Master of None Captures the Real Symptoms of the Internet Age

Spoilers for Master of None

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s misrepresentation. Over-reliance on stereotypes, broad characterizations, and one-note characters meant to send a message or move a plot along don’t have much of a place in modern entertainment. And yet, it’s not uncommon to see old, out of touch depictions of the “millennial.” You know who I’m talking about: the “swag” gear, skinny jeans, an over-inflated ego, and, of course, a cellphone.

While it’s obvious that mobile phones have dramatically impacted the way people–especially those of the more recent generations–communicate and interact, a lot of single camera sitcoms (whose over-reliance on stereotypes is another matter entirely) fail to capture the minutia of what living and growing in a constantly connected world might look like. Commercials, movies, and the aforementioned sitcoms all poke fun at this pre-packaged archetype with a knowing wink and a “kids these days/father knows best” attitude. These people are always, without fail, idiots, whose only purpose is to serve as the butt of a joke concerning how little they care to interact with the “real world” and how detached they seem from their surroundings.

Enter Master of None. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Netflix show examines topics of misrepresentation of every variety–from how racist depictions of Indian and Asian people get next to no attention today to the way gender diversity is being dealt with, even touching on how the elderly are regarded in our society–but none more thoroughly or subtly in my mind than the depiction of millennials. This show is not only the most accurate, but the only accurate example of portraying the nuances involved with living, working, and interacting with the modern world I’ve ever seen.

One of the beauties of Master is that even though particularly vexing problems almost always have solutions, those solutions have consequences, many of which tend to affect Dev adversely. Dev isn’t heralded as a hero for championing racial and gender equality–instead, his efforts to make his surroundings more inclusive leads, in at least two instances, to him being passed up for roles he was originally slated for. The conflict between what should be changed and why those changes haven’t occurred yet presents an amusing (albeit cynical) view of the slow march towards progress: no matter how much gets done in the way of equality, someone, even with the best intentions, will always get shafted.

This aspect of Dev’s personality and the problems he faces touches on the responsibility many millennials feel they have to make the world a better place now, but it doesn’t quite cut to the heart of what I feel rests at the center of this generation. The last episode “Finale,” however, does just that. The episode opens with a seemingly inconsequential montage of Dev and his friend looking up taco places. They spend hours searching for the absolute best one until they’re certain they’ve found it. Upon arrival, however, they come to find it’s closed, an opportunity undone by over-speculation and a fear of missing out.

This situation comes to define the episode as Dev and his girlfriend, Rachel, attend a wedding. The vows the couple exchange are so over-the-top they’re hard to take seriously, but Dev gets wrapped up in the idea that his life isn’t a fantasy the way the soon-to-be-wed couple’s is, and he ends up questioning his life choices beginning and ending with Rachel. He confronts his dad about the issue and he points him to the Sylvia Plath book The Bell Jar, wherein a section deals with the narrator sitting under a fig tree, each fig representing all the possible avenues her life could take should she choose one. The excerpt ends with the narrator’s realization that all the figs have died because she waited too long, leading Dev–who clearly did not understand the book’s message–to make positively sure his relationship is stable by demanding Rachel write down a number signifying how much she wants to be with him. Dev is dissatisfied with the answer, and in an instant, a fig of opportunity withers right before his eyes. A year spent courting and trying to win Rachel’s favor collapses, all thanks to an unrealistic expectation of how his life ought to be.

Dev is not totally representative of anything–not his race, his gender, his profession, his generation–as none of the characters on Master are, but his struggle to accept life as it is and be happy with what he has seems to my mind to be a uniquely modern problem. Which isn’t to say that other generations didn’t feel like they were missing out or made the right choices in life, but I would argue it’s never been felt on quite this scale before. The Internet, while providing an exorbitant amount of good overall, has also left a gap within those growing up within its orbit, afraid to branch out too far for fear of the risks it might pose while paradoxically being dissatisfied by a more local existence.

A special brand of stasis has bubbled to the surface of our brave new world, one characterized primarily by a lack of objectivity and an undercurrent of existential dread–that, for all our worry, our choices will only amount to so much inconsequentiality and indifference by the rest of the universe. No wonder Dev is an actor by trade: if all the world’s a stage, then we as a culture are finally beginning to see our cosmic audience, and Master of None is there to laugh, cry, and distract with us.

 

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