The Matrix: The Human Energy

Whenever I watch the Matrix I think of this commercial:

 

What they weren’t thinking of was this:

The human pods in the Matrix. Photo from Matrix Wiki.

 

Many years before the Matrix is set, future humans create machines with artificial intelligence. The machines get tired of serving humans and so they rebel. The humans fight back by attacking their energy source, the sun. The machines strike back by growing humans and using their bioelectricity as a source of energy. In order to keep the growing humans under control, the machines created a virtual reality called the matrix. The humans are plugged into the computer program and experience full lives as if they were living in the early 21st century.

The humans outside do not have the resources to wage war against the machines and so they hack into the matrix to try and rescue humans who start to disbelieve.

We don’t know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us that scorched the sky. At the time, they were dependent on solar power, and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines for survival. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony. The human body generates more bioelectricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields, Neo, endless fields, where human beings are no longer born. We are grown. For the longest time, I wouldn’t believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes; watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure, horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this [holds up a coppertop battery].

–Morpheus

 

The idea that human beings can literally be used as energy against their will is immensely disturbing, and so is the idea that our reality is not reality but rather a system of control. Of course, my mentioning these two facts about the Matrix is not at all a subtle way to say that these two facts are a comment on the energy industry today. People in Nigeria, for example, are forced to work for very little money in outrageous conditions because they have no other opportunities and know no other reality. They are the energy that powers the energy industry. They are human energy.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this movie: life=energy, environmental degradation, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

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Avatar: an Alien Invasion Film

“This isn’t a war,” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.”

― H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

 

The plot behind Avatar is simple: aliens leave their home planet, which they have depleted of natural resources, and invade a new planet with the hope of stealing its natural resources. Luckily, the people rise up and kick the aliens out with the help of a handy computer virus and the President’s kick-ass fighter pilot skills! Oh, wait a minute, that’s Independence Day… Joaquin Phoenix melts their skin with water and beats them with a bat? Nope, that’s Signs. Right, right, this movie is where the cowboys blow up the aliens that are searching for gold.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Avatar is just another alien invasion film, except that this time, humans are doing the invading. And what are they invading for? Energy resources of course!

The corporation that is inspiring the ruthless invasion in this movie is referred to as “the Company,” as James Cameron is rarely a fan of subtlety. The Company is after a super-conductive mineral named unobtanium, which is used for all sorts of things, including energy production. They fund an expedition to a moon, referred to by the humans as Pandora. Pandora appears to be a giant rainforest and is inhabited by the Na’vi, giant, blue-skinned humanoids with cat-like features and cat-like reflexes. The Na’vi live in complete balance with nature, so naturally they are upset by the idea of humans mining their world for unobtanium. The Company funds a project called the Avatar program, where scientists mix human and Na’vi DNA to create Na’vi bodies that humans can “drive”. Being inside an avatar allows for humans to explore Pandora since its air is toxic to humans and its environment is difficult to navigate. The Company, who is represented on Pandora by a character named Selfridge (more subtlety), also hopes that humans who appear to be Na’vi will be more effective in convincing the Na’vi to allow humans to mine on Pandora.

Selfridge to Grace Augustine (lead scientist in the Avatar program): “Look, you are supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn’t that the whole point of your little puppet show? You look like them, you talk like them, and they’ll start trusting us. We build them a school, we teach them English. But after, what, how many years, relations with the indigenous are only getting worse.”

Augustine: “Yeah that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them.”

Selfridge: “Right. Come here. [holds up mineral] This is why we’re here. Unobtanium. Because this little gray rock sells for 20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. It’s what pays for the whole party. It’s what pays for your science. Comprendo? Now those savages are threatening our whole operation, we’re on the brink of war and you’re supposed to be finding a diplomatic solution. So use what you’ve got and get me some results.”

