Friday, January 22, 2010

Viral Infection (ReBoot)

In the cartoon series ReBoot, there is a recurring theme of people being brainwashed (reprogrammed) to meet the needs of the person doing the brainwashing. This is most often seen in the viral antagonists: Megabyte, Daemon, and even Hexadecimal to some extent with her nulls. However, it’s also seen in protagonist Bob as a technique he wishes to bring into effect to force viruses to become benign. Because he is the central protagonist, this is for the most part portrayed as an honorable desire more merciful than straight out deleting them, but the ethical value of it is questioned by Megabyte, throwing it into the realm of dubious morality.
“I come from the net, infecting systems, peoples, and cities, to this place: Megaframe, my domain. My format: virus, to corrupt and conquer.”
–Megabyte, episode “To Mend and Defend”
Megabyte is a specific type of virus. While he, like all viruses, is concerned with causing death and suffering, for most of the series his primary goal is to take over the world and rule it with an iron fist. He is a figure comparable to Hitler, which is emphasized in the show when his German-accented minion responds to his command with a “Jawohl, mein führer!” In case that was too subtle, the same minion is later referred to as a Neo-Viral. His main means of acquiring troops is through viral infection, spreading his influence into the PID’s (identities, stored in the persons’ icons) of people at his mercy. This infection transforms the person’s body with a simple color-coding (green, black, and red) to denote viral takeover, and also affects their mind to become wholly devoted to their Lord Megabyte, while still essentially remaining the same person. Viral infection is consistently portrayed as horrifying to the people subjected to it, and most of those who are freed rejoice, the only exceptions being Megabyte’s most devoted minions, who are dubbed Neo-Virals.
“Mainframe Neo-Virals… I hate Mainframe Neo-Virals!”
–Blues Brother binome, episode “Crouching Binome, Hidden Virus”
While Megabtye’s modus operandi of seeking control to establish a dictatorship is fairly uncommon as viruses seem to go, he is certainly not the only virus to engage in mass infection. A particularly notable example is the virus Daemon, who appears as a beautiful woman in a messiah role. Her programming is to infect the entire net and then destroy it by causing everyone to commit suicide at the same time. She infects people in a process ranging from gradual to instantaneous depending on how strong their will is, and infected people can be detected by what appears to be a living parasitic growth on their skin. Wholly infected people literally worship Daemon as though she were a god, referring to her as The Word, and all feel great happiness and a sense of peace. They are less akin to Nazis, and more like the shiny happy people who worship Jasmine in Angel.
Hexadecimal is in many ways the antithesis of normal viruses. The self-described Queen of Chaos, she loathes being predictable, which makes her better than other viruses. Though she is sadistic, she is usually content to keep her rule to the twisted city she created in the destruction of Lost Angles, and even lends support to the good guys sometimes. So she is neither the type of virus to hunt and kill, nor the type to build an empire. She does, however, have her own subjects, including her robotic pet Scuzzy, the outcast and neutral figure Mike the TV, and the hoards of nulls. Nulls, the slug-like parasitic degraded results of people who were caught either in the explosion that created Hex or in lost Games, share a connection to the virus, and they do her bidding. Whether this is because Hex deliberately controls them with her viral power or because of some symbiotic relationship is left unclear.
Hex is also unique for being the first and only virus to willingly choose a benign existence. Her attraction to Bob leads her to help him attack Megabyte, and in return Bob saves her from the system crash by making her a permanent citizen with an icon. After the system reboots, Hex doesn’t attempt to hurt the system anymore out of her attraction to Bob, and eventually transforms into a sprite as a result. When Daemon forces her to become a virus once more, Hex is benign in nature and she martyrs herself to save the world. This is the only example of Bob’s hypothetical benign virus.
Bob cares a lot about helping people of all kinds. He adamantly opposes killing enemies, instead wanting to find a way to coexist. When an enemy won’t go along with this willingly, he tries to find a way to reprogram them to become benign. This is generally applied to the people who have been previously altered by viral infection, and his aim is to undo this and return the people to their original state. While stories like Total Recall and Dollhouse cast doubt on whether a body’s original personality has the right to a body currently occupied by another, I’m willing to accept the notion that people should be cured of viral infection. It is another matter to forcibly alter viruses.
Megabyte: “So, what now? Deletion?”
Bob: “No. Just a scan. I don’t believe in deletion.”
Megabyte: (patronizing) “You can’t go against your code.”
Bob: “And neither can you. That’s the problem. It’s not your fault. You’re programmed to be this way. We've just got to work out a way to reprogram you.”
Megabyte: “So… I won’t be a virus?”
Bob: “That’s the plan.”
Megabyte: “Ah. So… a fate worse than deletion. And they call
me a monster.”
Episode “Crouching Binome, Hidden Virus”
It is often said that when fighting a war, one should be careful they don’t become that which they fight against. Bob opposes the viruses because of their nature of causing suffering and destruction, whereas he believes in the Guardian code of mending and defending. He holds onto the belief that viruses can be benign, and after witnessing Hex’s transformation, he eventually decides to create a method to transform malignant viruses into benign sprites. In doing so, he adopts the characteristics of a virus himself. He’s not coded to corrupt and conquer, rather he acts from kindness, but the effect is very much the same as viral infection. To accept this method as an option is to in essence accept viral infection. Suddenly, the battle between Guardians and the viruses looks a lot less like a battle between good and evil.
In conclusion, ReBoot contains many instances of brainwashing. Though this is primarily on the part of major antagonists, the central protagonist does attempt this for his own purposes. I find it interesting that the morality of this is questioned. The show displays a few interesting philosophical quandaries, especially relating to the subject of identity. If it is immoral for viruses to brainwash innocents to become their servants, is it moral to brainwash viruses to become benign? Hex is a unique case, and perhaps the only way it could have turned out the way it did is because she changed herself out of her own will, out of love.

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