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Ron Patton | January 4, 2019



Last Friday, Netflix posted a tweet claiming that over 45 million people had streamed its new horror movie “Bird Box”, shattering its previous records for most streams in an opening week. Between this film and the Black Mirror episode “Bandersnatch” Netflix has successfully hijacked the pop culture in a way as the question everybody is asking is whether or not they have seen either “Bird Box” or “Bandersnatch” and what do you think the about hidden meaning of these offerings?

I have to admit that I actually waited before I watched these shows because I wanted to set aside some time to really watch and understand why these streaming shows were spinning memes in the pop culture.

I was lucky enough to catch both on New Year’s Eve as I spent some time at a friend’s home who actually had a theater built in their basement that has full sound and a theater-sized screen.

Bandersnatch actually was what I expected from a Black Mirror episode as the producers of this TV show from the U.K. have painted a bleak picture of how we will interact with our new technology in the future. It is actually the Twilight Zone of the 21st century.

The unique thing about Bandersnatch is that Instead of just passively watching a movie, the viewers get to choose what the main character does next. Some choices are seemingly innocent like what music to play, what to eat for breakfast, but then quickly moves on to questions about career decisions, mental-health issues, and even whether to kill other characters.

I was very sensitive about a scene where I made the choice to save a character from a bad acid trip by choosing to have him jump off of a high rise apartment to his death.

It was like playing god in a televised SIMS game.

The scary part was not just the fact that the film let you choose how to kill off characters; I found out that my choices were actually tallied in a database. Netflix assures us that it is a secure database.

Netflix acquires a lot of data about its users. This includes information about your viewing habits on the platform, like the programs you choose to watch and how long you watch them for. It uses this data to recommend new shows it thinks you’ll enjoy, as well as to improve its customer service and for marketing purposes.

But what if instead of logging how many times you watched Paradise PD or Rogue One a Star Wars Story which I watched this holiday season, it’s remembering whether I opted to kill my father in cold blood, or save him.

What could Netflix do with that highly sensitive emotional information?

When you watch and control the characters in “Bandersnatch,” is it really reflecting your true nature, anyway? Are you choosing to attack your therapist because you have deep-seated anger issues, or is it just for entertainment value?

Many decisions lead to dead ends, which means that you have to go back and make a different choice again anyway. Do your choices in the show really reveal that much about you?

When I talked with a colleague today at work about this – he described choices that he made that I didn’t have the opportunity to make and now I am curious if everyone has seen the same TV show?

I know that many people who haven’t watched the show are thinking why does this matter – well it matters for a lot of reasons.

Netflix has a huge influence over how millions of people get cultural and political information. In September 2018, they had 137.1 million subscribers, all of whom are plugged into their algorithm. So we all know how algorithms help you make choices or make choices for you right?

I mean doesn’t that make you feel a little bit like a character in Bandersnatch?

Are we now figuring out how algorithms work and how you are like an algorithm when you control characters in a fictitious parable about forcing decisions on characters in a TV show set in the 1980s?

There was even a scene in my experience where you can choose whether or not you tell the main character that you are controlling him through a 21st-century entertainment platform called Netflix.

He tells his therapist that he is being controlled by you and the therapist laughs and says why anybody would see your life as entertaining and then you make a choice to show her why.

Your choices in the TV show I am sure activate a recommendation algorithm which forces choices upon you.

Users are far more likely to watch programs that have been recommended to you, and this, in turn, changes how you perceive the world.

Ironically it is programming that controls you.

Your decisions in interactive films could have many unintended consequences.

If Netflix determined that those who immediately chose to kill a family member in “Bandersnatch” would be more likely to enjoy the film Kill Bill Volume 1, then this data could be used to serve you more violent films. Netflix is planning more interactive content in 2019 — and it’s already been running interactive kids’ content for years.

This will allow them to gather more instinctive behavioral data on a variety of subjects. What if it started serving you programs celebrating a particular political party because of the choices you made in an interactive version of House of Cards?

Bandersnatch actually forces you to reveal the darker side of your personality – fiction or not, you are forced to make choices that may go beyond your morality and this leads us to the themes that are also presented in the film “Bird Box.”

“Bird Box” stars Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, and Sarah Paulson. Now I have heard so many mixed feelings about this film mainly because no one can agree over whether it is a film about an apocalyptic alien invasion, an invasion of shadowy demons that when seen cause people to kill themselves.

