Global corporate conglomerates rule the world. “E-Corp” is the biggest of the lot.
E-Corp’s chief executives — situated above the fog ceiling in pinnacles, their boardroom aeries perched above New York City’s financial district — are the wealthiest one per cent of the world’s wealthiest one per cent. They are the holders of power over capital and its distribution that guarantees for themselves an ever-increasing share of the global economic pie.
Among the 99.9 per cent, the minions fettered by sub-prime mortgages, student- and consumer-debt, and labouring within the confines of an utterly unsustainable and corrupt political economy, is the damaged and dubious narrator, Elliot Alderson, the lead character in the masterful psychonoir-thriller, “Mr. Robot”, which just won Best Dramatic TV Series at the 2016 Golden Globes.
By day, techno-whiz-kid Elliot keeps E-Corp’s data secure in his role as a programmer for cybersecurity firm “AllSafe”. It’s a mundane existence; but it’s all the kid can do to gather the stamina to greet each day. He’s in therapy for crippling social anxiety, often times delusional as he spots shadowy figures hounding his subway trips to and from work, and dangerously dabbling with morphine to stave off the loneliness of life in the Big Apple.
In consultation with his therapist, Elliot reveals the bleak reality of the present-day, as he explains in a monotone monologue the problem with society as he sees it:
"Oh, I don't know. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it's that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit? The world itself's just one big hoax. Spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit, masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I'm not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books makes us happy, but because we wanna be sedated. Because it's painful not to pretend, because we're cowards. Fuck society."
What’s a disaffected social-cripple to do?
In Elliot’s case, he spends his nights hacking into the lives of, well, just about everyone he comes into contact with. Co-workers, business owners, even his lonely-hearted therapist Krista -- all become targets for minute observation. By roaming through the data offered voluntarily through their virtual on-line lives, Elliot is able to narrowly examine their motivations, their desires, their weaknesses. And when he’s feeling benevolent, he exposes and destroys the worst of the lot: kiddie-porn website barons, drug dealers, serial-adulterers. You get the picture.
But something much bigger is afoot: A secret conspiracy.
Elliot comes to the attention of Mr. Robot, the head of an Anonymous-like hacktivist collective called “FSociety”. Their goal: The destruction of the entirety of the stored data of the world’s biggest conglomerate, E-Corp. Gone: The records of millions of E-Corp clients, and the instant erasure of billions upon billions of dollars of debt. The prospect of freedom from penury for the minions.
In some respects, Mr. Robot’s creator, Egyptian-American Sam Esmail, has created a world that would have been a magnificent dystopian vision, had it been produced a couple decades ago.
But totalitarian global capitalism is where we’re at these days, and all the anxieties of the present are mirrored in this remarkable series. And the conspiracy plotted by Mr. Robot’s FSociety is nothing less than the wish-fulfillment fantasy of millions of folks inspired in recent years by movements like Occupy Wall Street, Wikileaks and Anonymous itself.
In no way is Mr. Robot a vehicle for viewer escapism. No happy endings here. Instead the viewer is treated to a beguiling and tenaciously engaging portrait of life in our time. It feels real. Even if we are uncertain that what we’re viewing is the hallucination of a man on the verge of psychological implosion or the sequential plotting of a hack to dismantle an economic system.
Needless to say, we are watching some amazing vehicles for complex story-telling these days. Esmail and the tremendous cast of Mr. Robot have managed to convey an entertainment that is as realistic and timely as it is cautionary. One thing is certain: After watching the accurate depictions of Elliot hacking into the affairs of those all around him, you’ll be thinking up creative new passwords for everything you do in the digital world. Beware...
They’re watching you.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night