Imagining A World Without Emotion

Equilibrium has the status of a brilliant cult film, a status I don’t understand because the movie’s balls-in-deep-fryer levels of stupid. The villain’s plot hinges on the main character, super-cop John Preston, not taking his emotion-suppressing drug in an emotionless dystopia one day, a plan based on an entirely private accident (Preston knocking over his Emote-B-Gone in the bathroom). Emotion doesn’t factor into the war between the dystopia and The Resistance beyond it just being the flag worn by one particular side. And, most damning of all, Equilibrium promises a world without emotions and does not deliver. Give me any scene in this movie, and I can point out pride, suspicion, pain, ambition, or several other emotions felt by characters who are supposed to be taking medicine to quell all feeling (There’s only one scene where this is not the case: bad guy says to Preston “do the thing” and Preston says “ok”). This constant plotsore got to the point where I suspected the big twist of this movie to be that nobody was taking the state-mandated drugs.

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I have no feelings about this poster.

So why do people like this movie? I have two suspicions. One, it’s fucking awesome. Gun-kata, a martial art based on firing guns and dodging bullets, forms the basis of several amazing actions scenes in this movie. But people keep telling me this is a “thinking man’s movie,” unless they mean a man thinking “This iz teh coolest!” So what else? Maybe the premise appeals to people. Imaginations fire off when they hear ideas like “Imagine a world without x” or “What if everyone was y?” So maybe people like the premise and connect with it well enough that they forget that the idea doesn’t work in this movie. What would a world without emotion actually look like? In other words, how would I write Equilibrium and make it good?

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I admit it: any criticism I could make on this movie would be diffused by any of its action scenes.

Let’s take the starting point of the film: After WWIII, humanity seeks to prevent future suffering by destroying anger, fear, and other root causes of war (forgetting, of course, that lack of resources and potential gains of living space/superior political positions also cause wars, and that a populace weary of war and protective of their youth helps prevent them). Humanity’s now emotionless. What do they do with their time? Can’t pursue culture, no motivation to earn love or raise a family. Why even eat to feel satisfied? What does the continuation of the human race feel like to them? It feels like nothing, so there’s no motivation to get out of bed. Let’s get even more basic. You’re a dictator, and you tell your people, “Take this drug that suppresses your emotions.” They ask “Why?” you say “I’ll kill you if you don’t,” and they say “That’s bad! I better take the pill!” On Day 2, what will you say to make them take the pill again? What do they care if they get killed? They won’t even judge it as bad. And if you wait until they feel again to force the pill on them, that just opens a huge window for more of them to say “No” each day.

People tend to forget that logic, aside from numerical equations, exists to serve emotions. You do logical things, like eat healthy and avoid bad neighborhoods, because you want to maximize positive feelings and minimize negative ones. People in depression can be emotionless, and look at how productive they are.

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Ooo! I got it! Equilibrium meets Star Wars! Blaster-kata!

But this is our premise and our imagination; let’s change it so that the drugs suppress ‘bad’ emotions, like anger or hate, the stuff ‘causing’ the wars in the first place. How do you keep an obedient population? At least emotionless people couldn’t be arsed to sodomize kittens or graffiti your Apple-Trademarked cityscapes. Even if those people feel a void instead of a negative emotion, how do you think they’ll feel about the void?

Maybe this whole business is a temporary fix. Perhaps the elite are the only ones allowed to have emotions until humanity enters a post-scarcity era or something. There’s still the risk of Dictator A getting cross with General B and starting a war, but if these elite all agreed to Emote-B-Gone the world to prevent wars, maybe they’re extra-keen to remember everyone’s birthdays. Art and culture is for the top dogs only, and the underclass can’t even get jealous. One thing I liked about Equilibrium was the implication that the opposite of emotion isn’t logic, but faith and conformity. Preston doesn’t have kids because he likes them; he has kids because society demands it. Emotions don’t make us human, they make us individuals. This still doesn’t solve the problem that people without emotions don’t care about leaders enough to follow or even fear them, but that leash will keep us from the dog park of imagination if we don’t loosen it a bit. Emotionlessness isn’t the entirety of the drug, but the symptom of a medicine that makes you totally susceptible to suggestion.

How do these elite members get the underclass to take the drug? A constant need to reapply the drug causes the problems in Equilibrium in the first place. So let’s make Emote-B-Gone airborne, perhaps by using the machine from Batman Begins. With every toxin-laced breath, the population stays docile and susceptible to command. Some people resist by carrying oxygen tanks and masks wherever they go, just like there’s a Resistance in the film. The villains are out in a space station, far from the poisonous atmosphere, giving orders via Skype and broadcasting propaganda so their workforce remembers to continue building everything-proof shields and puppy dispensers and other utopian inventions (funny enough, Equilibrium broadcasts propaganda everywhere too, but only because it assumes it’s audience is too stupid to remember that this society is bad unless they tell us every other scene).

