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Golem – play by 1927

June 5, 2017

In Golem by UK production company 1927, the titular device is like a phone, combined with an interactive avatar that is super powerful. Golem version one is a bit rough. It’s a massive clay man with a big penis and sturdy trunk. It does your work, shops for you and tells you that, really, no-one has worn that style of shoe since the 70s, so maybe it’s time for an update. Golem two is faster, cuter, more efficient. Golem version three takes out the middleman and is a chip you implant in your brain.

Golem says: “Why be a nobody when you can be an everybody?”

Golem is an old story, a Jewish fable of how man creates machine out of clay to serve him. In Jewish folklore, a golem (/ˈɡoʊləm/ GOH-ləm; Hebrew: גולם‎‎) is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (specifically clay or mud). The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms (e.g. 139:16) nand medieval writing.

The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague to protect Jews. The only care required of the Golem was that he couldn’t be active on the day of Sabbath. Rabbi Loew deactivated the Golem on Friday evenings by removing the shem before the Sabbath began, so as to let it rest on Sabbath. One Friday evening Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem, and feared that the Golem would desecrate the Sabbath. A different story tells of a golem that fell in love, and when rejected, became the violent monster seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually going on a murderous rampage.[12]

There are many tales differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled.

A Polish Kabbalist, writing in about 1630–1650, reported the creation of a golem by Rabbi Eliyahu thus: “And I have heard, in a certain and explicit way, from several respectable persons that one man [living] close to our time, whose name is R. Eliyahu, the master of the name, who made a creature out of matter [Heb. Golem] and form [Heb. tzurah] and it performed hard work for him, for a long period, and the name of emet was hanging upon his neck, until he finally removed it for a certain reason, the name from his neck and it turned to dust.” A similar account was reported by a Christian author, Christoph Arnold, in 1674.

Rabbi Jacob Emden (d. 1776) elaborated on the story in a book published in 1748: “As an aside, I’ll mention here what I heard from my father’s holy mouth regarding the Golem created by his ancestor, the Gaon R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of blessed memory. When the Gaon saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe. He then removed the Holy Name that was embedded on his forehead, thus causing him to disintegrate and return to dust. Nonetheless, while he was engaged in extracting the Holy Name from him, the Golem injured him, scarring him on the face.”

In 2006 The Simpsons featured a male and female Golem in “You Gotta Know When to Golem”.

The setting of this play is a drab and dull Britain. It’s a Britain of libraries, a job in the stationery department, hand-knitted clothing, where everything is “smashing”, and the characters live off a grim high street – where the greasy spoon cafe sells bone jelly in broth.

Our protagonist is Robert Robertson, who works a Kafkaesque job coding at Binary Backup, and lives with his grandmother and sister, Annie. The siblings have a punk band – Annie and the Underdogs – that don’t perform outside their basement due to anxiety issues. Their house is dirty. Their personalities are quirky. They are the nobodies Golem is exhorting to become everybodies.

So when Robert purchases a Golem (version one) from an old school chum, everything changes. Suddenly much of his decision-making is outsourced to Golem. He buys trendy yellow shoes, becomes more assertive at work, even dates a colleague, and later joins a dating app on the promise of even better women out there (why have just one, when you can have more?). We know Robert has changed irrevocably when members of his band hear him listening to U2 in the bath and begin to question his commitment to anarchist punk.

His retort: Do you want to be a nobody or an everybody?

His Golem is no benign monster. Golem reads the Daily Mail and wonders if “we” should “let them in”? He loves Benedict Cumberbatch, and begins to talk like an advert (“you can save a pretty penny”).

This is a significant work of theatre not just for the ideas, brilliant and funny acting, quirky and memorable script (boasting many, many great lines), but because it is truly innovative.

The message – that the digital world has created a monster, and we are complicit in giving all our power away to our machines – comes wrapped in a very entertaining package, albeit with moments of repetition and heavy-handedness. It loses one star for making the same point several times about how materialist our culture is, and the detrimental effects of not thinking for yourself.

Golems are not intelligent, and if commanded to perform a task, they will perform the instructions literally. In many depictions Golems are inherently perfectly obedient. In its earliest known modern form, the Golem of Chełm became enormous and uncooperative. In one version of this story, the rabbi had to resort to trickery to deactivate it, whereupon it crumbled upon its creator and crushed him.There is a similar hubris theme in Frankenstein, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and some other stories in popular culture, for example: The Terminator. The theme also manifests itself in R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), Karel Čapek‘s 1921 play which coined the term robot; the play was written in Prague, and while Čapek denied that he modeled the robot after the Golem, there are many similarities in the plot.

The 20th-century philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul warned that if “technique” (automation and scientific method) becomes the only medium of human experience of life, “the whole set of complex and fragile bonds that man has patient; fashioned — poetic, magic, myth­ical, symbolic bonds — vanishes. There is only the technological mediation, which imposes itself and becomes total.” Technology has the ability both to maintain human dignity and at once remove the hu­man experience in which that dignity finds its meaning.

“backing up the backup”

“You can wake your Golem and put him to sleep at the end of the day.”

“Update your CV,”

“Tell us your name. Place your order,”

“Move with the times or you’ll be left behind.”

“Old Golem became a thing of the past in minutes.”

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