You Get What You Deserve

The Brazilian TV series 3% arrived on Netflix with little fanfare in my English-speaking bubble, but I took my electronic overlord’s suggestion and was not disappointed.

The show is very much in the vein of The Hunger Games or Divergent: plucky, sexy young adults take part in a twisted contest run by the grown-ups of a dystopian government. Rebellion and love triangles ensue.

However, I think 3%‘s coming of age contest is a more potent metaphor than The Hunger Games. I never fully bought that the less powerful districts of Panem would participate in the Hunger Games as much as they did.

What’s nice about The Process is that there’s an aspirational quality to it: Most people live in a giant slum, but when they turn 20, anyone can volunteer to go through The Process. screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-14-07-22-e14807957651243% of them will be selected to move to the Offshore, where there’s peace, prosperity, and amazing technology.

But if they’re eliminated, they’re confined to the slum for the rest of their lives.

It’s not about slaughtering their opponents, it’s about proving that they’re worthy of the riches on the Offshore.

Not everyone volunteers for The Process. But those who do are deeply committed to it.

Of course, this is a terrible way to run a society. The Process is cruel and arbitrary. One small mistake can get you eliminated. The requirements to pass are never clear: Is compassion a strength to be rewarded, or a weakness to be punished? Later on, candidates are given their own unique tests, so not everyone has to jump through the same hoops.

Most of the focus is on the candidates, but we also get a very useful look at the agents who run The Process, and how they make up new rules to suit their whims. When the Candidates pass a test as a group, the rules are changed to eliminate more people.

Part of growing up is finding a place for yourself in society. And since few people can just build their own success from scratch, this involves convincing grown ups that you are worthy of their attention. The Process is applying to college, impressing social circles we try to join,  and applying for the jobs that can give us access to peace, prosperity, and amazing technology.

But these Processes are often just as arbitrary and cruel as this dystopian future. And by lauding the 3% who prove themselves worthy, we are saying that everyone else deserves to wallow in slums.

Editor’s Note: Netflix has the option of watching 3% in Portuguese with English subtitles, or with dialogue dubbed over in English. While I’ve heard the dubbing praised… I never, ever watch foreign movies/shows with anything other than subtitles. It’s okay. You can read. Subtitles are fine.

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