Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Internship - A Vision of a Google World

The Internship is a 2013 comedy directed by Shawn Levy, written by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern, and produced by Vaughn and Levy. The film stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. It is a lighthearted look at the labor market and generational politics, with a light romance background story. It is not going to be a classic in the future, but it does have a lot to say about the sort of world we would have if Google defined culture. I am thinking about the combined vision of society and production it presents. The title itself is a giveaway I suppose but the deeper I get into the film I see it as an account of the working conditions and social order that organizations such as Google would like to see as standard in the world.

Obviously competing for jobs. But this competition also includes identity. Because to quote the film; "sometimes the most radical move is to be yourself". This self is defined by senseless hard work and no fixed status. The self also has a physical dimension, and the dinner between the Aussie executive and Owen's character defines what a jerk is: with "A moment on the lips forever on the hips" - bodies are people.

The only way to be educated is by paying for tuition (as two strippers tell us) or attending corporate colleges (Google Campus, the scene of most of the story). Its about 'hard work' and not "a fancy education". The often referred to University of Phoenix or as they call it in the film "the Harvard of the Internet" is real and "offers campus and online degree programs, certificate courses, and individual online classes":
"The University of Phoenix (UOPX) is an American for-profit institution of higher learning, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. The university has an open-enrollment admission policy, requiring a high-school diploma, GED, or its equivalent as its criterion for admissions. The university has 112 campuses worldwide and confers degrees in over 100 degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group Inc., a publicly traded (NASDAQ: APOL) Phoenix-based corporation that owns several for-profit educational institutions." -
Failure is described in the sauna scene as a flawed information footprint. Working in a strip club while studying to be a dental hygienist is success, as the money falls from the air in one scene with the pole dancers. But not having a straight story online is a huge problem:

"Google has singlehandedly cut into my ability to bullshit" "
"Cramping your style?"
"Making you a better person?"
The need for a registered and monitored presence online is emphasized in the Google Help sequence. Firstly Google Online help is only available to business customers. There is no direct online support for non-paying customers. But the character who does not log in and therefore his work does not exist is part of the hegemony of sanctioned and controlled information.

The society of The Internship is not about inclusive places, social positions or even people. Its about progress through the artificial creation of needs. It is defined by the line in the film "We've had lots of jobs but we are trying to build a future here".

I associate the surveillance and corporate governance of The Internship with the emerging Trans Pacific Partnership, whereby production is governed by the beliefs that;
"commits the parties not to set or use labor or environmental laws or practices either for trade protectionist purposes nor to weaken such laws or practices to encourage trade and investment" ( p13). 
Its a free market for labor and environmental laws. When the competing interns in the film approach a mom and pop pizza place to advertise with Google, the line they take to sell the service is about a form of globalization we are increasingly familiar with today:
"Hasn't the neighborhood gotten a little bit bigger?"
"We're not asking you to abandon the artistry, we are asking you to expand the reach"
"All waiting at the click of a button"
Its a disturbing vision where everything is channeled through the search engine and all alternative forms of organization and regulation are void. Information may be power. But all information is reality.

(BTW - Flashdance, a meme in the film The Internship, came out in 1983. On January 1 1983 the migration of the ARPANET to TCP/IP was officially completed  and this is considered to be the beginning of the true Internet).

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