Lazy Mr. Robot Takes Start Here
Why Elliot Is NOT the “Unreliable Narrator” that you think he is
I am almost to the point where I stop reading any article when I see these two words in relationship to Elliot Alderson:
- All narration is Unreliable
Narration privileges one voice and places it above all other voices.
Creating a narrator is an inherently political act (just like owning the only turntable in your house and choosing to play only the Beatles doesn’t suggest that all music comes from Abbey Road).
Imagine, for instance, if the Warden had been the Narrator of Shawshank Redemption or if the Wizard of Oz had been told from the point of view of the “Wicked” Witch of the West.
I lived in the Dallas area around 1988 and I can easily imagine how the world of “Friday Night Lights” would have been different if Buzz Bissinger had told it from the point of view of Dallas Carter instead of from the perspective of Odessa Permian.
Who gets to tell the story matters.
2. Objectivity and Point of View are MORTAL Enemies
Objectivity is an intellectual fiction that allows us to justify our hegemonic behaviors (fancy academic talk for imagining that we are objective lets us keep doing the things that hurt the other people who don’t agree with us).
Calling someone an “unreliable narrator” presumes that an objective narrator exists.
CNN is a great example. On US channels they show one version of the news while on international channels they show an entirely different version. Why? Because they are selling to a different audience with different preconceived notions.
Mr. Robot is kind of about exactly this kind of thing. Believing that there is objective truth is kind of like signing your contract for your IPhone and believing that you can sign the contract without looking closely because the Apple corporation would never hurt you.
Believing in objectivity is a kind of blind faith in the world as you wish it was or in the world as you want it to remain.
If you want to get a better idea of what I am talking about, I would suggest that you watch Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon
3. Elliot Isn’t Any More Unreliable Than Anyone Else
Elliot has been unerringly polite enough to tell us whenever he has intentionally misled us.
If Elliot is unreliable it is almost always because he is showing us the world as HE sees it (and he is dissociative).
As I have also explained many times before, I think it is very likely that the ‘nice’ Elliot is not actually the Elliot in charge (Mr. Robot). In other words, I am not sure that Elliot is always the one driving the E-Prime limousine.
In addition, even if I am wrong about that, every single one of us is dissociative too (this is true, it is a matter of degree). Almost everything we see as objective and real through our own eyes is virtually certain to be seen differently through different eyes.
When different people come to agreement about how the world operates it is almost always accompanied by the feeling of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a challenge or finding something valuable but rare. Because true agreement is valuable and rare.
And this is part of the point of the show.
Elliot is a stand in for us, and humans are generally fucked up just like Elliot is (more and more depressed and experiencing mental health problems). Believing that we are all sane, rational, and objective is part of the mythology that Mr. Robot is trying to expose.
I believe that Sam is making an argument, not passively creating entertainment.
We need to connect to where we are as a society, take up the mantle, and create change. His argument is not that Elliot is right, his argument is that WE can learn from Elliot’s mistakes and make things right (Elliot has hurt a TON of people in a short time).
Remember when Star Trek would deal with social issues but because they were in space, it allowed us watchers the emotional distance to look at the issues that they discussed without personalizing what they were saying?
Elliot is in a similar but alternative universe but he is talking to us (“Hello Friend”).
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
“See how they run, like pigs from a gun, I’m crying”
Anyway, Elliot is NOT an “unreliable narrator” (at least not in the way people are usually implying).
Oh, and if you missed me recent discussion of music with Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail:
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