has always been effective. But what happens after? What happens when a government is overthrown and the so-called vermins are gone? 

At the end of The Waldo Moment, we find Jamie homeless in an Orwellian world ruled by Waldo. Out of all the episodes I have rewatched so far, this episode felt real, almost cutting too close to home. 

The ridiculous theater of politics is more ineffective than ever. Any attempt to improve it creates more risks of having it crumble completely. In many ways, we are already living with the consequences portrayed in the conclusion of The Waldo Moment. Many are already worshiping a cartoon character and will act violently if called upon. 

So how did this episode age? Like the previous political episode, The National Anthem, what seemed to have been preposterous a decade ago had already come true. That is why when watching this episode, we can only laugh and shake our heads. How innocent it must have felt for the Black Mirror creators when conceiving this concept. 

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Expand Your World Building with Mythological Creatures

At some point, your characters may look to the sky and question God or encounter monsters unique to their world. That’s when your story will require world-building. Creating a pantheon of mythological creatures is a fun way to add color, texture, and allure to your writing. But what makes a good mythological creature? Here are 3 popular jumping-off points. 

Combination Animals

Animals are symbolic, and when combined, they can represent anything your fictional society needs: love, grief, courage, and fear. 

Take, for example, the Griffin: Originating in Ancient Iran and Eygpt, a griffin has a lion’s body with the head and wings of an eagle. A combination of these two powerful animals, the Griffin represents divinity, and legend tells that it is assigned to guard treasures.

Then there is the Manticore

A manticore has a body of a lion, the head of a man (sometimes with horns), and the tail of a dragon, or a scorpion, or even a porcupine. While a Manticore also originated in Ancient Persia, it’s not as pure as the Griffin. It’s considered an evil creature, making the world worse with its scary tail. 

Think bodies of lions are overdone but still want a feline element? Well, consider the Tatzelwurm, an unsettling-looking lizard with a face of a cat. This creature allegedly sucks cows’ udders in Switzerland and represents the fear of those living near the dark valleys and caves of the Alps. 

Good, bad, or just weird; combination animals are a great place to start when creating mythological creatures. 

Next! 

Bogeymen (or Bogeypeople)

It is said that raising children is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things one can do. In your world, what fears do your parental characters have? What dangers does their environment pose? What pressure does society put on them? Bogeypeople are the personification of those anxieties. 

Take, for example, Ogres. These classic monsters are said to eat careless children who wander into the woods. 

And

Qalupalik: black-haired Inuit monsters that kidnap misbehaving children who veer too close to thin ice or bodies of water.

Bogeypeople-type creatures are often designed to discipline or warn children of looming danger, but sometimes they have more sinister purposes. 

Consider…

Changelings: These creatures told in European folklore are believed to be hungry fairies taking the form of human children. Because of food scarcity, the parents would claim their child had been swapped with a changeling, and they would kill them without facing any criticism, a justified cause for infanticide. 

Children are our future, and nothing triggers us more viscerally than seeing them at risk. What stories do your desperate societies tell themselves when the external world is so cruel? 

Photo by Fleur on Unsplash

Bickering Deities 

Not enough chaos in your world? Want to create more? Add some vengeful deities to your stories. 

Take, for example, Argus Panoptes. When Zeus’s wife, Hera, discovered that her husband, the God of the sky, had cheated on her with a princess and nymph, Io, she transformed Io into a cow and appointed a giant with a hundred eyes, Argus, to watch over her. Hilarity ensued when Zeus found out. Let’s just say that Argus becomes a peacock.  

Then consider… 

Narasimha: Part-man, part-lion (yes, lion again), Narasimha is the fourth avatar of the Hindu God, Vishnu. This incarnation returns to Earth to slay a demon and power-hungry king, thus restoring dharma, a pretty epic story. 

Finally, there is Sun Wukong: Also known as the Monkey King, this Hindu-influenced God was born from a stone and acquired powers through Taoist practice. That is before he rebelled against the heavens and got himself pinned under a mountain. After five hundred years of imprisonment, he was finally set free to accompany a monk on a pilgrimage, and thus begins the tale of the Chinese folklore, Journey to the West. 

Gods are all mighty, but when they have human traits — vices, temptations, and emotions — their conflict can extend past space, time, and dimensions. You’d know what I mean if you’re following Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Give your Gods some powers and turbulent relationships, and see what happens next. 

World-building with mythological creatures can take your imagination and storytelling in infinite directions. It can sometimes feel like nonsense, but hey, what’s the point of making up a world if you’re going to stay within the realms of reality, right? 

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White Bear: Black Mirror, Did it Age Well?

Before we discuss White Bear, let’s rewind to when this episode was first released: February 18, 2013. 

Four months earlier, Apple introduced the iPhone 5, the thinnest, lightest iPhone ever built. This new model has a stunning 4-inch retina display, a necessary upgrade as we were watching more HD videos on our phones. 

In 2012, social media took a leap from being a place to share text-based posts to a place to share graphics, videos, and other image-based content. Instagram hits 50 million monthly active users, and the short-form video-sharing platform, Vine was acquired by Twitter. 

With more bandwidth than we knew how to use, we posted some of the most unhinged content during that period. By 2012, user-generated live video streaming service, Justin.tv rebranded as Twitch and reached 20 million visitors, well on its way to becoming one of the most popular websites on the Internet.  

Conversations about cults and extremists were bubbling under the surface of our consciousness. In 2012, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, told the fictionalized story of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. This movie demonstrated the process similar to the “Auditing” used by Scientologists, where a cult leader breaks down their followers. In the movie the exercise is referred to by a rather mechanical term “Processing”. 

On Dec 14, 2012, 26 people were killed in The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, marking the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in US history. 

Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, 2012 had the second lowest number of death sentences with 78, representing a 75% decline since 1996 when there were 315. 

Now that we’re refreshed on the bleak months leading up to the release, let’s jump into Black Mirror, episode 2 of season 2: White Bear. 

Did this episode age well? Are the themes still relevant? Has any of the predictions in this episode come true as of 2022? And if it hasn’t, is it still plausible? 

Let’s find out. 

Memory and the Need to Film

The episode opens with Victoria waking up without any memory, greeted by a symbol on the television screen, pills scattered on the ground, and her wrists bandaged. As she explores the environment, she starts piecing together her reality, reminding us of our mental fragility and how our inability to recognize our surroundings can leave us vulnerable. 

As she explores, she discovers that people are filming her every movement, stealing her privacy, and exposing her even more. Only when a masked man started hunting her down in front of all the spectators did she finally reach her lowest point: an animal. 

Today, we’re obsessed with filming everything we do. Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and many other options allow us to share an unlimited amount of content: dramatic stunts to sex trafficking to calls for justice. The range of content we create goes from mundane to messed up. 

In 2019, the first of two mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand was streamed on Facebook Live for 17 minutes by the shooter. In 2021, a portion of the shooting in Boulder, Colorado was available to YouTube viewers. 

The ability to film everything is a double-edged sword, a weapon to harm, harass, and exploit while also being a tool to expose cruelty and corruption. This brings to mind the death of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, a teenager, Darnella Frazier filmed police officer Derek Chauvin with his knees on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. If Frazier didn’t upload the video to social media, there might never have been justice for Floyd or fire to ignite the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The repercussion of filming violence and reliving traumatic moments may lead to us being desensitized to the horrors and with a sickening feeling of involvement. How do we wash the sin off of us for helplessly watching a person die? We cannot step through the screens, so like a prisoner, we are held captive. 

Hope, Symbols, and Cults

The red herring in White Bear is that the symbol caused the population to become consumed by their devices, so much so that they can’t stop dangerous people from taking over. 

Today we’re suffocating under all the information and attempting to break out of our passive state. In doing so, we act dramatically, sometimes following others that can lead us astray. 

Jem may be telling Victoria that she needs to destroy the transmitter to save everyone, but in fact, she’s playing a character and guiding her through a tortuous punishment. This heroic quest is also how cults manipulate new followers, how adults can lure children, and how psychopaths can acquire accomplices. As the group starts to form around an idea, like a multi-level marketing scheme, we no longer need to think for ourselves. We follow a symbol and a dogmatic belief. 

