If you’re anything like me, the events of the last few weeks have left you wondering what kind of a country we live in, and where we are headed as a society. The world I thought I knew has become a carnival hall of mirrors with misshapen images I don’t recognize. Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that Black Mirror, one of television’s most critically ambitious programs, is back for more mind bending reflection of our tortured souls in the early twenty-first century.
In 2011, British television writer and producer Charlie Brooker introduced the world to Black Mirror, an anthology series out of The Twilight Zone mold which melded a dramatically lethal dose of social commentary about our world and our connection/addiction to technology. Broadcast in Britain and then thankfully discovered for American audiences by Netflix, Black Mirror’s take-no-prisoners approach to the effect media and technology has on social relationships and national well-being was truly ground-breaking. Instant classic episodes like “The National Anthem” (about a terrorist who kidnaps a member of the royal family and demands the prime minister violate a pig on national television), “The Entire History of You” (about a chip which you can install in your brain which will record every single thing that happens to you every day so that you can play it back for yourself and, horrifically, for your friends and family), “Be Right Back” (about a widow who hires a company to recreate her dead husband using his social media posts and the body of an android), and “The Waldo Moment” (about a failed comedian who voices an obnoxious, foul-mouthed cartoon bear named Waldo who runs for political office) all explored how our dependence on technology was creating an escalating mountain of moral dilemmas we will need to solve as technology evolves.
In October, Netflix released season 3 of Black Mirror, with six new episodes that seem as fresh and as hard hitting as the previous seasons. For example, “Nosedive” imagines a world where people go through their lives rating one another on their smart phones with a five star rating system, like Yelp only for your friends and coworkers instead of that Thai restaurant you went to last week. That rating system then creates an ongoing average which is leveraged for (and against) the owner like a credit rating. Housing, financial lending and job security depend on these ratings, with advantages given to those who effortlessly make everyone happy. Enter Lacie Pound (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) who has a solid rating but wants to move to a more upscale community which will require to “raise her profile” as advised by a ratings adviser who reminds us of consumer credit counselors everywhere. Scheming to make herself appealing to a childhood “friend” name Alice who bullied her but who has a much higher overall rating, Lacie shamelessly uses a social media post from the past to try to get close to Alice and to be in her wedding so she can be exposed to a much higher rated social circle. What follows then is the worst day of her life as she misses one connection after another while traveling to get to the wedding. As her troubles mount, her temper and her interactions with uncooperative airline ticket agents and rental car companies (gee, who could ever imagine that…) cause her ratings to continue to slip to the point where Alice asks her to not come to the wedding. What follows is part Bridesmaids and part Wedding Crashers with a now manic Lacie losing it at the wedding and ending up in a prison happily shouting obscenities without fear of a ratings drop at a stranger in the cell next to her.
Other notable episodes in season 3 of Black Mirror include “San Junipero” which imagines a company called Afterlife where we in the present can use virtual reality to insert ourselves into our bodies in the past in preparation of “crossing over” once we die to spend our lives living in a virtual reality for eternity and “Men Against Fire” which drops us into a militaristic future dystopia where soldiers fight against “roaches” and are rewarded with sensual dreams to stem the inevitable mental trauma caused by killing the roaches who are really other human beings whom the soldiers have been desensitized to by a video implant.
As the name suggests, Black Mirror is a dark reflection of ourselves in the age of unlimited technology. It forces us to look at what we may not want to see or admit about ourselves. Yet given the results of the recent election, maybe that reflection is even more warped by hatred and bigotry than we may have previously thought.