Abetted by technology, corporate America has become Big Brother

Image courtesy of Kharsohtun by way of Creative Commons.

Better living through technology? Sure, when it works.

But more and more I see technology becoming a dehumanizing influence on our lives, requiring that we spend more and more of our discretionary time on meeting the demands of the digital beast, abetted by a corporate mentality that favors money over all else.

A month ago I noticed my mobile phone bill had gone up by $5. I called the company to ask why and was given every answer but the real one – because they wanted more money. But they offered to switch me to a different plan, one that would do away with my ability to use my phone as a hotspot but would cost $10 a month less. I told them to do it.

Cut to yesterday. I receive a text message that says the mobile phone service provider is charging X number of dollars to my credit card. The amount is the same as the previous month.

So I spend a big chunk of this morning getting to the bottom of the problem, which appears to be that my new plan didn’t “take,” whatever that means.

This comes on the heel of a slew of automated text messages from medical entities wanting me to pay my bills – in one case I had already paid the bill and in the other, it’s set up to automatically bill to my credit card. And let’s not talk about the $5,000 error made by the hospital, which has yet to be resolved.

Technology is fine. But in the hands of corporations that don’t give a damn about anything except money, it has become a thing of evil. It has two imperatives: the alleged convenience it provides to us, the customer, which is debatable; and second, the benefit nobody talks about – reduced corporate costs, i.e., higher profits.

The corporate scramble for lower costs and higher profits has cheapened all our lives. A significant portion of the inflation we see today is the result of corporate profiteering. Their cost-cutting measures, with the transfer of work to the customer, have made our lives more stressful and less rewarding, especially at the hands of a quixotic technology base.

Orwell tells us that government is Big Brother. No. George got it wrong. Corporate America is Big Brother. Government is only the Drunk Uncle.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Leave the World Behind” Starring Julia Roberts as Amanda Sandford, Mahershala Ali as G.H. Scott, Ethan Hawke as Clay Sandford and Myha’la as Ruth Scott. Directed by Sam Esmail. Two hours, 18 minutes. Rated R. Streaming on Netflix.

Del’s take

Early on in “Leave the World Behind,” Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) mutters, “I fucking hate people.” Well congratulations, Amanda. The people haven’t let you down.

On this side of the silver screen MAGAdiots are flocking to Google and trashing “Leave the World Behind” with one-star reviews. Their outrage is so dim they can’t even write their own reviews – they’ve copied a template over and over again, rearranging a sentence here, deleting a sentence there, it’s all the same review – which means 99 percent of them haven’t even seen the movie.

Why are they doing this?

Because “Leave the World Behind” was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, and God forbid the Obamas do anything (not including stripping for a men’s magazine or trying to overthrow the government) without the MAGAdiots going on the attack.

Sounds like a movie I could get behind, right? Well, no, not exactly. It isn’t worthy of one star but “Leave the World Behind” is a strangely unsatisfying condemnation of the witless tragedy overtaking America today.

First, the required plot summary … or I could be a sadistic ass and leave it for Mladen. Nah. It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time for miracles. I’ll do it myself.

Amanda, Clay Sandford (played by Ethan Hawke) and their two annoying teenaged children, the perpetually horny Archie (Charlie Evans) and the shrill, selfish Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), escape from New York for a weekend away from the dispiriting press of those fucking people Amanda hates. They flee to an ultra modern, high-tech Airbnb in the woods, which mysteriously becomes Ground Zero for a herd of noble-but-angry-looking deer.

While luxing at this secluded mansion the Sandfords slowly become aware of an “event” that has taken place in the outside world. An oil tanker runs aground at their private beach. The TV produces nothing but snow, and the internet has stopped working, much to the annoyance of young Rose, who’s been binging on “Friends” and lacks only the final episode to complete this chapter in the decomposition of her young brain.

That night, an African American couple knocks on the door, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la). As it happens Mr. Scott is the owner of their rented uber-tech nest and, incredibly, wants to impose on their weekend to take shelter from a blackout that has affected the city. What ensues, then, is an ugly revealing of the nasty qualities that afflict 21st century America.

