Mark Watches ‘Cowboy Bebop’: Session 23 – Brain Scratch

In the twenty-third session of Cowboy Bebop, Faye goes undercover in order to claim a massive bounty, but the entire Bebop crew finds that this mission is far more complex than it seems. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.

Trigger Warning: Due to the nature of “Brain Scratch,” we have to discuss suicide/cults, so feel free to skip this if you’re not in a space to deal with it.

It’s strange to watch “Brain Scratch” having grown up in a world where Heaven’s Gate, Waco, Scientology, The Order of the Solar Temple, and other well-known cults are built into the fabric of the pop culture landscape. The Heaven’s Gate cult in particular seems to be the inspiration for Scratch and its followers. I can’t help but feel like Londes is Marshall Applewhite, the man who convinced his followers to commit suicide in order to ascend to a higher plane of existence. They look similar! I was thirteen years old when the American media machine began to regurgitate images of the suicides and of Applewhites unnerving and bewildering videos. Amidst all of this, there was Columbine, too, and I grew up with the Gulf War haunting my nights because that’s all that was on television in the early 90s. I had this terrible fear my father would be called back to war, even though he’d been in the Army long before I was born. (Vietnam, to be specific, and one day, I think I’ll be able to write about my father’s experiences in Vietnam, but today is not that day.) I also spent years watching The X-Files, which was fairly graphic and violent for a network television show.

So, does Londes’s thesis work? I don’t necessarily think so, and I’m glad that Spike dissects his poor ideas just as Jet and Edward unplug the man from his network. At the same time, I can’t deny that I did grow up with violence in my life, and a whole lot of it. It came from my family, the people at school, I saw it on the television… it was pretty much everywhere I turned. Hell, a lot of the authors I read as a kid – Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King – wrote inherently violent stories, too. But I never turned out to be a violent person. To date, I have only been in two physical altercations, and I fought back once, when I was 10, and that was it.

I just can’t accept that television in and of itself is the worst thing ever created by humankind. And I’m happy that the episode itself agrees with me! (This episode is a bit meta at times, isn’t it?) It’s not the medium but what we do with that medium.

This isn’t the sole focus of “Brain Scratch,” though. A lot of it shows us how the Bebop crew deals with the very idea of scratch. Unsurprisingly, they’re all completely baffled as to how anyone could join a cult like this or believe what Londes says. At the same time, they experience just how overwhelming the actual technology is. I think it was easy for them to discount Londes’s ideas, but once Jet puts on the Brain Dream device, he realizes that this is not going to be as easily categorized as he once did. The devices do something to the human body, but can they really transfer a soul to the digital realm?

It’s through Edward and Ein that they’re able to figure out what’s going on. (And holy shit, what the hell is going on with Ein’s brain, y’all??? That dog really is a genius, isn’t he???) I wasn’t surprised that Londes didn’t exist at all, but the revelation that it was all the dream manifestation of a hacker in a coma was certainly unexpected. The boy had set up this horrifying long con, left to continue on as long as he was connected, and it had influenced people to commit suicide. The narrative holds him responsible for what he’s done (which was what I saw when Jet told him that he was a con artist, not a boy), but in the end, we actually get to hear Ronny instead of Londes. If he hadn’t been such a horrible person, I might have felt bad for his impassioned begging as he slipped away from the system. He wanted so badly to escape from the body he was stuck in that he instead made others suffer in the process.

I do want to say one more thing about “Brain Scratch.” This whole episode is framed with constant interruptions of Spike flipping through different television channels, and I found it to be a brilliant and subtle way to offer commentary on precisely what Londes/Ronny hated so much about TV. Aside from the announcement that Big Shot was cancelled (!!!!), I didn’t see these moments as important plot points. Instead, we see just how pervasive our media system can be when it comes to overkill. How many stations found ways to drill home the “importance” of Scratch? Some shows even came up with ways to sell products based on the phenomenon. And that’s the problem with Londes’s theory. If you take television out of the equation, you still have the problem of oversaturation, of the commercialization of tragedy, and of the human need to stop and stare at the car wrecks of our life. Taking away television would never solve any of those things.

Mark Links Stuff

 I am now on tour!!! I have 26 events spread out across the eastern HALF of the U.S. and Canada. They are all free and all-ages. Come see me speak about the Mark Does Stuff Universe and read terrible fanfiction live!
- Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
- Commissions are still open while I am on tour! There may be a day or two delay to get them done, but I am accepting them graciously to help fund my tour!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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