The Company recruits Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine, to take over his late twin brother’s avatar. Sully is approached by the head of security on Pandora, Colonol Quaritch, and asked to spy on the scientists, whom he believes to be less and less accepting of the idea of mining unobtanium. Sully becomes a bodyguard to Dr. Grace Augustine, the lead scientist in the Avatar Program, and her assistant, Norm Spellman. While Augustine and Spellmen are out researching the local flora, Sully’s avatar is attacked by the local fauna and is forced to flee into the forest. He is rescued by Neytiri, the Na’vi chief’s daughter. Neytiri determines that Sully is protected by the Na’vi goddess, Eywa, after Sully is touched by a seed of the Eywa tree. She then takes him to her her mother, Mo’at who is the clan’s spiritual leader. Mo’at says that it is the will of Eywa that Sully learn the ways of the Na’vi. As Sully becomes more and more integrated into the Na’vi’s society, he begins to regret his mission to spy on them for Quaritch. Sully learns that Selfridge and Quaritch want to mine directly under the Na’vi’s village, (called Hometree). Quaritch becomes impatient and threatens to use force to remove the Na’vi if Sully does not convince them to move in a timely manner:

Selfridge: “Sully, find out what the blue monkeys want. You know I mean, we tried to give them medicine, education, roads. But, no, no, no, they like mud. And that wouldn’t bother me, it’s just that their…their damn village happens to be resting on the richest unobtanium deposit within 200 klicks in any direction. I mean, look at all that cheddar.”

Sully: “Well, who gets them to move?”

Col. Quaritch: “Guess.”

Sully: “What if they won’t go?”

Col. Quaritch: “I’m betting that they will.

Selfridge: “OK, OK, OK. Look. Look. Killing the indigenous looks bad. But there’s one thing that shareholders hate more than bad press, and that’s a bad quarterly statement. I didn’t make up the rules. So, just find me a carrot that’ll get them to move. Otherwise, it’s going to have to be all stick. OK?

Col. Quaritch: “You got three months. That’s when the ‘dozers get there.”

 

Instead of convincing the Na’vi to move, Sully takes out a bulldozer that is set to destroy a sacred sight to the Na’vi and Quaritch manages to catch it on film. Quaritch also raids Sully’s personal video logs and shows Selfridge one of the logs where Sully admits that the Na’vi will never leave Hometree, so Selfridge, somewhat reluctantly, orders a raid on Hometree.

Col. Quaritch to Sully: “You let me down son. So what, you find yourself some local tail, and you just completely forget what team you’re playing for?”

Augustine: “Parker, there is time to salvage the situation.”

Col. Quaritch: “Shut your pie hole.”

Augustine: “Or what, Ranger Rick? You gonna to shoot me?”

Col. Quaritch: “I could do that.”

Augustine: [to Parker Selfridge] “You need to muzzle your dog.”

Selfridge: “Yeah, can we just take this down a couple notches, please?”

Sully: [to Col. Quaritch] “You say you want to keep your people alive? You start by listening to her.”

Augustine: “Those trees were sacred to the Omaticaya in way that you can’t imagine.”

Selfridge: “Aw, you know what? You throw a stick in the air around here, it’s going to land on some sacred fern for Christ’s sake.”

Augustine: “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground. It’s all around us. The Na’vi know that, and they are fighting to defend it. If you want to share this world with them, you need to understand them.”

 Col. Quaritch: “I’d say we understand them just fine thanks to Jake here…

[Sully on tape]: “They aren’t going to give up their home. They’re not going to make a deal. For what? For lite beer and blue jeans? There’s nothing that we have that they want. Everything they sent me out here to do is a waste of time. They’re never going to leave Hometree.”

Col. Quaritch: “So, since a deal can’t be made I guess things get real simple, Jake.”

Augustine, Sully and Spellmen are able to escape from the base, with the help of helicopter pilot, Trudy Chacón. Sully is able to rally of the clans of the Na’vi to attack the Company forces, in an attempt to drive them from Pandora for good.

Sully prays to Eywa to join their fight against the humans. The Na’vi fight against the humans and just when it appears that all hope is lost the animals of Pandora launch a concentrated attack and take out the remaining humans. The humans are forced to leave Pandora with the exceptions of Sully, Spellmen and a few other scientists. Sully says: “the aliens went back to their dying world. Only a few were chosen to stay.”

