A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.
The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.
The return of TheX-Fileshas had me reflecting more and more about the state of pop culture in the ’90s, and I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s impossible to understand the ’90s without watching The Matrix. Not only plot and character, but the very look and feel of the TheMatrix heralded the arrival of the 21st century with a sharp critique of the past decade.
You all remember that iconic Red Pill/Blue Pill scene from The Matrix, right? Just in case you don’t, let me recap it for you. Our protagonist Neo, who is slowly discovering that his perception of reality is an illusion, is offered the choice between taking a red pill or a blue pill. A man named Morpheus explains to Neo that the illusion they’re in is called the Matrix, and serves to stop humans from discovering that they’re nothing but slaves. The blue pill allows Neo to go back to his normal life, while the red pill would allow him to fully wake up from the illusion and begin a quest for truth. Morpheus sums it up nicely:
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
We see this Red Pill/Blue Pill symbolism all over the place in pop culture, especially geek culture. Sometimes pills are involved, other times it’s simple amnesia, or some kind of device to plop the hero back into their pre-story life. Why is it so popular? I think it’s because it speaks to a deep part of the human spirit.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to run amok has fascinated sci-fi enthusiasts since Isaac Asimov introduced The Three Laws Of Robotics. Ever since then, there have been various scenarios where an AI would start harming people because it saw them as a threat to whatever mission the AI and the people were carrying out (see 2001: Space Odyssey) or out of self-preservation (see The X-Files “Ghost in the Machine”). This trope culminated in The Matrix trilogy, which presented a world where machines had become the dominant species on earth and humans were reduced to a source of heat.
Person of Interest introduces a new narrative which is a sort of combination of all of the above. It starts off with an AI machine with omnipresent/omniscient abilities which was designed to detect acts of terror before they actually happen. But it detects all acts of violence, which then have to be separated into relevant (terrorism) and irrelevant (ordinary crime). While a mysterious government agency deals with the terror threats, Harold Finch (the creator of the Machine), along with John Reese, Joss Carter, Sameen Shaw, Lionel Fusco, and Root, take it upon themselves to try and prevent the ordinary crimes.
What did you all do on Valentine’s Day, readers? I took my single ass to the movies to see The Lego Movie, and now you get to hear what I thought about it.
As far as the “enjoyable, genre-lampooning movies that imagine a certain medium as a universe in which characters from many franchises interact”, I’m gonna have to say that Wreck-It Ralph was both more engaging and more feminist than this one. That said, however, this was a truly funny and enjoyable movie, and I definitely recommend you go see it. Spoilers lie ahead. Continue reading →
I’ve had an atrocious Monday and I’m going to be a pessimist and assume you all did too. Here’s an awesome video that is both a mashup of pop songs and a mashup of sci-fi awesome things. Hope it makes your day a little bit better (as it did mine).