You’re trapped in a virtual rat’s maze and there’s no getting out. Of course, it’s not really you, not your physical body anyway: we’ve all been reduced to cheesy, poorly animated avatars. No one knows why we’re running through this deadly obstacle course, nor why we’re competing against each other for the fastest times. Who are these other people? Is this some sort of test? What do you even win if you get first place? Perhaps you get to stop?
But you never get to stop. You just have to complete the course again, this time faster, and again, faster still, ad infinitum. Danger lurks everywhere yet not even death offers release. You leap from a steep precipice, or are crushed repeatedly under giant hammers, but death is temporary: you are immediately transported to where you left off.
Even when you do cross the finish line, even when you win, there is a lurking sense that they, the ambiguous puppet-masters who orchestrate this entire charade, have full control. Elated, you leap across the finish line, first place, when something peculiar happens: you are abruptly slammed down onto the colorful foam, as though an extra burst of gravity, or some much more nefarious force, governs your avatar. It’s a literal definition of docile bodies, bodies that “may be subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (Foucault, 1975).
The puppet-masters, who may or may not be affiliated with Doritos™, have set up obstacle courses in 3 locations spanning the globe: the United States, “Europe,” and Japan. Is this all that’s left of the world? The United States, “Europe,” and Japan? Was everywhere else destroyed in a cataclysmic nuclear war? Why have the United States and Japan retained their national identity, while the entire continent of Europe is represented as one? Perhaps, like the fictitious superstates of Orwell’s dystopian 1984, the post-war world was split between three enormous sovereign land masses, the United States, “Europe,” and Japan. We may never know. They certainly aren’t telling us.
Meanwhile, a crowd of jeering, 2-dimensional people look on. Why don’t they have three dimensions? Why do they get to sit there and watch while we’re forced to compete? Is this some kind of macabre spectator sport?
Indeed, these are the gladiatorial games of our digital age. It’s a disturbing, post-apocalyptic vision of the future, and its source might come as a surprise. Rather than “bread and circuses” we have Doritos™…and Crash Course.
Admittedly this isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic fare. It depicts neither invading aliens nor hordes of zombies, and (as far as we know) there hasn’t been a nuclear holocaust. It’s a much subtler dystopia, but none the less sinister.
It reminds me of the second episode of Charlie Brooker’s darkly cynical Black Mirror, entitled “15 Million Merits.” In it, we are introduced to a not-too-distant future in which everyone must cycle on exercise bikes in order to generate electricity and earn a form of virtual currency called “merits,” which they in turn spend on food, entertainment, and new clothes for their avatar. These virtual “doppels” are fully customizable, but it costs merits, and therefore “time on the bike.” Advertisements constantly interrupt everyday life, whether at work (i.e., on the bike), relaxing in one’s cell, or during sleep. They can be skipped, but it’ll cost merits, merits that could be spent on food or new television shows and video games.
There are many questions, but very few answers. Why is your avatar competing? Do you really have any choice in the matter? What is the purpose of the crash course, and what is your purpose in it? How are triangular bits of dead plant matter related to a virtual obstacle course? Perhaps most importantly, where are the Doritos™??
If you’d like a less absurdist take on Doritos Crash Course and its sequel, check this out.