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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s find out. 

False Memories and Cancel Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Absurdity of Making Money 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Version of Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lure of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media and the Spread of News

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

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

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

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

Our Relationship with Politicians

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

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

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

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

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

Our Appetite for Humiliation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Opening: 

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

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

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

Hilarious, but no context. 

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

Flaming Moe’s: 1

Mr. Plow: 0

The First Act: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 0

The Slight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 1

The Villian’s Intent: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moe’s: 2

Mr. Plow: 2 

Celebrity Cameos and Musical Numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 2

The Roles of the Family: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moe’s: 3

Mr. Plow: 3

The Conclusion: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaming Moes: 4

Mr. Plow: 3

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

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

Check out these other articles about The Simpsons here:

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Why Censorship Can Be Good for Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

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

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

We can approach all censorship the same way. 

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

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

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

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

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

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