I’m Here: Spike Jonze’s Robots Just Want to Find Love; or, In the Future Robots will Drink Vodka

January 22, 2010

The most unnerving shot of Spike Jonze new short, “I’m Here,” comes about 5 seconds into the trailer. Establishing his isolation, the trailer starts with a lonely Apple 2-like robot looking out a bus window.  Later, we see him sitting on a couch alone, plugged into the wall. But in between, something truly shocking: our robot scanning the shelves at the library, visibly weary, theoretically looking for that one book that will make him happy.

It’s perfectly reasonable that a robot will have to sit around the house recharging. And I understand why the robot takes the bus at the beginning of the trailer; how else is a low-income hipster robot going to get around town? But for the life of me I can’t understand why the robot needs to read a book. Can’t he connect to the internet and download the entire library’s contents into its head? Why doesn’t he have a data spike like Robocop? Or at least have access to a good e-reader? Jonze seems to be guiding us towards an ethics of experience. Even the simulacrum of experience is better than pure digital knowledge.

It’s an odd looking short, albeit one that you can’t really take your eyes off of. I’m not really sure what prompted Spike Jonze to make a sad robot short so soon after a sad wild things movie, but he’s certainly come up with an interesting aesthetic. In steam punk, the far future is made to look like the Victorian past with, well, giant steam pipes everywhere. It’s fitting for a world where postmodernism is often defined as aesthetic blurring. But here, something else entirely. A not-so-far-of future is made to look like our incredibly-recent past (did I mention that the robot looks like an Apple 2 or some sort of bizarre fax machine?) It’s conceptually a slight distinction but visually clear.

Of course the least interesting thing about “I’m Here” is that it’s also an ad for Absolut Vodka. By that I mean Absolut financed the movie and is branding it as part of the Absolut experience. You can’t watch this trailer without being reminded to make Absolut a part of your life. After all, if it can help a sad robot find love, it can certainly help you. (Yes, even you, dear Salad reader!) I could say something negative about the commodification of art, but I’m not sure this is so bad. On the spectrum from commercial to un-self-conscious product placement (“You can have anything you want–as long as it’s a Corona!”) this is somewhere in the mild middle, a reminder that commercials were one of the 20th centuries great artistic achievements, and that today making a good YouTube video (or writing a mildly successful blog) costs a lot of money and time that no-one will ever pay back.

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