WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN
It’s been a long while since I’ve last written an article about Lain. I’ve been meaning to write something along the lines of sociology and psychology still to add on to the philosophy post I wrote on Lain but I haven’t yet, unfortunately. But I’m planning on changing that at least one step at a time. Lain has extremely heavy sociological themes within the show that it manages to handle just as well as all of its other messages and does so in a way that blows me out of the water.
There will be a few points made in this post as I try to address all the questions and themes that Lain brings up in regards to how Lain interacts with her society and how the society perceives Lain, and how that all is facilitated. I will try to keep it focused mainly on the sociological side of things rather than dipping into philosophy or psychology but as with everything Lain there is some mixture between the fields from time to time.
The first and the most important theme I would like to cover here is the computer vs. real life interaction. Lain makes sure to present this as an issue within the show even going as far as to offer its “solution” to the problem, which is when Lain learns that having a body is important and stops humanity from ‘ascending’ into the Wired thanks to Alice’s influence in her life.
Before this show started and certainly after it aired the concern of real life vs online interaction has shown its head in research papers, schools, and concerned parents. The question of “are they spending too much time online” or “is the internet destroying their social life” has been asked time and time again with varying answers. In a paper written by John Drussell, the very thing I am speaking of rears its head. He speaks of the benefits of social networking and the cost of it, such as the deterioration of some real life relationships and the increased anxiety of interacting with someone face to face.
In my opinion I feel as though Lain treats those who exist solely online as an almost toxic thing. Chisa exists only online and tries to convince others that there is no point in having a “real body” since existing on the Wired has so many more benefits. Additionally, Masami Eiri concocts an entire scheme to try and convince Lain to join the Wired so his plan will be fully realized. The balance for Lain comes when Alice reminds her that having a body and interacting face to face is as important as online interactions if not decidedly more so.
Cyberia could be seen as an example of “the internet” in a real world location. It’s a place where information seems to be exchanged and on top of that the people there are all cold and separated from each other, much like many online interactions. They’re still in the same place around other people but they’re “alone together” instead of just being “together.” Cyberia is definitely an important location for the show as it is the strongest indication that reality and the Wired are beginning to merge; Wired Lain appears there from the beginning of the show and the music is shown to be a beat that makes it easier to “merge” with the Wired.
Also given Cyberia I’d like to note the “cold” interactions that occur there. When the gunman shoots himself in the head after speaking with Lain, students at Lain’s MIDDLE SCHOOL are talking the next day about it and… laughing about it. They don’t take the event seriously until Alice questions what the hell they’re doing, laughing about a suicide like that. It’s more tying in to how online, an event might not seem serious when you hear about it. You’re separated from it. But when it happens in front of you… it’s a different story.
The second section I’d like to address is somewhat related. It’s the separation of real life and the internet as brought up in the show. Within the context of the show it’s a very real problem that the Wired is beginning to interact with the real world. This makes it all the more interesting because it draws a parallel to those people who spend so much time on the internet they begin to become unable to “tell the difference” so to speak.
During one scene in the show, Yasuo walks in to find Lain boring holes into her computer screen, her computer having transformed from a simple Navi to a gigantic behemoth. He tries to correct her by telling her that “real life and the Wired are separate places” and Lain counters with “it’s not that simple”. In the show of course we know that of course it isn’t that simple, the Wired is LITERALLY invading the boundary of reality.
But it rings true in the real world as well. Both the points do. The Internet and the real world are separate. Mixing the two can lead to some dangerous things. But because of how society functions today, you can’t fully separate the real world and the internet. The internet has almost, if not surely, become a foundation in how schools, businesses, families, and even countries operate in their day to day lives. We’ve embraced the advance of technology. Which makes it all the more impressive that a show made in 1998 was able to essentially predict where we would head with the “Wired”.
A few more quotes are extremely relevant to this section. In episode 6 Lain is confronted by her friends and is asked a few questions. The first, “Life’s depressing when you’re alone all the time” kind of implies that internet friends aren’t “with you” in the same way that real life friends are. Additionally it’s followed up by “What sites have you been hanging out on?” which could easily be switched for the real world equivalent of “Who/where have you been hanging with/at?” And, slightly less relevant, “You prefer a machine to your friends?” Which is also said by one of the trio in episode 4. That’s a question many introverts may fear. It’s not “machine vs. friends” to someone like Lain. It’s much more complicated than that.