The plot’s similarities to an alien invasion film are a metaphor for how ridiculous it is for a company to come in and take a society’s natural resources. The audience is always behind the humans in an alien invasion film and feels a sense of global pride when they work together to kick out the invaders. So why do we think it is okay to send a company to a foreign country to drill for oil and commit atrocities to the people and the environment there in the process? Sully claims that the Company was able to do this by making the Na’vi their enemy: “This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on s*** that you want, you make them your enemy, then you’re justified in taking it.” The humans develop a convenient racism towards the Na’vi, calling them blue monkeys and referring to them as if they were animals, and so they feel justified in destroying them. Fortunately in this narrative, the weaker force is both able to revolt and win their revolution (with aid from nature herself!) against the invaders, even if that is not the way it is in real life.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this movie: life=energy, environmental degradation and destruction, nature fights back, religious element, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

Futurama: Bender’s Game. Makeup for Dogs, That’s Where the Money is.

This extra long special comments on how the market encourages corrupt practices for harvesting energy resources and the lack of research put into alternative energy.

The episode begins with the Planet Express crew running out of fuel while they are out on a mission. Fortunately, they are able to use Nibbler’s dark matter poop as fuel to get them to a dark matter fuel station.

Can you believe the price of dark matter? It would be cheaper to fill the tank with Nobel Prize winners’ sperm. –Leela

Later in the episode we find out that the reason that dark matter prices are so high is because of a dark matter shortage. However, it becomes obvious that Mom, who controls the world’s only dark matter mine, is controlling the supply of dark matter so that she can increase the price. (Consumers often complain that today’s oil companies might be controlling the oil supply to drive up gasoline prices.)

Professor Farnsworth tells the crew that it was he who discovered a way to turn dark matter into starship fuel when he worked for Mom many years ago:

Back in those days [dark matter] was just a worthless inert curiosity and I was smashing it in a particle accelerator in an ill-conceived attempt to create a more durable harpsichord wax. But as Deepaz Chopra taught us, quantum physics means anything can happen at any time for no reason…and thus against all probabilities it happened. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that all dark matter in the universe is linked in the form of a single, non-local metaparticle…so in one instant I transformed all dark matter everywhere into a new crystalline form, making it into the most potent fuel since primitive man first ignited mastodon flatulence to heat his cave. –Professor Farnsworth

Mom stole the Professor’s work and fired him, but he made sure to keep a failsafe in case Mom ever went out of control:

Professor Farnsworth: “You see in the instant the energy crystal was created, there also came into being an opposite crystal made of pure anti-backwards energy…if ever the two crystals should meet their wave functions would collapse like Raymond Burr’s trampoline once again rendering all dark matter inert and useless as fuel.”

Hermes: “But then we’ll have no fuel.”

Farnsworth: “Ah, but once we free society from dependence on Mom’s dark matter, scientists will finally care enough to develop cleaner alternative fuels.”

Fry: “Scientists like you.”

Farnsworth: “No not me. I’m too busy developing makeup for dogs. That’s where the money is.”

Unfortunately, Farnsworth has forgotten where he hid the anti-backwards crystal, but he eventually discovers that his son is using it as a 12-sided die in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Farnsworth and the crew travel to dark matter mine to use the newly found crystal in to neutralize the dark matter. The crew discovers that Mom’s mine is farm—Mom has captured all of the Nibblonians (Nibbler’s species) and has placed them in cages so that she can harvest their poop. This farm gives Mom an unlimited source of dark matter. Mom’s enslavement of the Nibblonians is similar to the treatment of other labor forces in energy narratives. The Nibblonians possess an energy resource and are held against their will and forced to labor to give that energy resource to Mom, who is the stronger force in this narrative. Strangely, there is no theme of life for energy exchange here. It does appear that the labor is in anyway fatal to the Nibblonians. However, the Nibblonians do rebel when they have the chance to, which is characteristic of an energy narrative.

After a long and complicated series of events the Professor is finally able to bring the two crystals together and so render all of the world’s dark matter inert. Farnsworth and the crew use the Nibblonians to pull the Planet Express ship home, calling it “Nibbler Power”. Hopefully, following this narrative earth’s scientists develop forms of alternative energy as Farnsworth suggests they will, that is, if it is more lucrative than makeup for dogs.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: corporate ruthlessness, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

Futurama: The Birdbot of Icecatraz. A Tragic but Faraway Story

Professor Farnsworth sends the Planet Express crew on a mission to tow the Juan Valdez, (reference to the Exxon Valdez), “an orbiting supertanker full of rich Columbian dark matter.” Leela refuses to go on the mission because she concerned that the tanker will leak dark matter oil into a penguin preserve on Pluto that the tanker must pass by.

