Nosedive Episode

In a particularly poignant exchange toward the end of the “Nosedive” episode, Lacie is hitchhiking her way to win the approval of an elite group of acquaintances; and motorists repeatedly pass her by on account of her low status. Even though she knows the reason for being disregarded, when a truck driver of even lower rank kindly offers to give her a ride, Lacie looks down her nose at the woman (“nosedive” indeed). She soon learns that the driver has purposefully opted out of the coercive point system and, as they make small talk, the trucker says that people assume that, with such a low rank, she must be an “antisocial maniac.” Lacie reassures the woman by saying you “seem normal.” Finally, the trucker wonders about Lacie’s fate: “I mean you’re a 2.8 but you don’t look 2.8.” This moment is illuminating as to how abstract quantification gets embodied – that the difference between a 2.8 and a 4.0 kind of person should be self-evident and readable on the (sur)face. This is a key feature of racialization: we take arbitrary qualities (say, social score, or skin color), imbue them with cultural importance, and then act as if they reflected natural qualities in people (and differences between them) that should be obvious just by looking at someone.62

In this way speculative fiction offers us a canvas for thinking about the racial vision that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. The White protagonist, in this case, is barred from housing, transportation, and relationships – a fictional experience that mirrors the forms of ethno-racial exclusions that many groups have actually experienced; and Lacie’s low status, just like that of her real-life counterparts, is attributed to some intrinsic quality of her person rather than to the coded inequity that structures her social universe. The app, in this story, builds upon an already existing racial arithmetic, expanding the terms of exclusion to those whose Whiteness once sheltered them from harm. This is the subtext of so much science fiction: the anxiety that, if “we” keep going down this ruinous road, then we might be next.

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