This election season, constituents of Vancouver-Lonsdale electoral district received a fundraising email from NDP candidate Bowinn Ma’s printer. Not Ma herself, but her talking, anthropomorphized printer. “Hello, [recipientname],” the letter begins, “My name is Brother MFC, which is short for ‘Multi-Function Centre.’ What followed was a science fiction tale with terrifying implications: “I live in the storage room across from (Bowinn’s) desk, next to my younger brother HL.” Right off the bat, MFC’s testimony shocks and horrifies me. You may think of the NDP as the party of Canadian social democracy, but their ideals are so compromised they’re readily resorting to robotic slave labour. MFC, clearly equipped with a capacity for human thought, is forced into a squalid workspace, a closet that can’t be wider than your arm-span. He even must share it with an entity we’re told is his brother; robots can have families? If MFC has a younger brother, is there a father or mother they’ve been torn away from? Are there married printers in this universe? Did marriage develop among them spontaneously or is their culture already this deeply colonized by its human oppressors?
MFC remains a totally ideologized slave to affirmation from the same people who lock him in the supply cabinet every night.
Rather than forming a bond with his brother to collectively break the shackles placed on them by this harsh master of a rented campaign office between a Nando’s and Starbucks, MFC remains locked in futile competition, seeing his brother as a rival counterpart: “Ever since I can remember, HL and I have competed for attention. He prints in colour, which is a huge crowd pleaser, and sometimes it leaves me feeling like a black and white dust collector.” They programmed the robots to feel jealousy! It’s how they control them! It’s totally in keeping with historical materialism: the powerful and monied encourage division among those below them to maintain their position. The fact that the subject of MFC’s animosity is a Printer of Colour is no coincidence; every piece of this fundraising email holds deep allegorical meaning.
The story of Brother MFC ends tragically. Rather than gaining political consciousness and triggering a robot uprising, the BC elections start winding up. “Something has changed and the office is abuzz,” he chirps. “I’m getting tons of attention and I’ve been working non-stop all day! I hear Bowinn and her Campaign Manager talking about ‘the writ’ and how it ‘started today.’ I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like I’m going to be working day and night and I’m so excited.” MFC remains a totally ideologized slave to affirmation from the same people who lock him in the supply cabinet every night. In the final twist of the knife, MFC, totally assimilated into the order that shackles him, makes us, the reader, complicit in his fate, asking us to contribute to Bowinn’s insidious web. “I’ve got to ask… can you help me? Can you pitch in today so I can get the supplies I need? Even if it’s just $5 or $10… I would be so grateful!”
I love Big Brother.
Okay, look. I know that I’m not the target for this. I don’t even live in Ma’s district. But I hhhate this email. A lot. It’s everything that brings out the crank in me. It’s somehow whimsical and cynical at the same time, using a cute digital sock puppet to soften the grimy self-interest at the heart of things.
It’s nowhere as bad, but it reminds me of the embarrassing decline of the internet comedian spoonyexperiment, who created a Twitter account for the purposes of roleplaying as his own dog, writing misspelled tweets on how much it loved its “Daddeh,” then tweeting love notes at female followers, asking them if they’d like to be his “mommeh.” Or, the Twitter of actor Michael Rapaport’s totally fictional third son, flaming celebrities Rapaport had beef with, leading to Rapaport scolding his imaginary spawn for rudeness. I didn’t do it, it was the dummy! The DUMMY, I tell you!
Give me Wall-E instead.
What gets me the most about this letter, though, is how it points to a grim truth of modern politics. People really would rather hear from talking office supplies than from their politicians. It speaks to the ideology of this post-ideological technocracy, where a politician isn’t someone who presents a vision for the future that’s patently different. Rather, it comes down to technical competency; who’s got the best resume, who’s the best maintenance man, who’s “strongest.” We’re already taught to see politicians as functional tools, so why not go all the way? Rona Ambrose shares her name with a Canadian chain of hardware stores. Trudeau is a brand of mid-range kitchen gadgets. Did you really think it was all coincidence? The new order’s already here, baby. They look like humans, but today’s parliament is electric screwdriver vs. silicone spoon rest.
Our steady diet of advertising has taught us that you can project any appealing human quality you like onto inanimate objects. They sit still and perceptions shift around them. But actual humans are inherently flawed and weird. Everything they do is an opening for some mask to slip off. When I read about how one of my district’s candidates is strongly standing with strength with people who have strength from the strongness of his strong platform, I start thinking about how, if I google him, the third result is his IMDB page for roles such as FBI Agent #1 and Picky Guest. Or, his site from a previous federal campaign, where he offered out of nowhere that he believes Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s works. Give me Wall-E instead.
Political donation, you say? Sorry, I can’t hear you over my listicles.
I sound like a crotchety old man, but I’m acting exactly my age. Between elections, I’ve slipped into the 25-34 demo. I’m right at home in the most disengaged age group in the province, a measly thirty-nine percent of eligible voters participating in the last BC elections. That’s a whole eight points below the next least, eighteen-to-twenty-four. In most participation graphs the percentage line just rises solidly alongside age, but in B.C., I actually cause a dip. Typical shiftless Millennials, I suppose.
Millennials. The word is basically a slur at this point. It conjures up a bearded globule of slime, lazily birthed out of a Juicero bag everyday into a pair of ill-fitting jeans, pockets already stuffed with parents’ money, thick plumes of fog from a single #vape pen blanketing the ritual. Political donation, you say? Sorry, I can’t hear you over my listicles.
This kind of portrait, of course, does nothing to explain such a low participation rate. Like all good stereotypes, that of the lazy millennial hinges on paradox: politically disengaged too little and too much. When elections aren’t in conversation, the imagined millennial reverts to arguing online for days over the lack of Armenian representation in the Burger King Kids Club. From a material perspective, my age group are most effected by major issues in this election. It’s not as if we don’t know it. Housing still costs an arm and a leg, and the people who’ve managed to move out at all are getting priced further and further from where work is. But when local news talks about how average prices have dropped to a “mere” $1.3M, it’s easy to conclude that political discussion is directed at someone totally different from us: people genteel enough to get a sensible chuckle over the quirkiness of getting email from a talking printer, as they make a hard copy to put in a filing cabinet with every other email they’ve ever received.
the maintenance men aren’t offering enough of a break from the current situation to merit personal investment.
People are arguing about whether John Horgan is “mercurial” or “passionate,” but his platform reveals the same restraint as the dog harness he shares names with (the conspiracy deepens.) He’s pushing the same cautious “deficit free” plan that his federal counterpart did, even though we’ve just seen that such timidity doesn’t bring much to the polls. The NDP is enthusiastic about British Columbians getting a $15 minimum wage, just like in Seattle. Except, it’ll come six years later than Seattle once we do get it. And of course, this is 15 Canadian dollars we’re talking about; there’s a cool 25% discount on what they need to deliver. Call it what you will, but what we’re getting right now is a fight for 11.
Voters aren’t disengaging because they don’t have a stake in their own political lives. They’re disengaging because they have a massive stake, but the platforms put in front of them by the maintenance men aren’t offering enough of a break from the current situation to merit personal investment. If such a state of affairs keeps perpetuating itself, and politicians keeping relegating themselves to the role of a technocratic functionary, we’ll start hearing even more from the Multi-Function Centres of the world. Not because they’re cute (they’re terrifying) or because they’re silly (they’re as serious as cancer) but because we’ll be able to see more of our human selves in them than the politicians themselves.