One of my favorite television programs is an animated series called Futurama. It follows the life of a late-20’s slacker named Fry who finds himself unintentionally and cryogenically frozen in 2001 and then reanimated in 3001 (how’s that for an immortality project?). While trying to acclimate to life 1,000 years in the future, he befriends all manner of alien, mutant and robot life forms and actually winds up feeling quite comfortable in his new surroundings. The humor of the show is successful using its future setting as a vehicle for the satire of our world back here in the 2000’s. The characters in the show deal with largely the same problems that we do. Corrupt government, rampant commercialization and intolerance are all covered. I was, therefore, not surprised when the most recent season featured an episode covering the concept of mortality salience and the denial thereof, but I did chuckle to myself at the serendipity of its co-occurrence with the initiation of this blog.
The protagonist of this particular episode (“Lethal Inspection”) was Fry’s best friend, a bending robot named, appropriately, Bender. We learn through dialogue in the story that all robots in the 3000’s are equipped with a backup chip when built, so that if anything destructive befalls their bodies, they can simply be reinstalled in another body. Bender comes to find out that he is defective, in that he is missing this essential chip. This effectively makes him mortal. His reaction is one of rage and violence, and he vows to take revenge on the assembly line inspector whose responsibility it was to make sure that Bender was built to industry standards. He travels through North America on a frantic search for this “Inspector 5,” and eventually winds up in Tijuana, where he was built. I won’t give away the ending, but it is somewhat bittersweet.
I found this to be a very Becker-centric episode of Futurama, for obvious reasons. It seems ideas about existential dread are certainly out there in the wider world, but it’s unclear how much they affect any of the viewership. Were most people in such denial that this episode did not register in the forefront of their minds? Did they react in some subconscious way, as in the various TMT experiments? I would be interested to see if there was a spike in violence or altruism after the airing.
Many of the writers on the show are Ivy League educated, mostly from Harvard, and their erudition shows. However, it was most interesting to see them tackle a softer science (psychology), instead of their standbys of physics and mathematics. When Bender asks the humans in his workplace how they deal with their mortality, they reply with “violent outbursts,” “general sluttiness” and “thanks to denial, I’m immortal!” One wonders whether they had used Denial of Death as an inspiration here. We in the EBF know that Becker’s Denial is as likely to be denied in the Ivies as anywhere. Later, we see Bender reacting to his newfound mortality in a single-minded violent pursuit of revenge, and as he begins to accept his fate, there is a profound sadness apparent in a being that is supposed to be cold and unfeeling. The spirit of Becker was very apparent through the story and I can only hope that among the viewers several were sufficiently interested to investigate further.
For a transcript of this episode, visit: The Infosphere