Silicon Valley Season 6: Information Sovereignty

Silicon Valley’s 6th season continues the technologically subversive vein illuminated in previous seasons and ends consistent with Mike Judge’s hilarious free falls from short lived pinnacles of success.


Silicon Valley‘s first episode makes it clear to the audience that they will not stray from confronting polemic issues. The opening scene shows Richard Hendricks, founder of Pied Piper, in a government hearing arguing for the benefits of a decentralized internet. It is impossible for one not to immediately think of the recent scandal involving Facebook’s misuse of user data and Mark Zukerberg appearing before the government when seeing this mirrored scene in the show.

The significant difference, however, is that Zuckerberg defended Facebook for its practices sharing user information with 3rd party companies without consent, while Hendricks argues for user control over data. He daringly challenges the tech monoliths that are Facebook, Amazon, and Google in his speech and proclaims in liberalistic rhetoric that an internet controlled by the people and for the people is democratic and the only way to subvert the tech “kings.”

Profits and Moral Dilemmas

Taken from Episode 2 of Silicon Valley Season 6

Success is never long-lived in Silicon Valley though, so issues quickly arise after the speech is given. A video game company using Pied Piper’s Network secretly archived user conversations without Hendricks knowing. Hendricks, bound to his moral high ground, apposed the video game company’s practice even though it was Pied Piper’s most valuable asset.

Hendrick’s morality is also called into question though, in his response to Galloo Games; he utilizes the Pied Piper technology to analyze the data and systemize by keyword in order to blackmail the CEO of Galloo Games, who coincidentally bugged himself in the process of collecting user data. The blackmailing fails, however, as investors in Galloo Games overlook the CEO’s morally questionable acts in favor of perceived profits from exploiting the player base. The proposed exploit by the development team at Galloo Games adds ads in real-time as players speak into their mics; mentioning pizza re-skins a nearby building in the medieval world to a Domino’s storefront.

The utilization of people’s microphones in the background to cater to ads is not something particularly new in this day and age. I am sure you have had a conversation with someone about something and found that when you go to search it on google or amazon that it appears to magically appear before your eyes with the entering of a few letters. While users can turn off personalized ads on Google, targeting never seems to fully go away. With elections coming up, Google has even amended its policies towards political ads; political advertisers will no longer be able to direct ads based on public voter registration records indicating affiliation. They still have access to our age, location, gender, and what content we view online, so it’s not like Google is making that much of a move.

Morality over Profits

Taken from Episode 5 of Silicon Valley Season 6

While Hendricks acts questionably immorally in blackmailing the CEO of Galloo Games, he promptly has an opportunity to redeem himself in the following episode. He ends up turning down a billion dollar investment because the man who proposes to invest in Pied Piper inherited his fortune from a grandfather with ties to the Chilean dictator Pinochet. The implications of denying such a large sum of money can not be ignored. You can ask yourself, would you have been able to say no with that kind of money at stake? Regardless, Pied Piper is shown to be a virtuous company at its core.

Gavin Belson, Hendricks’s long time rival and foil contrastingly epitomizes a lack of morals. He ironically launches a manifesto called “Tethics,” asking all tech companies to sign and promise to make “best efforts” towards achieving ethical practices. The words in the manifesto are essentially empty and don’t tie companies to action. Companies like Amazon claim to provide workers with safe conditions and living wages, but workers suffering mental and physical trauma under the extreme pressure of maximum efficiency attempts to unionize illustrate Amazon’s empty speech.

Written by: Nils Ljungquist

The Good Liar: Senior Scammers

The Good Liar is a satisfying, slow-burning thriller that will make you reevaluate your perception of innocent senior citizens.

The Good Liar stars Sir Ian McKellen in the role of Roy, an experienced scam artist. I will admit that I was pretty excited to watch this movie because I have been a fan of McKellen since watching him in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and most recently in the play King Lear. The pacing of The Good Liar‘s trailer first led me to believe that the movie would be faster pace and would contain more action, which admittedly made me a bit skeptical since the film’s leads, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are advanced in age. I was glad to find instead that the movie showcased both Mirren and McKellen’s skill in a slower and more confined setting.

Taken from Warner Bros. Pictures’s Youtube

The Good Liar begins with Roy initiating contact with Betty, Mirren’s character, on an online dating site. He lies about a lot of the information on his profile and aims to take advantage of Betty given she is a recent widow.

