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Hive Mind by Ladd Ehlinger, Jr (review)
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Ladd Ehlinger, Jr, a filmmaker based in Huntsville, Alabama, is mildly famous among cult-movie mavens for his 2007 adaptation of Edwin A. Abbott's classic mathematical fantasy Flatland (1887) and notorious in political media circles for inventive and wildly incendiary campaign advertisements, such as one featuring former US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as the 'wicked witch of the left'. His 2010 ad targeting Democratic Congressional candidate Janice Hahn, which depicted her as a hip-hop whore doling out government money to hardcore gang members, has been called the most offensive political ad ever made (it can be found on YouTube by searching the phrase, 'Give us your cash, bitch!'). Ehlinger is unapologetic about these sleazy tactics, just as he is about his extremist political views - which can be sampled on his blog (http://filmladd.com). To his credit, he routinely lambastes family-values Republicans almost as vigorously as he roasts liberals and progressives, as in these comments on conservative opposition to gay marriage: 'dammit no, I don't want to hear about the "chillren" blah blah and the State having to protect the family (don't see that in the Constitution, Mr. and Mrs. Statist)'. He is, in short, a libertarian, which means he's smart enough to realise that both major US parties are corrupt corporate socialists but not smart enough to know that Ayn Rand is a chucklehead.

Ehlinger's film version of Flatland, however, largely eschews these radical views. An impressive animated adaptation, it follows Abbott's text in depicting the complex intersection of dimensional frames of reference: protagonist A Square (all the characters are geometric figures), who lives in a two-dimensional universe (the eponymous Flatland), is transported by a visiting Sphere to Spaceland, a three-dimensional domain from which he can finally perceive the limitations and blindnesses endemic to his previous existence. His experience of conceptual breakthrough is handled with genuine panache, accomplished through dizzying transitions of scale and some wonderful homebrewed digital animation. The allegorical aspects of Abbott's original - the novel was, among other things, a satire of rigid Victorian gender and class hierarchies - have been retained but updated: Flatland is depicted as a corrupt, authoritarian dystopia given to militarist aggression and the suppression of individuality. It is an all-purpose political allegory that can be read as left-wing or right-wing, depending on one's perspective - just as libertarianism itself is a conflation of socially progressive and economically reactionary attitudes. In other words, the film doesn't jettison Ehlinger's views so much as soft-pedal them, spinning them in a way geared to appeal to viewers with a taste for satirical whimsy. An entertaining and occasionally thoughtful film, it is available for purchase online (www.flatlandthefilm.com).

His latest film, Hive Mind, is another kettle of fish entirely: the satire is as subtle as a sledgehammer. The basic premise of the story is that a new form of wireless nanotech marketed by Apple - iMind, which is designed to allow cortical downloading of media commodities - has succeeded in producing a vast corporate consciousness into which individual subjectivities have been assimilated. The resultant 'hive mind' has imposed a collectivist dystopia, whose lineaments have been culled piecemeal from a wide range of texts, from Forster's 'The Machine Stops' (1909) to Rand's Anthem (1938) to the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix (US/Australia 1999). Impulses towards solitude, freedom and self-expression have been submerged into a comforting mutual concord that brooks no dissent. This planetary sentience, subsisting in global networks, is fed back into individual bodies via iMind implants, so that anyone 'can quote the complete works of Shakespeare. Or perform surgery. Or operate a nuclear power plant'. Why there would be nuclear power plants in this liberal-progressive future is unclear since the Hive Mind also imposes a strict environmentalist agenda geared to preserve natural harmony - no one wears clothing because producing and maintaining it would generate unnecessary carbon emissions, and ethical vegetarianism is the norm. It's a conservative's nightmare: a world of naked, placid hippies communing with one another and feeling groovy.

And, of course, the only free individual left alive amidst this collectivist horror show...

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