Black Mirror: Striking Vipers

Social Commentary About Porn and Love

Black Mirror spoilers below

Black Mirror is one of my favorite Netflix shows.

It combines all my favorite things: Philosophy, sci-fi, and technology.

Seasons 1-4 always made me think. In fact, while at Yale Institute for bio-ethics, a bunch of students got together and had an informal discussion on the ethical issues in the episode The Entire History of You.

Thus when I discovered season 5 was out, I knew I had to binge watch it.

Sadly season 5 of Black Mirror was disappointing.

In my opinion, the only thought-provoking episode was Striking Vipers.

As I watch Striking Vipers, I couldn’t help but wonder if Black Mirror producer, Charlie” Brooker, intended to say something profound about porn and love. Let me explain.

Synopsis of Black Mirror’s episode Striking Vipers.

There are three main characters. Danny and Karl are best friends from college. Danny has a girlfriend, Theo, who he eventually marries. Since starting a family with his wife, Theo, Danny has become estranged from Karl. On Danny’s birthday, Karl gives Danny a gift, Striking vipers, a game similar to Mortal Combat. This game is played in Virtual Reality. The game allows the players to take on different avatars. Karl takes on the female avatar Roxette and Danny takes on the persona of Lance.

That is when things start to get weird!

Danny and Karl enter into a sexual relationship in the virtual reality game. Lance (Danny) has sex with Roxette (Karl).

I am not sure what it means for each person’s sexuality. Are Danny and Karl homosexual? Is Karl living out transgender fantasies? Maybe, the Virtual reality game is no different than porn?

The show leaves these questions primarily open-ended. Yet it does suggest that both Karl and Danny are not homosexual.

What’s interesting to me is what the game does for Danny and Theo’s relationship. Danny becomes more addicted to having sex in virtual reality. He pulls away from his wife and family. She eventually finds out why.

Their solution is to have one night where they both get sexual gratification. Danny gets to play the game and Theo gets to go to the bar without her wedding ring.

Black mirror’s commentary

The premise of Black Mirror is to use technology as a commentary on societal issues.

I believe VR technology reflects the issue of porn in modern society. Porn gives us unrealistic expectations. Thus, the reality is no longer satisfactory.

While playing the game, Danny can no longer be satisfied by his wife. He gets his satisfaction from the unrealistic avatar in the game.

The show seems to say that playing the game is similar to the wife picking up a man. Both people are not faithful. When someone watches porn, they also are not faithful. They are using someone else for their own gratification.

Black mirror: Happy ending?

Some people cite the ending as happy. Both parties were able to compromise. Yet they ignore what Theo, Danny’s wife, said,

If I wanted to I could have anyone I wanted..but I’m loyal. I make sacrifices because it is a partnership. Does marriage get boring and dull, yes, even I find it boring. So tell me if I’m not wanted.

In modern society, we tend to equate love with the warm feelings we get or how attracted we are to a person. Karl embodies this philosophy in the show. He chases after Danny because it is the “best sex he has ever had” Karl tells Danny that he loves him. This makes Danny realize that they must face the reality of their feelings. Yet in reality, it isn’t love. We need to reclaim the ancient philosophical notion of love

Aristotle’s Notion of Love

Aristotle says that in order to love the other, we must love ourselves. If we truly love ourselves, we will not use anybody else for our own gratification. Rather love is doing for the other’s stake. In other words, if we love ourselves, we will want to pursue a virtuous life. As part of the virtuous life, we should extend unearned love to others. Likewise, one needs the community to be virtuous. This notion of love can also be seen in Catholic teachings.

Catholic Church on Love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together. (CCC 1644)

For Catholics, Love is giving of oneself to another. This includes sacrifice. We are called to lay down our lives for our spouse. This is hard work. We don’t do it alone. We do it with the grace of Christ.

Black Mirror shows the consequences of our modern hedonistic lifestyle when given the right technology. Maybe we should reinterpret love as the act of self-giving.

Want more commentary on Love? Check out Matt Fradd’s interview with Christopher West

Christian Films vs Bible: Which Tells a Better Story?

Red theater seats that you would find when watching Christian films

Last Saturday, I got together with my friends. We decided to play board games at a local coffee shop. I brought The Catholic Card Game. The creators took the mechanics of Apple to Apples or Cards against Humanity and made it Catholic. They made it Catholic by having all the cards have some Christian or Catholic theme to it. As a player, you can make some pretty fun inside jokes. One of my favorite cards played was, “in the name of Jesus, I command you to stop liking Christian films.”

I have been very critical of Christian films. My friend knew this and used it to score a point from me. The more I understand about film, art, and beauty, the more I’ve come to devaluing Christian films. I am discouraged by the current history of Christian films. The Bible offers the blueprint for telling a compelling story.

