The premise of “Men Against Fire” is haunting because it hits so close to home. It revolves around Stripe, a soldier who is recruited by the military to eradicate “roaches”. Roaches are portrayed as humanoids that ransack villages to steal food and other necessities. Any food that is left behind is destroyed because the civilians believe it is tainted. The soldiers and civilians alike harbor a deep resentment towards roaches because they make life harder for everyone. Thus, the military uses an apparatus called “MASS” to hunt down and kill the roaches. MASS is an implant inside every soldier’s brain that feeds them information and interferes with their senses. When Stripe’s MASS begins to malfunction after an encounter with a roach, he learns that everything he had been told is a lie; a nation-wide cover-up for genocide.
MASS is analogous to social media here. As I pointed out in Essay #1: The Digital Democracy, “social media has “democratized public opinion” by providing everyone with an equal opportunity to use their voice and be heard,” and in doing so, it has given people the power to disseminate propaganda and disinformation. People willingly internalize these often prejudiced and discriminatory opinions as facts without critical thinking. They go on to reproduce this misinformation online, in their conversations, and in how they behave towards “othered” people, like the roaches, and the cycle continues. Similar to Stripe with MASS, people are blinded by what they see on social media; they aren’t aware that the dominant groups of society only show us what they want us to see, to influence what we think. Social media becomes a tool they use to manipulate the news, obscure the truth, and villainize and dehumanize people to justify and perpetuate social and institutional inequities. People become desensitized to “isms” such as racism, sexism, and ableism. By establishing systems of oppression, they can further their agendas, which in the past have involved genocide, cultural cleansing, enslavement, and redlining.
This episode doesn’t focus on who the characters are, but on what they experience. I know nothing about Stripe aside from the fact that he is a recruit who had trained for 6 months before his first field mission where the story begins. Perhaps it was due to his inexperience, but he doesn’t exude the same antipathy against the roaches or apathy for the civilians that other soldiers had; he was naïve and ignorant. Back at the base, he tells the military psychologist that he felt relief upon killing his second roach, but he appears to be in more emotional turmoil than he lets on. This exemplifies that his humanity is still intact despite the brainwashing. After his MASS breaks, he shows empathy for the roaches and accuses the military of criminality, but he is regarded as misguided and wrong, and he is condemned for it.
I’m impressed by how well the writers were able to depict mass media manipulation in a different light while making the story applicable to the real world. The scene between Stripe and the military psychologist at the end was powerful and enlightening. The conversation, the ultimatum proposed by the psychologist, and the punishment speak volumes about their and our society. The writers made this subject matter easy to understand yet hard to consume. The ending shots were incredibly depressing; I almost cried.
“Entertaining” is the wrong word to describe this. It wasn’t necessarily enjoyable or fun to watch, but the story is outstanding and moving. I highly recommend this episode because everyone should be cognizant of how this system operates against minoritized groups of people and how it implicates all of us. After taking all of these factors into consideration, I rate “Men Against Fire” 4.5/5 stars.
After reading this review, consider the following: is technology a problem in and of itself, or is it the people who design and use it, or is it both?
What do you think of “Men Against Fire”? Leave a comment below!
Cover Image: screencap of “Men Against Fire”