The Netflix series, Sense8, creation of Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly the Wachowski siblings, formerly the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix) is certainly sensual. The eight characters in the Homo (Sapiens) Sensorium ‘cluster’ spend their time eating, drinking, taking drugs, fighting, crying, peeing, smoking, overlooking stunning panoramas, bleeding, lighting incense, playing music, almost getting killed – and, yes, an inordinate amount of time kissing and copulating. The alternation of boom and bust, tension and release, is the standard addiction strategy designed to up ratings. And I bet they’re really high. The budget certainly is.
Netflix seems to have a formula for its most popular shows and it goes something like this:
Mildly-marginalised able-bodied Middle-American White girl beats all the boys and the blonde Complete Bitch with the aid of her three less in-the-frame friends: Black (with European features)/ East Asian; gay/ trans; fat/ disabled.
The formula enables middle-class White female viewers, and those who “identify” with them, to see themselves as courageous and progressive – while completely ignoring their privilege – by blaming everything on men of any ethnicity (and any White woman they feel is even more privileged in terms of beauty or wealth). Onscreen, there’s typically a lot of the protagonist going “who, me?” while taking out her closely-typed Oscar acceptance speech.
The formula isn’t closely followed in Sense8 because there are (supposedly) 8 protagonists, all are able-bodied and attractive, and the representation is slightly more varied:
|M/ F/ M-F||White US/ N. European||Hispanic||East Asian||South Asian||Black African|
Will is the aspiring son of a Polish Chicago cop and an all-American boy (unsurprisingly, spending much of Series 2 incapacitated and crying); Nomi walks into Californian loft conversions as if she’s very used to them, and is fluent in techspeak, so these are the two characters White American audiences are obviously supposed to relate to. Russian-German crime family bad boy Wolfgang and Icelandic druggie DJ Riley are their European equivalents. Spanish-Mexican Lito (Netflix has a huge market in Latin America) fulfils three functions: the White northern audiences can feel smug about their society being less homophobic than his; he turns all the orgies bisexual (or ‘pansexual’, as the kids will say); his battle for acceptance in family and society is convenient for Nomi to bandwaggon onto. Sun is a very cool Korean but, like the other characters of colour, her qualities (martial arts, emotional reserve, filial piety and big business) are stereotypical. So Indian Kala, likewise, spends her time shopping, feasting on curries and going to the Hindu temple. Kenyan Capheus (poor, dutiful son, battling to get HIV drugs) is more complex but the moment when that is revealed is when Nomi speaks through him.
And that is exactly my first problem with this otherwise highly-entertaining and lavish show. As well as the White characters having complex character traits not linked to their ethnicity, unlike the others, the globalist perspective feels more like colonialism. This isn’t only true in the writing. The very engaging Aml Ameen was replaced for Season 2 by Tony Onwumere, apparently because the former had ‘creative differences’ with the Wachowskis over the script. I can understand. While the first ‘get-together’ was stylish, the repetitions are not and the scene in the ocean shows there are much more creative ways of illustrating the joy of shared empathy. The portrayal of a White M-F middle-class American speaking through a poor Black Kenyan about courage and justice is chilling – especially when it often appears that Nomi (truncated Naomi for the anime-obsessed) is the mouthpiece for the Wachowskis. Sometimes this ventriloquism is very apparent indeed, as when a bisexual Black Kenyan woman states that she falls in love “with the person not the genitals” – a phrase infamously used by entryist White transvestites.
As for the topic itself. Non-local perception, usually categorised as clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience, is not the quirky remit of fortune-tellers and Spiritualist mediums but has a body of rigorous research conducted and published by The Society for Psychical Research as well as various governments, including the US and (then) USSR, since the late 19th century. More popularly, it is very familiar among rural traditional cultures (including my own where it is known as Second Sight) and anecdotal evidence demonstrates that many mothers, especially, have experienced unexplained knowledge of the emotional state of their children. The combination of all three abilities is unusual and the possession of another’s body is mentioned only in sinister cults. It is this combination of the familiar and the uncanny that I explore in my own series of mystery stories which have an empathetic protagonist in Bruno Benedetti.
My second problem is related to this topic. Empathy just isn’t like that. It’s not a closed circuit, and exclusive club. The empathetic heart opens to humanity and, yes, boundaries can certainly be a challenge and one can get emotionally overwhelmed but it’s not just some kind of embodied Zoom chat with designated participants. I’m not claiming to have the same ability as that portrayed in this series. Like many people, I’ve experienced a milder form of empathy and spoken to various audiences about these phenomena that I believe to be very common, though some people are more sensitive than others, but this kind of communal selfishness is unheard of.
My third problem is deeper. Anyone not still bewitched by mainstream media knows that the current global panic – with its massive profits for big tech, big data and big pharma – is planned to head toward the 4th Industrial Revolution and a future of Human data-harvesting for AI, eugenicist population reduction, constant surveillance and cybernetic transhumanism. When Nomi & Co. speak disparagingly of our species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and hint that their, superior, species will inherit the Earth, I can’t help wondering if I’m really hearing the voice of the Wachowskis – talking about how their dream of transgender people controlling the means of human reproduction. And wiping out the competition more effectively than a meteor.
Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image Internet and Multimedia Sharing into the Public Domain.