Remembering Love: The Notions Of Reality And The Internet In Serial Experiments Lain
For the last post in the Remembering Love series we go back to the 90s to look at Serial Experiments Lain – a series that raised the intellectual bar to standards no other series quite ever managed to match. It made bold statements about religion, the way people interact with each other in postmodern society and the internet-based future we were headed to. In a way Serial Experiments Lain predicted the future with a frightening degree of accuracy. But before I delve into the series itself let’s put things in historical perspective. The year is 1995. A strange show called Neon Genesis Evangelion airs on TV and attracts casual viewers to watch anime for the first time. It looked and felt new, not because of the mundane robot battles (which you could find in other series) but because it had some intellectual depth in it. When Serial Experiments Lain came out in 1998 people were already eagerly waiting for a new intellectually-inspiring anime. But Lain wasn’t your typical “defend the earth and defeat the evil overlord” anime. It was weird, it was surreal; and it started by showing a young girl committing suicide by jumping off a building.
I think, therefor I am Lain
I was attracted to Serial Experiments Lain because the series arouses deep thought and encourages you to think outside the box. Or perhaps it would be better to say that in this particular series there exists no box. There was something scary about the way in which Serial Experiments Lain portrayed normality, because nothing was absolute in the “normality” it showed. While the series focused on a middle school girl called Iwakura Lain it soon transpired that the world surrounding Lain – her friends, her family and even her city – might all be lies. At some point Lain even discovers that she is not the only Lain – even she might be a lie or have a different identity than what she believes. René Descartes once declared “I think, therefore I am” and Serial Experiments Lain clings to this belief for dear life. As Lain discovers that there are some who know more about her than she does the only thing she understands for certain is that because she can think and believe in her own existence she must exist somehow. This desperate assertion of reality might seem convoluted at first, but one might say it is the basis for modern atheist belief: since atheists do not believe in god they must, at the very least, believe in their own existence. As Serial Experiments Lain progresses things that should be stable, that are taken for granted, change. For example, the city in which Lain lives in changes its appearance. At times Lain’s house is tidied up in a way that makes you doubt if people are actually living in it. Shadows seem to have physical substance in Lain’s world while some humans are almost reduced to the level of mere shadows.
Reality is Man-made
There is one important rule that guides the world of Serial Experiments Lain: if people didn’t see something it may not have happened. For example, if someone stole something but nobody saw him do it or noticed the absence of the thing which he stole than it’s as if he never stole it in the first place. This means that by deleting information (on the internet) or making people forget something they saw you can effectively alter reality. Serial Experiments Lain had a very atheist view on life and extended the rule above to encompass the existence of god as well. Basically, as plain as it may sound, god only exists if people believe he/she/it does. If everyone decides to forget about their current god and adopt a new one then the old god would disappear in favor of the new one. It’s as simple as that. I’m sure religious people will have a problem relating to such an idea, but by the logic of the series this meant that the existence of an omnipotent god is questionable. Furthermore it hinted that a human can become god if enough people believe he/she is one. I remember myself being utterly fascinated by these notion. Here I am, watching an animated series that offers more food for thought than any other article or book I have ever read (at that point in my life) about god.
In The Wired we trust
The only absolute thing in Lain’s world was the existence of The Wired – an advanced (yet in some forms archaic) type of internet. Everyone uses The Wired to communicate, exchange information and build their alter-ego persona. When Serial Experiments Lain debuted in 1998 the (real) internet was still partly in the realm of science fiction. It was new, undeveloped and cumbersome. As a result When Nakamura Ryuutarou, Yoshitoshi ABe and Kishida Takahiro set out to create The Wired they tried to predict, according to their world views, how the internet will turn out to be in the near future. Some of these predictions came true in the most eerie of ways. For instance, in one of the episodes Lain’s father is seen participating in a conversation via an online chat room. To do so he had to line up several computer monitors before him. I’m sure this depiction of “human interaction” via chat rooms made people laugh in the 90s. But while most of us are still not using more than one or two monitors at a time we have pretty much enslaved ourselves to chat and community websites in much the same way as Lain’s father uses them. In Serial Experiments Lain The Wired plays a bigger role than just being the internet. It is suggested that The Wired, which offers a non-physical form for people to exist in, is where our souls actually reside. Think of the movie The Matrix, in which people were unaware that they are in fact connected to an interface in the real world and live a fake life in the computerized matrix world. Now flip it over: our souls live in the computerized world that is The Wired (the internet) while we are mistakenly assuming that we have physical bodies and that those physical bodies reside in the real world. In this respect Serial Experiments Lain was similar to movies like Ghost in The Shell that suggested the human soul can be freed of the body and maintained inside the internet. The big difference is that, as Serial Experiments Lain would have it, our souls existed in The Wired even before we knew The Wired existed. Living in the internet is in fact the highest level of awareness we can achieve and using our alter-ego online is no less than a spiritual activity. Lain came to understand this and felt her internet self is more real and more empowered than her physical self. When you think about it we do tend to spend an ever increasing amount of time on the internet. Our lives are becoming more and more entangled with it. The day in which we will be forced to always stay connected to the internet might not be so far away as we think.
Previous posts in the Remembering Love Series:
Other participants in the Remembering Love Series (Week 4):
Deluscar: Gintama and the Art of Zura