Since it became cheap and ubiquitous, the Internet has revolutionized how we communicate; the first total shift since the telephone, and the second since the printing press. The narrative around how has shrunk almost exponentially, as well, as physical contact is no longer a necessity, the human voice is supplicant to the typed word. People have friends they’ve never met, do business with robots, and can sometimes tell the difference between real and not real. The Internet is the simulacra Baudrillard didn’t know he worried about; he was (somewhat) ambivalent about its takeaway meaning. He couldn’t know, but he could induce where culture was going (which, to be fair, is a simulacra of meaning), and he could wax obscenity about it.
We should take care to communicate outside meme culture, however. A clickity-clack of links spreads almost like a virus across the globe. I can watch television in the United States, while downloading images from Morocco, learning recipes from Mexico, and meeting my partner in Japan. I can do all of these things simultaneously, and then I can blog about them. If I craft a narrative about it, I can make a movie via these links; if I do it quickly enough, I can make a hyperlink film.
Babel is representative. It corrals four realistically, yet improbably, simultaneous stories from four corners of the world and tells them in a sort of jumble, linking the stories, possibly, albeit improbably. These stories are really about fate and the impact of small actions. Babel unravels rather than unfolds. It is meant to be representative of fragility, randomness, luck, chance, …probably. Films like Babel: 2004’s winner, Crash, 2000’s nominee, Traffic, 2012’s Cloud Atlas, and so forth, always mean to be world-shattering with meaning, dripping with reflections on the human experience. These movies get self-aware and they always leave some sort of sour taste after the awe of connectedness wears off. These movies feel like pyrite.
As the Internet has matured, the types of media representing it have also changed: hyperlink cinema has slowed down since the early 2000s and movies like Babel are replaced with movies like 2018’s Searching, whose focal point is from the inside of the screen itself. The Best films are supposed to represent the turbulence of the times, sure, but films like Babel overwhelm criticism with false-flag honesty. Films like Searching will come to represent more and more people. Today’s generation grew up on the Internet’s kinks, quirks, buffering and streaming. The future’s generations will include people who have seemingly harnessed the Internet for good and bad. Babel will live right in the middle – not enough (poor, remote) people had Internet – for this story to make logical sense. (Think about all the plots in Seinfeld whose humor would be totally dissolved by a quick mobile call). If we place it in its era, like we must, it stands shallow, but that it stands at all is a testament to director Alejandro González Iñárritu.