I don’t have to tell you that the world is going through a bit of weirdness right now. Though, if you weren’t surprised by either the election of Donald Trump, or the latest revelations on Global Warming, or the advent of 3-D printed guns, or the Alt-right weaponizing internet memes, or Russia’s meddling in the U.S elections, or the creation of Wikileaks, or the revelations of Edward Snowden, or ghost cities in China, or even this event of strangeness, you might want to stop reading this blog and become an investment banker or leave town before your get burned for being a witch.
This strangeness has been noted by famous surrealist and cyberpunk author William Gibson in a recent interview stating that “the current situation has a current of goofy incoherence,” which is true, if not understated by the overall shittiness of recent events. Though Gibson brings this up as a man of his profession, which is writing, which seems to have become only more difficult lately. One has to be pretty tapped into the current mood and events of the world. The zeitgeist as it is often called is considered by most pop-culture seer hunters to be the catch-all to be anything and everything involving humanity’s culture in the current moment. In the world of entertainment artists, musicians, writers, and directors didn’t necessarily need a crystal ball to tap into the zeitgeist, but often times it certainly helped. Increasingly, however, as more and more pop culture stuff has crowded the entertainment space demanding our attention, that ability to predict the future through art and fiction has become the one X-factor that has proven to be a sure fire way for an artists to be elevated a step above the rest of the crowd. Unfortunately, with the zeitgeist becoming less predictable and more clowns shoes than ever, that ability to be prescient through art has become more difficult to pull off now more than ever.
The internet doesn’t seem to help things by much either, since it has also accelerated the news cycle to where we can’t really pause for more than a few days before the next breaking story or outrage hits us. Our friends and followers can hit us with breaking news on our social media feeds in the morning and it’ll be propelled into the 24-hour news cycle by lunchtime.
For me, the process is exciting, but exhausts me just as quickly as it used to when I was a adolescent information hound that soaked up the digital world like media starved cretin coming out of his cave for the first time. The Zeitgeist — ageless and indifferent to time — has evolved to keep a quick and steady pace; and with some tired resignation on my part, I’m forced to keep up.
Which is why every once in awhile, I have to catch the Zeitgeist on its jogging route and be willing to run with it while I ask it a few questions. Questions that I’m sparing with because I tend to run out of breathe eventually and the Zeitgeist has no interest in stopping, because the rest of world doesn’t want to either. The Zeitgeist is polite enough to answer my questions, but you can tell its sort of rushed for time and you can’t really blame it (though its gotten really good at running in those clown shoes).
I do recall reading how artists, particularly authors, would invite the Zeitgeist for lunch or coffee and discuss with it current events, the state of the world, and where we’re heading. It sounds nice, almost quaint, and it makes me a bit envious that the Zeitgeist had the time back then to sit down and actually chat for leisurely hour or two. However, it’s a waste of time to even be upset about such a thing, since I’m, presumably, the ones of millions of millenials who enabled this kind of fast-pace info-culture to happen in the first place.
It’s also worth remembering that us millenials came of age during a time that included the collapse of the Soviet Union, the founding of the internet, the unabomber, 9/11, the war on terror, the rising consensus on global warming being a man-made phenomenon, social media, the crash of 2008, China rising as a global superpower, the election of the first black president, and the election of Donald Trump. All of these things were seemingly unbelievable, inconceivable, and anyone who tried to argue otherwise was thought of as a weirdo or viewed with the upmost suspicion. One should also remember that, just like us, the Zeitgeist can only be as reactive as we are, for we control how weird and how adaptive the Zeitgeist truly is.
Perhaps at one point we’ll learn to slow down, or will be forced to out of some unforeseen sense of necessity. We’ll learn to take a break from the crazily, infinite barrage of outrage and information to stop and smell the roses. Maybe then the Zeitgeist can stop its infinite jog, take off the clown shoes and come to visit for a nice lunch with a side of latte. We can only hope.
When the dead talks to the living, one tends to listen to them whether you want to or not. For me, it came in the form of a phone call at 3 a.m., via one of my burner cell phones I had been using that night. The voice belonged to a woman who I was sure I’d never hear from again, but like most clients found themselves dialing my number as a last resort. These calls never fail at being awkward, and was something I was only now starting to get used to. After giving the usual spiel of assurances on my part, she had become much more comfortable with speaking to me in the form of terse orders, and pointed questions meant to test my knowledge in a condescending sort of way with that I obliged with what I thought to be total sincerity while tuning out the rest. It was an obvious, if totally unnecessary power-move on her part to regain some perceived loss of superiority that didn’t matter to me whatsoever. However, given my position, I did have to pretend that it mattered, and play along with the mutual charade accordingly; a charade that was much easier for me to pull off over the phone.
