USA’s hit drama returns to poke holes in the American Dream as the country celebrates its independence.
On Monday, Americans celebrated the Fourth of July, a holiday dedicated to remembering what ideals the United States of America has built itself on. We celebrated the freedom to self-govern, capitalism, and the American Dream. Part of the American Dream is that if you work hard, the system will reward you with opportunities abound. We see and hear this in our movies, our television shows, our advertisements, and our music. How very ironic it is then, that an explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-American Dream show airs on the USA Network.
Mr. Robot follows Elliot (Rami Malek), cyber-security programmer by day, vigilante hacker by night. He is recruited by an anarchist hacker group, fronted by a mysterious man, whose ambition is to take down corporate America. Corporate America, in this show, is represented by the massive conglomerate E-Corp, which Elliot refers to as Evil-Corp. This show declared its anti-American Dream and anti-capitalism ideals for all to hear when Elliot said in the pilot that, “Sometimes I dream of saving the world… Saving everyone from the Invisible Hand ‐ the top 1 percent of the best that play ‘god’ without permission.” In Mr. Robot’s world, big businesses have destroyed the American Dream and left the inhabitants locked in debt.
Elliot, who directly addresses the viewers as his imaginary friend through a voiceover, is that self-aware person we all wish we were and is not afraid to call us, the viewers, out on our crap. He hates society. He does not use social media because, to him, it only gives the illusion of friendship and interest in people’s lives. He does not pay attention to popular culture because it only serves a temporary distraction from our problems. His therapist asks him what about society he is so disappointed by and, in his voiceover to us, he says, “Fuck society… [It] feels like all our heroes are counterfeit… The world itself is just one big hoax, spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit masquerading as insight, our social media faking [as] intimacy.”
The show even pokes at the idea that a man’s need to rescue the damsel in distress is not always wanted by the damsel and it is sometimes self-serving to the man. Elliot goes out of his way to ‘protect’ the women in his lives by hacking into their social media accounts or those belonging to their boyfriends. Two of his closest female friends, however, openly challenge this tendency of his. At one point, his childhood friend Angela is kicked off the Evil Corp account at work after a meeting with the company’s sexist CTO. Elliot stands up for her in the meeting, but she is just embarrassed by it and tells him that, “Even if I’m losing, let me lose, okay?” His drug supplier and girlfriend, Shayla, ends up being killed because of his vigilantism backfiring. He even reveals to his therapist, Krista, that his hacking is motivated more by own craving for human connection rather than any greater selflessness.
As a part of the marketing for the show’s second season, USA has fully embraced the anti-American Dream tendencies of the show by setting up a website where visitors can interact with Mr. Robot himself through a chat log. He types that, “Power remains unchecked. The deck remains stacked… Our work is just beginning” You are then given options to that lead to things such as fake press conferences from President Obama or news stories on CNN about the fallout of Evil-Corp’s hacking, or graphics displaying blatant business-is-evil text like the “American Dream is a myth,” or “you’ve been owned,” or “everyone steals, that’s how it works” or “give a man a gun and he’ll rob a bank, give a man a bank and he’ll rob the world.”
Show creator Sam Esmail has lit a fire on television screens with Mr. Robot. Its first near perfect season is so exhilarating that you simply cannot look away. With its striking cinematography, unconventional electronic score, thrilling narrative full of twists and turns, and incredible performances it is unlike anything else on tv. It makes a bold statement about American society that viewers, critics, and awards shows cannot, and have not, ignored.
USA is proud to be airing the show that they have described as “contemporary and culturally resonant.” The network’s president even agrees saying that, “Mr. Robot could not be more timely and relevant.” This Fourth of July season, let us think about who controls the America we live in. Do big businesses control how we live? Is freedom just an illusion? Mr. Robot’s answers to those questions are simple: America, as we know it, is not what it seems.
Mr. Robot season two airs on USA on July 13th and season one is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Related Topics: Politics