The subliminal break from reality begins with the first few frames, as a glass screen breaks for the title shot of Black Mirror. The dystopian anthology of narratives intertwined within the possibilities of technology is a modern-day reminder of the Twilight Zone. But not quite… Charlie Brooker’s prescient paranoic response to technology in an interconnected futuristic universe is not the sci-fi restricted to alien worlds, but plausible reverberations of human endeavor. A former video-game journalist and satirist, Brooker says, “I feel like I’m boringly in the middle, really. Left of centre, but pretty much centre, and that’s quite a lonely place to be at the moment. I think there’s going to be a massive f—— push from the centre, because the fringes are screaming everywhere you go and dominating everything.” That’s possibly a response to the Corbyn controversy, and the series’ first episode, The National Anthem. Combining public response to a titillating yet terrifying proposition, with the habitual government response of ‘We don’t negotiate with terrorists’, the ransom for the kidnapping of Princess Susannah is the Great Britain’s Prime Minister’s subservience in agreeing to have sex with a pig on live television.
The mostly bleak scenarios of Black Mirror question the human condition in a world aided by technology to the extent that they don’t just push the envelope, they tear it. As Fifteen Million Merits, co-written with Brooker’s wife, Konnie Huq, explores the commodification of human life, and availability of opportunity; White Bear is a darker perspective on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with a criminal’s memory erased as they participate in re-runs of their punishment. Trump’s presidential victory has been likened to The Waldo Moment, in which a cartoon character runs for office backed by the voice of an irreverent comedian, with Brooker admitting, “It’s more prescient than I realized. He’s an anti-politics candidate who’s raucous and defensive, and that’s all he is, and he offers nothing. He insults everyone and they lap it up because they’re so sick of the status quo. And then you look at Trump…”
Author of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer, suggests Shut Up and Dance is an ‘ultimate deus ex machina manipulation’. Combining sinister surveillance with seemingly redeeming alternatives, Shut Up and Dance has a masturbating Kenny caught on his laptop’s camera (Surprise, Mark Zuckerberg’s got tape on his laptop’s camera!), having to follow instructions from an unknown source to avoid revelation (Yes, revelation and redemption are being used sardonically together). Even though Kenny obediently delivers a cake at the blackmailers’ behest before he hooks up with Hector, the adulterer, and is instructed to rob a bank, the end result is not quite redeeming. The fight to the death that Kenny faces is followed by the Blow Up; and the 4chan troll grinning is the prelude to the revelation that the misdeeds will in fact be publicly accessible; along with Kenny’s preference for jerking off to children’s photographs, a pedophiliac in the making, stopped short.
While Nosedive delves into the commercialization of the validation sought on social media platforms, and tenacious relationships propelled by a desire for acceptance, San Junipero provides hope. The neon-lit romantic afterlife of two female protaganists, Kelly and Yorkie, is set in an ’80s retro paradise that celebrates life with a rainbow cake of disco-dancing in a city by the ocean, tapping to the rhythms of “Living in a Box” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Not surprisingly, San Junipero won an award from LGBTQ organization GLAAD and two Emmy nominations (for TV movie and writing). Brooker says, “I didn’t want to see these characters getting punished by the universe in some way. It felt more unexpected and sweeter to let them literally drive off into the sunset… I’m terrified of San Junipero in a way, because I think we sort of captured lightening in a bottle there. You try and think, okay, that went really well, what else can we do?”
Obviously, Brooker’s prophetic tangents are not quite unrealistic. Men Against Fire explores the machinations of propaganda and the implicit cause of soldiers fighting for what they think is the protection of life and liberty, and Hatred in the Nation is a hyped-up version of a subversive call to arms against those hated most amongst the indiscriminate, discriminating public. The prescience of Black Mirror has already been evidenced in robotic bee drones from Hatred in the Nation and China’s social credit score reminiscent of Nosedive. As Season 4 approaches, Brooker concedes, “I do think that at the moment, as we’re doing new episodes, there’s a limit to how much constant nihilistic bleakness I can take. And the world is in a place at the moment where I think maybe people appreciate things that aren’t so unremittingly horrible. But you also don’t want to short-change people on the unremitting horribleness.”
However, as Apple’s recently released iPhone confirms with its ‘animoji’ and the impact of Waldo, Black Mirror is more than prescience, it perhaps bears the onus of technological ideation. Of course, it is not beyond imagination that Brooker will realize that a paranoiac response to technology might not just be considered a warning, but possibly a revenue earning possibility for technological giants. As stalwarts such as Jodie Foster join the Black Mirror particle landscape, Brooker’s reflection is awaited.