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The Social Dilemma (2020)


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This Netflix documentary looks a little different on the other side of last week's failed insurrection at The Capitol. 

It's argument is depressing but persuasive -- that the conditions that created the violence were predictable (one participant says the thing he most fears based on his understanding of social media manipulation is "civil war") and to some extent unavoidable. 

Like documentaries dealing with climate change, it is harrowing because it doesn't see a clear solution. The conditions that have been created are so widely entrenched as to make fixes implausible. That's why the post-credits menu of stuff you can do feels forced and ineffective.

The dramatizations are also somewhat hokey. A sort of live action version of inside-out with actors playing Facebook technicians monitoring a typical teenager. I wonder how much of this was tested. 

Still there are bits of lucidity and insight here, including real foundational stuff about political theory and economics. It's worth a watch. 

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Yes, the dramatizations were a bit hokey, but I found this one an entrancing watch, and thought that perhaps the dramatizations might pull in some of the less-informed viewers. Like myself. 

I was blown away by the idea that the “singularity” as referred to in other docs in the past few years, perhaps has already happened — that it came in with a whisper and not a roar, not that the machines are conscious of their own choices but that their choices, or path, has the potential to take over. Seeing what many people accept for “truth” these days, it is apparent that a Terminator or Matrix style war isn’t needed as much as the ability to simply control large portions of the populations’ ideas about reality. And noting the events from last week you can see the results of those who are trapped in a reality of their own making. 

But now what? That’s the problem at the end of this film. There are zero ideas about how to put the Genie back in the bottle. Scary thought — there’s no way out of this. 

This one and the Gibney film were two great political docs this year. 

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I valued this doc in so far as it might inform people who don't know a lot about how all these things function. I found the dramatizations unnecessary, but I suppose some might find them engaging. The "radical centre" made me laugh though. Note: The older sister is from A&F favourite, Moonrise Kingdom. The son is in HBO's The Righteous Gemstones, which I'd be curious for more A&F folks to see (it's about a Falwell-esque family of evangelical mega-pastors and strikes pretty close to the bone).

But as I said in my Letterboxd review, I valued this one for:



clearly identifying that it is the fundamental profit structure that is the root problem to be addressed, and that you can't simply "engineer" your way out of this with a technical solution. 

Of course, they stop short of coming to the conclusion that the fact that some things require us to put aside the profit motive for the common good might be plausibly extended to many other areas of our lives...



"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut


Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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Interesting thoughts...appreciate the other perspectives.

One thing that hasn't been wearing well with me is the whole "never before in the history of the world..." vibe.

I do think there is an important observation to be made that it is the technology and the apparatus that is more disturbing than the content...but I am old enough to remember similar such claims for, say, television (the medium is the message/amusing ourselves to death/death of print culture irrevocably changing all aspects of life.)

I wonder to what extent the film postulates some sort of straight, unchanging line of human existence that is radically impacted by this recent developed and to what extent it sees social media as the latest (r)evolution of a never ending series of changes? I'm certainly down with the notion that our environment changes us as we conform and interact with it and the notion that some of those changes are more drastic, sudden or impactful....but I tend to think that those changes are ever present and not this unprecedented challenge the film frames it as...

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The documentary has its flaws, undoubtedly, but it seemed to provide some useful information to those among my first-year writing students last fall who watched it as part of a unit on social media. I wonder now if any of them are reflecting on it now.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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