Many people have compared it to the film “The Happening” that was rolled out by M. Night Shyamalan. While that movie played with the same theme, it suffered from bad acting – but it was equally disturbing as people were also killing themselves randomly because of some affliction caused by plants.

In “Bird Box” a mysterious shadowy presence begins affecting the Earth; it somehow drives anyone who looks at it to kill themselves. The first hour of the film is so intense I was screaming expletives at the screen as people were doing some of the strangest things and dying in the most horrible ways.

It made me think of the film “The Crazies” another film by George Romero where people are afflicted with something that makes them just lose their minds.

The Crazies, like Bird Box, are more subtle zombie-like films without the sick and psychotic corpse walking through the streets seeking brains.

Like Bandersnatch, Bird Box also explores mind control and some mysterious entity that controls the protagonists.

The other night I was on the air and mentioned that I had seen both shows over the New Year’s Holiday and after I spoke about it for a few minutes I came to an epiphany about the Bird Box film.

I already understood that Bandersnatch was about algorithms and how we become the controllers of characters – but Bird Box I felt was a metaphor for Twitter and social media.

I know that may sound odd to those who have seen the movie but hear me out.

If you know anything about horror and Sci-Fi films of the 1950’s the aliens, demons or unseen forces were simply metaphors for communists, nuclear weapons and the Cold War.

The Day the Earth Stood Still was about an alien that comes to warn us about nuclear weapons. Later it was updated with a global warming theme when it starred Keanu Reeves.

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was actually made as a metaphor about the mental controls of communism and how it is like an invisible alien force. There are other films you may remember that paint aliens as invaders who are there to change our individualist philosophies into becoming dangerous collective philosophies that create a destructive group dynamic.

The same can be said for movies like John Carpenter’s “They Live” or the alien Borg as seen in “Star Trek the Next generation.”

The unseen shadow figures in “Bird Box” I contend, represent the encroachment of social media and how it has been responsible for encouraging people into doing dangerous things like eating Tide Pods or committing suicide.

This is why the characters in the film are forced to wear blindfolds.

By putting on the blindfolds, the characters of Bird Box are protected from the monsters, which are actually metaphors for the influence social media has on your mental health.

Now, I am going to make my point further hopefully without giving away spoilers and ruining it for you.

While monsters of old films were “stand-ins” for social fears—the shadowy monsters in Bird Box represent a plague of the poisonous philosophies and memes that cause despair on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

It sends a message that when we go on social media we are slowly killing ourselves by hearing the toxic voices, and political hate that we see on social media platforms.

At the beginning of the film, there is a conversation that I thought made the point that people have become so lonely. Sandra Bullock’s character, Malorie, continues to say that the loneliness is just incidental and is really about people’s inability to connect.

I have said many times that this is why many people fall into despair and why we have a crisis in people that are overdosing on opiates.

They slowly kill themselves because they don’t connect with people anymore – they socialize through the internet.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote: “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms, but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners, lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, which is more significant than an all-out riot.”

Pessimism has taken hold in the world and cynicism is its partner meaning that on a psychographic level we are going down an even greater rabbit hole.

We see at the beginning of the film that the character, Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock is interested in art and expression in order to connect. However, her artwork shows people unable to connect – they look unhappy – unable to express their feelings because they are unable to speak or they are criticized for feeling.

The curtailing of speech and expression is an indication of what can be called the internal war. An internal war is exactly what it means. It is a war within every individual where eventually a great number of people opt out and develop a social blind spot to certain topics or certain movements within the culture.

It is where the internal self assesses it’s worth based on what “authority” says it is. The negative stereotype becomes the accepted inner dialogue.

The inner dialogue begins to go to war with itself because on one hand you try to have a positive outlook all the while you are programmed into believing that you are nothing but a faceless statistic.

The internal conflict raises awareness to the negative idea that you will be eliminated once you’ve outgrown your usefulness. That is, of course, you don’t kill yourself over thoughts of having a meaningless life.

Sometimes social media does this to people.

In the film there is a news report about a pandemic of mass suicides that at first are reported to be happening in Romania, however, Malorie says offhandedly to her sister that she believed that the suicides began in Russia.

You can actually surmise that this is another stand-in for Russian Propaganda that was allegedly used on social media to divide the United States during the election process.

There is also a scene where we see that perhaps the toxic pandemic has made the jump from Russia to Alaska.

Then we hear the line delivered by a different TV news anchor that says point blank, “Do not go outside, avoid social media…” then, the transmission cuts out entirely.

