Charlie Brooker’s anthology drama series Black Mirror has made his name synonymous with subversive television. A darling of critics and audiences alike, the show’s international recognition has grown with each episode. Everybody from Stephen King to Robert Downey Jr has weighed in on the subject. (Indeed, Downey optioned an episode to turn into a movie.)
The UK TV series on Channel 4 that welcomes your personality disorders.
The series has received favourable comparisons with The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected. UK TV abroad has never been more popular than with this show, which has garnered an even larger following in the US than in its native Britain.
Chilling Near-Futures in the Black Mirror
Black Mirror is organized around a single core theme, which Brooker summarized neatly: “If technology is a drug, then what, precisely, are the side effects?”
Each episode tells a different story with different protagonists and focuses on a different theme. Of course, the series doesn’t explore the beneficial aspects or any positive trends. Where would the fun be in that? Black Mirror clearly approaches its topics from a pessimistic, cynical point of view, hence the title. As the show’s creator Charlie Brooker puts it: “…They (the different stories) are all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”
People rating everything via their Smartphones – Sounds Familiar
The true horror of this series comes with its possibility of happening in the near future. Imagine a world where people are like zombies and look only into their smartphones. Sounds familiar? They swipe and rate everything, even people. People are constantly taking photos of themselves. They take photos of the food they are eating, of sunny things, funny things, and when they are happy, etc. When they post the pictures, they wait for approval. They are constantly posting about their lives. Well, not true about their real lives. They are actually posting on how they want other people to see their lives. So they worry, about how shall they be seen, and what their status will be. Hence the Black Mirror. It is a metaphor for the smartphone screen.
The brilliance of the series lies in the way that it carefully constructs each of its imagined worlds before disassembling them through intense conflict and, often, tragic outcomes. The first episode set the tone by posting an almost-plausible act of media terrorism. The heir to the throne has been kidnapped. She will be released only if the prime minister commits an unsimulated act of bestiality on primetime television. The segment lacked many of the sci-fi elements would come to dominate the series but displayed a properly nerdish concern for technical detail: the hunt for a means of faking the video, the surveillance techniques used in the attempted recovery of the princess, the formats of the hastily-cobbled-together public reaction shows…
Special Lenses and Social Media
In one episode, the Nosedive, Lacie Pound (Bruce Dallas Howard) and everyone else, wear contact lenses. These contact lenses feed her information about people and about their ratings. Although this type of technology is still not present, Google Glass is going towards it. It’s a world of Facebook + Instagram + Twitter + Snapchat + Facetime + Uber + all the rest. There is actually an app called Peeple and in this app your character is your currency. And you can review other people.
In Africa, you can get a bank loan based on your social media reputation. And in China, a new system of grading people will soon become official. It is currently based in some smaller communities, in testing. The system goes like this: everything is graded. If you walk across the street away from the zebra, you lose points. If you post something offensive on Facebook, you lose points. And so on. Everything you do from when you were born will be graded and upon that, you will be able to either get higher paid jobs and get into universities or you won’t.
There is the true brilliance of the Black Mirror. We are not far from there, it is a warning. Black Mirror is five minutes away.
Abroad? Watching UK TV from the Hinterland
Later episodes moved squarely into the hinterland between technology and politics, dealing with such familiar tropes as a technique for externalizing and manipulating human memory, a fictional character who becomes an elected politician, and a woman who reincarnates her dead lover as an android. Fans of shlock media will recognize elements grabbed from ‘golden age’ literary science fiction, along with liberal borrowings from perennial favourite The Twilight Zone. But Black Mirror’s twenty-first-century attitude, slick production, and eschewal of the over-neat final twists that ruined so many Zone episodes mark it out as something new.
Black Mirror airs on Channel 4, with a new series premiering later this month. You can enjoy Black Mirror and other Channel 4 content, along with many other popular channels carrying all your favourite British TV shows abroad, via TVMucho.
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