“Leave the World Behind” is an examination of the claustrophobia and xenophobia of nesting gone wrong. Amanda’s distrust of the Scotts, and her disbelief that they could even own the Airbnb, illustrates white America’s innate and, dare I say, racist perception of black people. In another scene, Clay Sandford leaves a Latino woman – who is clearly in distress – by the side of the road because he can’t understand what she’s saying and doesn’t want to get involved – refrains of “Build a wall!” Ruth’s inherent hostility toward white people guarantee tense relations between her and Amanda, and all four of the adults flirt with at least the fringes of infidelity. Oh, and then there’s the deer thing: Apparently the deer are pissed off about how mankind has treated nature.

In other words, all kinds of shit is going down the proverbial crapper, all of it at the same time. “Leave the World Behind” is a who’s who and what’s what about the wrongness of America, which left me feeling empty because it never provides a clear description of what exactly is happening – beyond vague references to a cyberattack – and never gives a hint of a solution, or at least a resolution. At times I felt like I was watching an extended episode of “Lost.” Call it the Damon Lindelof School of Ambiguous Storytelling.

The acting is fine – Julia Roberts is a bitch like I’ve never seen – and Ethan Hawke captures an almost George-like zeitgeist (Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) as the ever accommodating, ever-apologizing Clay. Mahershala Ali’s G.H. Scott is deferential to the point of caricature, while Ruth, she of the withering fury, is cynical in a way most Gen-Zers would decry (but in fact is true of that disaffected generation).

Sound effects are spot on. Distant gunshots, explosions, ships running aground and plane crashes – wow! But the musical soundtrack was way too loud and way too intrusive. Or maybe I’m showing my age – never forget I’m a gassy old fart.

“Leave the World Behind” is controversial and I guess if it’s your ox being gored, you’ll hate it (which means lots of one-star reviews from MAGAdiots). It’s got peccadilloes I could crab about all day, but it’s major flaw is that it tries to do too many things at once and, as a result, does none of them well.

I won’t give it a one-star review because we don’t use stars; we use grades. My grade would be a C+. If nothing else it’s a good barometer of your MAGA sympathies.

For God’s sake, don’t be one of those fucking people.

Mladen’s take

But for Del, I would be unaware that MAGAaniacs have inundated “Leave the World Behind” with template reviews. I’m amazed that ERID sycophants can read well enough to know how to use a prefabricated takedown of any movie. ERID, incidentally, is my nickname for Trump. ERID stands for Emotionally Retarded, Intellectually Disabled. An accurate description of the one-term loser poser president. No?

Del is correct and I’ll leave that statement as is without, for example, adding a disclaimer such as “for the first time ever.” “Leave the World Behind,” despite the star power, is vague, unfulfilling, and ennui laden. I hate people, too, but does that sentiment warrant a movie?

Pretty much from the beginning to the end of the film I was asking myself what’s the point. If you have 138 minutes to make the sweeping argument that Mankind, as a whole, is a heap of shit, though some of its individual components are OK, and that democracy is fragile, do it clearly. An example? Another Netflix original film, “Don’t Look Up.” Good god, what’s up with the swarming, judgmental deer or the flamingoes landing in a pool thousands of miles from their habitat? Come on, flamingoes are wading birds. They can’t swim in deep water like freaking ducks. That fact wouldn’t change no matter how their migration patterns are disrupted by inexplicable, hyper-noise that periodically filled the outdoors in “Leave the World Behind.”

I don’t know. Maybe the problem with “Leave the World Behind” is that it’s too realistic. When civilization, I use the term loosely, starts to collapse, it’s reasonable to assume many of us will fail to notice the onset of End Time. And, by the time it occurs to us that what we’ve built we’re now destroying, it’ll be too late to act. Survival will be a simple dichotomy – either you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time or you’re at the right place at the wrong time.

