PARANOIA AND CONNECTIVITY IN CONTEMPORARY ANIMATION

Paranoia

I

n an age where we seem perpetually connected through various technologies and social media outlets, it is only logical that there are an increasing number of films critiquing such connectivity. In animation, we have seen a rise in films directly addressing connectivity and corresponding technologies. We have selected four films from the last year that perfectly illustrate the rise of films dedicated to this critique. These films, while wholly distinct from each other, share a thematic similarity and desire to critique, or at the very least call attention to, this aspect of modern technology and our, as these filmmakers see it, constant connectivity in everyday life.

 


Avoidance from erica rotberg on Vimeo.

 

Avoidance, by Erica Rotberg, follows the lives of two individuals. It primarily focuses on a woman who is bombarded with text messages, emails, phone calls, and chats, while at work. Rotberg chooses to convey this bombardment of messages by completely occupying the character’s screen as well as the viewer’s. Upon her return home, the character and her partner text while watching tv. When going to bed they lie in opposite directions, texting each other to sleep as opposed to physically or verbally communicating with one another. The film also follows a second character, a seemingly middle aged man living in his parents’ basement. He spends his time in between video games, television, and pornography. As his obsession progresses, and he increasingly ignores life around him, the very ground beneath him and the basement begins to crack.

 

Post Personal from eamonn o neill on Vimeo.
In Post Personal by Eammon O’Neill, the constant connectivity essentially steals the soul of an avid technophile, transforming them into digital versions of themselves. In some ways the character both willfully and yet unknowingly steps into the after-life because of their addiction to technology.

I Will Miss You (2013) from Moth on Vimeo.
I Will Miss You, a tragic and comedic short by Moth Collective’s Dave Prosser, follows a man obsessed with social media and his reasoning for real time published suicide.  After he is humiliated in his workplace for having become a meme of him puking after being hit in the stomach by a soccer ball he drives off a bridge while making certain to take a photo and upload it to his social media prior to the crash. The man’s obsession with numeric validation in the form of social media ‘likes’ and his need to consistently document the world around him becomes the source of his demise.
 

Cycle from Kel San on Vimeo.

In Cycle, by Kel San, a battery operated couple engage in active consumerism and conspicuous consumption, buying every electronic gadget imaginable. As the film progresses, and the couple replaces their gadgets with newer versions, their obsession becomes dangerous. They begin to neglect one another, taking greater care of their objects than each another. Rather than hold hands and engage in a physically intimate encounter, they stick their noses in their tablets, cell phones, and television. Eventually they run out of batteries and outlets and have to decide whether or not to unplug one of their cherished devices to save themselves.

 

What these films share at the core of their narrative is the main character’s blatant disregard of their own life and body as well as their loved ones. But what they have most in common, whether it be a light hearted commentary or a nuanced critique, is a distinct paranoia of technology and connectivity. Perhaps these films are not overarching criticisms of technology itself but rather how we often see people, and in this case, consumers, becoming so increasingly attached to the connectivity that they forget about the ‘real world’ and thus willing to put themselves in harms way for the sake of sharing an experience with their connected sphere on social media.

Perhaps it is too simple to identify these criticisms distinctly as a paranoia of technology and connectivity. Perhaps these films act as a warning call and an artistic reminder of what not to become. It is as though these films aim to say “This is what we have become” or “This is what we are becoming” or perhaps even more so “This is what they have become.” Naturally when we critique we tend to discount ourselves as part of the problem or part of the source of the problem. Naturally we couldn’t possibly be contributing to the problem ourselves, could we?

But this begs to question, how legitimate is this paranoia? Are we turning into our devices? Are we choosing our cell phones over our partners? How does this criticism differ from the criticisms of films during the advent of cinema? In the past factions argued film would demoralize and stupefy the public. From cinema, those critical energies transferred onto television, blaming television as the source of the public’s moral degradation. From television this transferred onto video games, then onto the internet, with each medium criticizing whichever followed as being responsible for turning the masses, or the consumer, into zombies or robots. How many memes depict people staring at cell phones at the dinner table or groups of people staring at their screens while walking  or people at coffee shops working on their computers with some log-line that blatantly criticizes the zombification, loss of identity, and sheep mentality of modern life. While these images might certainly cause one to laugh, how truthful are they really? These depictions and assumptions are bleak exaggerations of a reality that has marginal truth.

And how preposterous is it really that those previously persecuted mediums that have unabashedly antagonized other mediums have benefitted greatly from this connectivity. This isn’t to say that one can’t benefit from something while criticizing it; certainly we can. That being said, it is certainly interesting to see a collection of filmmakers and their work critiquing what is probably its greatest ally in terms of mass distribution.

Sometimes we see people who refuse to use cell phones or be connected to any social media platform and we might even go so far as to consider their rebellion futile. But this assumption of those who aren’t connected as being disconnected with the world, reality, and the future is a bit absurd. Of course they/we can exist without a cell phone and participate as a member, perhaps even a productive one, of society. Likewise, we often hear from people who reject cell phones complain about not wanting to be controlled by devices and not wanting to turn into ‘one of those robots.’ On the other hand, this assumes those who live connected lack control over their own lives and are, in fact, controlled by their devices. And this, frankly, is a bit of an absurd assumption as well. When it comes to these critiques, whoever it is that is the conspicuous consumer, the automaton, the overly connected individual detached from reality, whoever it is, there is one thing we can be for certain: this criticism applies to them, not us.

It’s difficult to deny the great ease connectivity has brought upon us and what it has done to encourage international discourse. But it’s also difficult to deny that this connectivity, despite the overall improvements it brings, can be a bit burdensome and all consuming. To polarize social media and technology into being an evil robot-zombie-creating menace versus a perfect tool to democratically unite the world and make is equally problematic. Perhaps there is a middle ground. We can easily criticize while simultaneously appreciate the value connectivity. Just like the films that benefit from that which they critique, we can certainly embrace the sense of adventure these technologies can bring us whilst criticizing them. If there is one thing these films do, however paranoid they may be, is make us reexamine our own places within this technological/connective paradigm.

 

by Jeanette Bonds