in films, games, tech

Ralph Shills for the Internet

Hot on the heels of Ready Player One, Ralph Breaks the Internet is the latest entry in an emerging genre of nostalgic mash-up films. Remember Star Wars? Remember Iron Man? Remember The Muppets? Well, even if you don’t, they’ve been smooshed together and thrown onscreen to elicit those warm, fuzzy feelings we associate with the characters that entertained us as children. It feels egregiously cynical to jam together a bunch of things that people like, loosely thread a plot between them and serve it up as something new, but if that’s what people keep paying to see then that’s what’ll keep getting made.

My curmudgeonly attitude towards Ralph Breaks the Internet’s┬áreliance on a hodgepodge of familiar characters aside, there’s something far more insidious at play in this trailer. Freed from the constraints of their respective arcade games and let loose on the Internet, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) gaze out over the sparkling vista of the open web. As they spot giant logos for Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snapchat and more, Vanellope sighs, “This is the most beautiful miracle I’ve ever seen”.

To treat a company like Google with this kind of reverence in a children’s film strikes me as nothing less than corporate indoctrination. It’s barely been two months since Facebook was revealed to have woefully mishandled our personal information but its logo is presented here as something to ooh and ahh at, a shining symbol of safety and familiarity. Its portrayal here is a whitewashing of its brand and all its associated issues and concerns, and it positions Facebook and its ilk as old friends, as loveable characters in your life no different than Kermit the Frog or Buzz Lightyear. That’s a powerful, dangerous message to beam into the developing mind of a child, and it honestly scares me.

Consciously or not, media like Ralph Breaks the Internet normalises the overbearing presence of enormous brands and corporations in our lives, conditioning children not to question their unethical practices and the influence they wield over our culture. Having not seen the film, it’s entirely possible that Ralph Breaks the Internet takes these companies to task and criticises their place in our world, but I doubt it. There’s a reason why Google and Snapchat and Facebook and the like have all given their permission to have their real brands featured in the film as opposed to being replaced with fictional equivalents: they’re getting something out of this, and we should be extremely suspicious as to what that is.

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