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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Reminder Why Kaepernick Took A Knee

Whether you follow the NFL or not, you no doubt know about the remarks Donald Trump made about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest and the responses ranging from NFL owners with carefully worded statements critical of Trump's remarks to players criticizing Trump in various forms to the gestures ranging from kneeling to linking arms to raised fists.

All the while, people are up in arms about disrespect to the flag, disrespect to the military, disrespect to the country and how football games are not the time or place to do such a thing. And then other people use it as their chance to bash Trump and blame everybody who voted for him for everything that's happened, while others still talk about how unified the NFL was and how great it was to see everyone standing together.

Meanwhile, what got lost in the shuffle is the man who started it all more than a year ago and what he was really wanting to draw attention to. The man is Colin Kaepernick and the issues he wanted attention drawn to were police brutality and racial inequality.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Four: Security Systems

Episode Name: Security Systems

Premise: When Edison Carter sets out to investigate who is the mystery bidder for Security Systems Inc., he learns that the company's AI has him listed as committing the most serious crime of all: credit fraud.

Theme explored: The question raised is what happens when one entity is given control over personal information and security and the dangers that come with it. Security Systems Inc. touts that "your inalienable rights are consumer credit, unlimited TV and personal security" and that only the company can ensure them all.

But as we learn from the episode, when somebody seeks a monopoly over such information, there's no telling what that person might use it for and how that person might use it. Edison Carter learns that quickly after the AI falsely designates him as wanted for credit fraud (a crime described as "worse than murder" in this dystopian environment) and he must now go underground to uncover the truth behind Security Systems Inc.

Another issue touched upon is the risks involved with artificial intelligence and how it can do the unexpected -- but while many stories tend to explore the idea of the AI turning against its users and causing harm, in this case, the AI serves a purpose in helping Edison Carter, thanks to the convincing of Max Headroom. Though an unusual twist, one can still ask whether it's wise to let a computer algorithm decide everything.

Max Headroom quotes:
"I'm glad that's over. Some of us can't cover our eyes, you know."
"You call this space? And I though the Network was cramped."
"I wonder if security guards ever hold a party and, if they do, do they let each other in?"
"As they say, when you're buying suppositries, with friends like that, who needs enemas?"
"You know what security guards are like -- shoot first and still argue about whether you can come in."

Personal observations: This is a good example of why Max Headroom was ahead of its time in many ways. Personal information, who is entrusted with it and who is able to access it is a major concern, but tends to get overlooked in our quest for security. Whether it's the government or a private company being entrusted with that information, there are plenty who worry about who controls it, what gets shared and whether it's really being protected by those people. And it's a reminder that we shouldn't just use "security" as a reason to believe that certain individuals or entities must be trusted at all times with such information.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Three: Body Banks

Episode Name: Body Banks

Premise: Edison Carter investigates the disappearance of a young woman, which leads to the discovery of a body bank involved in organ theft.

Theme explored: The episode focuses on medical technology and questions how far one should go with it. In this case, a wealthy individual pays a large sum to a body bank for a pituitary gland to save his mother's life and insists it be found at any cost. It leads to the body bank declaring that if it cannot find a matching organ from a dead person, it will extract one from a living person -- in this case, a person in the lower class. The question that is asked: If saving one person's life must mean taking another's life, is it worth it?

Along with the plot involving the young woman's disappearance -- a kidnapping in which her organs are sought to save a wealthier person's life -- a member of Network 23's corporate board is blackmailed to acquire the technology that made Max Headroom possible to save the mind of the wealthier person. This not only furthers the theme about how far one should go with medical technology and who benefits from it, but touches upon bribery and corruption among the wealthy. This is further explored, to an extent, in a subplot in which Network 23's executive board attempts to get Max Headroom to become a spokesperson for the Zik Zak Corporation when Max has his own ideas about being a spokesperson.

Class warfare is also touched upon -- those who benefit are the elite and well connected while those who are exploited are described as the "fringes" of the city, which is another way of describing those in the lower classes who don't have the connections or resources those in higher classes do.

Max Headroom quotes:
"They're interested in me? They want an audience -- I'm like an audience."
"Zik Zak, the corporation that makes you give your money away the nicer way."
"Forget what I said about those Zik Zak burger packs. Don't go for your wallet -- that's just what they taste like!"
"Asking is just polite demanding."

