Devil May Cry and Fahrenheit 451: A Contemporary Look at Media Control
Information pervades our day-to-day lives in contemporary society. Different news stations, such as Fox, CNN, and CBS are responsible for what we “know” is happening in the world. They perpetuate certain ideas by spreading specific news stories. Similarly, society decides what is most important to believe depending upon the art and books that are popularly published and distributed. If an idea is considered unpopular, the media can promote it as a problem, or the government can ban it.
In 1953, Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451, a novel that presents the dangers of controlled media. Fahrenheit 451 is set in Utopian America in which books are kept from the public to ensure the people remain docile. The post-world War II novel represents a world that is highly influenced by a fascist government. In 2013, Ninja Theory’s reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise with Devil May Cry (DmC) takes a less subtle approach. The demon king, Mundus, controls society through the perpetuation of frivolous lifestyles and his control of the news network. DmC and Fahrenheit 451 share similar themes, DmC modernizing them for a contemporary audience. Both the novel and the game present societies in which information is easily spread and acknowledge the issues revolving around controlled media. The concept of dystopian futures is not entirely uncommon. With films such as Blade Runner (1982), and books like The Hunger Games, this idea has prevailed for many a decade. Yet, what these concepts can teach us is most compelling. The dystopian future is often about giving too much power to the government, and not enough power to the people. This problem is usually caused by the inability to act or question what is happening around us. The people allow entertainment to fill their minds, or fear to keep them from acting, Most of all docility is most effective when the people that choose to speak are kept silent, and the people that are too dull to speak are kept entertained through the media. By controlling our media, the government can control what we know and believe to be true, we lose our individuality and we become a part of the machine.
Controlling ideas can make a governed people docile. In Fahrenheit 451 people thrive off of technology and firemen burn books to prevent individual thought. The government believes that happiness comes from entertainment and fun, and the vast majority of people agree with this sentiment. When a fireman named Guy Montag doubts his actions, he rebels by reading books that he is supposed to burn. While returning from work, Montag meets Clarisse, an anomaly in the novel’s society:
I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix, it’s so strange. I‘m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this…Or talking about how strange the world is…An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball…another hour of transcription history…but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t (Bradbury 29).
She is considered antisocial because she asks questions, and is not satisfied with television. The government has established a controlling education system, and when Clarisse “rebels” too much, it is implied that the government machine kills her. The general populace thrives off of media rather than creative thinking, and the government keeps this idea by steadily removing books and creative thinkers. In DmC, the human world is controlled in secret by demons led by the demon king Mundus. Dante, a Nephilim (half-demon, half-angel) lives within this brain-washed society. Since childhood, Dante has been destroying the demons that have hunted him every day. The game opens with Dante taking two waitresses back from the Devil’s Dalliance to his trailer home at the Bellevue Pier. Dante’s – relatively – casual lifestyle is torn away when a young woman named Kat warns him of the danger he is in. Kat is a medium that can walk between Limbo and the real world. She grew up seeing the demons everywhere she went, but those very same demons worked tirelessly to keep her form acknowledging the truth of the world she lived in.
They told me I was crazy for seeing demons…Wanted to put me on drugs. Said it would make me better. They lied. They just wanted to keep me weak and docile…Vergil pulled me out of the nightmare
Unlike the humans that are incapable of acknowledging the demons around them, Kat has the power to see everything wrong with it. For this reason she has joined Vergil’s rogue group called, The Order that is determined to expose the demons to world and free Limbo City from their control. According to Vergil, “To Mundus, the world is a factory farm for human souls. And he likes to keep his animals monitored and docile.” Here we can easily draw some major similarities between Fahrenheit 451 and DmC. Like Montag, Dante’s knowledge of the world around him is revealed to be fairly limited. While he is capable of fighting against the demons that control the system, he does so purely to survive and does not seek to influence the bigger picture. It takes the presence of a female that does not fit in with the system to reveal the truth of what is happening. Dante places his trust into Kat and Vergil to guide him along the path to liberation. Apathy is no longer the course of action to take, and Dante sets his sights on Mundus’ means of spreading docility. Mundus is able to control the populous through the perpetuation of frivolous lifestyles and clever marketing. He has produced and sold a soft drink known as Virlity, according to Vergil “it’s lobotomy in a can.”Virility very distinctly represents commercialism at its finest. The common citizen in today’s world is often heavily invested in “brand names” for the sake of it. Loose statistics are thrown out in order to make products seem more appealing and society is so docile that it fails to combat these issues.
