Cory Doctorow's Radicalized and Audience Awareness

Cory Doctorow: Radicalized

Books Received. Radicalized by Cory Doctorow. Tor Books: 2019.

The same week that Cory Doctorow's Radicalized hit the shelves, a made-for-the-internet terrorist killed fifty people in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

Lots of people dying makes the headlines every time because a high death toll always yields a massive audience. The media networks, well aware of the rubbernecking phenomenon, keep their feelers out for the next big thing. It doesn't matter if people are dying in Paris, London, or New York, big media and little media alike are all on standby, ready to blitz the feeds with intel, opinions, and spin. 

Though it often feels like the media secretly pays off depressives or the terminally ill to go berserk, the truth is that they don't have to. Humans hate incredibly easily. Humans also give into fear and an entire atmosphere of negativity with very little training. It's easy to fear and hate because it almost feels like an antidote to our mortality and the mortality of those we love.

Terrorism with a Purpose

But the Christchurch killer wasn't as well organized as Doctorow's fictional mass murderers in the short story "Radicalized." Yes, the New Zealand shooting was motivated by racism and religious intolerance, but attacking mosques has no real end game other than spreading fear and hate. 

Death is the Only Cure

Doctorow considers a slightly different kind of mass murdering, one with a political agenda. The terrorists in Doctorow's world kill to force the US to fix the broken healthcare system. In the 21st century, our situation is that experimental treatment for cancer is available to those that can write a seven-figure check. But for the rest of us, no matter how much we've paid into the system, death is still the only cure. 

Anything Can Become a Product

The dark side of capitalism is that, as Cory Doctorow lays bare in "Unauthorized Bread," anything can become a product. But things are only developed as products based on demand and then only for those that can pay. 

Awareness of an Audience

Here's a dark thought for you. Consider that the reason that we see so many mass shootings all the time now is that a market exists for them. The Christchurch Killer's out-of-place reference to YouTube star PewDiePie before his rampage was actually not so far out of place. It was merely a signal that he knew he was performing for an audience. Even without a prior audience, the right performance creates an audience.

Awareness of an audience ties Cory Doctorow's four stories together in Radicalized

"Unauthorized Bread"

In "Unauthorized Bread" the company that takes over the Boulangism toasters watches over their investments closely, on the lookout for any of their devices underperforming in revenue. Underperformance is a clear sign that their products have been jailbroken, a performance that could lead to jail time for the perpetrator.

"Model Minority"

In "Model Minority," the superhero in question is forced to back off his quest to champion social justice because of two distinct audiences: first, the NSA, so good at what they do that not even a superhuman is safe from their intelligence gathering; second, our country's overwhelming conservative bloc, the blue lives matter people that fail to understand or care about the disenfranchised, so powerful that the work of the champion results only in worse treatment for the least of these among us. 


In "Radicalized" insurance companies are both the target and the audience of husbands and fathers turned suicide bombers after those insurance companies deny their family's healthcare needs. Those men work to literally "make them pay." 

"The Masque of the Red Death"

In "The Masque of the Red Death" a skilled retelling of Poe's classic, a select few that seal themselves away from Armageddon experience their demise because there is no audience. They can't handle the boredom of life without purpose, purpose being an ability to measure individual worth based on the scale of a larger society. This inspires the group to an ill-fated gun shop raid and later a foray back into Phoenix, where they return to Fort Doom loaded down with a highly communicable, dread disease. 

The Disease of Identity

The way we measure ourselves, the way we establish and affirm our identities in America is our great communicable disease. This measurement is a practice that so often comes at the expense of the have-nots. America doesn't care to help out those at the bottom of society because then there'd be no one left to look down upon. 

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