Geek & feminist thoughts on “In The Loop”

2009 August 16

I saw the political satire In The Loop a few days back.  It passes the Bechdel test — how novel — and it struck me as a fairly geek-oriented film.

We geeks like our entertainment as plot/banter firehose with subtle, unspoken worldbuilding. That’s what In The Loop (and its predecessor TV show, The Thick of It) deliver — that and social engineering.  You get to watch people scheme, performing ad hoc systems analysis to solve the puzzle of their immediate predicament.  It’s like Leverage without the wish-fulfillment or Hardison, Elliot or Parker.  (In the geeky-banter category, In The Loop has characters mock Toby (Chris Addison) by calling him “Frodo,” “Ron Weasley,” and “baby from Eraserhead.”)

One of my geekeries is politics, specifically organizational behavior and the power of institutions. In The Loop argues that the media/governing apparatus functions as one homeostatic institution, where any demonstration of the pettier human weaknesses (e.g., status-seeking, frustration, lust, loathing) leads to an instant barrage of bad press and gives your enemies leverage. It’s a marvelous system, really, and ultra-efficient: if you think you’ve found some room to maneuver, some opportunity for arbitrage, you’re wrong and your audacity will be punished. It’s a power structure that guards itself against change, and will only ever pay lip service to feminism and anti-racism. A dark vision, but the film left me laughing.

Warning: Sexist and homophobic insults pervade the dialogue from start to finish.This would have bothered me more if I’d thought the insults were more substance than form; the viciousness was so over-the-top that I couldn’t take it seriously. But some people will find it distasteful or triggering.

Software geekery: Late in the film, two users across the Atlantic from each other open their laptops and work on the same document simultaneously, one telling the other via phone what to delete or rearrange. I immediately thought, If only they were using AbiWord’s document-sharing plugin, they could collaborate in realtime using Telepathy integration!

If The West Wing and Star Trek are idealistic, meritocratic wish fulfillment, and In The Loop is a cynical response to West Wing-style idealism, then what’s the bitter-laugh counterpart to Star Trek? Potential candidates:
  • How Much for Just the Planet?, branded novel by Mike Ford
  • Star Trek: Door Repair Guy online parody series
  • “Welcome to the Federation”, short story by Mark Onspaugh
  • the comedy scifi webcomic Starslip
  • the canon mirror universe (goatees, dominatrix Kira, etc.)
  • other – post ideas in the comments.
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This post was written by brainwane.

Sumana Harihareswara is a twentysomething geeky gal living in New York City. She grew up in various US cities and states, the daughter of Indian immigrants, loving books and Star Trek. Most recently she managed programmers at an open source consulting firm. With her partner (a programmer she met via his blog), she edited Thoughtcrime Experiments, an online scifi/fantasy anthology.

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3 Responses
  1. Skud permalink*
    August 16, 2009

    The glib answer is probably, “That’s what fanfic and fanvids are for”. I rather like On the Dance Floor when it comes to bitter laughs.

    How would you categorise “Galaxy Quest”?

  2. Vera permalink
    August 16, 2009

    Wan’t Blake’s 7, with its oppressive Federation, rebel and/or freedom fighter main characters and cheeky ‘Trek badge turned 90 degrees’ logo popularly thought to be the anti-Trek?

  3. Eileen permalink
    August 18, 2009

    I didn’t think they were both editing the same document. They were both looking at copies of the same document, and the lead was telling the other guy what he wanted cut. He wasn’t watching as the guy cut it though. Or he could have just done it himself.

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