Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dumb-waiters and dumb-diners at SXSW

You've heard of the SXSW dehumanization shocker: homeless people (I guess visibly so) have been outfitted with microwave transmitters under the heading "Homeless Hotspot" and given T-shirts to wear labeling themselves: "I am a 4G hotspot".

BoingBoing covers the main reasons to be appalled here.

Took a while to remember what it reminded me of. It's a thing in the T.H. White cycle, The Once and Future King. You might remember The Sword In The Stone, made into a Disney movie, in which Merlin educates the future King Arthur by turning him into a series of animals. Some editions of The Sword In the Stone include the two most politicized episodes, the ones with the fascist ants and the anarchist geese. Other editions save those for White's bitterer, more solemn conclusion, The Book of Merlyn. It's the ant episode that the "hotspot" story brings to mind.

As an ant, young Arthur becomes an enlisted unit of a fascist society. His job is to swallow syrup at a feeding site to carry it in his body to the center of the nest. And then:
"There was no larder for his store of syrup after all. He found that he must walk about like a living dumb-waiter at the convenience of the indoor workers. When they wanted a meal, they stopped him, he opened his mouth, and they fed from it. They did not treat him as a person and, indeed, were impersonal themselves. He was a dumb-waiter from which dumb-diners fed. Even his stomach was not his own."

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