Taken from Warner Bros. Pictures’s Youtube

The Elderly as Easy Targets

Taking advantage of the elderly is not a new phenomenon and the advent of internet seems to have made the process even easier. The mythical level that the African Prince email scam has reached in pop culture attests the the overall gullibility of people and especially of those less technologically savvy. Given that the elderly often lived their entire adult lives without the internet, they are usually the target of internet scams.

The scamming occurs increasingly often on dating sites given their wide proliferation. These sites rely on the trust of users; users have to believe that who they are talking to is the person pictured in said profile. This lack of physicality makes it easy for people to lie and initiate a scam that preys on the vulnerability of those seeking love.

Inverting Expectations

While the scam Roy initiates with Betty is the main focus that drives the plot of the film, there is an additional scheme that he masterminds. Without revealing any spoilers, this swindle involves many people and interestingly, they are all significantly younger than Roy.

Taken from Warner Bros. Pictures’s Youtube

This importantly inverts the viewers expectation that old people are the victims of fraud and demonstrates that the elderly are capable of being agents of hustles. A New York Times article states that:

the Department of Justice described criminal cases involving nearly $700 million lost in the previous year by about two million people. The ones hit hardest by this kind of fraud are over 70, and they experience an average loss of $41,800, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports.

This inversion of expectations should not be taken lightly. The portrayal of the elderly in roles different from those typically attributed to them allows for more creativity in cinema. Just look at the ending to Hot Fuzz and try tell me it is not hilarious and that you saw it coming, you simply can’t. Who says that old people can only be grandparents or cheap tools to advance plot and evoke sympathy with their approaching death?

I’d like to believe that having the elderly play such atypical roles such as scammers or weapon toting gunslingers can only open the door to the creation of new intellectual property, which is something utterly key in a time when safe bets and sequels appear prominently in any given week’s list of premiers.

Written by: Nils Ljungquist

Terminator: Dark Fate – White Savior?

Terminator: Dark Fate delivers a fun, action experience that relies and feeds heavily on fan’s nostalgia, but ultimately lacks the heart present in early installments of the series.

The new Terminator movie follows the recent trend in the action genre of situating movies in locations of political importance. Like the newest Rambo, Terminator: Dark Fate takes place in Mexico. It is positive that a genre mostly known for white casts is getting more diverse; the protagonist Dani Ramos, is played by Colombian actress Natalia Reyes and the film’s villain terminator is played by Mexican-American actor Gabriel Luna. Although the films’ cast is more diverse, the story told still relies on deeply ingrained stereotypes.


This new installment in the Terminator series alters the future established in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The film scraps Skynet and replaces it with a nearly identical AI institution called Legion. Fans of the series will remember that the terminator faced in the sequel was extra deadly because it was liquid metal; it could faze through walls and regenerate. This deadliness is literally taken in Dark Fate and multiplied by 2, as the terminators are able to split into 2 entities. 

Taken from Paramount Pictures Youtube

This Terminator is tasked with killing Dani Ramos because she is revealed to be humanity’s future savior later in the film. The film utilizes another plot device from Judgement Day in the form of sending someone from the future to assist the savior. This assistance comes in the way of Grace, who is a mechanically enhanced human. This early chase scene in the film mirrors the iconic semi-truck chasing John Connor in Judgement Day through the Los Angeles River. Grace and Sarrah Connor both end up saving Dani from being terminated.

Saviors? Who Saves Who?

Both Grace and Connor do not inform Dani on the entirety of the situation for fear that she is not ready to receive the information. So for much of the film, Dani has no other choice but to follow the two white women blindly. This leads one to question who really is saving who in the film? Is Grace, who in Terminator tradition as a person from the future literally dropped from the sky the “savior?” Or is Sarrah Connor, who arrived just in time as the Terminator was about to kill both Grace and Dani the “savior?”

What is poignant is that Dani’s moment to save both Grace and Sarrah Connor comes in the form of a stereotype. The three women are forced to leave Mexico as the Terminator will stop at nothing to finish his mission. The exit plan comes in the form of undocumented crossing with the help of Dani’s coyote uncle. A coyote is someone who smuggles people across the border usually at a high fee. Dani’s revelation of her uncle’s connection is so perfectly convenient that its actually hilarious. 

Taken from Paramount Pictures Youtube

The women follow through with the plan and end up getting detained right at the point of crossing. They are taken into custody by Border Patrol agents and placed in the cages all too familiar to those living in Southern California.