A third point to address is how others perceive us in real life and online and how Lain was perceived throughout the course of the show. Besides Lain’s perception of herself and her struggles to come to grips with who she really is, there’s the general public’s perception of her. It ends up being somewhere between admiration, love, and fear, as you would expect of someone who is on the level of a god.
One of the most blatant ways of showing off how Lain is perceived by others is the scene where she speaks with the shapeless form of Masami Eiri and the “bobbleheads” that all chatter around her take on her face. It’s how everyone on the net is perceiving Lain. They all have their own idea of who Lain is even though Lain is struggling to figure out who she thinks she is. In general this works for everyone. You have the person you perceive yourself to be and the person others perceive you to be, depending on how you act, who you’re with, and a multitude of other factors.
It goes along with the idea that you can be whoever you want to be online but for whatever reason (mostly due to who she was) Lain chose to represent her full self on the Wired where most individuals were choosing to only materialize a hand, or a mouth, or another body part. Sure, it was all they could do, but the parallel between “showing only a part of yourself” in the show and “putting your information online” works too well to just be a coincidence. The more of yourself that you “reveal” the more danger you are put in online. And because Lain is putting all of herself on the internet she’s giving people a path to start rumors about her as well.
There’s another interesting quote from the beginning of episode 6 that ties in with the ability to spread information so quickly: “If people can connect to one another, even the smallest voice will grow loud… …even their lives will become longer.” With the internet/Wired, everyone has a voice. And if you’re remembered, you live on. The internet gives you the ability to live on beyond reality. Which is how Chisa and Eiri were able to continue living. It was more of a literal representation.
We also have the discussion of rumors and how those rumors persist. Within the show the rumor that Evil Lain brings to light is that Alice and her teacher are involved in a relationship with each other which is of course taboo. But the focus isn’t so much on the relationship the two are having as it is on the fact that a simple rumor was able to permeate so quickly throughout the Wired. The Wired gave Evil Lain the power to cause that rumor to spiral out of control.
Given the internet’s amazing capabilities we have the ability to use it for noble purposes or less than noble purposes. Evil Lain’s rumor was an ugly thing that thrived on getting other people to repeat it time and time again so that people would believe it to be true. This could tie into the alien theory as well; it might not matter, sometimes, if a rumor is true or not. As long as it sticks, as long as everyone believes it, the rumor could end up BECOMING the truth and therefore warping reality even further.
This combined with “first impressions” can have a dangerous effect. If the only information anyone knows about Alice and her teacher is that they are involved in a relationship (or even that Alice masturbates while thinking about her teacher) that’s the ONLY picture they have of Alice and it can totally ruin and damage her reputation beyond repair.
But Lain herself does something that isn’t necessarily the best. She tries to “fix” the problem by wiping out everyone’s memory of the incident, except for Alice’s. This caused Alice to start cracking a little bit. Being the only one to remember an incident happened, when no one else believes it happened, is a weird place to be in. If no one else believes it happened, did it really ever happen? This is where the sociological and philosophical aspects of the show begin to mix. People essentially have the power to negate the existence of certain events or people by… forgetting they exist. There’s an old saying that say you die twice; once when you actually die, and once when someone says your name for the last time. Alice says in the show “If you don’t remember something, it never happened. If you aren’t remembered, you never existed.”
One more small thing of note is the video game that everyone was playing (the game of “tag” in which the girl was chasing down the man). It seemed to have warped their reality into a video game where they were still actually causing physical harm to others to the point of killing, but everyone was going along with it probably due to the fact that they thought it was all just a video game. This could lead into a discussion itself about the nature of violence in video games and how they supposedly desensitize the gamers to real life violence but that isn’t the scope of this article. Just a one off thought considering how the game was presented within the show.
In conclusion… in conclusion. There’s probably a lot more I could say about sociology in Lain. Unfortunately I don’t have a degree in this subject and sociology, much like the other two topics I’ve written on, isn’t a field that can be covered in two thousand words even within the confines of Lain. These thoughts may be a bit disorganized too; maybe in the future I’ll come back and fix things up a bit. For now though I’m just happy I was able to talk even more about my favorite show
Additionally I would like to say I don’t know that I agree 100% with everything I may have gathered from what Lain was trying to say about sociology. Some of this is what I thought the show was trying to say, some of it is what I believe myself. As is the beauty of Lain, someone could tell me I was 100% wrong and there could be a loooong discussion.
I will write more in the future about Lain; I don’t know that I’ll ever be satisfied to a point where I’ll stop. Thank you all for reading, and remember, Let’s All Love Lain.