There is also a scene where a character believes that if he sits at the computer screen and observes images of these shadowy invaders from an outdoor cam – he may be able to see what is happening without incident without him committing suicide – the whole scene is terrifying as the character looks like he is on the computer and his eyes are glazing over—the metaphor is not lost on me and what happens next hardens my resolve about the hidden message of the film.

Over the years we have heard of many people, mostly young Americans that have been coerced into doing silly challenges on social media that have lead to serious injury and death.

You may remember the cinnamon challenge or the tide pod challenge where people would actually eat detergent pods and wind up poisoning themselves.

There have been challenges like the Blue Whale challenge and the Momo challenge that have triggered teen agers into committing suicide.

Our children and even some adults have been bullied on Facebook and have killed themselves on You Tube. Computer games have addicted kids into playing for hours dying of malnourishment and dehydration.

Some kids even get embolisms as blood clots form in children that sit in one place for too long playing games and reading and replying to messages on Twitter.

Computer games are often contextualized or are associated with children. The reason is quite simple. Most adults really do not have the time to play these games – some even do not even have time to play with their children and so the computer game on the iPad or on the game boy is something that most kids see as a refuge from their day to day school work and chores.

Most parents are unaware of what kind of games children and teenagers are playing. They assume they are harmless, and most do not want to take away the games because not only are they a source of entertainment, but many children have developed social relationships with other players that they have not come face to face with.

Many young children and teens across the globe engage themselves playfully with the strategies and planning of playing complex games on mobile phones and iPads. In fact, it is more than just playing a game – for them it a virtual world and as they immerse themselves in it the engagement can lead to a conflict with the established socializing norms.

When activities go beyond entertainment, parents become concerned with addictive behaviors. Some alert parents begin to regulate the gaming activities of their children. Playing games is universal and every culture has had devices for monitoring its social relevance.

But how can one explain the terror of something like MoMo or Blue Whale and how it programs young people into committing suicide?

How can anyone explain the phenomenon called Q Anon and how adults have been groomed by a social media psy-op created by inside intelligence that throws breadcrumbs at its audience and lets a computer bot fill in the blanks and feed the masses what they already suspect?

It has become a monster that coerces people to think and do things they would not normally do.

In Bird Box, there is actually scene where John Malchovich’s character Douglas stomps on a computer screen that also implies that whatever is killing people is in the computers and it is also evident that Douglas was a character that represents the MAGA crowd as he carried a gun and says that being mean and unsavory is why people like him thrive.

By the way, Douglas was not in the book that the film is based on so now you can begin to see the rest of the meme.

Douglas also cracks open some alcohol when the characters raid a store for food and says, “I would like to take this opportunity to make a toast to all of us, because all of us, collectively, are making the end of the world great again!”

I am sure people will take from that – perhaps the monsters are all about Trump, but Trump, if you can permit objectivity, is the symptom of something a lot deeper.

If you take a moment and look at college campuses they are fine with hearing and supporting sanitized dialogue and that certain types of expression is a tool of evil and fascism.

They now abhor the expression of things that are not necessarily the norm and run away from independent thought that is against the grain.

The National Alliance on Mental illness suggests that colleges are basically clinics and psychiatric centers.

They report that more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year.

Young people are now adopting the role of being super-sensitive to “triggers.” You could call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they can make the claim that they have a mental disorder, then they can be an operative victim, and then what people say and do around them is most certainly going disturb them – it is a hall pass for bad behavior is it a hall pass to say “You are violating my space” or you are triggering me with “micro-aggression.”

It is a socially acceptable excuse for not doing well. It is a socially accepted excuse across the board because adults have also learned from their younger counterparts how to be a victim in order to satiate their sense of entitlement.

People now are triggered into behaving badly by exposure to controversial material.

Where do we hear that songs like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are about rape?

Social media.

Where do we see store clerks attacking people and freaking out over a man wearing a Trump T-shirt?

Social media.

Where do we see a Trans woman freak out at a game store after being called sir?
Social media.

What fuels news organizations to exploit an 11-year-old boy who claims to be a drag queen?

Social media.

It is a circus that can create despair and soon everything becomes a social trigger a talking point and evidence that society continues to deteriorate.

Now, the film Bird Box has already created a social media challenge. People all over the internet are now blindfolding themselves and seeing if they can do what the characters in the movie can do as they have to blindfold themselves to avoid killing themselves.

People have now been injuring themselves as they try to do tasks while blindfolded.

Where do they learn these things?

On beyond the Bird Box.

Written by Ron Patton

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