‘You Are Bugs’ Meaning In ‘3 Body Problem’ Explained: What Is the Bug Revolution All About?


Netflix’s English adaptation of Liu Cixin’s novel, 3 Body Problem, might be one of the most boring things in existence. But it is packed with symbolism and subliminal messaging to allow the characters and the viewers to theorize and unpack what was going on underneath the surface of the narrative of the San-Ti alien invasion of Earth. Although they might look like an insignificant part of the story, the few insects that you see in the show—some of which are made with CGI, and some are real—are actually of great importance. In fact, it was the difference between how humans treat insects and how the San-Ti look at insects that caused their whole dynamic to come apart at the seams. So, let’s talk about the bugs in the show, what they mean, and how the humans tried (or are trying) to erase the fascist connotations attached to them.

Spoiler Alert

How Are the Bugs Represented in Real Life and in the San-Ti Game?

Pretty early on in The Body Problem, there was a scene where a young Ye Wenjie made the pivotal decision to use the Sun as a super antenna and send a message out into the universe that sentient life existed on Earth. Now, since that was the focus of the scene, I am sure nobody would have paid attention to that Chinese scientist who was busy swatting a fly. But that moment said a lot about what humans thought about insects and how they treated them. He was so preoccupied with killing it or trapping it in his glass that he didn’t even notice something catastrophic happening right before his eyes. That tiny moment showed that humans could focus on the larger issues at hand, like climate change (the San-Ti are an allegory for the ever-looming threat of climate change), hunger, the widening class divide, etc. However, we as a species always choose to oppress those who are less powerful than us, and we put so much effort into discriminating against each other that we lose sight of the bigger picture. On the flipside, the first time that we saw an insect in the San-Ti VR game, it appeared as casually as the San-Ti’s interpretations of the humans did, and Jack Rooney dealt with it in a very peaceful way. So, was the presentation the issue or the mentality? I guess it was a bit of both. Insects have existed as long as we have existed. Some of them probably predate us. But we humans seem to think that we have the right to kill them because we are bigger and stronger than them, and therein lies the issue. What if there’s something bigger and stronger than us, and what if they tell us that, “You are bugs”? Will we accept that, or will we rebel?

Why Did the San-Ti Tell Humans That “You Are Bugs”?

Mike Evans, one of the leaders who treated the San-Ti as the gods that would liberate humanity from their self-imposed state of suffering, used to regularly communicate with the San-Ti and educate them about the ways of humans so that they could devise a way to co-exist. And it seemed like Evans used fictional stories to inform the San-Ti how humanity functioned. During one such casual storytelling session, Evans was narrating the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and it seemed like the San-Ti couldn’t understand why the Wicked Wolf was lying about his intentions to Little Red Riding Hood even though he was going to eat her. Evans tried to explain that if the Wicked Wolf was honest about his intentions and didn’t dress up as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, she would’ve run away, and he wouldn’t have been able to eat her. He said that it was a story about deception and lies and how one should be careful about liars and deceivers. To further illustrate his point, Evans compared Wade and the agency that was looking into the San-Ti worshippers to pests and how they were using covert methods to find their location. Firstly, the San-Ti, as a species, didn’t have the ability to lie. What they thought was what they said. And secondly, they thought there wasn’t any hierarchy among species. For them, a bug had the same value as a human being. You can say that the San-Ti’s ideology had echoes of Buddhism, which was why they were confused when Evans used the word “pests” in a derogatory fashion. This interaction changed their worldview completely, though. The San-Ti looked down upon humanity’s ability to lie, and, upon realizing how fragile humans were, they started comparing humans to bugs. They were so brazen about their discrimination and hatred towards humans that they broadcast the message “You are bugs” in all known languages (you can spot an electronic billboard with those words written in Hindi) across all electronic devices because they were aware of its negative connotations and how it’d break the morale of the species that considered itself to be the most powerful being in the universe.

What Is the Bug Revolution All About?

During the Nazi era, the term Volksschadling was used a lot. It meant “human pests,” and those who used wartime to commit offenses like looting, arson, or deserting the battlefield were labeled as Volksschadling. Trigger warning: the Nazis used the pesticide known as Zyklon in their gas chambers to kill around 1.1 million people, and the places these prisoners were kept were known as extermination camps (because exterminators kill pests). So, I guess I don’t have to explain why broadcasting the statement “You are bugs” to humans is wrong and is indicative of fascistic tendencies. It was wrong of Mike Evans to compare Wade and his army with pests, and it was wrong of the San-Ti to compare humans to bugs. But that led to the Bug Revolution, with humans reclaiming their status and erasing the negative connotations around any insect-based insults. In various areas of the planet, slogans were raised where humans said that they weren’t bugs, and in a very poignant scene between Da Shi, Saul, and Jin, the resilience of insects was established. Da Shi said that insects, regardless of how they look, are demeaned. Yet, they continue to thrive wherever they are (it’s mentioned that the cicadas returned in record numbers around the time Saul was shot, probably because of the decrease in human activity). They rebel against humans and strive for coexistence, even though they are hated by the ones more powerful than them. That means that just because the San-Ti had started to see humans as bugs, humans shouldn’t simply give up and accept their place in the cosmic food chain. They should rebel and find a way to teach the San-Ti that they have no right to humiliate them like that, while also probably learning that humans shouldn’t hurt the insects around them or use insects, bugs, or pests as an insult. By the way, if you do hear a fellow human being comparing humans to insects, feel free to call them a fascist or a Nazi because that’s where those insults stem from.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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