“Are you under surveillance right now?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she told me.
“So will I need your key code to come into your home?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m not…” she paused, “I’m not entirely human right now. I’ll send you the code to the condo so that you can unlock it.”
“Maybe I should wait then,” I told her.
“No,” her voice was a stern venom of persistence over the phone line, “this is a fucking emergency. Get here. Now.”
The living also tend to do what the dead tell them to, whether they want to or not.
The condo was owned by her, or rather, she was living in the condo that was owned by a retainer of hers. Not the kind of retainer that was on my level, nowhere near that important; but he was rich, which is usually enough. I could smell the soft pheromones coming from the door as I walked down the white, brightly lit hallway to the pent house suite. I opened the inner pocket of my jacket and pulled out the thumb-pin-sized syringe containing the inoculation I’d need to take before entering. I quickly shoved the needle into a vein along my arm and just as quickly pocketed the thing. The serum, as well as the pain, was immediate. My body shivered like a cold fever while the serum went through the process of blocking any receptors to my sense of smell or taste for the next four hours. A bit extreme, but my life depended on it. I’d just as well be another victim to them otherwise; another pawn if I breathed in the pheromones long enough or taste something tainted within the condo. I’m more useful to them alive than dead, at least that’s what I tell myself. As an extra precaution, I also preformed the white mage ritual of the inde odor praesidium so that my body would not give off any appetizing scents to my client. I adjusted my suit, and pulled even tighter onto my leather gloves, and use the spare key card to open the door. The key card reader chirped with approval and the wooden door slid open, beckoning me to enter.
Inside I was greeted by a soft, violet haze that told me she had already been hard at work. It took me a few seconds to realize that the serum had made me, thankfully, immune to the miasma, but past years of nearly lethal mistakes allowed to imagine what I was walking into. It would be the classic wall of death’s stench quickly followed by the usual sweet twinge of a demon’s hard work to mask the smell of corpses he or she might have caused earlier. It was a technique that served two purposes: the first being to trap any suspicious smells from oozing out and prompting someone to investigate, and if that didn’t work the miasma would work its magic to turn the curious victims into suggestible, brain-washed zombies whose minds could be wiped or bodies turned into a second meal until a cleaner like myself arrived. Either way, it involved leaving no witnesses. I took a few more steps into the dark and adjusted my eyes to the haze that my client had created throughout the whole condo. I saw the contours of the oak polished hard wood floor and a Persian carpet that lead to the living room area. There was another trail, this time made by discarded clothes that trailed beyond a flat screen T.V to the sliding door leading to a beautiful stone terrace with a working Jacuzzi. I did one more scan to take in the Neo Art Deco interior design of the condo and then I found them.
There were three men lying naked on the living room carpet; all who looked liked they’d all died violently from heart attacks at the ripe old age of eighty, but I recognized them as acquaintances that were no younger than I was. As I got closer to the corpses, I managed to recognizing one of them crumpled on the floor: I had lunch with him last week as he was talking about his fiance and their plans for a honeymoon in Costa Rica. He told me her name, her age, her job. She had lied to him, of course. He didn’t have a clue, and wouldn’t have believed me if I told him. I had learned to accept these kinds of lies from my clients, especially when they told them to their retainers and my agreements to reinforce said lies. It was simply a reality of the world I lived in. However, the husks I saw nearly turned to ash did not soften the blow. As I looked at the bodies I felt a presence in the room that caused me to swallow and try to stifle the fear and bile building up in my stomach.
I felt around in my suit’s inner pocket for the retractable, electric prod that I’d taken in with me. This kind of client, whether it was demon or vampire, was way more unpredictable in this particular state of duress than in any other situation. Some would be polite enough to open the door and let you in to show you where the bodies are; others, after the reveal, will apologize profusely for the inconvenience (“sorry, we know you like to sleep during these hours” is a common one). However, there are those who will just wait for you to come in and simply watch quietly in the corner while smiling, before they decide you’re next. The worst of them will hide somewhere in their home and wait for you to arrive in order to fulfill a thrill that comes with hunting human prey. Because under those human exteriors of theirs, wearing expensive clothes, and sharing polite conversation lurks a beast trying to control their urge to feed and their willingness to kill to satisfy that hunger. But then again, when it comes to me, they’re not dealing with something completely human, either.
Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser
I have to hand it to Hollywood, what they did with this movie was kind of brilliant. If you’re someone who had no clue about Ghost in the Shell before seeing this film, but felt compelled to see it anyway it was probably because you liked action films and this looked like something you could vaguely get into; or maybe you’re a sci-fi fan that was just looking for something different to get lost in for over two hours; or maybe you just like Scarlett Johansson and wanted to see her in something that didn’t involve the Avengers. However, if you are a fan of the three Ghost in the Shell anime films, the two season anime T.V series, the reboot to the anime T.V series, and the three mangas (graphic novels) that tie the whole universe together, then the only motivation you most likely had for going to see this adaptation was to find out if it was bad. The audience that walked in cold would get a competent, stylistic and action packed sci-fi film that seemed kind of high brow, and was pretty fast paced. Those that came in with the fan baggage (like me) were in for a condensed, mish-mash of the main plot of the first film and a story arch from a separate season of the T.V series both of which got whirl-winded together into a spark notes recap with subtle inaccuracies and stilted acting. Both interpretations are technically correct: both audiences came in with specific expectations and got exactly what they expected and (more or less) walked out satisfied that their assumptions were correct. It seems like a strange thing to take away from such a film, but it also tells you a lot in terms of how dialed in Hollywood seems to be when it comes to getting an audience to come into the theater for any kind of genre film.
Paramount Pictures hedged their bets properly when they finally decided to bring this adaptation out of development hell and into the light of day. After the debacles that were Avatar the Last Airbender and Dragon Ball Evolution, Hollywood has more or less given up on appealing to this elusive demographic of Millenials who watch “cartoons” well into their twenties and don’t trust Hollywood with their white-washing, Americanized versions. The films appear to be “faithful” adaptations that seem to look and feel like the thing fans would love, but the nerds among us can smell its synthetic, copy-cat quality a mile away. Like a mother bird that refuses to feed her chick when it is touched by another human, the anime nerd (with some righteous anger followed by pensive mourning) must leave his or her beloved live action adaptation to die in the wilderness after being appropriated and tainted by the hands of American movie executives.
However, Hollywood has flipped the scripted and turned this particular movie going experience into a perverse game that no fandom seems immune from. Movie executives have pretty much decided that us fans will hate the adaptation anyway, but know that most of us are too tempted not to go in and see this film. They know we’ll go because we want to know “just how bad it is” and that means putting another ten to twelve dollars on top of the growing pile of monied validation to gleefully vindicate both sides in this transaction of consumerist nihilism.
I might be coming off as melodramatic, if not incredibly heavy handed, and you’re most likely right. Truth be told, I don’t see this movie as some kind of nadir that will lead to our demise culturally (American politics has made it clear that that’s their job). Nor is this film going to taint the good name of the original Ghost in the Shell and its countless other anime iterations. However, it kind of makes you wonder just how much contempt these American movie Executives must have towards these particular consumers and their niche interests.
It’s obvious that they had not intention of making a sequel for this film, judging from the amount of plot they crammed into it without so much as offering a cliff-hanger or an after credits plot Easter egg. I felt like I was being lead through a bloated, three-course meal with the wait staff, chef, and restaurant owner all leaning over my shoulder and badgering me to eat my meals, stop looking at the fly in my soup, and hurry the fuck up so I can pay my bill and get out of there without a to-go box. Of course, if they’re the only restaurant in town that serves steak dinners that you’d have to drive to the next city over and play twice as much for the experience, you can kind of expect that the owners can afford to act like assholes. And that is what it feels like watching Ghost in the Shell, except Paramount Pictures thinks that by throwing a bone to a bunch of connoisseurs – even if it’s a literal bone – they think they can get away with calling it a four star meal. The fans are looking with confusion as the rest gnaw on these scraps with Paramount telling us to get down in the dark ally with the rest of them and chew on the morsels as if it’s some kind of privilege. They act like this because these anime adaptations happen once in a blue moon and we don’t get a lot of love unlike the DC and Marvel fans that get tailored to year after year. And while I might get flak for saying that Ghost in the Shell is an objectively better anime adaptation compared to what’s come before it, even then, it barely measures up.
It makes me wonder if there’s something horribly wrong going on in Hollywood right now. How can something as scrappy as Amazon produce critically acclaimed AND financially successful films like Neon Demon and Manchester by the Sea, while a legacy studio like Paramount pictures is stuck making sub-par reboots to better films made twenty years ago and making questionable sequels like Zoolander 2 and XXX: Return of Xander Cage? They seem to really want our money, but are loathed to work any harder than they have to in order to earn it. And just like the Ghostbusters reboot, they’ll enable an army of sycophants to blame the fans for not stepping up to the plate and giving this the support it deserves.
If Ghost in the Shell does fail, Paramount may blame the fans for the flop, but it’s not as if we all did a mass boycott, or anything. I went, and I even predicted that it might start a new trend in Hollywood. We’ll know for sure by Monday. Until then, Hollywood is still allowed to laugh all the way to the bank, while the fans nitpick, and the rest of society shrugs and goes about their business.