The Cost of “Dying” – Classism in Upload

If you had the money to live forever, would you? That’s the question posed by Amazon Prime’s original series Upload by Greg Daniels. The story takes place in the year 2033, where self-driving cars and 3D printed food are available and commonly used. In this future, those with wealth are given the option to die or live in a digital world. While the working class and the poor are severely limited in their choices. 

Becoming an Upload and living in a virtual space costs serious money, leaving family members with a substantial financial burden. Depending on your financial position, there are several “afterlife” styles and locations available. While some enjoy a luxury life similar to what they had while alive, others are segregated to a 2GB area where every movement and emotion costs bytes, and if you used up all of them, your conscious and virtual body become “frozen,” much like what happens when money ruins out here, in the “real” world. Nathan, played by Robbie Amell, is a computer programmer working on making this afterlife disparity a bit more fair. While working on a “jailbreak” program that would allow the virtual afterlife to be free for all, Nathan is in a mysterious accident and is given a choice to die or upload his consciousness. Knowing that neither he nor his family can afford an upload, he is convinced by his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) to upload on to her family’s afterlife plan, making him dependent on her. It is evident throughout the story that his girlfriend Ingrid is now in charge of everything from what he wears to what he eats and what’s available to him in this virtual world. In the virtual world, Lakeview, he meets Nora (Andy Allo), who is his “Angel,” a programmer working with the recently uploaded. She helps “the guests” adjust to their new lives and makes sure their virtual avatars look and feel natural.

During the season, we also follow Nora, who works for an Upload company called Horizen. She mainly works there to obtain a discount for her father, who is sick. We also see a line of people willing to Upload themselves, including their bodies, when a company announces a free upload for the first 10,000 people. The advertisement is aimed at single mothers, the poor, and those experiencing homelessness. During an encounter with a young mother, Nora is horrified that this mother is willing to Upload her baby. The mother replies, saying, this may be the only chance she and her daughter have of uploading as opposed to dying. In a world where health care can bankrupt anyone, and the cost of dying is a financial burden on your family, uploading seems like the best option, even if you live in a “crappy” part of the interweb.

Similar to the Korean Academy Award winner for best picture in 2020, Parasite (2019) (check out the video below), there’s a symbiotic relationship between Nora, a Black woman working to make the virtual life of Nathan, the white man, as comfortable as possible. Nora and her co-worker Aleesha, also Black, answer to their white boss, Lucy. Their primary function is to “handle” Nathan and Luke, both white men. These poor class women of color live a lackluster life while spending their days in the high-end virtual world of Lakeview, the afterlife for the rich and powerful. They make the white and wealthy guests’ realities possible by giving them everything and anything they need from their favorite food to changing the weather to suit their moods. During the episode Five Stars (1.2), we discovered that Nora’s salary and position at the company depend on ratings. A call back to Black Mirror‘s episode Nosedive, it is this rating that ultimately determines her employee discount to upload her dying father. When she refuses to partake in any of the almost slave-like activities they want her to do, she is immediately downgraded. Throughout the episode, she exhausts herself by completing nonsensical requests and providing emotional support and companionship to her demanding, wealthy clients.

Another vital clue that really plays into the wealth-gap in the show is the food! During the pilot episode, we discover that 3D printed food is not the most delicious but the most commonly eaten. Depending on the “ink” cartage, and the overall brand of the printer, the food may or may not be edible. In episode (1.6) Sleepover Nathan’s niece, Nevaeh (Chloe Coleman) spends the night over at Ingrid and her family’s lavish home. Nevaeh is fascinated by the delicious food, which prompts the conversation that she never had real food. They discuss how the poor can only afford fake 3D printed food while the wealthy eat “real food.” This is reminiscent of our society, where the poor and working-class struggle to obtain healthy and high-quality meat and produce. At the same time, the wealthy can afford not just culinary experts to prepare their meals but the best farm-fresh ingredients. The documentary Food Inc. (2008) navigates this disparity and shines a light on how the working class and the poor are mainly eating synthetic foods, and sometimes the food that’s packaged with the most harmful chemicals. In Upload, we see this disparity grow to the point where some people are not eating real food at all!

This Black Mirror-The Good Place mashup looks promising. What’s interesting to see is how we are not that far from this reality. If we keep moving in this direction, the wealth gap will keep increasing, and it won’t be long before the rich and the poor hit a breaking point just like the families in Parasite.

Sources:

  • Food Inc, 2008
  • New York funeral prices
  • Average funeral prices in US

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s