Rogue One is a movie about internet freedom

Sarah Jeong is right (as usual): Rogue One is about internet freedom, a movie about the struggle to upload a large file under time-constraint in a post-Net-Neutrality dystopia where Dropbox is a distant memory and you can't just email a file to yourself for later reference.

In this universe, there is no mass media, no investigative journalism and politicians just scream "fake news" when someone says something they don't like.

I know that Sarah has her tongue in her cheek here, but she's actually onto something. Science fiction stories in and of themselves tell you about the writers' personal aspirations and fears for technology in the world. The way that science fiction stories are received by the world — their popularity's rise and fall — tells you about the zeitgeist, what the great inchoate technological yearnings and terrors of society are.

The other significant factor in play here is that a giant media baron like Disney — now one of the last four large media companies in the world (!) — has a complicated, dual nature. As an institution, it behaves like a sociopathic profit-maximizer, but individually, the artists and the execs they report to are uncomfortable with consolidated power and make tale after tale of scrappy underdogs besting the likes of themselves. They are the Empire, but they all openly sympathize with the Rebellion.

And these two facts are related: the world is hungry for stories of underdogs overthrowing oligarchies, so it's profitable to tell those stories. Those profits entrench our oligarchies and they destabilize them, by normalizing and focusing anti-oligarchic sentiment. The fact that "Millenials are embracing socialism" (yes, yes, I know, it's shorthand for a complicated phenomenon) means that profit-maximizing artificial life-forms like corporations will make products that are attractive to budding socialists. Those products subvert socialist leanings by commodifying them — but they simultaneously reinforce those leanings.

Every person in the Star Wars movies who is portrayed engaging in real-time long-distance communications is a member of the government in some capacity: Senator Palpatine / Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the Jedi Council. The Republic created a system in which only politicians and high-ranking members of a military religious order could use long-distance signals, and that set up the conditions in which the whole galaxy succumbed to a thinly veiled reference to Nazism.

And that's why Rogue One, property of the Walt Disney Company, is actually a movie about internet freedom. It is a movie about data transmission as a political act, and one in which unequal access to bands of transmission puts people's lives at risk. Star Wars knows what everyone in this country except three FCC commissioners knows: discrimination across data speeds is a form of censorship.

And while the end of net neutrality probably won't lead to a giant space station blowing up the planet with a death laser, I'm not stoked to have to live in a world where I get to find out for sure.

Rogue One is actually about internet freedom [Sarah Jeong/The Verge]

(Image: Michael Pereckas, CC-BY-SA)

(via Kottke)