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DOES THIS LOOK FAMILIAR!?!? DO YOU GET IT!?!?

To see what happens next, let’s consider the message the film wanted to convey: “Emotion trumps lack of emotion.” Or, in other words, “It’s wrong to take people’s emotions away.” Morality is based on feeling. One of the elites (we’ll call her Mary) decides that their class’s actions are wrong, having men and women (the scarce amount of women that exist in Equilibrium anyways) live entire lives in servitude without joy or euphoria, their breathing “just a clock…ticking.” So she needs to kill the elite, and maybe the best way to do this is to get super-samurai-gun-cops The Clerics to kill the leaders. She utilizes a secure, private channel to contact the Clerics, the order John Preston belongs to, and brings them up to the space station. The leaders give the Clerics air tanks (or sci-fi nostril implants that do the same thing, if you don’t want oxygen tanks to get in the way of action set pieces) filled with Emote-B-Gone before they’re allowed onboard. Mary gives the rest of the elite a bullshit excuse for bringing the Clerics to the space station, an excuse that the leaders don’t believe. So, in the middle of a private Cleric/Mary meeting, just as Mary takes the nosegear off of Preston, the dictator of this world sends in a broadcast ordering the Clerics to kill Mary. Mary grabs Preston and dives just in time into a trapdoor that leads to a bulletproof bunker. Now safe, she explains to Preston that that new sensation in him is emotion, and that’s why he needs to eradicate the rest of the elite and, by extension, his fellow Clerics. The movie becomes a string of action sequences in pursuit of this goal. At first, it appears Mary’s fatal flaw was her decision to emotionify Preston: with pesky feelings like respect for life and physical pain in the way, Preston’s less effective as a fighter. But the feelings of immense pressure and fear boost Preston’s creativity to the point where he can outwit his fellow Clerics and even the decadent elite. This comes with a price: each death weighs on Preston’s conscious more and more, to the point where he goes from sad to depressed to suicidal with grief due to his newfound respect for life and his role as the grim reaper. Preston wins, of course, and finds a way to detoxify the atmosphere of Earth. But he’s so grief-wracked and disgusted with himself (and with Mary, who he now views as a hypocrite and a monster) that the only way Mary can save herself and Preston is to attach his Emote-B-Gone nosegear to him without his consent. She saves his life by becoming the dystopian elite she swore to destroy.

From here, I’m not sure how to go on- this ending raises a lot of heavy questions, perhaps best answered by the audience and not the film. Still a better Equilibrium movie than the one you got, don’t you think?

Don’t Call Me Crazy

Yes, immediately after I talk about how motivation’s a weak reason to write, I present a poem created out of instant impetus. I read this article and, well, had some complex thoughts that soon boiled down to plain anger and derision. I took my previous writing plans for the night and shoved them aside onto the mental tracks of the runaway train the germ for this poem became. So yeah, discipline rules and motivation drools, but I don’t discourage drive when it comes to you- you might get fun stuff like this! It led to a healthy discussion with my roommate at any rate.

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Don’t Call Me Crazy

by Nick Edinger

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Crazy.”

Be a helpful ally.

Your ex isn’t “crazy”- she’s just a bit peeved.

It leaves schizophrenics and their like quite bereaved

when what they’ve been called all their lives gets perceived

with stupidity, no dignity, and some bad guys.

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Crazy.”

I know you can do it; go ahead and amaze me!

**

Help the Mentally Ill and avoid saying “Insane.”

The shitlords are clever.

We told them “crazy” will now be off limits

and they called their leaders “insane” within minutes.

It’s for the same reasons this word we prohibit:

that word’s mean when it’s seen with afflicted whomevers.

Help the Mentally Ill and avoid saying “Insane.”

Keep the downtrodden from every single type of pain.

**

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Stupid.”

It’s not cool anymore.

So you heard “insane” and “crazy’s” not in vogue

and you called Kim Il Sung “stupid” like a little rogue.

Well you’ll find I’m not stopping, I’m still at the prologue

on this quest where we best the privileged folk we abhor.

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Stupid.”

And no, you motherfuckers still can’t say “retarded.”

**

Let me make this real simple for egregious cumsluts

who keep hurting our friends.

