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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mr. Robot


I have been a little obsessed with this series lately. Binge-watched Season 1 twice, with some of the segments more than twice. Not being a computer person, what I have picked up is the psychoanalytical parts. I'm guessing the author/showrunner Sam Esmail has probably been analyzed himself. In interviews he admitted to having had OCD and anxiety disorder. Plus he grew up in New Jersey, close to New York City. It's not far-fetched that he is proficient in the psychoanalytical theories.

Putting aside the computer hacking stuff (which is generally regarded as pretty authentic, though not that I could tell) and "Fight Club" references (which Esmail flaunted rather than concealed), the first series can be interpreted as using hacking as a metaphor for psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis (which is back in vogue within the psychotherapy community now after all the shortcuts have more or less failed or faded) is essentially hacking one's own mind. While most of us do not have out-and-out dissociative identity disorder like the main character in the series, we all repress and suppress some things in our mind, as Freud pointed out over a century ago. The unconscious is a huge part of the human mind but inaccessible to our conscious thoughts. Psychoanalysis tries to "hack" at least some of the hidden mind, but behavioral therapy tries to fix us without this. Brilliant.

Separately, Esmail himself has admitted that he was in part inspired by the Arab Spring movement. It took me an unnaturally long time to realize that my visceral reaction to this part of the story --- young people trying to "change the world" --- is connected with my own experience with the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. It was a traumatic event to my generation, even though I never directly participated. I have tried not to think about it and all the complicated feelings it stirs up. See how this works? We all have things we want to hide from our own mind. The Chinese government has been able to scrub that event from most Chinese people's memory, more easily than "1984," thanks to computers, the Internet, and the Great Fire Wall. What "1984" has gotten wrong is our own complicity in the forgetting. The power forcibly erases it from the digital world of knowledge, while people voluntarily erase it from their mind to forget their feeling of powerlessness.

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