High Maintenance // Qasim

Scott, the main character of the “High Maintenance” episode titled “Qasim”, gives the initial impression that he’s an every-day guy who’s obsessed with working out and eating properly. He attends two gym sessions a day, six days a week, and is shown preparing meals and exercising inside of his home regularly. The web series utilizes quick montages to exemplify Scott’s daily routine, beginning with shots of him cutting lettuce, watching narrative TV, and doing sit-ups in his living room. However, after several minutes, things start to get a little strange.

Using his computer, Scott is shown researching prices and reviews for wireless sleep trackers; as well as stages of Polyphasic sleep (sleep patterns that require persons to sleep multiple times throughout the day, rather than once or twice in 24 hours). Already, one can sense that the main character of “Qasim” is using technology to prepare himself for something. There’s a shot of Scott’s workspace in this scene, where one can notice two computer displays set up along with his phone, held in his hand. It rings and reads “GO TO SLEEP”.

The montage continues as we see Scott maintaining his schedule using his cell phone, which records and times his work-out routines, sleep patterns, and even tanning booth time constraints. He also uses his computer to masturbate regularly, which at first appears to an unplanned practice , but it is soon clear that Scott’s jerk-off schedule is also organized by a daily calendar. He writes “return to sender” on all of his mail; and labels meal plans “FOR COMPOST”.

After going on a date with a girl (Kitty) from his spin class, Scott reveals that his sleep schedule permits two hours of rest per day. The two go back to her apartment and have sex, and it’s after this that Scott casually explains himself; very seriously disclosing the reasons for his obsession with technological documentation and regulation of such a specific routine. The conversation transpires after Scott explains that he ended things with his previous girlfriend due to her close-mindedness about “basic universal truths.” The dialogue is as follows:

Kitty: “Oh my God, The Power of Now is like my bible”

Scott: “That I find totally even a little passive.”

Kitty: (accusingly) “What?”

Scott: “Qasim is much better; more active. He says we have the ability to use our conscious free-will to be the authors of our own lives. To create the kind of life we prefer; the kind of life we deserve, you know?”

Kitty: “I mean…right on. Is Qasim, like, your guru?”

Scott: “Not a Guru. No, he’s a multi-dimensional, alien-angel who uploads information telepathically to an individual in Arizona named Keegan Freely.”

Scott then uses an iPad to show Kitty Qasim’s webpage, and says some more insane things that clearly freak her out. The episode ends with Scott taking a nap in some woods while on his walk home, after his phone goes off and alerts him that it’s nap time.

In this episode of “High Maintenance”, technology is used excessively in order to exemplify a modernized style of apotheosis, in which a young man prepares his body and mental state for “Qasim” (the alien-angel). His computers and cell phone both dictate and guide his lifestyle; as an obsession with conforming to Qasim’s standards for apotheosis become apparent.

The episode can be watched here https://vimeo.com/79948720

The Master

An Intro to Research:

My initial interest for our final project was centered around snuff porn/dying online, but researching this proved to be difficult (and risky). During my meeting with Scott, I proposed a possible explanation that would focus on the gradual shift of daily activities/hobbies from contemporary life to cyberspace. To put it more simply, the changes in human recreation from offline to online. I’m curious about this idea of taking our ideas, affairs, interests and forms of self-expression, and putting them in some kind of recorded form online. Whether it’s a means for organization, documentation, conformity, or driven by feelings of longing, I really think there’s something here to be studied. I originally organized my work so that I’d be looking into online religious affiliations, gaming centers, and parental surveillance, but ended up just narrowing down to online religion and specifically, technological apotheosis. From what I’ve gathered so far, I’ve analyzed Heaven’s Gate and their still running website, and will be talking about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and an episode from the web series “High Maintenance” (which is REALLY good, Professor Richmond recommended it) titled Qasim, in which a character prepares for apotheosis. Each of these sources implements uses of technology to explore apotheosis, whether it be self-apotheosis, group-apotheosis to reach a human ideal, or promises of apotheosis to promote a certain ideology or even product (in this case, things such as written texts that can be purchased online).

Apotheosis, also known as divination or deification, refers to this kind of idea that an individual can be raised to a perfect form. In theology, apotheosis alludes to an elevation of individuals to a divine or godlike status.

The Master: “The Cause” and Apotheosis

The Master (2012), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a film that was partly inspired by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron. Hubbard. His character is well played by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is given the name “Lancaster Dodd” as the film follows his relationship with WWII veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). This post will explore the film’s use of technology in relation to both Quell’s lifestyle, along with the merging of 1950’s technology with a developing practice of Scientology, in order to reach a certain collective state of apotheosis.

The film’s opening gives a perverse impression of Quell, who (stationed in some tropical area with several dozens of other soldiers) is clearly disconnected from the groups of men that surround him. He sits outside of their circle, violently chopping coconuts and wondering what it would be like to slice open his own hand. The men build a kind of sandcastle in the form of a woman, as Quell gets down on the ground and grotesquely pretends to have sex with it. This earns obligatory laughs from several of Quell’s comrades, but his charade lasts for far too long as their smiles turn into frowns of disgust. It’s clear that Freddy Quell is not only sex-obsessed, but displaced.

After returning home, Quell (who suffers from PTSD) takes up a job that I thought was quite interesting. As a photographer (shown below),

MasterCamera

 

Quell’s association with technology is noteworthy. When we first see him working, he’s pleasant. As the camera focuses on his clients, smiling in anticipation of each photograph, we can hear Quell giving compliments and instructions before he’s shown grinning and snapping each picture. He looks secure here; even happy. While he’s not directly interacting with other human beings, the camera acts as an extension of himself in which he is not only able to provide a service, but is able to gaze freely. However, upon second exhibition of Quell’s work-life, he’s completely different. After drunkenly assaulting a male client who was posing for a photo, Quell flees his workspace and finds work on a farm (a job that he also loses quite quickly after poisoning an elderly migrant worker with homemade moonshine).

When Quell finally meets Lancaster Dodd (the character based off of L. Ron Hubbard), it’s because he’s been sought out as a stowaway on Dodd’s yacht. Instead of removing him from his boat, Donn keeps Quell on board, taken with the alcoholic concoction that was found on Freddie’s person upon discovery (a drink made with paint thinner). It’s here that “The Cause” comes to light, which is the title of Dodd’s following. This is also when the idea of apotheosis is incorporated into the film’s plot.

Pointing to her stomach, a pregnant Peggy — the wife of Dodd, played by Amy Adams — turns to Quell during a psychological exercise that’s being performed on one of the members of “The Cause” and says “Do you understand what’s happening? We record everything. Through all lifetimes.” It’s here that the tone of the film shifts, and viewers understand that “The Cause” captures aspects of denominational faith, centered around a specific means for eternal life in order to reach a certain apotheosis. In the next shot, Quell sits at a table with five other members of Dodd’s clan, who all wear headphones and listen to pre-recorded lectures created by Dodd himself. Quell puts a pair on, and we hear Dodd’s voice say “Man….is not an animal. We are not a part of the animal kingdom. We sit far above that crowd, perched as spirits; not beasts.” A use of technology in order to promote ideology about becoming connected with the spirit is established here; a means of apotheosis that Dodd believes in. The members listen intently, smiling at Quell and taking notes. And this is where the most exemplary line occurs, as Dodd’s recording continues with:

“You are not ruled by your emotions. It is not only possible, it is easily achievable that we do away with all negative emotional impulses and bring man back to its inherent state of perfect.” (33:45)

Here’s a shot from the scene, Quell is the only character not yet wearing headphones:

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 4.51.22 PM

 

Dodd also records individual sessions with members, which he refers to as “Processing”. Unsettling psychological questions are asked of Quell during these recorded sittings, including “Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?” and “Have you killed anyone?” in order to allow Quell to confront some of the things in his life that make him imperfect. This scene is quite difficult to watch, given Quell’s reveal of a sexual history with his aunt, his erratic outbursts and cries that eventually subside into a moment of clarity. Whether or not these sessions of “Processing” are genuine and effective is cryptic, however the ending shot for this scene is particularly gripping in the sense that a certain release has happened, allowing the two to indulge in booze and cigarettes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 5.23.04 PM

 

Dodd’s profession as a writer is quite significant in his beliefs about apotheosis as well, often locking himself up for hours and typing his own theories, attempting to turn them into print. In the film, he has one published book titled “The Cause”, and spends much of his time processing ideas for a new novel. In numbers, his group is quite small, and it does grow throughout the film, much as Scientology eventually did. However, it’s through these technological recordings and documented writings that his theories about apotheosis reach individuals, thus increasing membership within “The Cause” significantly. The idea that man can be returned to its original state of perfection (much like apotheosis) is his main concern.

 

 

Technology and Heaven’s Gate

Zeller, in “Extraterrestrial Biblical Hermeneutics and the Making of Heaven’s Gate”, refers to Applewhite and Nettles’ (the founders of Heaven’s Gate) view on alien visitation as an “extraterrestrial technological rapture.” (34)

Heaven’s Gate was founded in the mid-1970’s by Applewhite and Nettles. The two met in 1972, and soon founded a small religious group known as the Christian Arts Center. Topics of discussion included metaphysics, theosophy, and astrology, and the center– along with another attempted enterprise titled “Know Place”– failed by 73′ (40) due to funding, lack of interest from citizens and pressure from other Christian affiliations.