One more suggestion, now that I think even more fruitlessly about the film. If you watch “Leave the World Behind,” consider it inside the framework of social satire. The film ain’t no “Brazil” or “Being There,” not even close, but there’s an underlying absurdity or, oh, ridiculousness to it. The U.S. is disappearing, apparently at the misdirection of a global cabal of elites, but the teenaged boy masturbates to cell phone pictures he surreptitiously took of the almost-woman also marooned at the big, fancy house the Sanfords rented for a weekend getaway. Mrs. Sanford and Mr. Scott, the almost-woman’s father, contemplate sex, though both are married and one of the spouses, Mr. Sanford, is on the property. Yes, Big Picture trouble has arrived but people will want to screw anyway. Ain’t that darkly funny?

Should you see “Leave the World Behind?” Sincerely, I don’t care. See it. Don’t see it. As it turned out, my rationalization for seeing the movie formed after I saw it. I watched “Leave the World Behind” to demonstrate solidarity with Del. Like him, I’m troubled by ERID’s MAGAdiots.

Mladen Rudman is a former newspaper reporter and technical manuals writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“The Creator” stars John David Washington as Joshua, Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, Gemma Chan as Maya, Allison Janney as Colonel Howell, and Ken Watanabe as Harun. It is directed by Gareth Edwards, has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, and is rated PG-13. See it in theatrical release.

Del’ take

“The Creator” did not create a box office phenomenon. In fact, it landed with a thud, earning only $30 million in its opening weekend compared to an $80 million production cost. The experts at Looper attribute its failure to the following:

The movie lacked well-known stars. John David Washington (“Tenet”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) are the two highest profile actors.

The SAG-AFTRA strike prevented the cast from promoting the film.

The film presents a sympathetic view of AI at a moment when AI technology is under fire for multiple affronts, from displacing human workers to plagiarisation and creating disinformation.

The marketing may have misled the public as to the movie’s true plot.

I would add a fifth: Meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans are so risk-averse they’re not willing to take a chance on an unknown entertainment quantity.

That’s a shame because “The Creator” is a decent movie. Special effects are top notch, acting is terrific, and the movie’s sweep is epic.

The plot is complicated, so bear with me: An AI entity is blamed for detonating a nuclear weapon over Los Angeles, killing millions of people and prompting the United States to undertake a pogrom to erase the algorithmic scourge from the face of the earth. A giant and impregnable space station called NOMAD orbits above a faraway land called New Asia, a haven for AI sympathizers, and blasts suspected hideouts with nuclear missiles. John David Washington’s character, a special forces dude named Joshua, infiltrates New Asia and marries the daughter of the Nirmata, or Creator, who is working to make AI even more powerful. Joshua’s mission is to identify the location of the Nirmata so that NOMAD can end the menace of AI once and for all. But Joshua’s new wife, Maya (played by Gemma Chan), is the actual Nirmata and has created a superweapon, an AI child based on her unborn baby. The child (“Alphie,” played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles), has amazing powers that could bring down NOMAD.

“The Creator” clearly has Biblical overtones and if anything, its Adam-and-Eve subtext may be too on-the-nose. It portrays AI-endowed robots as an oppressed minority who face persecution similar to that endured by Jews, African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. The robots await the arrival of a savior who will deliver them from the persecution of Americans and the West – shades of Neo in “The Matrix.”

“The Creator’s” virtues are many. It’s a beautiful thing to look at. We saw it in IMAX and Dolby stereo, which showcased its visual and audio drama. John David Washington – who I did not know was Denzel Washington’s son! – Ken Watanabe and Allison Janney are very good in their roles. Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alfie, the AI weapon, was excellent – this was her debut movie.

I agree with criticism the movie seems to use material from other films. At times I felt I was watching “Blade Runner,” “Platoon” or, as I said above, “The Matrix.” According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, “Edwards cited (sic) Apocalypse Now (1979), Baraka (1992), Blade Runner (1982), Akira (1988), Rain Man (1988), The Hit (1984), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Paper Moon (1973) as this film’s sources of inspiration.”