I first became aware of Christian film criticism through the Youtube channel: [Say Goodnight Kevin}(https://youtu.be/Bw3Ll_1l7Io). Kevin provides a critical analysis of Christian films. Most of what he says speaks to my heart. The God’s Not Dead review is no exception. Kevin states that the problem in the God’s not Dead review. The filmmakers are more interested in selling a message than telling a story. The characters become one-sided in order to serve the message.

The Bible shows us brokenness and weakness, morally gray people, God’s power, and trials.

1. Brokenness and weakness

In Christian films, the Christian character is usually not broken. Yet God uses broken people all the time. Let’s take Moses for example. Moses was chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt into the promised land. Moses objected by saying that he had a stutter and could not speak. St Paul talks about a thorn in his side that would not go away. St Paul describes how God’s strength is made perfect in St. Paul’s weakness. Christian films would do well to show God using what society has deemed as weak or broken.

2. Morally gray people

Returning to Moses, he was also a morally gray individual. He murdered an Egyptian guard for attacking a Jewish slave. Likewise, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he committed adultery. Very rarely if ever do we see Christian films display nuance. They never have the Christian character perform a morally questionable action. They also fail to show growth over time.

3. Show trials after becoming a Christian

The book of Acts describes how the apostles were arrested, beaten, and kill for their faith. Yet many more became Christian partially due to their witness. It would be beneficial for Christian films to show 1. What caused people to convert, and 2. Them choosing to stay in the face of trials.

Shiro and LGBT in Children’s media

legs and feet on bed in front of TV which says Netflix

Introduction

Dear reader, I apologize for the late post, but I was gone all weekend. Also, this blog post contains spoilers for the Dragon Prince and Voltron. If you do not want them spoiled, please do not read.

Relational ministry is one of the key components of youth ministry. In relational ministry, one seeks to form a relationship with the youth. This relationship usually begins through discussion of tv shows, movies, or music. As someone, who aspires to work with youth, I find that it is important to know what they are watching. While working with the youth this year, they introduced me to The Dragon Prince and Voltron. Both shows have been heavily criticized for their handling of LGBT characters. In my own personal opinion, a diversity of people in any show, but especially a kids show, is welcomed. I am unique in that 1. I don’t expect media to have Christian values, and 2. I don’t get upset when a show incorporates new world views to consider. I do however get upset when the world views are not fully depicted or have no effect on the story. I realize that this topic can be divisive. When it comes to media representation I tend to take a midline stance on such issues. Yet I fear that carless representation will continue and ruin otherwise good stories. I will discuss the dragon prince characters, Annika and Neha, and Voltron’s character Shiro. Both are not a good depiction of LGBT characterization.

The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is made by some of the same people who worked on Avatar the last Airbender. In a nutshell, The Dragon Prince is a fantasy show about 3 people. They discover a dragon prince egg and go on a quest to return it. Season 2 came out on February 15th. It was highly anticipated and received good reviews. It has been described as Game of Thrones for kids and teenagers. The comparison is not inaccurate. The show covers dragons, magic and political intrigue. Most of the characters are morally grey and have various motivations. It even quotes philosophical ideas such as The Veil of Ignorance. Thus I am sad that such a smartly written show must cater to LGBT diversity PR. The dragon prince avoids some of the mistakes of Voltron. I also have problems with the depiction of the LGBT as normal and without struggles.

Annika and Neha

According to the fandom Wiki, those are the names of the two queen mothers. They first appear in flashback during the episode Break The Seal. In this episode, Viren is trying to start a war but needs the permission of the surrounding land. In his meeting with the nearby kingdoms, the viewer meets Aanya. Viren tells her the story of her parent’s death in order to persuade her to aid in the war. In the flashback of the story, we see Aanya has two mothers. This is problematic.

Problems with representation

My problem is not that two lesbian queens exist. My problem is that they did not develop the concept far enough. As an adult viewer, I have a basic understanding of biology. I know that two mothers cannot give birth to a child with equal genetics. The child does have genetics from a male sperm donor. Perhaps Aanya is adopted rather than biologically related. If this is the case, then how can Aanya have a legitimate claim to the throne. The writers chose to make the queens have a lesbian relationship. By this choice, the show takes on more questions than it wishes to answer. Furthermore, the writers killed off the lesbian queens in a past battle. This makes the reputation feel forced. The writers need to provide answers. If not, they shouldn’t show a lesbian relationship with a child. Otherwise, it comes across as an attempt to convince kids that two women can have a kid normally. The reality is that it is not normal and always involves a third party.

Voltron

If guardians of the galaxy, transformers and power rangers had a baby you would have this show. It centers around 4 main characters. While studying at a military space academy, they discover the blue lion. It is one of the lions that form Voltron. Voltron is the protector of the universe. The 4 Characters are Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and Keith. All 4 people find the lions and throughout the series save cultures from the Galra, an evil alien race. The 4 teenagers end up being led by Shiro, who is a military space officer.