Leela: “Dark matter oil? What if we hit something? The tanker could leak.”

Professor Farnsworth: “Impossible. The tanker has 6,000 hauls. So unlike me, it’s entirely leak-proof.”

Leela decides to join a group of protesters instead of captaining the mission, leaving Bender in charge. Naturally as a result of Bender’s inferior piloting, the tanker catches on an iceberg, which cuts through all 6000 hauls and causes dark matter oil to leak into the penguin preserve.

Bender is ordered to five hours of community service to clean up the oil spill. In addition, the dark matter oil causes the penguins to greatly increase their reproduction causing overpopulation.

Just like the episode in my last post, “Birdbot” uses extremes to point out the ridiculousness of how governments and corporations handle oil transportation, spill prevention and spill management. Granted, this episode also pokes fun at environmental groups as well. However, a supposedly unleakable tanker leaks into an animal habitat (adorable penguins instead of fish, gulls and other ocean dwelling creatures) due to lack of corporate and government oversight. The environment is severely damaged and is unable to be cleaned up and the animals suffer horrible consequences, just like in the event of a real oil spill.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.

The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz Episode highlights

Futurama: Oh poop.

An Introduction

Futurama takes place in the year 3000. The main characters Fry, Bender the Robot, Leela, Amy and Zoidberg work at a spaceship delivery service, called Planet Express, which is owned by the crotchety genius Professor Farnsworth. The professor’s arch nemesis is Mom who is the head of earth’s one major corporation, Mom’s. The characters also have run-ins with the government and military, the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). The main source of fuel throughout the series up until the episode “Bender’s Game” is dark matter. Of course this series, which was created by the same creators as the Simpsons, is utterly ridiculous, focuses mainly on parody and completely disregards the rules of physics and narrative continuity. However, Futurama does provide a humorous look at various environmental causes including energy use.

Loves Labours Lost in Space

The episode begins with the Professor giving the crew an explanation of their next mission. He wants them to travel to Vergon 6, which was once filled with dark matter. The dark matter has been mined out of the planet leaving it hollow, as capitalism has run amuck by this point in time and environmentalism apparently did not stick.

Planet Express is sent on a mission to rescue the animals of Vergon 6 before the planet implodes. On the way to the planet, Leela, Fry and Bender run into Zapp Brannigan, one of the most famous captains in the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). Leela asks Brannigan for help in rescuing the animals but he refuses, citing Brannigan’s Law, which forbids the interference with underdeveloped planets such as Vergon 6 (*cough, the prime directive). Leela tells him that it was a DOOP mining crew that created the problem in the first place therefore the planet has already been interfered with, but Brannigan refuses to listen. Brannigan places the crew under arrest to prevent them from reaching the planet, but he lets them go after Leela begrudgingly has sex with him.

The Planet Express crew is able to round up all of the animals before the planet implodes but they encounter a tiny and adorable creature that was not on their list. Leela becomes enamored with the animal and names it Nibbler. The crew places Nibbler in the cargo hold with the rest of the animals but while the crew is off doing other business Nibbler devours all of the animals in the hold. Leela tries to take off from the planet but realizes that Bender has forgotten to put fuel in the tank, leaving them stuck. However, the crew discovers that Nibbler has pooped as a result of his feast and that poop is composed entirely of dark matter, which they use to fly safely back to Planet Express. Nibbler’s poop is what fuels the Planet Express ship on the rest of their journeys until dark matter is rendered inert by the events in “Bender’s Game.”

This episode is supposed to parody the human consumption of energy by displaying it in extreme terms. There is no way that human beings would mine a planet so much that it became completely hollow, even if it were physically possible. But the episode uses humor to point out that over-mining is a common problem that government constantly sweeps under the rug.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, nomadic existence.

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. How Do You Melt a Forest?