“The Creator” has received generally favorable reviews from critics, who laud its spectacular special effects and grand sweep. But they simultaneously downscore it for lacking depth and heart. Said Christy Lemire on RogerEbert.com:

“Rich in atmosphere but short on substance, director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ film has the look and tone of a serious, original work of art, but it ends up feeling empty as it recycles images and ideas from many influential predecessors.”

I’m not a Gareth Edwards fan and was unimpressed with some of his previous efforts, like “Godzilla” and “Monsters,” which I hated. But I feel I should defend “The Creator.” It’s an enjoyable science-fiction movie that at least tries to say something more than “superhero” or “Trust the Force.”

In other words, it’s not a fast-food meme, and there’s not one awful comb-over in its 133 minutes.

I give “The Creator” a B+ grade.

Mladen’s take

Strangely enough, I agree with much of Del’s “The Creator” review. The world building in this film is epic. The AI-driven simulants were fully merged with human society in New Asia. Megacities were bleak, countryside green. Cyborg and man shared everything (and it looked like it) and that produced the film’s most interesting idea, that AIs had found religion. The AIs prayed, just like humans. The AIs buried their dead or cremated them on pyres, just like humans. The AIs married each other and humans. The AIs needed a supernatural savior, just like humans.

My reaction to the notion of godliness-infused robots, which, frankly, had never occurred to me as I thought about AI? Something like this, “Holy fuck, how can beings that are supposed to be more intelligent than the critters that created them also believe there’s a ghost in the sky or a kinsman or Buddha watching over them?” My thought was all the more resonant because the only thing above New Asia with the power of Almighty was the $1 trillion space battlewagon NOMAD. Good god, God, NOMAD launched tac-nukes from an effing carousel straight down at its target, killing everything. Women, men, children, gone. Nonhuman women, men, and children, gone. Boom. Again and again. Take this and this and this, New Asia. Where are your gods when you need them most? Bah ha ha.

As Del bellyached about how little interest “The Creator” has drawn from moviegoers, I came up with an idea for a new marketing campaign. The movie is titled “The Creator,” so sell it as a creation tale extolling Creationism. “Joshua” and “Maya” are Adam and Eve because their unborn Child serves as the blueprint for a savior’s soul. What is Alphie saving? Humanity from itself. Perfect. All the world’s major monotheistic religions are dedicated to saving humans from themselves. The film’s slogan will be, “Every species needs a god.” If that doesn’t draw Del’s “meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans,” who also tend to be religionists, to “The Creator,” I don’t know what will.

One more thought about AIs practicing religion now that the movie has spurred me to think about it. A few weeks ago, that is before I saw “The Creator,” I developed a new definition for AI. AI does not stand for Artificial Intelligence. It stands for Apocalypse Intelligence. The AIs in “The Creator” are religionists. The “Apocalypse” is in the Book of Revelation. Duh. Of course, AI will imbibe religion. AI is already an agent of the Apocalypse, amplifying Mankind’s worst impulses and hatreds even as I write this.

One problem that Del didn’t mention is that “The Creator” is too long. Its story of undying love, redemption, hope, and the happy ending could’ve unfolded in less than 2 hours with a bit of good editing. Also, I had to keep the bile down when, amid a very cool and noisy scene featuring behemoth armored vehicles, a squad of good guys with rifles failed to hit a bad guy at near-close range. Who did the smack down? Joshua with a pistol while lying on his back protecting a wounded Alphie. God Almighty that was irritating.

But, it took no time for the film to re-envelope me with its stunning visuals after an annoying scene. This A- wonder must be seen in an IMAX or Dolby theater. The spectacle and sound are striking. I will buy it on 4K disc. I will play it at scale at home on seven speakers and a powered subwoofer but it ain’t going to be the same as the bazillion IMAX speakers and hyper-wattage that I enjoyed on a Saturday afternoon.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.