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China's Dark Side Landing: How The Moon Loses Its Mystery Appeal

China's lunar rover on the dark side of the Moon on Jan. 11
China's lunar rover on the dark side of the Moon on Jan. 11
Kathleen Hildebrand


The Moon's cultural history is one of disenchantment. Thousands of years ago, people still believed that it was a deity, there were legends about beautiful Moon girls and a man in the Moon. But its proximity to Earth made the myths around it one of the first victims of the scientific worldview. Already in the 16th century, the English proverb "the Moon is made of green cheese" was intended as a mockery against stupid, credulous provincial residents. The Enlightenment made Moon people and Moon cities the subject of literary games and utopias. The Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto, for example, sent his Raging Roland to the Moon, where he finds all the things that had been lost on Earth. Among them was Roland's own mind.

Back then, behind the moon, there was still something to discover.

Then came the Moon missions and plans to use the Moon as a gigantic mine. The commercialization of the Moon has long been a feature of works of fiction. In the 2009 science fiction film Moon, a worker drives a mining vehicle over its surface in what is a tedious routine. And in the 2008 Pixar animation Wall-E, next to the landing site of Apollo 11, only an advertising hologram flickers, pointing to a mall that no longer exists.

Now the first landing by China of a space probe on the far side of the Moon removes another piece of what was left of the satellite's secrets. While telescopes had long since measured the earthward side down to its smallest craters, moon globes had to remain almost half white until the end of the 1950s. Back then, behind the Moon, there was still something to discover. Only in 1959 did the Soviet probe Luna 3 transmit the first images from its far side to Earth. In 1968, on the Apollo 8 mission, the first humans orbited the Moon. Today, we know very exactly what the far side looks like — unsurprisingly, its craters are rather similar to the ones on its near side. But what we don't see every month in the sky can at least retain the appearance of mystery.

Staff at the at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center on Jan. 11 — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

At least since Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon and its iconic prism cover, it's become an image for the unknown, the gently threatening "otherworldly". So much so that Swiss novelist Martin Suter didn't have to include any celestial bodies in his novel The Dark Side of the Moon. Murmuring the words is enough to make the connection to the hidden shallows in Suter's main character's psyche.

The darkness becomes more tangible in the 2012 low-budget film Iron Sky, partly financed by crowdfunding: After their defeat, the Nazis built an enormous station in the style of architect Albert Speer on the far side of the Moon and gathered strength for their return to Earth and their world domination. The film's fans were so enthusiastic about the satire that they raised enough money for a second part, which is scheduled to be released in 2019. And as chance would have it, the now less-mysterious far side of the Moon is no longer enough: in the follow-up, the Nazis will have dinosaurs.

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Look At This Crap! The "Enshittification" Theory Of Why The Internet Is Broken

The term was coined by journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the fatal drift of major Internet platforms: if they were ever useful and user-friendly, they will inevitably end up being odious.

A photo of hands holding onto a smartphone

A person holding their smartphone

Gilles Lambert/ZUMA
Manuel Ligero


The universe tends toward chaos. Ultimately, everything degenerates. These immutable laws are even more true of the Internet.

In the case of media platforms, everything you once thought was a good service will, sooner or later, disgust you. This trend has been given a name: enshittification. The term was coined by Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the inevitable drift of technological giants toward... well.

The explanation is in line with the most basic tenets of Marxism. All digital companies have investors (essentially the bourgeoisie, people who don't perform any work and take the lion's share of the profits), and these investors want to see the percentage of their gains grow year after year. This pushes companies to make decisions that affect the service they provide to their customers. Although they don't do it unwillingly, quite the opposite.

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Annoying customers is just another part of the business plan. Look at Netflix, for example. The streaming giant has long been riddling how to monetize shared Netflix accounts. Option 1: adding a premium option to its regular price. Next, it asked for verification through text messages. After that, it considered raising the total subscription price. It also mulled adding advertising to the mix, and so on. These endless maneuvers irritated its audience, even as the company has been unable to decide which way it wants to go. So, slowly but surely, we see it drifting toward enshittification.

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