You may not say “mad,” not even in anger,

nor “weird,” “fool,” “silly,” “nuts,” “wacky,” “daft,” “bent,” “strange,” nor

“deranged,” “demented,” “delirious,” nor a “danger,”

nor anything that’s your hating and insulting trend.

Let me make this real simple for egregious cumsluts:

When you think of them, keep your mouth quiet. Mute. Mum. Shut.

**

Help everyone out and don’t call them “Mentally Ill.”

What’s so ill about them?

They don’t need medicine, laws, or therapy,

all they need is no mention from friend to buddy

that’s spoken with smiles- but we know that just can’t be.

What’s that? Tone? It’s for phones, right? I don’t care, still condemned.

Help everyone out and don’t call them “Mentally Ill.”

What’s ‘Hy-per-bolly?” It doesn’t sound like it’s goodwill.

**

What do you mean you’re not satisfied with what we do?

We simplified the goal.

‘Stead of teaching depression’s more than “boo hoo,”

or saying schizophrenics won’t blow up your school

or ask for humanity for the ones that must drool,

we popped the zit, now can quit and ignore growing moles.

What do you mean you’re not satisfied with what we do?

We won- we got people to stop talking about you.

**

I hid you under the bed, and things improved greatly.

Why’d it take everyone years

To do what I did to impress my Facebook

friends and both the anxious people that I know? Look,

I know suicide rates haven’t changed, and our crooks

still need help.. so I’ll yelp about alphabetic fears.

I hid you under the bed, and things improved greatly.

Before you speak, just know… you shouldn’t call me crazy.

Motivation vs. Commitment

Come take a look at my proudest shame.

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Focus on the orange text, ignore the zeros.

Long time readers will identify this Excel spreadsheet as my writing log, where I mark how many daily pages I write. And yes, your eyes did not choose the alternative to ‘treat’ on Halloween; I did crank out thirty pages in one day. Well, more like 22 pages followed by four hours of typing and editing. I had a story deadline, I outlined what was going to happen in this story a week ago, and by god did I finish that story just in time. And I was behind on my semester goals anyways, so this was a great way to catch up!

You do realize, I hope, that I am more wrong than Donald Trump whacking a Mexican with a piñata stick.

Oh good-idea-at-the-time, how do I best shape you into a brick for the construction of a road to writing hell? Let’s start with a look at the rest of the log.

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Ok, now you can look at the zeros.

That ‘5’ remains an outlier- I procrastinated an essay as well that week. My weekly goal is 21 pages- the week after the week when my hand started cramping at the 15-page point, I only wrote 8. A little more than a page per day, if I ever spun this tale to an agent.

But that’s all ok if the story turned out all right, yes? Yeah, you could see where this was going even if you just took a black sharpie to your eyes. Oh, my workshop class gave positive criticisms of my story- its ideas, its characters, its atmosphere. In short, things I planned out at a reasonable rate way in advance. The writing- done all in one day with the exception of the first page- was confusing, spiced with bad metaphors and lackluster details. Almost as if it was written in 18 hours.

You know where I’m going- blah blah blah blah fuck motivation git gud. But here’s what swinging from my brain like a chimp- should you, if motivation comes to your door, snog it like it’s a long-lost wife? Survey of one says no on the onset. There’s a consistent pattern with my writing: whenever I write over my daily goal, I find it more difficult to write more for the next few days. But saying, “write only when your discipline commands you to,” is like telling a refugee on rations to not pig out when she finds a roasted pig. I’m writing this very post in the burst that follows exercise- in fact, I’ve doubled my daily goal again today and hear no reason to stop until the play I’m attending later begins. Sure, I might not write as much tomorrow, but I might break an arm tomorrow and not write as much anyways. It’s an easy choice to create a hard choice later.

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Fuck motivation, git gud.

I suppose if I had to choose between two treacherous options, like a man at a voting booth at closing time, I’d stick with disciplined writing over motivation-based writing, much as my gut protests. But that requires an intense cultivation of inspiration. Here’s something I’ve done for this. I switched out my old writing binder for a new one last week, and wanted a cover for it. So I’ve inserted a blank piece of paper in front of the binder. Nowadays, when friends can plug their noses and wade through the stench of chips and sweat to come visit me, I have them sign the writing binder with words to compel me to write. My friend Rai put it best:

“23 words. Just write 23 words. My dead grandma can write 23 words, but you will do it better.”

And, due to these encouragements, days that would go by without a written word got at least a page from me this week. Will it last? Of course not. That’s why, in a month or so, I’ll find a new reminder that pushes me into a dark void of ideas with a pen for a flashlight and roller skates on my feet. If you’re going to motivate yourself to do anything, motivate yourself to keep a commitment.