Who Matters?Posted: May 11, 2023 Filed under: Culture, Musings, Politics, society, Uncategorized | Tags: Amazon, America, culture, cyberpunk, entertainment, Peripheral, politics, sci-fi, science fiction, society, William Gibson Leave a comment
(Disclaimer: The following post has spoilers for the first season of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. You have been warned.)
I recently binge-watched the entirety of the first (and so far only) season of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime (note to Amazon: get on that next season, ya’ll have a bad habit of dragging your feet). I have a complicated relationship with cyberpunk in general and William Gibson in particular. When cyberpunk is done well, I love it, and when it is done less than I despise it. The same can be said for Gibson’s work. His better novels I am a rabid fan of (and that isn’t limited to his cyberpunk work; Pattern Recognition remains one of my favorite novels), but his lesser works leave me completely cold. In both cases I think it is a matter of knowing what heights they are capable of makes me demand nothing less. Fortunately, in this case they delivered, and truth be told The Peripheral goes beyond cyberpunk (although it does incorporate many cyberpunk elements and themes) and covers elements of several sci-fi genres.
One of the key themes that particularly stood out for me in the show was the question of who matters in society. This was brought into stark relief when Flynn Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) states to her “employers” in an alternate future timeline (like I said, it gets into broader sci-fi elements pretty quick), “I’m trying to think of you guys as real.” While this is the most obvious moment, it is far from the starkest divide, as the power differentials between various groups make up much of the drama in the show, and while they are mostly drawn with a broad brush and a heavy hand (yay science fiction), they still serve to illuminate the broader concept.
The most obvious divisions of course are in the future society between the major power players: the Research Institute (the intelligentsia), the Klept (the rich and powerful), and the Metropolitan Police (the government). The rest of the people in this future society are either servants of one of these groups or simply outcasts.
There are other, less obvious (although still not exactly subtle) divisions to be found in the show as well. The specific choice of a small town, rural setting for the 2032 “stub” timeline versus the metropolitan London of the “main” 2100 timeline dovetails nicely with the plot point of choosing groups of rural friends as soldiers for the haptic devices (an obvious allusion to the over-representation of rural Americans in the military), which then lends itself to the obvious division between veterans and civilians. There’s also the divide between disabled veterans and able-bodied civilians to explore.
It’s very easy to tell who the good guys are: just like in real life, pick the people you agree with, and there you go, you know who the good guys are. Because really, there’s no other way to tell. Everyone has an agenda, everyone does morally and ethically questionable things (to say the least), and everyone has a justification for their actions that essentially amounts to “I did what I had to do”. So like I said, just like real life.
It’s become fashionable to loudly proclaim “everyone gets a voice,” while sotto voce saying, “as long as we don’t have to listen to them.” For some groups it has become even more fashionable to simply say, “You are too vulgar, too violent; you shouldn’t be allowed to speak at all.” To those who insist that everyone deserves and must get an equal voice, here’s a short list of groups that I want you to look at and seriously tell me you want all of them to have an equal say:
- Flat Earthers
- 9-11 Truthers
- Disabled people
- Elderly people
Does everyone on the list get an equal say? If not, why not? Was it the same 20 years ago? 50? 100? Why is it different now? (And if the best answer you can give me is “because society is fairer” you get an A for optimism and an F for naivete.) Having a good rationale for not letting part of your population participate when you claim to be a free and just society is putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Understanding the likely outcome when people feel they are not being heard, their needs are not being addressed, and they are being forced to participate in a society that is taking from them without giving in return is the first step to rectifying the situation. Because the hard truth is that, long-term, most groups are not going to just sit back and be grateful for what they are given. So what do you do then?
And that is a problem that can come from any direction. Look again at that list. I’m not asking you to like or agree with anyone on that list. I’m not asking you to condone or tolerate anyone on that list. I’m asking you to acknowledge that every one of those groups exists, that they have a point of view, one might even say an agenda, and every single one of them is capable of morally and ethically questionable things (to say the least). And I guarantee you, when they do them, they will have a justification for their actions that essentially amounts to “I did what I had to do”. Just like on The Peripheral. The question is, how will you know who the good guys are?