Observations on Black Mirror, Series One.
Charlie Brooker’s dystopian series Black Mirror has just entered it’s Second Series of thought provoking drama where the protagonist enters a nightmare scenario in which they are scared, or angry, confused or faced with terrible decisions.
As the Second Series begins I find myself thinking about Brooker’s mind set, what ‘point’ he was trying to make, what the social comments Brooker was trying to (or not trying to) make. So here are some observations on each of the three episodes of Series One, what’s apparent to me and what (for me) lies under the surface.
Episode One: ‘The National Anthem’
Synopsis: Prime Minister Michael Callow faces a bizarre decision. British Princess Susannah is being held hostage and the only way her captor will release her is if the Prime Minister has sex with a pig, live, on television. The PM and Cabinet make efforts to find a solution, but after the captor sends a TV station what appears to be the Princess’s finger in a box, the PM has no choice. Possibly the least sinister of Brooker’s mini-series ‘The National Anthem’ still has connotations.
Observations: The main social commentary that runs throughout is that of duty to your country versus personal ridicule. How far should politicians go for their country? Where does the line between how we view their policies and how we view them personally draw? If this ever happened IRL I know I would be gunning for the PM to go through with it, not for the saviour of the Princess but for the hilarity value, the complete ridicule of a man who is meant to symbolise the country. Which brings us to a slightly more hidden comment: if David Cameron, for example, was given the ultimatum to have sex with a live animal and did it, would the country still deem him fit to represent us, and if not, why not? He ridiculed himself in front of the whole country to save a young woman’s life, doesn’t this show some sort of courage? There is also the very real possibility that the pig actually represents something itself, that the action of the PM ‘fucking’ a pig live on television is a symbol of what politicians do every day, the public being the pig, everyone just watching and doing nothing.
Episode Two: ’15 Million Merits’
Synopsis: To keep humans supplied with electricity (implied, but not explicit) our protagonist must cycle, cycle and cycle more. On bikes that don’t move, obviously. The more you cycle the more credits you gain. Credits can be spent on various things, things that don’t have any corporeal form. TV shows, for example, skipping adverts, making your virtual room look how you wish. Bingham (Bing) has been left millions of merits by his brother who died and is also himself a prolific cyclist. There’s only one way out of the cycling day in day out life- getting on TV. Bing falls for new girl Abi who loves to sing and ‘gifts’ her a ticket (costing him 15 Million Merits) for Hot Shot, an X-Factor style show where people can win their freedom by becoming performers. Abi then ends up on ‘Wraith Babes’ the world’s Porno channel. Bing then cycles to the max in order to earn the 15 Million Merits to get himself a ticket on the show: taking with him a shard of glass, holding it to his throat and expressing his anger to the judges. Earning himself a ‘Screenwipe’ style show, ending his cycling, but not earning anything real, not getting Abi back.
Observations: This episode is my favourite of them all so far. It addresses so many evils that I find that not only I hate but also suffer from. TV addiction, environmental issues, celebrity, the evils of Porn (which I’m sure Brooker didn’t intend as big, but I feel strongly about that one). Bing represents the part of the population that feel some sort of resistance to the structure of society but hasn’t got much to do anything about it. Then Abi comes along and he has something to rebel for. Abi symbolises the people who would rather have an easy life than resist (which is a shame, because I was routing for Abi and Bing.) Of course, the resemblance of ‘Hot Shot’ to X-Factor is no coincidence, Brooker has spoken of his distaste for the show and for reality TV editing. (If you haven’t seen it, youtube Brooker’s Screenwipe bit on that, it’s brill.) If at some point everything does become virtual, TV would of course become some sort of sought-after stardom, X-Factor being the only way to become an entertainer is pretty much all music-lovers nightmare. In the end though, Bing also gives into becoming a TV personality, because in this world, there is no other choice, except to cycle.
Episode Three: ‘The Entire History of You’
Synopsis: This episode made me feel really uneasy, even nauseous. Addressing the evils of Facebook, Twitter, anything where you can record your life online, ‘The Entire History of You’ is based around the idea that you can ‘Re-Do’ (watch again) things that have happened in your, and others, lives. Like everything you do is being recorded. People are chipped to achieve this and using a small remote like device they can watch back their lives. Liam, our protagonist, a lawyer, and his wife, Ffion, attend a party with her old friends and Liam senses there may be something between Ffion and her friend Jonas. Liam then becomes obsessed with the idea, ‘Re-Do’-ing his own memories, making Jonas delete all memories of Ffion and eventually making her ‘Re-Do’ a night her and Jonas spent together- ending their marriage. The episode ends with Liam cutting his ‘chip’ out of his neck and thus no longer being able to review his life.
Observations: The reason I find this episode so horrific is that I really hate the idea of everything you do being recorded, like you can’t just disappear into the ether one day. I hate that everyone knows everything about everyone and that when you change as a person the things that you did are recorded in your life story online. It gives me a head ache just thinking about it. This one isn’t actually written by Brooker and it shows, it’s rather sentimental, basing itself around the emotions of the characters as opposed to the dystopian nightmare. Saying that, it’s still a brilliant concept. The digitalisation of life only breads fear, anger and paranoia.
She says. On her online blog.