Shiro

The show depicts Shiro as a leader and space explorer, who is happiest while flying. He endures a lot of hardships including PTSD like symptoms. Despite this adversity, he becomes a hero. The only hint that Shiro is a gay character occurs in season 7 episode 1. The main story of this episode centers on Keith and Shiro’s relationship. Shiro is recruiting young teenagers to join the space academy. During recruitment, Shiro discovers Keith’s natural ability to fly. Shiro becomes a mentor and father-like figure to Keith. In this episode, the viewer also discovers that Shiro has the early onset of a muscular disorder. Thus he is being pressured to retire. About 17 minutes into the episode, the viewers get a one-minute interaction. with a fellow cadet Adam, who warns Shiro not to go on the mission. Adam asks, “how important am I to you?” Adam says, “if you go, don’t expect me to be back.” It could be taken as a concerned friend or a romantic partner.

Towards the end of the series, we see Shiro visibly upset over Adam’s death. In the final minute of the show, we see Shiro with another man. They are getting married. The show ends with them kissing.

Problems with representation

This depiction is problematic because of no development. This depiction implies that the only way for Shiro to be happy is to be openly gay and married. Yet Shiro’s priority was not marriage but flying. Shiro never struggled with his gayness and that is unrealistic. Some argue persuasively that it is Liberal PR move.

What I want going forward

I want a story first narrative. Writers should ask, “does making a person LGBT effect the story in a meaning full way?” I also want writers to not shy away from depicting openly gay characters because they do exist in life. Similarly, writers should not be afraid to depict same-sex attraction people, who choose to find their identity in other areas. Shiro could have been the latter. The media would rather try to win brownie points for being progressive.

Let's try to think creatively

The title of this blog post is a reference to the viral youtube sensation, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. If you haven’t seen it, the basic set up is that three child like puppets are stars in a children’s program, where they interact with animated objects, who teach the children a lesson. However, the lesson usually takes a turn towards the dark as the puppets are taught not to question anything. In the first episode, a notepad attempts to teach the puppets how to be creative. The notepad says things like green is not a creative color. When the puppets attempt to create on their own, bad things start happening. It ends with the notepad instructing the puppets to never be creative again. While the meaning of this series is up for the viewer to decide, most people agree that at its most basic, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is a satire about children’s television programs and the mob mentality it creates. The video criticizes the idea that 1. There is a correct way of thinking when it comes to creativity and 2. The idea that children should not think creatively for if they did, dangerous consequences would result. Creative thinking cannot be taught and it does not fit one style. Yet I feel that the Catholic Church is failing to cultivate an atmosphere necessary for creativity to survive. With the exception of a few parishes, the Catholic Church needs to hire a market manager.
 
This problem became very clear to me when I began working as an outreach intern for New Creation Catholic community. Even though they are not a parish, I believe they have the same problems as most Catholic parishes. First of all, they did not have a functioning website. The information was outdated and never updated. To quote Father White, “an outdated website signals ‘out of business'” Why then do so many Catholic parishes not care about the way their website is designed, or the information put on it? Case in point, http://staugustineparish.net is the website of the parish I grew up in. First of all, it is not visually pleasing. Second of all, it is not very organized or interactive. For example, while it does do a decent job at displaying information, most of the information ends with ‘contact so and so.’ Well, what happens if I’m new and don’t know who that is or what if I want to know more about what your community looks like? There are no pictures and nothing to attract me.
 
Compare that web page to this one: http://st-ann.org/home. At the top, I am greeted with mass times, reconciliation, and giving, which is all the information I need as a newcomer. Below that is a slide show with pictures and a read more buttons. This technique is visually engaging. Below the slide show are boxes with pictures and categories. The new here category makes me feel welcome. Below that is a weekly calendar and under that are pictures of parish life and social buttons. The calendar helps me see what is going on and the pictures help me get a feel for the community. While the design is not perfect, it is much better.
 
One way The Catholic Church of St. Ann is able to communicate efficiently is that they’ve hired a Communications/Multimedia Director. This person handles all communication for the parish, which includes the website, the bulletin, social networks, and media. In most parishes, this job is delegated to the Parish Secretary. This person is usually an older woman, who is more familiar with bookkeeping than web design. Yet I am sure there are creative people sitting in the pews, who would love to help design a website or an engaging bulletin.
 
In fact, there is a group called Catholic Creatives, which consists of a collaboration of “Catholic designers, filmmakers, photographers, creative thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs, and others working to bring the gospel to the world in fresh, beautiful ways.” One objection is that parishes have limited resources to work with and that it is expensive to create a beautiful project. I use to think similarly until I started designing for New Creation. I discovered plenty of drag and drop interfaces for websites and if you know a little bit of code, WordPress.org is a free option. Likewise, canva.com is a great place to design anything, but they do have templates for beautiful church bulletins.
 
The church needs more organizations like Catholic Creatives and parishes need to put more time and effort into creative marketing. It might be dangerous, even disastrous at times, but it is much better than to not think creatively.