Whether pressured to commit crimes or to gather and condemn, we are influenced by those around us. In 2022, mob mentality is stronger than ever. Take a look at all the riots and collective rage in the world, physical and virtual, from Capitol Hill to Twitter. 

The murder in White Bear was inspired by the Moors murders in the 1960s, however, the satanic sacrifice reminded me a lot of the disappearance of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow in 2019. Lori Vallow, the mother of the two children, is currently being charged with first-degree murder, in addition to desertion and nonsupport of her dependent children. Manipulated by a man obsessed with certain apocalyptic beliefs named Chad Daybell, Vallow was brainwashed to think that she was saving the world from “dark spirits”, her own children, in preparation for a doomsday.

In this episode, the white bear symbolizes the hope of recovering the little girl and the justification for Victoria’s punishment. This point brings to mind all the symbols that have opposing purposes. The Swastika was highjacked from Asian scripture, and the OK sign turned into a white power salute. Today tech companies are becoming symbols of free speech and oppression. Communities online are forming around ideologies that start with hope and evolve into hostility.  

More than ever, we must be conscious of how our desires are manipulated, how symbols are twisted, and how groupthink and mob mentality drives us down a path of destruction.

The Morality of Punishment

At the end of the episode, we discover that Victoria and her fiance had abducted a young girl, crucified her, and filmed it all in progress. After their arrest, her fiance committed suicide in prison, and Victoria was sentenced to daily psychological punishment where she had to face the same cruelty and humiliation that her victim had experienced. 

Does this sentence match our modern theories of punishment? Does it act as a deterrent? Is it retributive? Does it reform the prisoner? 

There is a belief that the punishment should fit the crime, but in the modern day, we often find that the judicial system is inconsistent. Some punishments are too harsh, while some are too lax, with criminals going through a lengthy legal process to only serve a short sentence and return to society. But shouldn’t the goal be to have them return and act as model citizens? How can we know if punishment is ever fully served? 

In North America, an eye-for-an-eye punishment is no longer believed to be effective, as it could cause an endless chain of victims. Yet, all types of punishment are affected by the force of momentum. The more death sentences we give, the more we would continue giving. In a world where execution is the optimal choice, we see all criminals are irredeemably evil. 

A common misnomer is that the death penalty is the cheaper option. It’s understandable, after all, we just kill them. We don’t have to pay to feed and house them for years. But a single death penalty trial can cost millions — or even billions — of government dollars. Once that is understood, then perhaps the immersive Justice Park experience is not that crazy of an idea. After all, since so much taxpayer money is already wasted trying to understand the moral thing to do, maybe charging admission can help relieve the budget. 

When something upsetting happens, the court of public opinion is quick to suggest the worst form of punishment. We relish it. Given the chance, we’d treat criminals like animals because, to many, they are worse than animals. 

Every few years, trophy hunting would spark a debate online. In 2015, American dentist and recreational game hunter, Walter J. Palmer, paid $50,000 to go to Zimbabwe and kill a lion. That lion was named Cecil. This killing went viral and fueled outrage among animal rights activists. The Internet aimed to destroy Palmer, vandalizing his home and sending death threats, claiming they wanted to turn him into a trophy. 

The popularity of Tiger King in 2020 reminded us of our curiosity for dangerous animals. How far away are we from putting dangerous people into an interactive environment for us to feel the rush of fear and superiority? Perhaps we would never go that far? Or if we do, we would be able to justify it just like how we’ve justified all the other shitty things we’ve done in the past. Feeling the temperature, we may be one violent mob away. What hot-button issue will push us over the edge? 

Cults catch us at our moments of weakness and vulnerability, often at a transition when the world is uncertain. They lead with hope and opportunity, and they make us feel righteous. We see the leader as our savior like how Baxter is celebrated for conducting torture. 

So I ask again, can the events of White Bear happen? While logistical and technological advancement needs to take place first, I believe our human psyche is already starving for it. We are seeking someone to blame all our problems on, we are looking for a way to express our rage, and countless events have made us view each other as less than humans.

White Bear was an episode that I didn’t think much about the first time I watched it, but this time, after all the turmoil that happened in the world, and with awareness of the twist at the end, I appreciated the simple theme: Beware of what you film or you might become a part of the show.

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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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