The Terminator is able to track them down pretty easily and actually makes his way into the facility as a Border Patrol Agent. Again, this action mirrors the Terminator from Judgement Day who transforms into a police officer. Both Terminators are interestingly smooth talkers and charming. They go about unsuspected and utilize the information systems and technology available to the institutions of government.

Taken from Paramount Pictures Youtube

The choice to portray the Terminator as a Border Patrol agent in the current political climate is one that is hard not to dwell on. The current policies which have separated families are done by heartless entities like Terminators. It is also interesting to note however that the Terminator is portrayed and meant to be of Mexican origin. This factor only conflicts the situation when compared to the ethnicity and actions of the other Terminator in the film, Carl, played iconically by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Carl is a Terminator who was sent from the future to kill John Connor after the vents of Judgement Day. It is later revealed that Carl begins to become more human and even takes on a family. He even regrets taking John Connor’s life after seeing the happiness that family brings one. Carl ends up assisting the three women in the fight against the Terminator. He importantly like in Judgement Day, sacrifices himself to kill the Terminator. While the plot sets up the “savior” to be Dani, the action taken by her guardians leads one to believe that she really possessed no agency throughout the film. Terminator: Dark Fate in attempting to be transcendent ultimately falls back on old tropes and produces a film that prolongs stereotypes. 

Written by: Nils Ljungquist

Gemini Man: DNA Misuse

“The concept of a man getting chased by himself, that’s a really compelling idea for a story…Thanks to the technology, now it’s possible.”

Ang Lee (Director)

The film should have remained a concept. Gemini Man falls short in delivering a compelling story and relies entirely on Will Smith to carry what little story was there to begin with.

I will admit that I did not have high hopes coming into Gemini Man. I entered the movie theater expecting a fun action film and was in part satisfied to this effect. If you have seen the trailer for the film, you basically know the entirety of the plot from beginning to end. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a government hitman who has decided to retire at age 51 after amassing a whopping 72 kills and coming to the conclusion that he is not as sharp as he once was.

Beyond citing the lack of finesse he exercised in the 72nd hit, Smith, I mean Brogan mentions that the ghosts are starting to catch up with him. Smith’s retirement is cut short basically immediately; he doesn’t even get to enjoy a full day before he is betrayed by the government agency. The agency sends a clone to kill Smith and to effectually replace him.

Can’t a man get some peace and quiet?

It is worth noting that this initial chase sequence between the older Smith and computer-generated younger Smith is the highlight of the entire movie. Really, it does not get better than this and it comes fairly early on in the film.

Taken from GameSpot Universe Trailer’s Youtube

The DNA used to produce the Smith’s clone was notably taken without his consent. The agency’s goal in doing so was to produce soldiers without consciences but with Smith’s innate killing ability and skill. Arguably, this is not a very original idea, as evidenced by Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones and Looper, but I guess it is at least sufficient to drive the plot forward. It also serves to make one distrust institutions of power and get one thinking about how our DNA is used in actuality.

Taken from GameSpot Universe Trailer’s Youtube

Government DNA Databases

No, this is no conspiracy theory and I do not have an aluminum foil hat perched on my dome. The FBI has a database containing the DNA of people who have been:

“convicted of, arrested for, or facing charges of certain qualifying federal crimes or convicted of qualifying District of Columbia offenses, as well as non-U.S. citizens who are detained under the authority of the United States”

This database is used to cross-reference unknown DNA samples at crime scenes against those within the database in the hope of finding the perpetrators of crimes. This technique is good in theory because the victims of crime are able to rest easy knowing the true perpetrators in crimes suffered.

A majority of people have nothing to fear if their records are clean but those who aim to find out about their family records are also subject to their DNA being archived. Users who send their DNA to testing services such as 23andMe, Ancestry,Heritage are archived by the government in order to ensure quality in testing. Keep this in mind if you are at all interested in using a DNA testing service, or receive a kit as a gift; make sure to read all the privacy information. The fact that the archival process is not made clear to people from the very start is malicious.

DNA Archival Hits Home

The Justice Department is also proposing to maliciously archive the DNA of all immigrants crossing into the United States. The proposal is said to be done with the intent to crack down on crime, but in doing so, the legislation associates immigrants with criminals. This begs the question, how far is too far in aiming to “protect” the country?

Written by: Nils Ljungquist