Mysterio and the Lack of Ethics in Technology

MAJOR SPOILERS from Spider-Man: Far From Home

I finally got around to watching Spider-Man: Far From Home, and I have a lot of thoughts about Mysterio.

If you have not seen this movie and you don’t want to be spoiled, please don’t read below the cut. THIS POST IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS!!!

Mysterio is a fun and entertaining villain, in the vein of Loki. Both are handsome masters of illusion with megalomaniac goals, and they both want to overshadow one of the original Avengers.

However, Loki’s illusions are magical, and he achieves some level of redemption thanks to his relationship with his brother Thor, who serves as a type of morality anchor for him. His mother, Frigga (who’s sorceress with major illusion powers) also brings him back from his megalomania. Mysterio*, on the other hand, uses technological illusions and has only a team of underlings who’ve helped him create his entire scheme and who don’t hold him back or tether him to anything. Even so, both are very fun to watch and make some good points at times.

*Or as my sister calls him, This A-Hole.

That’s because unlike Loki (or Iron Man or Killmonger or Bucky or Thor or anyone else we’ve met in the MCU), Mysterio isn’t just one person. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Quentin Beck (which might be an alias), is the face of Mysterio, but his team of underlings are just as responsible for Mysterio’s misdeeds as Beck is. They’re a bunch of disgruntled Stark Enterprises employees who want to usurp the late Tony Stark’s legacy as one of Earth’s greatest heroes. They try to do this by engineering fake catastrophes that endanger hundreds or thousands of lives just so Mysterio/This A-Hole can swoop in and stop it.

And how do they engineer these catastrophes? They use drones.

Mysterio and his team are an example of the lack of ethics in the technology industry, particularly Silicon Valley. Over the past decade, we’ve seen how the tech industry will choose innovation for innovation’s sake over the well-being of other human beings, such as when Facebook sold people’s information to Cambridge Analytica. They’ve made social media addictive and spear-headed fake photos called deep fakes, which can be dangerous and damaging. Even when some Stanford students started a club to help make other computer science student more socially conscious, they all ended up working at major for-profit tech companies because that’s where the money is.

Where does Mysterio fit into this ethics crisis in Big Tech? He claims Tony Stark stole all the credit for his illusion technology to use it for therapeutic purposes. This A-Hole wanted to weaponize his technology, so he took it as a personal insult when Tony showed off his tech and then fired him for being unstable. That Beck is unstable is beside the point. He didn’t get to use his technology the way he wanted, and that was all that mattered. Never mind that weaponizing illusion tech is an extremely terrifying idea.

(Quick aside: Large companies DO have problems taking profits away from inventors/creators who work for them. For example, the creators of Pac-Man, Superman, Rocket Raccoon, and the iconic Dixie Cup pattern never made any fortunes off their creations. Yes, both Marvel and DC are guilty of ripping people off by monetizing their creations.)

The thing is, This A-Hole and his team are incredibly petty and will use any excuse to use their tech to hurt someone or throw them under the bus. In the film’s first stinger, Mysterio’s team uses doctored footage to out and dox a teenager and frame him for murder so they won’t get caught for committing crimes. Beck/This A-Hole may have spearheaded most of their schemes, but his team is just as guilty as he is.

They leak the footage to J. Jonah Jameson, who has been reimagined as an Alex Jones-type figure, which brings me to my second point. The “innovation for innovation’s sake” approach of Big Tech, which appears in the film through Mysterio, has resulted in things like social media algorithms that match to a person’s interests, which allows them to see only news that reflects their views. This in turn boosts the profiles of extremist media figures like Alex Jones and this reimagined J. Jonah Jameson. Those extremist media figures can then use their platform to boost crazy conspiracy theories that an alarming number of people will listen to. So J. Jonah Jameson painting Spider-Man as a villain is no longer as funny or silly as it was in the original comics or the Sam Raimi films of the 2000s. Now, Jameson’s conspiracy theories can actually endanger a young man’s life and he could face arrest, jail time, and tons of online harassment. All because he figured out Mysterio was a fraud.

I don’t think Spider-Man: Far From Home was intended as any sort of commentary on or satire of the power that our current technology has over people and how powerful the controllers of that tech can be. However, I’ve talked before about how the MCU is a modern mythology. Mythologies grow bigger than their creators and/or the companies that distribute them and speak to the fears and anxieties of the societies that they exist in and for. Mysterio is just a team of people fighting against a teenager, but this supervillain shows how far technologists can go with no code of ethics reining them in.

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