Among the deluge of CES news releases this week, one stood out to me because it made little sense: Netflix was bringing its upcoming Altered Carbon series to the big Las Vegas exhibition. How do you bring a drama series to a hardware show?
It turns out, Netflix’s idea was to construct an elaborate faux-serious campaign, including a partnership with the drama’s fictional company Psychasec, and the collaborative booth they’re presenting at CES is a pretend exhibition area for Psychasec’s “sleeve” products. A sleeve, in the Altered Carbon universe, is a spare body you can transfer your consciousness into — because, as the tagline smugly proclaims, “no body lives forever.”
I had to get some background on what Altered Carbon, based on a cyberpunk sci-fi novel of the same name, was about from my colleague Andrew Liptak. Here’s his summary:
Set 300 years in the future, it follows a dead soldier named Takeshi Kovacs (Suicide Squad’s Joel Kinnaman). In this future, people can digitally transfer their consciousness from one body to the next by way of an implant called a Stack. Kovacs, killed on a distant planet and awoken on Earth, discovers that he’s been hired to help Earth’s wealthiest man, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), investigate his own death, which the police believe is a suicide. The show’s central McGuffin is at the heart of the mystery — both in the novel and in the series — and the world. Religious groups have condemned the company behind the body transfers, saying that the technology is immoral, and that lab-grown bodies and clones are an affront.
Walking through the Altered Carbon booth, however, was bemusing, and not in an especially good way. The young guides populating the fake store are dressed in all white, and they’re trying their utmost to maintain a serious air to their pretense. It’s a very goofy experience to be among people who are fully conscious of the ridiculousness of their actions. Nobody at CES was really buying the idea that they were being sold new sleeves for their souls, though there were plenty of intrigued onlookers. Guess that’s what happens when you show a little bit of flesh, whether it’s a real or simulated human.
I’m told these brand activations are approaching ubiquity at sci-fi conventions like those in San Diego and New York, but for the tech-focused Consumer Electronics Show, it feels like an alien experience. We’re a much more cynical crowd.
A nice touch at the end of the very brief walk through the Psychasec sales pitch was the provision of an “aftercare gel” for the sleeve you might have just purchased. In reality, it’s just a bottle of moisturizer with aloe vera, which frankly is the best part about this entire brand activation and one of the better freebies you can find at CES.
Altered Carbon premieres on Netflix on February 2nd.