The Gene of AI‘s usual M.O. tackles complex ethical issues and philosophical dilemmas in a breezy, open-ended fashion meant to promote discussion. I suppose even this series has its limits, however, as the two topics covered in “A Proper Society” show us Gene at its most openly didactic and acerbic. I don’t think it’s unwarranted, either! Media censorship and educational curricula are seeds of important, controversial, and highly politicized debates at the forefront of people’s minds, both online and offline. There’s an incentive to take a definitive stand here that doesn’t exist for something more abstract, like the mind-body problem. This leads us a few steps outside the show’s comfort zone, though, and it’s interesting to see how it handles itself in this territory.
The first issue is so close to home it may as well be metatextual. While I doubt any parents are protesting the existence of Gene of AI (something tells me this isn’t a big hit with the youth), I’m sure there are plenty of artists working on this adaptation who have also worked on shows that caught flak for controversial content. Not all controversies are created equal either, but the one this episode lampoons is, in my opinion, a worthy target. I have little patience for anyone who believes art needs to fulfill some kind of morally beneficial purpose to be valuable. Even little kids need a media diet that includes more than educational programming. Human beings are born storytellers and story appreciators, and learning the perspective and literacy to digest and appreciate a large swathe of stories makes for a more well-rounded person.
Like the narrative, I don’t think the other side of the debate merits a proper rebuttal, so let’s look instead at how Gene portrays this argument. The father comes across as hysteric and hyperbolic in calling a self-evidently goofy battle anime “worse than gore or porn” just because the protagonist doesn’t turn to the camera and tells kids not to try this at home. He chooses to harass the creator instead of engaging with his kids. He provokes a bunch of hooligans out of a sense of moral superiority. And he gets bailed out by the guy he’s trying to silence. The creator, on the other hand, is outwardly detached yet inwardly committed to his anime to the point of endangering his health. Like many of The Humanoid characters in this series, he doesn’t take his humanity for granted, and that includes its rough edges. Sudo scolds him for not taking his health seriously, but otherwise, he’s vindicated by the events of this vignette. This is all satisfying to see play out, yet it lacks the bite of Gene‘s usual mic drops.
The “won’t somebody think of the children?” mentality almost always betrays the insidious conservatism of the adults who espouse it. This attitude extends to the episode’s second half, in which a Phoenix Wright lookalike treads into the thankless profession of teaching. Compared to the first half, there’s more meat on the bone here, and that meat feels more at home in Gene‘s typical milieu. While AI as it currently exists is an unambiguous detriment to learning, it’s easier to understand this episode’s invocation of AI in the context of No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and other efforts to “standardize” education. It’s reasonable to want to reduce variation in any profession, but no one size fits all when students and their needs are so diverse. In this particular scenario, the AI assistants seem pretty helpful and receptive, and that follows through to the conclusion in a school that balances a human touch with robot aid (including a cameo from fan-favorite Perm). There will always be smart ways to integrate new technology into education, just as there will always be dumb ways to do it too.
Still, we can understand why a fresh-faced Humanoid teacher would want to embrace a more old-fashioned form of teaching, and why he would gravitate towards the school he did. I was expecting the conflict to be more Luddite in nature, so I was pleased when the narrative instead buried its barbs into parental surveillance and interference. As the dude’s friend points out, there’s nothing lo-tech about live classroom feeds and AR spectacles manipulated to assuage the adults’ egos. And that gets to the heart of the issue: education should be enriching children’s minds, not catering to the most regressive whims of their parents. There are plenty of examples across time and cultures, but most recently and most blatantly in Florida, this mindset has materialized in the conservative movement to restrict the teaching of things as basic as the history and realities of slavery. These people want teachers to be robots—never challenging, never exploring, just regurgitating the same narrow worldview that calcified their brains.
It is heartbreaking and infuriating to see the vitriol, distrust, and bigotry spewed at this poor guy whose face lights up so genuinely when a kid thanks him for his support. Out of all that Gene of AI has covered so far, his story pulled the most animated emotional response out of me. It may be propaganda, but it’s effective, and honestly, we could use a lot more propaganda that openly sympathizes with the incredibly difficult, often thankless, and utterly vital job educators perform. Nevertheless, it’s ironic that the episode in which Gene lambasts didacticism in art is also its preachiest entry, stopping just short of dragging out the ol’ soapbox. While I don’t believe it plays to the show’s strengths, I like seeing what riles the author’s passion, and these are noble hills to die on.
Gene of AI is currently streaming on
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