Thursday, November 30, 2017

San Junipero: All My Questions

I'm late to the game watching the Emmy Award winning episode of Black Mirror, San Junipero, that aired over a year ago - and I have a lot of questions.

Just to give some quick background: San Junipero is a virtual reality party/vacation town for anyone who is dying, sick, or otherwise unable to experience an active life. They are allowed to hang out in this virtual space for scheduled periods of time to let loose and do whatever they want in a variety of decades. If you're definitely going to pass away you can set it up so your mind is linked to San Junipero, and then you can live there forever.


Is San Junipero designed as a generalized concept of Heaven, and how much can you actually customize it?
We get the impression right away that this virtual reality experience is set in very specific years. The main characters choose to live in primarily 1987. The assumption is that anyone who is using the system chooses to live in a time when they were once young. No one in San Junipero looks like they're under 21 or over 35. That either means no one wants to or they don't have the option to spend their fun fantasy time (or their eternity) as a 10 year old or a 40 year old. I don't blame them.

I also get the impression that you can choose ANY year you desire to live in, and the system will strictly adhere to that year's clothing, media and music. Not sure how much leeway you get, considering in reality people don't change their wardrobe every year or stop listening to older songs. In San Junipero you just blink and the clothing has changed on your body, so you don't have to live as mortals do, saving clothing at a rate you can afford. But as far as music goes in the 1987 version of San Junipero: can you at least privately listen to songs from the 1960s, or music from the future that we all know exists? Or for the sake of creating the perfect time capsule are you relegated to listening to the same set of hit songs from that year until you decide you're sick of it and what to change time periods? Which brings me to my next question...

You can change time periods as a visitor of San Junipero, but once you're a resident (and therefore deceased) can you continue to change your settings?
This distinction is not made clear, but it's also not clear how the settings for time period and also pain threshold (eek) are set anyway. We don't see a San Junipero console, all we see is a little round censor placed on the temple, and a remote control with one button. Maybe most of the settings are just linked to brainwaves and you can control it with your mind in a way that we can't comprehend at this point in technology's history. If our consciousness is all that's controlling it, then why can't the disembodied consciousness of someone in San Junipero spend eternity visiting all the different time periods?

How many time periods are there actually?
The earliest year we see is 1980. In this future world that year might be serving the oldest citizens using it since the software was made. Assuming that these people were in their 20's in the 1980s, the software must have been made around 2040-2050. I don't know the most recent decade you can go in San Junipero either. But...

What about people who want to live the rest of their lives in 1940? 
Is there a market for that in 2040? Or do people from the future know living that far back kind of sucked? But if you can't get sick or hurt, why the hell not? I know there has to be some kind of limit though. The amount of effort put into designing the costumes and structures, and storing all the TV, movies, music, and video games, it might not be worth it to cater to an errant person from the future wanting to live like their great grandparents. In any case, an unpopular time period would be too underpopulated to be any fun. But having little human interaction might be your thing anyway.

Are there any fake individuals in San Junipero?
You know, to take up space or serve the visitors? I was wondering what the bartender's deal was. Is he a slave of sorts, or just a guy who wished to be a 1987 bar tender in perpetuity? Are there people paid to plug in just to be waitstaff.... or spies! Oh my God, someone write fan fiction about it and develop this world!

Is the fun beach town of San Junipero really the only setting or are there other climates you can live in?
Aside from a brief shot at the end of rolling hills that said 'Oklahoma' to me, all we see for a setting is this hip beach town where it's always warm and comfortable aside from some rain here and there. But what about people who love the snow? Or people who love New England in the fall? Those climes don't sound like 'San Junipero', they'd have to be set somewhere else. Is there another VR experience called 'Oak Dale' for people who love fall, and all they do is wear sweaters and drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes all day (and I guess it's gotta be at least 2003)? If this doesn't exist and everyone has to do San Junipero or bust, is that why the Quagmire exists? It's a club of sorts where you can enjoy the punk/alt music of the era while engaging in hardcore S&M. They allude to this as a dark place that people go to "feel something" when they're sick of San Junipero's squeaky clean scene. It seems like you can go there to get hard drugs with no consequences, and almost die on a loop.

Yorkie outside the Quagmire 
Was the Quagmire created by the designers because they new (or figured out later) that it was necessary? Kelly was able to make a custom house for herself but I don't imagine that the entire Quagmire could be created by the visitors or residents despite their perceived ability to customize their environment. Or maybe they can, and they did! If it was user created that would be interesting because it would call into question what people do with near limitless imagination, as well as the level of observation and maintenance of the company that facilitated the building of it. Would they care if the residents built a Sex Cauldron? Did they sit back and go, " we'll allow it." It all brings me back to the question, what if your preferred lifestyle just doesn't fit in and there's nothing you can do about it?

If there are some resident's who are so sick of San Junipero that they hang out at the Quagmire all day getting suffocated with a plastic bag, then is San Junipero Heaven or no?
All I could think about while watching was how A) if this is the only town you could live in, wouldn't a good portion of the population hoping to die and go to virtual reality heaven be turned off of participating? Or is it so special and rare that you can participate in this at all, that most people go along with it? And B) even if you thought this was your idea of heaven, wouldn't you eventually go murderously insane? Especially if you had to be set in one time period for eternity.

But even if after passing on you could go to whatever time period you wanted and dress however you want, and never feel pain, and never have to pay for drinks, and be in the best version of your body, don't you still have the humanity left in you to get bored? Like really really bored. And then you get this Westworld kind of situation where people go rogue and start stabbing each other and try acting out their most evil fantasies. Even though no one is in danger of dying in San Junipero, wouldn't that be distressing to the experience of others?

Is there any kind of policing? 
Kelly mentions something along the lines of a "redlight" which might be like flagging a user for inappropriate content. I'd like to know how bad it can get before someone is removed for bad behavior. Do those people get shut off, banned, or if they paid to live there for eternity, get cordoned off in some kind of San Junipero jail or mental institution?

There was some talk about being able leave at any time, but I have my suspicion that this is only for visitors. If you could decide to quit as a permanent resident, (aka truly end your life) then wouldn't the idea of that option loom over you? In your darkest moments would you question going through with it and die a second death? You see characters in the episode look sad, dejected, disappointed, longing. Sure, some of these people are probably the ones with a human body to go home to and fret about the real world, but who's to say the consciousness of the dead version of you would be different? Care free no matter what? If you can still have those emotions how can nice weather, no paper cuts, and free booze ever maintain your happiness forever? With the human consciousness maintained there is no way San Junipero is heaven. It's a second universe, and at worst a prison.

What if something destroyed the system they're all uploaded to?
I guess that would be the end of it then. Oh well.


- Under the assumption that you can only live in San Junipero and it's climate; you can jump from year to year, but the earliest you get is 1980; and everyone in existence is 25; it might not be the right experience for everyone.
- Too many time periods would get messy for designers.
- Too few time periods would be boring if you truly desire a time period predating your own, or are spending eternity within only 60 years to play with.
- They should make Ski Town for the snow birds.
- Westworld style hosts??
- People can't stay sane without being a little kinky and violent so the Quagmire exists, and might actually prevent people from ax-murdering everyone at the arcade by letting off steam.
- Never being able to die ever, AND being promised eternity with a permanent death of your choice are both maddening concepts.
- Maybe I'm just pessimistic but I cannot imagine this is a solid idea in reality, but a fabulous TV show!

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