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Science fiction anthology with a view to the abyss

The Netflix anthology Black Mirror delves deep into the human abyss. How far will technological developments go?


The British prime minister is being forced by extortionists to have public intercourse with a pig as part of a mass media art project. A digital thing will store all your memories, but can also be used to edit your personal history. An electronic double-thread is programmed and tailored to do all the shit for you, but eventually also takes control of your life. Check-in on night spots is optimized by means of simultaneous but invisible coaching. Your social network is transformed into a class system based on external property rating.

These are just pieces of taste on what the Netflix series Black Mirror (premiere 2011) can offer satirical serial tension. The review themes in this essayistic serial anthology are unintended side effects of new digital and memory technology. Screenwriter Charles Brooker presents a spectacular, satirical critique of modern man's desire for technological alienation. With his fearful fascination with techno-culture, his essayistic form and his dystopian perspective, each stand-alone episode gives the viewer an addictive but refreshingly different downturn. To expose themselves regularly Black MirrorExposure can quickly become an emotional burden, not just for delicate souls.

Sensory extensions. Every new medium is an extension of our senses, but in this far-fetched, technophysical context, we talk about the whole sense apparatus being at stake. For it is not only vision and hearing that undergoes transformations in this series universe; that's the whole basis of our way of life, our collective worldview, which is challenged through the staging right in front of our eyes – a collective hallucination in a black mirror. And this happens in a way and with instruments that basically make only a small difference, a small step further from the status quo. In the virtual world of the mirror, we are presented with what appears to be only a modest extension of the possibilities digital and simulation technologies already give us. At the intersection of technical innovation and our wet dreams of the ease of existence, the black mirror is installed, which among other things also projects our basic anxiety for the future. But the existential appeal that gradually – through so far three seasons with a total of 13 episodes – is allowed to crystallize, offers endless cinematic and cultural critical possibilities.

A glossy, pastel-colored surface can hide deep sources of conflict and human decay.

Innovative genre play. It's an ugly universe that is allowed to unfold on screen, in front of a viewer who never gets a chance to zoom in or fall back into the genre's easy-to-sleep predictability. Sure, this is genre too, with dozens of intertextual links and quotes from other films. But Black Mirror is far more than the sum of its sources of inspiration. It gives us innovative and often provocative, often off-beat, sci-fi drama. The episodic card format ensures a transversal through effective performance, within the limited display area of ​​the TV pane or tablet. Only the idea of ​​a socially critical essay concept coined by the suspenseful serial audience sounds like a paradox, but is perceived as both strange and very correct at once.

Nevertheless: Black Mirror is packed with references and allusions to their role models, and it would be misleading not to mention the most obvious ones.

Intertextual references. Techno-fascination and the unmistakable sci-fi character are in heavy debt to writers like Philip K. Dick and iconic films like Total Recall (1990) Strange Days (1995) and Blade Runner (1982). In the episode «Be right back» (s02e01) The action is about memory dependency. In this episode, we are presented with an app that lets you simulate contact with dead people in your close circle. The app collects info from private emails, google preferences and the like, and allows the deceased person's similarity, or digital imitation, change based on user feedback, the survivor.

Themes such as artificial intelligence, human / android, technological expansions and enhancements of human characteristics, dream journeys, control and surveillance are repeated. Everything is conveyed with a critical-artistic claw and arranged in such a twisted way that it rarely screams. The cinematic narrative form, with its recurring visual and narrative ambiguities, constant contrasts and surprising twists, makes this viewer think of Hitchcock. Also touches of petty grotesque whims and infamy irony may remind the master of his heyday.

It's a lot about the aforementioned digital things, but not first and foremost with the focus on extreme qualities that people can only dream of: In "Fifteen Million Merits" (s01e02), humans are so integrated that they live their entire lives inside a populist techno-culture, with clear fascist traits. The design and the mass media environment of this episode gives associations to book and movie success Hunger Games, but without its liberation myths. On the contrary, the portrayal of this tech community, apparently without vision or change potential, appears as one of the gloomiest dystopias in the film series as a whole.

Alienated human. The action in the series takes place mainly within an everyday setting, and it is in the interpersonal relationships that the plots are allowed to unfold. In this universe, technology is not perceived as something alien and external, taking over or becoming an active threat to humans. On the contrary, it is the people who are alienated to themselves, and who resort to the virtual and simulated as an expression of their unconscious desire, their sublimated need for control and their inauthentic pursuit of the self. Where the new electronic friends and supporters of the actors begin to play a supporting role, they often end up starring (albeit involuntarily) in the cold, individual-centered world of humans. But the surroundings do not always appear as neither dark nor threatening; a glossy, pastel-colored surface can be found to hide deep sources of conflict and human decay.

In "Nosedive" (s03e01), the high-gloss power play takes place in a deceptive, rosy universe. Everything you do and do, the way you dress, eat and live, is the subject of rating, in the form of points on a decimal scale from 0-5. Your social status is at all times a product of these measurable gestures. Everything you do is immediately assessed and passed on to a central, a kind of digital competence center, via the smartphone that both sends and receives this type of information. Of course, your current status is always visible to your peers, who can choose whether or not to be friends with you on this basis. Only if you lack a "help-a-low-status" alibi in your portfolio should you be able to associate them with a lower rating than yourself.

This is Facebook or Snapchat on speed. The ratings are the basis for distributing goods, such as where you can live, who you have access to as friends, what kind of education you should try, and so on. A true class society with modern instruments, but very similar to Marxist. The protagonist frantically tries to achieve higher ratings and status, but achieves the opposite, a reverse class trip in express shipping. On the journey she meets the others - those who live a life blessed free of stress and stress.

From Cinderella to Alzheimer's. In the series' preliminary highlight, "San Junipero" (s03e04), the emotionally exhausted viewer can finally find a much-needed but most temporary rest.


A spectacular, satirical critique of modern man's hunger for technological alienation.

In this cyber version of Cinderella the glamorous life as an avatar in Neverland lives on until midnight, and we witness a far brighter, albeit thematically more serious, plot: The content turns out to be questions about active euthanasia. The San Junipero system is an offering that, with the help of drugs and data simulation, allows you to experience alternative, past worlds, where the good memories from one's own background have had their mark. Here's how to describe one of the episode's characters:

"It is said that too much can drive you crazy. One detaches the mind from the body – as if it does not already happen at any elderly center. The system is there for therapeutic reasons: in-depth nostalgia therapy. One is drawn into a world full of memories. It is said to help against Alzheimer's. "

It is in the interpersonal relationships that the plots are allowed to unfold.

And it is precisely the contrasts, nuances and covers that make the black mirror image so suggestive and at the same time frightening. The electronic tools take care of functions that are apparently both labor-saving and practical, such as remembering things, looking after, correcting errors, and so on. It's just that these seemingly practical devices have other latent functions than the purely technical ones, and especially when tasks are outsourced in this way. The standard formula is for one day to tip over, and the accident bird realizes that things have happened that she can no longer control. Worse: It is not possible to retire, this is a one-way cul-de-sac.

Eventually, we understand that similar things will happen next time too – but, unlike life itself, it is in these elegant and icy storytellers of these chamber games -
universe difficult to predict how. As series creator Charles Brooker says:

"[The episodes] are all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes' time if we're clumsy ..."

Ohrem is a philosophy teacher in Sandefjord.

Sigurd Ohrem
Sigurd Ohrem
Ohrem is a writer for Ny Tid.

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