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This past Monday, I tuned into the Roku--my media player of choice--and was greeted with the home-screen below:
Understanding the importance of election week, Roku knew just the salve to spread on the pulsating election-induced lesion in my brain: a translucent stars n’ stripes to greet me behind my favorite streaming channels. What’s more, Roku bandaged my wound up by offering a curative stream of The First Impeachment, brought to me by ‘The Great Courses plus’. God bless America.
Like most Mondays, to relax after a day of expertly emailing and moving pixels on a screen, I’d ask Roku to beam The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS) into my cortex as gravity gently unspools viscous threads of drool from my bottom lip. What made the evening different was that instead of beginning my viewing without context, the sheen of American politics was reflected onto each episode. With the red, white, and blue subtext fully installed, I opened the Netflix app and selected TGBBS. While the bakers strove to bake immaculate shortbreads, Britain’s colonial rule over America was never far from top of mind.
The streaming-service subtext wove its way into my consciousness as the British judges imparted their decisions on the contestants’ baked goods without co-equal branches of Bake Show to balance and adjudicate their decisions. What’s more, the taxes—that came in the way of bites—imposed on each freshly baked item came without any say from the bakers as to what they get to bake next or how much time they’ll be allotted to do it.
Each baker was an island of production without representation. Like part-time custody parents, the monarchical judges would pass through the bakers lives only briefly, with scant support to offer. What’s worse, these were parents that would steal. After each round, the fruits of the bakers’ labor were whisked away off into the television ether, never to be seen again. It was clear to me that without insurrection, the bakers’ plight would continue under the brutal yoke of the judges.
The symbolism of the stars and stripes sat steadfastly alongside me as I moved from TGBBS into Neon Genesis Evangelion, a Japanese manga about adolescents who pilot Godzilla-sized mechanical suits (mechs) to protect Tokyo-3 from existentially harmful monsters.
In Evangelion, Shinji, the teenage protagonist, must overcome his introversion and fear of abandonment to save humanity. Relative to his other mech-piloting peers, Shinji has vast amounts of talent and ability. However, his reluctance to pilot his mech meant much of his talent and ability went unrealized. This created a surplus capacity to help. Perhaps if Shinji could better live his mantra, “I mustn't run away”, his world would be more peaceful. Could things be better for the denizens of Tokyo-3 if Shinji were to share more?
Pictured: Shinji and his mech, or ‘Eva’
As the stars on our banner of freedom flickered in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if America, a country with the highest income inequality of any G-7 nation, could siphon off some of its own surplus resources to close its festering wealth gap. Shinji’s ongoing struggle to help others despite his own discomfort felt familiar. On my side of the television, my pupils shrunk with glee as each new explosion flashed across the screen, the bombs bursting in air.
Were it not for Roku guiding me down freedom’s bright halls on the way to these insights, it’s uncertain if I’d ever have discovered them myself. For it’s from within its home screen that apps like Netflix and HBO lay before me, doors ready to whisk me to different worlds.
On this most vaunted week, rather than passively present a variety of doors, Roku chose to hold my hand as it walked alongside me and imbue me with a noble patriotism. In so doing, Roku’s done all the hard work for me, I need only muster the courage to cross the threshold. Knowing the weightiness of election week, Roku intuitively understood I couldn’t be left to watch something like ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ reruns on my own, bereft a sense of civic duty.
Pictured: The cast of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The round one is a meatball.
TGGBS resurfaced the issues that sparked America’s struggle for freedom and why we hold it dear. Neon Genesis Evangelion peeled the scar back from a self-inflicted wound that still has a long way to go towards healing.
Hitting the power button ‘off’, I pondered whether America could close the chasm between its touted freedoms and its underutilized surpluses. You brought me here, Roku. Thank you.
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**Interested in more Manga content beyond ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’? Check out the Shonen Flop podcast.
Song of the week: Thank you Roku. ‘Thank you’ by Alanis Morissette: