What Are Stories With Telekinetics Really About?



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Previously we’ve talked about what the horror and sci-fi movie baddies of some age SAY about that age. You know, like… whether zombies represent capitalism, or technology or both. Or how the sorts of lines grotesque film monsters cross can indicate what cultural, or political transgressions are thought particularly heinous. A man crossed with a fly? HAS SCIENCE GONE TOO FAR? In this episode we’re gonna do something different – instead of asking about the BAD GUYS, we’re gonna ask about what the GOOD GUYS may say about today. And we’re gonna ask about one particular type of film and TV protagonist … that isn’t quite at zombie or sexy vampire ubiquity yet …. but seems increasingly common nonetheless: the telekinetic. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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40 Comments

  1. I think that the influx of telekinetics is based off of a long running theory of popular comic book heroes.  The idea is that through the years, Super heroes in comic books (and TV) have been based off of what the populace is afraid of.  For example: fear of nuclear weapons and the Hulk, Fear of Genetic modification and the X-Men, and fear of Aliens and countless characters (but probably not Superman).  In that vein, I think the shift in telekinetcs getting their powers from within (rather than externally) shows that society is shifting towards being aware and afraid of what each person is capable of individually.

  2. Quick nitpick – Sylas’ power wasn’t really telekinesis! He had the ability to understand mechanisms, no matter how complex, by simply looking at them directly.
    That’s why he keeps opening up people’s heads. He learns to use people’s powers by learning how they do it.
    … What? I think it’s pretty cool. :C

  3. “Spooky action at a distance” under control of the human mind.
    The allegory is about our ability to change our surroundings with our thoughts, we can do this via communication of any kind, just not as directly as telekinesis.
    How can this conversation happen without the not heroes and not villains represented in Chronicle.

  4. CARRIE. CAAAAAARIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE. Just say Carrie. I don’t know any of these other shows. Even Matilda would have sufficed

  5. I think you got something in the computer angle. You could say that any action we take is us “programming” – that is manipulating reality around us. As our technological prowess increases our ability to so becomes more potent. Whos to say effective telekinesis cant be archived through, say, nanotechnology paired with a brain interface? And through AR and VR we are achieving, if not direct telekinetic power over the real world, then atleast over a simulated enviroment.

    The best example of “programming” reality ive come across in fiction btw, is the ancient language in the Inheritance Cycle (Eragon, the eldest etc)

  6. In a similar vein. SrarCraft has a great allegory about its telekinetic humans known as psionics in their lore children/people are constantly monitored by their government to verify their potential superpowers and are forcibly conscripted into the military if they are proven to have psionic potential. When these people start operating in the military things can easily get messy and dangerous with things like terrazine gas creating hyper-violent soldiers called Spectres and Kerrigan the most psionicly gifted soldier of the terrain army being captured and transformed into an alien being that eventually leads an entire alien race. It shows how that incredible superpower that is telekinetics fails to match with the indomitable forces of the masses and the state by leaving the poor souls who have these tendencies powerless to control their station. (with Kerrigan’s state she manages to defy the state but only by giving up her humanity.)

  7. I don’t think it’s specifically/just telekinesis, I think it’s all super powers. Telekinesis is just rather popular because
    A) It’s so widespread the premise is generally understood
    B) Visually it’s one of the simplest superpowers to pull off in a tv show or movie.
    I think all superpowers can be used to tell stories about the people afraid of what they may do to those around them on accident. Some good non-telekinetic examples of this are Clark Kent as a child in Man of Steel, Peter Petrelli from Heroes, Daisy from Agents of SHIELD, a large portion of X-Men stories, etc.

    I’m also surprised there wasn’t any mention of Chronicle.

  8. When you talked about connection (especially with a ‘higher force’), I immediately thought of the Dark Phoenix storyline in the X-Men comics.
    The Phoenix Force is a cosmic entity which takes posession of Jean Grey and gives her great power, through being connected. But when Jean turns into the Dark Phoenix, her powers go overboard and she destroys an entire solar system and its inhabitants.
    Admittedly, at that point her powers don’t have much to do with just telekinesis anymore, but I think it’s interesting how the Dark Phoenix Saga mirrors the themes you present in your video, like connectivity, or loss of control. Jean Grey lives the careful struggle between losing control and painfully suppressing your powers.
    Another struggle she has to face in X-Men Evolution for example, is proving her honesty, proving that she isn’t using her powers secretly, in sports competitions or during exams. Distrust from other people might also be a telepath-thing, because with these mind-based powers it is very easy to deceive someone or move things without anyone noticing.

  9. Hrm. I wonder if Telekinesis, or the ‘fear of telekinesis’ is tied, in some way, to Tool Use.

    Consider what TK, at its basest form, is. Someone (or thing, though considering that the entities which use TK are almost always intelligent, it could be argued that they are merely reflections of humanity) is using their mind to cause a great effect with relatively minor effort.

    Is this not the same, in essence, as the use of tools? Someone stares at a boulder and concentrates for a while, then that boulder is pushed off a cliff. Someone stares at a boulder for a while, then gets a large branch and levers the boulder off a cliff. In a way, to a primitive human who has never even considered hitting something with a stick (pre-Monolith, if you will), they would be the same thing.

    I wonder if the fear of Telekinesis isn’t, then, the fear of Tools, just allegory’d and metaphor’d throughout thousands of years of history. Isn’t it often thought that someone from the 1100s who saw our casual usage of electricity be bewildered and convinced that we were using sorcery and witchcraft?

    TK is, perhaps, that ancient fear of the ‘more fit’ tool user, the distrust of the new and unnatural, but so old and corroded as to be unrecognizable in today’s Tool-user-dominated society.

  10. Yes! I like this one. It also goes with any type of magical type of ability. A fireball from ones hand is like the perception of someone that witnessed a pyrokinesis show but believes in it. Or a fireball from ones hand could also be an allegory to just someone who is an expert with pyro tech.

    It is actually easy to look at these magical things this way, as an unbelievable action. A secret group could brainwash someone into doing something. That in a legendary tale could be told as a possession.

    However, my only question is one layer over, and that is the idea of being able to shoot fire from hands. Not as an allegory, but as a possibility. The fact that being convinced to magic being real gives ideas to actually find a way to make it real.

    So like in a million years, humans have transcended and they now inhabit INDIVIDUALLY on their own planets. Eventually one human with his own planet creates life that starts a cycle where now that life form will come to evolve like we do. They tell the legend of a god or many gods, tell how they created the world just like so, but it was actually super advanced technology blah blah you get the point!

    So like, despite telekinesis being an allegory, it in itself sparks an idea that both the faker (Magician) and the perciver (Audience) are both actually unoriginal to because it has existed, or obviously should, or something else.

  11. In the enumeration about the impact of “the Internet”, you missed online harassment or how some comment (or comments, delivered by a group of people, concerted or not) can lead to devastating consequences to people on the receiving side (including suicide, it doesn’t go a year in Canada without hearing about it). I think it fits perfectly with the telekinesis theory.

  12. 2:05 Mike, that was amazing! It’s like I was literally hearing your voice, in my head.
    Are you an Avenger yet? You should be.

  13. When I ask my friends what super power they would have, telekinesis is usually in the top five results, right up there with immortality, teleportation, telepathy, and time control. I’m not really sure what the implications are there.

  14. I know this vid was mostly focused on western media, briefly mentioning Akira in passing, but I was really hoping for a mention of Mob Psycho 100! Even a gif or two haha. I’ve really enjoyed the way that series depicts losing control of TK powers as a) something visually quantifiable through the on-screen/on-panel counters and b) as something that can be have positive or negative consequences depending on what emotions built up to cause the powers to overflow and in what context they reach peak capacity.

    @NerdSync mentioned the connection between telekinesis and the perceived weakness of characters that possess its powers, a trait played with for comedy and character development in Mob Psycho through Shigeo’s joining and continued participation in the Body Improvement Club after experiencing that natural telekinetic powers aren’t a free ticket to popularity and success, and that strength will always be more admirable if worked for.

  15. Azazel (Denzel Washingthon’s Fallen movie’s demon) starts with A. You show us a clip of Matilda, but in the case of Matilda the explanation of her telekinesys comes from her intelligence and kind of a compensation for his horrible life, a little bit like Cinderella.

  16. the ending of the Akira manga lines up real well with the Charles Fort transcendental super-organism conception of reality. Within the story, the Testuo’s powers don’t come from his mind itself, but from his mind tapping into the infinite power of the Godhead. He struggles and ultimately fails to regulate how much of this power flows out from him. At the end of the story, Testuo has lost all control, and his body expands to accommodate the vast godly energy flowing into him. Akira, who can better control the power, ultimately chooses to himself, the children, and Testuo away from the physical world and reside in the source of the power, the infinite Godhead, the Brahman.
    Thematically, the telekinesis can be seen as an allegory for the pursuit of nuclear power, and Japan’s relationship with the atomic bomb. Akira’s “transcendental awakening” at the beginning of the story is an explosion, officially referred to as “a new type of bomb”, that destroys Tokyo and triggers WWIII. And years later, despite the destruction, the leader of the Japanese military still believes he can control this power, and seeks to develop more​ telekinetic children, for military purposes, ostensibly with the intent to restore Japan to it’s glory days as an imperial power.

  17. One thing to add, with the surge of the internet of things, we’re far beyond the days of the clapper. Unlike in the past where you would use a remote control as simply a tool, I think we’re beginning to see a point where the devices we own such as our phone are more an extension of ourselves.

    In fact, I’ve long argued that one of the biggest misunderstandings of older people who complain that younger people don’t talk to each other and don’t get cellphones/the internet is that they only see a phone as a means to an end. Many younger people don’t see a screen when they talk to their friends online, they just see their friend. Similarly, I’ve noticed older people have no trouble moving past that barrier when it comes to talking on their phone.

    We’re not to the point where they’re a literal attachment to our bodies, possibly why there is a lack of robocop/inspector gadget style of body alteration stories but rather, we’re on a the precipice of a VR/AR revolution. It gives us the power to literally create an entire new world layered on top of our old one.This genre likely comes from the fear about whether these new worlds, even with greater connectivity, might become isolating. I’d say for some older individuals, they already feel isolated as there is this whole world hidden from them. One of the key characteristics of telekinetics are their ability to control their power more and more over time. Is that not a very similar pattern of our connectivity? We see greater and greater “online” time but eventually, it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll reach a point where that extension of ourselves is fully realized.

  18. I don’t think Sylar from Heroes actually breaks with this premise, mainly because of the way that he functions within the plot of the show. And most specifically within the plot of the first season. Similarly to how the internet and telekinesis interconnect things, Sylar’s main role within the first season is to interconnect the different characters. Which is one of the central roles of the story, given how many characters there are. The sheer destruction of his telekinesis causes characters to act, rather than sit back and mildly panic about their abilities. The interesting thing with Sylar’s narrative (and Peter’s paralleling it) is that none of their powers are truly their own. They get their powers through their connection to others, in Peter’s case that’s through empathy like you talked about and in Sylar’s case that’s murdering people….which yeah probably isn’t great. But it also goes along with this idea of interconnectivity and telekinesis.

  19. it feels like the rise is telekinesis is more evolutionary. we are pretty much at the pinnacle of human physical evolution, so much so that we no longer need to adapt to our environment but force our environment to adapt to us. So where can we continue to grow? only in our minds. So the telekintec story is providing a physical manefestaion of the only thing we have left to develop.

  20. The first thing that came to mind was nothing like “connectivity” to the “world” or the “web”… To me, Telekinesis is more about the hability to impact your surroundings even at a distance. and most importantly having control over that which is out of reach hence, also having Telepathic powers as our own mind might also be not within reach at all times… or is it?

  21. i think it’s a lesson in rising above limitations yet still having limitations. jedi, for instance, can move stuff around but they don’t do it often because it takes so much focus; and even though they can do it there’s still a host of problems that can’t be approached using it. same with other psychic abilities. take away: no matter how powerful you become, life is still going to present challenges that take some smarts and diligence to meet.

  22. I really thought you were going to say it’s about us having a higher value over our minds than our bodies.

  23. one of the great anime of the 21st century shin sekai yori really captures this theme very well, both on an individual level and also of the level of the relation of these powers to power dynamics within a society.

    spoiler

    people in this society can lose control of the telekenetic powers and the thoughts begin to poison the world and begin to warp it. but at the same time the character’s whose journey to this lost of control begins with curiosity and a desire to know ( and also the questioning of the reality around him) and descend as he in way began to become more understanding of the world as he loses more control and its depicted as him being overloaded by the world. he made this connection between these powers and human capabilities more explicit when he argued that the powers are dangerous because they byapassed the flesh and allowed for the almost ethereal mind to take over the roles and faculties that was once performed by the body , from needed to move things with their body, to warping the world with their creativity and actions and also to observe the world with their eyes; which was partly depicted by how the people who lose control seem to exhibit psychometric powers as their symptoms developed more.

  24. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a mention of TK as an allegory for mental illness. Struggling to keep control, potentially hurting those you love – these are worries for people who deal with mental health issues. Not only this, but modern TK is often medicalised (for example, Eleven from Stranger Things wears a hospital gown.)

  25. I’d venture that the lone nature of telekinetic heroes is still quite fitting; because while the connection is the source of the power, the risk may in part come from feeling like no-one else is real out there.
    And further, we bear the responsibility for our own actions, on our own. We don’t, strictly speaking, get to disappear into the rest of some group when our tweet blows up the universe, or our lives.

  26. I always thought of telekinesis was used to illustrate our fear of the brain, because of the comfortable uncertainty it has with us not understanding it 100%. As well as the scary feeling of how is this weird fleshy round thing me and all that I am, what black magic allows it to make me me.

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