Personal observations: Debates regarding medical care, ranging from who really gets access to life-saving treatment to how far we should go in exploring new medical achievements (stem cell research is a good example), haven't gone away in today's society. The question posed about "whose life matters more?" is one we must keep asking ourselves as well, especially when the question comes down who happens to have better access to medical care.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Max Headroom Episode Two: Raking

Episode name: Raking

Premise: Theora Jones' younger brother Sean is caught up in raking, a youth sport with a violent twist.

Theme explored: The main focus of the episode is how violence is used to exploit youth. The episode revolves around raking, a sport in which youth use motorized skateboards and attempt to knock each other down, but is exploited by adults and turned into a spectacle in which youth are encouraged to injure each other and bets are placed as to who will survive.

But the critique doesn't stop with a sport that's turned violent -- throughout the episode, Max Headroom is asking questions about a show called Missile Mike (a clear reference to Rambo) that is considered "children's programming" on Network 23, which happens to be negotiating for the rights to broadcast raking events (along with its primary sponsor, Zik Zak, agreeing to sponsor events). It raises the issue about how media companies seek programming to draw viewers without always considering whether it's appropriate for a particular audience or something that should even be aired to begin with.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Is fond the same as fondle?"
"The kids like killing? Who told them about it?"
"I'm looking for something with action, excitement and taste -- a taste of blood."
"Do you know that in Chinese, there are 30 different ways of saying one word? Is that why their population is so big? Chinese men just don't know when to take no for an answer."

Personal observations: Another episode with a theme that is still relevant today -- violence and its impact on not just youth, but all people, is something we still struggle with today. That many of the most popular movies, shows and video games today are violent in nature begs the question about how far media should go in using violence to appeal to audiences.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Max Headroom Episode One: Blipverts

Episode name: Blipverts

Premise: Edison Carter, star reporter for Network 23, discovers a recent death is linked to Blipverts, the new advertising technique his own network is utilizing.

Theme explored: The episode revolves around advertising and its influence on decisions made by media conglomerates, along with asking the question about what happens when a journalist's pursuit of a story comes into conflict with the very corporation the journalist works for.

Blipverts are advertisements designed to compress multiple three-second advertisements into a 30-second span each time, resulting in viewers finding it harder to change the channel. The technology is favored by Network 23's top advertising client, the Zig Zag Corporation, who is unwilling to drop Blipverts even after the revelation that a TV viewer died after watching them.

Max Headroom quotes:
"Network 23: The network where two's company and three's an audience."
"The executive board? You mean, you're the people who execute audiences?"
"Tune into Network 23, the network that's a real mind blower -- love those Blipverts!"
"I know you're looking at me and thinking to yourself, 'Why, he could be a star.' Well, let me just suggest humbly that -- you're right, I could!"
"How can you tell when our network president is lying? His lips move."

Personal observations: The first episode of Max Headroom explores themes that are still relevant in today's world, particularly with the huge influence that mass media has over today's society. Corporations want to get the word out about their products and are willing to explore any means to advertise and some will raise questions about ethics. Blipverts takes that issue to its ultimate extreme, in which a method of advertising proves lethal.

The episode does a good job establishing Edison Carter as a person who deeply believes in journalism as getting to the truth and keeping viewers informed, but he seeks to maintain a level of professionalism at all times, even when he engages in covert methods to get to the truth. His computerized alter ego, Max Headroom, takes a different approach -- he is more interested in getting himself over with audiences, but there is a lot of truth to what he has to say. Both generate material that keeps audiences interested, even as the executive board struggles with the idea that they are risking the bottom line by letting both personalities reveal the truth in their own ways.

The episode establishes the relationship between Theora, the camera controller who works alongside Carter, in getting through Carter's rough exterior and showing that he can trust her. It also sets the table for future storylines, such as Ben -- the one member of the executive board who sets limits as to how far he'll go to ensure the bottom line -- and Grossberg -- the Network 23 chairman who is more concerned with the bottom line than anything else -- and how they will each impact future decisins, and how Bryce, the technical genius who creates Blipverts, Max Headroom and other technological advances, becomes something of a wild card.

This was a good episode that can stand on its own (as was the case with most TV pilots back in the 1980s, in case the network didn't pick up the show) while allowing for future storylines to unfold.