Reflections on another Black Mirror

Black Mirror 2 - 15 Million Merits

The second installment of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror leads us to another implausibly grim vision of the future, but the main difference between The National Anthem and 15 Million Credits, is that the latter is actually rather good.

Co-written by Kanak ‘Konnie’ Huq (of Blue Peter fame) and directed by Euros Lyn (Doctor Who), this modern fable is a surprisingly entertaining glimpse at a possible future dystopia. We can only guess that what unfolds is society’s answer to the impending energy crisis, as people are put to work on millions of exercise bikes to fuel a hi-tech, computerised existence, obsessed with mindless entertainment and online living – distractions from their slavery.

The plot is much more emotive and engaging than the first episode, with characters you actually care about and everything – and it does what all great satire should do, which is to push the current way of things to the extreme, in order to reveal some hidden truths about their nature.

It’s also really heartening to see some proper Science Fiction back on the television. The best Sci-Fi uses the future to tell us about the present, and 15 Million Credits does this better than most. Its exploration of the cruelty innate within Reality TV shows like The X Factor is undertaken by pushing them further in that direction. Its subversion of the idea that social networks somehow bring us closer together, its parody of throwaway digital culture, web advertising and online pornography and its use of a Microsoft Points-style credit system in place of a currency – all have deep sociological and psychological resonances with the new ways we have begun to live our lives through technology.

Black Mirror’s dark future is like our own world with the volume turned up, and what is reflected back is not a pretty picture. Most worrying of all is how the technology is used to placate us, used to make the population do the bidding of the powers-that-be, by removing people’s freedom of choice and disempowering them, while making them believe they are actually getting exactly what they want. In full high definition. Just keep peddling and saving up those credits and all your dreams will come true, citizen. It’s the same lie we’ve always been told, and the black mirror of the ubiquitous LCD screen reflects both that, and a ghostly wan imitation of our vitamin D-deprived faces. Now plug in, shut up and resume viewing.

This is a very clever caricature of our increasingly digital world, the full consequences of which, we are still oblivious to. Let’s just hope Brooker and Huq’s vision of a malevolent force behind the network is just another dark fantasy and not a true sign of things to come.

Can’t wait for next one now…

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First Impressions on Black Mirror

Black Mirror Part 1 - The National Anthem

Unbelievable, nauseating and bleak are all suitable adjectives for the description of Charlie Brooker’s latest satirical drama, Black Mirror. When I heard about the premise, I suppose I was hoping for something akin to a dramatised Brasseye Special, or Nathan Barley with added politicians and bestiality – but struggled to find the humour in it to be honest.  The TV-crime-drama aesthetics and tempo also put me off a bit, and the implausibility of the plot left me cold.

Having said all this I will still be watching the next two instalments of this mini-series, as I’m interested to see where he takes it next. Certainly, the YouTube generation is ripe for satirical analysis, and holding up a “Black Mirror” to the unseemly side of our digital lives and the effect it has on society and politics, is virgin territory that needs to be charted. And who better than Charlie Brooker to have a go!

I hope the next one is either more believable or more comedic, as I think The National Anthem fell between two stools, in so much as it was neither, and needed to be both, to be all that effective as a satire on our networked zeitgeist. The first episode felt like watching someone’s dark fantasy made real, rather than a future history playing out – but maybe that was the point Brooker was trying to make – that the internet age can bring that dark fantasy one step closer to being real. And that people will watch it. In their millions…

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