This episode happens to be another example of sentient environment being threatened by the universe’s expanding needs for fuel. It’s Christmas and the Doctor has taken it upon himself to cheer up a 1940s wartime family. As a special present for Christmas day (literally wrapped in a box and tied with a bow), the Doctor intends to take the family to Androzani, where there are naturally occurring Christmas trees (ornaments and all!). However, the family gets a bit too curious about the giant present in their living room and the little boy opens it early. The Doctor, big sister, Lily, and mother Madge, all follow Cyril into Androzani one by one. The Doctor realizes that there is definitely something that is upsetting the trees, and Madge runs into three miners during her search for her children. The miners tell her that the forest is about to be harvested for fuel and that the surface of the planet has been evacuated for the incoming acid rain.

Madge: “I’m looking for my children.”

Miner 1: “There’s nobody else in this forest. There can’t be.”

Miner 2: “Well, she found a way in, maybe her kids did too.”

Miner 3: “Then God help them.”

Madge: “Why do you say that?”

Madge: “Why did you say God help my children?”

Miner 3: “This forest is about to be harvested.”

Madge: “Harvested?”

Miner 3: “Androzani trees: greatest fuel source ever. The entire area is being melted down for battery fluid.”

Madge: “Melted down? How do you melt a forest?”

Miner 3: “Acid rain. The satellites are in position. Anyone still out there in five minutes is going to burn.”

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Lily find Cyril in a mysterious house in the middle of the forest. The house contains animate wooden figures of a king and a queen. They also discover that the souls of the forest are evacuating the trees and surrounding the house. Madge is able to reach Lily, Cyril and the Doctor just in time. Upon Madge’s arrival the house reveals itself to be a space/timeship that requires a mother to pilot it. Madge absorbs all of the souls of the forest and pilots the ship to earth where the souls are able to disperse among the trees.

Sadly, the trees do not actually fight back in this episode but the episode does still contain several aspects of an energy narrative. First, a weaker force is subjugated by a stronger force because they have a energy resource, namely the trees are destroyed by the miners. Second, there is a life for energy exchange. The trees are sentient beings and they have to die for the miners to receive their energy. Third, the miners are unable or unwilling to shut down the acid rain process to save Madge and her children. Thus, they once again justify the exchange of life for energy.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.

Doctor Who: 42. Humans! You Grab Whatever’s Nearest and You Bleed it Dry!

The Doctor and Martha land the TARDIS onboard a cargo ship that is going to crash into a sun in 42 minutes; exciting, huh? One of the crew, named Korwin, has been infected with a parasite that causes his body temperature to skyrocket to an impossible level. He slowly picks off the crew one by one by burning them to death with heat escaping from his eyes. During this time, the Doctor realizes that the captain ordered the crew to mine energy from the sun. In an attempt to save Martha from Korwin, the Doctor becomes infected with the same parasite and realizes that the parasite is part of the sun from which the captain mined energy, making the sun a living thing.

 

Doctor (Infected): “You mined that sun, scooped its surface for cheap fuel. You should’ve scanned for life…that sun’s alive—a living organism. They scooped out its heart and used it for fuel, and now it’s screaming!

Cpt. McDonnell: “What do you mean? How can a sun be alive?” (to Martha) “Why is he saying that?”

Doctor (Infected): “Because it’s living in me. Humans! You grab whatever’s nearest and you bleed it dry! Aah! You should have scanned!”

Cpt. McDonnell: “It takes too long. We’d be caught. Fusion scoops are illegal.”

The sun is desperate to get the parts of itself back that are still remaining in the ship’s fuel tanks. The crew is able to vent the fuel back into space and so cure the Doctor and save themselves.

Episodes like this are one of the reasons for my love affair with science fiction. Writer, Chris Chibnall is able to create both a unique moral/ethical issue and one that is eerily familiar. It is unlikely that humans are going to discover that oil, coal, water, sunlight or nuclear energy have been sentient beings all this time and so using a sentient being as an energy source is a unique problem found in science fiction, one where, once again, life is payment for energy. However, if we assume that the sun found in “42” is a metaphor for the environment itself, then this narrative becomes an exercise in personification. The environment is speaking up for itself and fighting back, which is a common characteristic for an energy narrative. So think of it this way, if the earth could speak about fracking, deepwater drilling and climate change, what would it say?

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.