They’ve Put a Spell on You

Them

In the breakout group I was in last Sunday, someone mentioned two movies of interest. One was Them, which is a surreal story of a Black family who have moved from North Carolina to Compton, California in the 1950s, when Compton was an almost all-White Los Angeles community, and not the almost all-Black community it soon became. 

In this Amazon Prime movie, the whites uniformly and horrifyingly oppose the arrival of the Black family, as if there were no liberals at all in White southern California. Malevolent White people are joined by a spooky presence of malevolent other-worldly forces; it became a parable about what external forces can do to put one at war with oneself and is a visceral look at how very ugly it is to make someone else “other.” 

The Social Dilemma

Then I checked out the other suggestion, Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. This film turned out to be even scarier than Them, because the malevolence is demonstrably real, and self-created, and growing. 

In the mid-first decade of the 2000s, about the same time we were all beginning to freely strap on a tracking device, social media began its ascendance. The Social Dilemma uses testimony from the still-young engineers that created what we have now, a systemic harvesting of our preferences, for the benefit of commerce. That’s not news, but how it’s happening, and what it is doing to us, is.   

We are becoming addicted to email, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Reddit, and Instagram, and all the rest. The younger you are, the more addicted you likely are to be addicted. But we are all participating in and yielding to these unconsciously malevolent forces. It was not planned, but it arose from our hunger for connection, and is distorting our humanity. The film opens with a quote from Sophocles: “nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” 

In our time, it began with the excessive sharing of personal information on Facebook.  I remember reading the warnings about surrendering privacy at the time. Now your choices are being harvested, processed, and capitalized upon. And you are being steered without you realizing it. It is becoming a serious problem, presented by many of those who created the monster. Dictators and would-be dictators are already using its power and reach to control populations. Beware, beware! 

But rather than have me describe it incompletely here, I urge you to view it. If I can, I will find some way to share it with those of you who don’t have Netflix. You can probably get it as part of a free trial of Netflix. 

Rev. Leland Bond-Upson

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