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  • Writer's pictureC.M.Knopf

A New View for Watching the Watchers

| TELEPATHS flips the script of the dystopian surveillance-state.|

The excesses of state, or corporate, surveillance is a familiar staple in dystopian fiction. 1984. Logan's Run. V for Vendetta. The Net. The Bourne trilogy. ... and the list goes on.

Each of these (reality-based) fictions, recognizes that They are watching us, and imagines what will happen if Their power is left unchecked. Revolution is often presented as the only possible way out of the Surveillance State - though resistance may, ultimately, be futile.

J. Michael Straczynski and Steve Eptin present an alternative to this standard dystopian fare by turning the eye of the surveillance cameras around to point at the authorities in Telepaths. When a solar flare gives a sizable portion of the population telepathic abilities, no one's secrets are safe: the government has the means to police thoughts, and the people can finally learn what the government is hiding.

While many texts have asked, "who watches the watchmen?" (often suggesting that no one does, to society's detriment), Telepaths considers what would actually happen if The People could surveil their government and corporate authorities. With only one issue released so far, it is too soon to know where this inquiry will lead us, but the timing of the comic's publication is, alone, worthy of discussion.

Officially released on September 1, 2021, it effectively coincided with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States: an event that precipitated an unprecedented, and lingering, surge in government surveillance - and a corresponding opposition to that surveillance.

Telepaths was also released just shy of a year into rampant public fears of government surveillance and control via the COVID-19 vaccine. Among the assorted myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccine is a persistent belief that the shots will "microchip" individuals for government tracking. As C/NET reports,

The COVID-19 vaccine [does] not contain any sort of microchip or tracking device implemented by the government.
The vaccine syringes [...] contain something called an RFID microchip from [a] medical solutions company [to] allow public health agencies to collect information about [vaccine use], but that microchip [isn't] injected into your body.
Plus, if the government wanted to track you, they could just use your social security number, your Facebook data, your cellphone usage, your home video security system or your mortgage loan information.

...not to mention your credit card purchases, your shopping discount club card usage, your ATM transactions, your streaming service logins, your toll road and bridge charges, your license plate, your passport activity, etc. (Really, even if the vaccine did contain a tracking chip, it would be unnecessarily redundant; the government can already find you.)

Robert Goldberg, History Professor at the University of Utah, argues that public fears of large surveillance conspiracies orchestrated by people like Bill Gates and George Soros, are possible because,

There's something intriguing about the possibility that these powerful people are behind the scenes or puppet masters fooling us all, and I think there’s also something alluring about being on the side of really knowing what’s going on… that's attractive- the idea that you're on the know as opposed to the other people who aren't.

In our current post-truth, fake news, era, this very real, very dangerous, allure of conspiracy theories makes dystopian and political thriller fictions like Telepaths and The Department of Truth [see blog 7/12/20] disturbing because they perpetuate the notion that reality is not what it seems.

To be sure, Telepaths is not the only comic currently taking on the excesses of electronic existence. But, whereas titles like I Breathed a Body, Maniac of New York [see blog 13/2/21] and Red Room challenge us to consider our culpability in perpetuating digitized destruction and desecration, Telepaths actively suggests the government has something to hide and authorities are not to be trusted. And, as true as this might be to varying degrees, given the world's current socio-political turmoil, it feels a bit like throwing a Kraken at a ship already sinking beneath waves of sedition and conspiracy.

Nonetheless, it is an engaging read and a well-told story that showcases Straczynski's talents, knowledge, and experiences - and the creator's letter to readers at the back of issue #1 is a worthwhile read for every Media Literacy class in high school or college... as well as every anti-vaxxer worried about microchips.

~Christina M. Knopf

19 September 2021


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