“Virility’s secret ingredient is what makes Virility the number one soft drink in the world. And best of all, it has been scientifically proven to improve weight loss by %21 and enhance sexual performance by %63 if drunk daily!” -Virility advertisement
The products we purchase may just as easily be full of carcinogens, or employ child-laborers to produce, but so long as it provides instant gratification the general populace can be satisfied. After all, how many people have actually questioned what Dr. Pepper’s 28 flavors really are?
If we all are made docile, or face issues with apathetic docility, then change will not occur. This leaves room for each and every one of us to be indoctrinated into the system and – thus – become a part of the problem.
Controlling ideas can indoctrinate the people. Guy Montag’s captain, Captain Beatty is so indoctrinated into the government’s ideals that he is able to positively argue the benefits of his work. Captain Beatty tells Montag that books are destroyed because we “must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal…a book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind” (Bradbury 58). Beatty is convinced that happiness stems from entertainment and is reflective of the same education that Clarisse and her peers receive: “Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy…Well aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun?” (Bradbury 59). He is convinced that happiness comes from “doing” rather than “thinking”, and his arguments – while compelling – are oppressive to individualism: “[Clarisse] didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask why a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl’s better off dead” (Brabdury 60). However, Clarisse was represented as anything but unhappy. She found joy in experiencing life rather than being told what life is. Montag is dissatisfied by Beatty’s many arguments and decides that he needs better reasons to burn books. In DmC Limbo City has been indoctrinated by Bob Barbas, the anchor of Raptor News Corporation.
“The monitoring is done by Raptor News Corporation, a global network of of CCTV cameras , satellites, and spies.” – Vergil
Anchors and reporters are – generally – trusted as reliable sources of information. However, while their reports are meant to be objective, all of the things said and all of the things that are presented in the news are heavily informed by the stations’ ideologies. Mundus uses Barbas to perpetuate specific ideas and further push his agenda. DmC reveals the issues revolving around indoctrination through media with Bob Barbas, whose reports turn the Limbo City Police Force (LCPF) against The Order.
“My personal view on the terrorists is that they are disgusting, degrading ghastly, sleazy, prurient, and generally nauseating. The worst of them is Dante, the whole world would benefit greatly by his non-existence.” – Bob Barbas
Bob Barbas uses language that sounds welcoming. In doing “God’s” work a very Christocentric society can find him relatable and trustworthy. His news reports are then deemed as absolute fact in this society, and this subtle indoctrination is what kept Kat from fighting back early on her life. She was raised believing she was crazy and states, “If you’re told something is true often enough, you tend to believe it.” Montag is told that book burning s a good thing, and Limbo City is told that The Order is full of dangerous terrorist. There is a societal expectation of what is “norm”, and this is defined by social media. If there was only a news network to tell us what to think, certainly the youth would not be affected. After all, how many younger people do we know that actually pay attention to the news? And out of those people, there is the danger of questioning the news. To combat this possibility Mundus adds another layer of indoctrination by maintaining a frivolous status quo. Mundus seeks absolute control and forcing docility is not enough with “Virility”. His mistress, and the mother of his child, Lilith, runs the Devil’s
Dalliance, a night club where debauchery is welcomed and encouraged. Upon entry there are women dancing on poles that contrast nicely with women clad in angel-esque lingerie. The night club’s true purpose is to lure celebrities, politicians, and elite socialites with drinks, drugs, and sexual desires so that Lilith may turn them into Spotters. The Spotters are demon collaborators that assist in finding Dante and members of The Order. In a way, they are the ultimate form of indoctrination as their conscious – human – selves are either destroyed or unaware of their actions. When Dante decides to capture LIlith and her child, he finds himself in a twisted, violent reality show.
