Villain of the piece

Published January 31, 2023

A robot hand from the top left is pressing down on an Apple keyboard in bottom right

Wired writer Amelia Tait published an article this weekend about the fact that recent cinema releases have focused on a new kind of villain - the tech giant gone rogue. The new Knives Out movie is heavily focused on a tech billionaire, the surprisingly good Santa Clauses TV show had an Amazon style delivery company at heart, and further back the animations Ron’s Gone Wrong and Mitchells vs the Machines are all about modern technology being misused.

It’s a clear indication of where society’s thoughts of technology is going: grateful for the convenience but nervous about those who hold such enormous power at the top of the organisations. Movies have always reflected wider global feelings - the bad guys were the Germans, or the Russians, they were power-crazed oligarchs or royalty leading their countries astray. It was about stealing masses of money or getting access to nuclear submarines. Now, it’s those with the keys to our technological hearts that have the potential to get away with villainy, to launch cyber attacks and hack their way to power.

As always with these things, the technology isn’t necessarily the problem, even the most life-changingly awesome piece of kit can be used nefariously if the user wants to be bad, and in the movies, that’s what they want, and that’s what we apparently want to see. There’s no doubt an element of wishful thinking in there too - as we start to get a bit wiser about the scarier sides of modern tech (privacy problems and big data assumptions being two off the top of my head), we want to see those supercharged successful CEOs taken down a peg or two. They might be fictional on the screen but you can often tell who they’re inspired by!

All that just makes me wonder if this is what our movie villains are like now, what shape will they take next?

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