For the following ten years, Heaven’s Gate (under a new title) attempted to gain members with peak participation reaching around 200 individuals (Zeller 40). The group has been coined as a type of UFO religion, and members basically believed that Earth was soon to be recycled, or wiped clean, and that survival required the evacuation of human life. In 1997, Applewhite and 38 members of Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide after renting a 9,200 square foot home in a  gated San Diego community; anticipating the arrival of a spacecraft that their souls could board.

“Heaven’s Gate – How and When It May Be Entered” titles the religious group’s still-running website, which you can check out on their website,  heavensgate.com.

The website’s homepage reads,

Whether Hale-Bopp has a “companion” or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at “Heaven’s Gate.” The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the “Kingdom of Heaven”) has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp’s approach is the “marker” we’ve been waiting for — the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to “Their World” — in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion — “graduation” from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave “this world” and go with Ti’s crew.”

Underneath this are several links that include excerpts from the groups novel (which can be purchased using the website), disclaimers about the groups specific practices (such as “Earth Exit Statements by Students” and “Our Position Against Suicide”) and an image of a member of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (an alien).

While the website is dated, the use of technology works in several ways. Regarding apotheosis, there’s an entire section titled “Last Chance To Advance Beyond Human”, that’s easily accessible and organized using bullet points, highlighted in front of an image of space. Members basically believe that the human soul is able to progress to the “Kingdom Level Above Human”, thus achieving deification. An excerpt from this page reads,

“The human kingdom was designed (created) as a stepping stone between the animal kingdom and the Evolutionary Kingdom Level Above Human (the true Kingdom of God).
It is the soul that can progress from the human kingdom to the Kingdom Level Above Human. Both kingdom levels have their own unique physical “containers” (bodies) for the souls that reside in that kingdom level.” (heavensgate.com)

“-Today’s Next Level Crew” is signed at the bottom of the page.

There’s also a link to an email address near the bottom of the home page, which I’ll more than likely being taking advantage of out of curiosity; hoping that members utilize their emailing system.

A Short History of Apotheosis

In the historical past, apotheosis is documented in numbers. Expression and exemplification of development through deification is present in literature, anthropology, music, art, religion, sociology and even economics. While the term “apotheosis” ranges from region to region, the ideology remains intact, spanning from Ancient Greece, Rome and Asia to the present.

In Greece, immortality was often tied with an equal status to gods. While public figures likely reached apotheosis before death, “The disbelief demonstrated in 1 Corinthians towards the idea of the resurrection of the body is really not about the resurrection of Christ, but about the general resurrection of the dead.” (Endsjo 417) This, of course, is quite different from the notion that one can reach apotheosis in contemporary life; utilizing technology to do so. However, this greek phenomenon of bringing people back from the dead paralleled with an idolization of Gods has influenced the notion of immortality of the soul. Regarding technology, there is a similar belief that users of the internet, for example, are able to obtain a certain online presence and existence even after death. Moreover, internet users who let’s say, for example, belong to Heaven’s Gate’s website, attempt to achieve apotheosis using technology as well.

In Rome, “The idea…of a specially close personal relationship with God, is common ground both to ancient paganism, on the one hand, and to Judaism and Christianity, on the other.” (Toynbee 127) Perspective on God-like figures varied, as do today’s views on those who have achieved divination. While the U.S. is obviously not under the same rule as Ancient Rome, those who are involved with technological apotheosis differentiate between methods of idolization. As Toynbee states, “it appears that Rome could think of her great men at one moment as human magistrates, at another as endowed with the functions and powers of the gods; and we can see this process operating in the portraits of historical, pseudo- historical, and contemporary characters which adorn the late republican coinage.” (128) Later, I will address figures that exemplify this, such as:

-The Master’s portrayal of L. Ron Hubbard

-Heaven’s Gate’s Marshall Applewhite/Bonnie Nettles; how they were viewed in the 1970’s-1990’s vs. today, according to Heaven’s Gate’s still running website

-Possibly Charles Manson’s founding of the Manson family (considering technological influences)

-High Maintenance’s “Qasim”

Artistically, a good example of developed apotheosis and ascension would be a painting by Greek-Italian artist Constantino Brumidi titled The Apotheosis of Washington (1865). It’s pretty amazing,

apotheosis

and depicts George Washington sitting in heaven, ascending/becoming a god.

apo2

What I found to be interesting were the characters surrounding Washington, with one of them actually representing “Science”, along with various American inventions. While Washington wasn’t (to my knowledge) an alien figure or cult leader, it’s inarguable that he was seen as God-like.

Works cited in this post:

Toynbee, J. M. C.. “RULER-APOTHEOSIS IN ANCIENT ROME”. The

         Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic

         Society 7.3/4 (1947): 126–149.  Web…

Endsjo, D. O. “Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in

Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians.” Journal for the Study of

         the New Testament30.4 (2008): 417-36. Web.