“Hello my beautiful creatures, human and otherwise. From night club to fight club! We have a special event here for you tonight! So drink up, shoot up, and place your bets! Lets get high society…Welcome to the Devil has Talent!” – Lilith
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Violence has been historically celebrated throughout the years. From the Roman gladiators, to modern day boxing matches, society craves violence. Atop this, society craves televised violence. There is something about a mediated spectacle that feels “okay” to watch. We can disconnect ourselves from what is happening and enjoy the thrill of it without directly involving ourselves. Frivolous entertainment has often been used to distract everyone from what is really important. Far more people know the details of Miley Cyrus’ VMA 2013 performance than the details of what is happening in (for example) Iraq. There is a profound disinterest in what is really happening in the world, and anything that tells us about what is happening is from a severely biased perspective. Any violence that is presented to American society is glorified and misrepresented. I know this may sound like a “conspiracy theory”, but there is admittedly a lot wrong with the fact that there is more fandom for Justin Beiber than the activists that try to invoke positive change. A vast majority of people have been mediated so much that they have literally become a part of the machine, myself included. However, acknowledgement of these issues is the first step towards combating them.
Protest is done through action and thought. Montag decides to approach a man named Faber who claims that books are important:
“because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores…So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless” (Bradbury 83).
Faber proactively contradicts society in his mind while Clarisse fought society through her actions. On one hand, Clarisse acted without knowing that what she was doing was necessarily a “rebellion,” however Faber knows he is rebelling but does not act. Fahrenheit 451 protests our reliance on mediated information and challenges us to think freely, even if rebellion can have dangerous implications.
DmC presents a different kind of society in which people are forced into their positions by the demons’ subtle manipulation. In DmC a more active role is taken to protest the demons’ manipulation. While the people in Fahrenheit 451 are capable of thinking for themselves, and may not know how to think, the demons’ brainwashing in DmC and their use of Virility prevents this type of autonomy. Dante and the order literally fight the machine through Dante’s and Vergil’s powers as Nephilim and Kat’s powers as a medium. Dante systematically destroys everything controlling society, first he kills the source of docility, then the two major sources of indoctrination. However, major products, anchors, and night club owners can always be replaced. Dante and Vergil aim for the source of all the manipulation and ultimately kill Mundus. In both Ninja Theory’s Devil May Cry and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, information is controlled. Whether specific knowledge is being distributed, or knowledge is being kept from the general populace, ideas are ultimately formed based on what we are given. To protest against such action we must be willing to listen to other ideas. Just as Montag did in Fahrenheit 451, we must fight against the status quo to provoke positive change. If the information being kept from us is damaging, and the information we are getting is not progressing society forward, then society will remain docile or decompose. The ability to speak out, speak up, and make our own decisions based on different ideas is what makes us unique and can lead to choices being made individually rather than by the machine’s expectations.
“What was once hidden is now laid bare for all to see. Revolution is in the air.” – Vergil
What is absolutely brilliant about the approach taken with DmC is that it is able to critique society and educate its players on a very visceral level. Within the depths of the excitement that comes with destroying demons is the opportunity to see society for what it truly is: a machine. Ninja Theory’s approach accomplishes what literature like Fahrenheit 451 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night, or even Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk achieves through reading in a very interactive way. By playing through as Dante and “fighting” the system, we get a taste of what it may feel like to take action in our own lives. Certainly there is a delicious level of irony to the fact that these ideas are still “mediated” to us, but it is an idea that can lead to a very progressive future. For years games have been filled with compelling story-lines that allow us to escape reality, but DmC’s ability to judge the world as it is in a very fantastic way could very well be a new way to develop compelling plots for future games.
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