Look in the mirror: do you recognise yourself?
New technologies development is a hot and controversial topic, as Boston Dynamics just proved by revealing a new video of its “SpotMini” robot dogs. They even appear in an episode of Black Mirror, the successful series by British director Charlie Brooker , which aims at shedding light on the dramatic progress of scientific and technical research and how far it can impact our current society and us, as humans. The series was first released in 2011 on Channel 4 and won an International Emmy Awards for Best TV Movie / Miniseries in 2012. Victim of its popularity after two seasons, it was purchased by Netflix in 2015.
Now, let’s make a little experiment to better understand the name of the series. Take one of your devices and shut it down so as to face a black screen. Do you see your own reflection in this Black Mirror? In the end, we are facing this modern world alone – only us can take action to shape our brighter future.
A dystopian fatality
The series’ director intended to target a large audience, and indeed Black Mirror has something in stock for everyone. Firstly, each episode is a stand alone, meaning one can watch any episode of any season in any order without losing the thread of a story. Not so surprisingly, this lack of recurring episodes and characters does not impact the well-known I-want-to-watch-one-more addictive feeling.
Besides, the success of the series lies in its mix of reality and fiction, with most of the time not a “happy ending”. Anyone can relate to the drama and the plausible future dangers of technology. In a world akin to ours, a community uses a more advanced technology than what we know in varied sectors like media, security, nanotechnology or medial research. Throughout an episode, one then tends to accept the distorted use of this technology by a similar society, before ending up feeling unease about this “techno paranoia”.
This dystopian* effect drives us to reflect on what our personal and collective dependency on technology really is. Why have we developed the need to know, share and control everything?
*Dystopia: “community or society that is undesirable or frightening”
“The National Anthem”: the first episode of the first season immediately sets the tone. A kidnapper is blackmailing the British Prime Minister, asking him to have sex with a pig on live television or the prisoner will be killed.
⇒ Criticism of: media obsession.
“Fifteen Million Merits”: in this automated society, people have to cycle in exchange for “merits”, use as currency to buy goods or entertainment. In exchange for 15 million merits, a girl participates in a talent TV show for her singing but will be given a different future.
⇒ Criticism of: celebrity obsession.
“The Entire History of You”: through a chip implanted behind their ear, people can play back their memories for themselves and for others. A husband gets a paranoid suspicion over his wife’s affair and forces her to reveal her memories.
⇒ Criticism of: control obsession, jealousy.
“Nosedive”: using an app, people rate each other’s online activities and social interactions – resulting in an average grade. To be able to move in her dream house, a young woman needs to reach a very high grade and becomes obsessed with achieving this goal.
⇒ Criticism of: social media and image obsession. Also prediction of the Chinese government’s plans to implement the so-called surveillance Social Credit System to be launched by 2020 – the pilot version being already tested.
- “San Junipero”: in this virtual world, dead or dying humans can transfer their consciousness to live a parallel life interacting with others and traveling through different periods. Two old ladies approaching death fall in love in San Junipero and decide to live there forever.
⇒ Criticism of: none, rather an inspiring episode to mark the beginning of season 3 and a brighter future. This episode was internationally acclaimed and won a Primetime Emmy Awards in category Outstanding Television Movie in 2017.
A series of novels edited by Charlie Brooker and inspired by the TV show will be released at the end of February 2018. These new stories are expected to disturb our view on the world. On the same theme, here is a list of 8 books to read if you liked Black Mirror.