Ringu presents a confounding counterforce to Sconce’s technologist Spiritualist theory in Haunted Media. While Sconce portrays the Spiritualist movement as a derivation of initial technological advances, Ringu presents a logic-defying specter that goes against the logic of VHS tapes. This difference comes from a key perception in how the technology is perceived and the role it plays in society.
As we discussed in class, Ringu provides insight into the anxiety of raising your kid on a TV. Yoichi, Reiko’s son, is our primary manifestation of this anxiety. Many of the conversations Reiko and Yoichi have are over the phone, one of which is her telling him that she’ll be home late again. The language and presentation of that conversation indicates that this is a common ritual they perform. And this culminates in a very serious moment – Reiko wakes up and finds Yoichi watching the cursed tape, condemning him. After what has likely been years of absentee parenting, Yoichi’s actions are completely alien and unrecognizable to Reiko. Why would he watch the tape? His cousin’s ghost made him do it. Within the scope of the film, that’s completely believable. However, in a larger context, this isn’t really different from this quote from Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society:
There are kids who commit suicide who are heavily involved in the occult and parents don’t even know it,” he says. “Kids’ bodies are found, and you look around their room and see duct tape on the walls shaped like the inverted crosses that represent the antichrist. Parents have no idea what these things mean.” (Tipper 122)
Yoichi lives much of his life alone, even as a kid. He’s seen walking to school alone, answering the phone alone, etc. For most of the film, he is separated from his primary caretaker and living instead with his grandfather. Is it really that unfeasible then that he is a victim of this sort of stuff? He could be seeing all sorts of things on the TV and going to a school where rumors of the tape run rampant. This feels like such a far cry from the possibilities that technology could offer, or could have offered:
InHaunted Media, Sconce presents a straightforward argument: If the telegraph allows us to communicate in a disembodied fashion, then we could use the same technology, or similar technology, to talk with other disembodied people, i.e. dead people (they don’t have bodies because they’re y’know, dead.) There’s a little more nuance to this, but it offered opportunities to women that “would use the idea of the spiritual telegraph to imagine social and political possibilities beyond the immediate material restrictions placed on their bodies.” (Sconce 26) Maybe this new technological paradigm could offer opportunities to women and change the opportunities offered to them.
However, as time went on, these options were restricted, and “the empowering model of telegraphic technology would eventually be turned against the Spiritualists, leading to a new articulation of femininity and electronic disassociation that would serve to restrict drastically the autonomy of women (often quite literally).” (Sconce 51) Similarly to the Industrial Revolution, these technologies offered a vision of a utopian society, only to instead further cement control over individual’s lives. The consequences of the Industrial Revolution led to child labor and dangerous, horrid working conditions, and technological revolutions led to the articulation of control and overreach in today’s society.
Modern technologies have been heralded as revolutionary and let into our lives from the market without much thought of what it will do or its larger effects on society. These technologies have radically changed our lives, some certainly for the better. Hopes and dreams of a society where all labor is automated and we can live our lives in pleasure are certainly not going to be a reality anytime soon. Innovations such as neural networks and AI have glaring flaws, with many preliminary attempts inheriting the same hateful beliefs many people have, such as racism and sexism. Even the dream of a paperless office has been thwarted by very foreseeable challenges. And we are left with the consequences of these revolutionary technologies.
This brings us to Ringu – a movie that deals with the consequences of this oft-heralded technology. As computers have been introduced into the workplace, and parents have gotten busier with their jobs, television provides a helpful support system for these struggling parents. These kids can now watch TV to keep them entertained, but what are they watching? Maybe it’s baseball. Maybe it’s a cursed tape depicting the murder of a young girl by her abusive father that will then haunt them and kill them after seven days. Who knows.
What I want to highlight here is what appears to be a misleading plot: Reiko and Ryuji embark on a quest to uncover the secret behind Sadako’s Wrath, and lay her body to rest from where it was so callously disposed of. It seems like none of it matters! But this is in line with the historical development we’ve been tracing – hauntings and connections with spirits, once something that was logical like the telegraphy that enabled it, has become gnarled and disjointed, reflecting the mess of technologies that constantly undercut each other and complicate our lives. Instead, the simple message of compassion has become garbled and virulent, instead becoming a message that cannot be understood before it’s too late. The standard “rules” of a haunting do not apply to this instance, instead the values of the medium take precedence. What happened to Sadako cannot be replicated with someone else, however the VHS tape can and must be. In fact, this is what makes VHS so great, is that tapes can be mass produced and spread widely. The film points to this in fact, with the story beginning with conversation about the VHS tape (and ending with it.) Reiko connects the story of her niece dying with the tape rumor, but she fails to remember that as the medium.
This is not to say that their actions were for naught. Ultimately, Ryuji and Reiko DID uncover the injustice done to Sadako and laid her body, and some part of her at least to rest. Although it didn’t stop Ryuji’s death, they did something that was good and had some connection to Sadako. When Reiko is in the well and finds Sadako’s body, her body grips Reiko and pulls herself up, after which Reiko embraces her decaying corpse. Notably, this element of reanimation indicates that Sadako’s corpse had some sort of animating spirit, it just wasn’t the one that killed them. What is instead suggested is something that goes beyond the scope of just Sadako, and just Reiko and Ryuji. The technology obscures and contorts the possibility of survival, creating a misleading path that they follow instead. This is not a deception, because what they do has spiritual ramifications, rather it is not enough. What they should have is confounding, and does not fit within the logic of Sadako’s story. Is the conclusion of the film totally nonsensical and feel jarring? Yes, but it’s akin to the nonsensical and jarring role technological “improvements” have played in our lives.