The terrific and terrifying British series, Black Mirror, might be the perfect show for our viral video age. Available only through Netflix, the program’s six episodes are something unique in modern day television. While most shows are open-ended excuses to keep a viewer hooked well after the story pond has been drained of its narrative fish, each episode of Black Mirror is self-contained, with new characters, plots and settings, each running 40-60 minutes.
The show has been compared to The Twilight Zone, and it certainly mimics that classic series’ tantalizing promises of something weird and wicked coming our way. But Black Mirror is more focused, more probing. It offers a very dark reflection (a black mirror, yes?) of our society’s enthrall to, abuse of and anxiety over our cyber-caffeinated existence.
Innovations we’ve grown up with (well, sorta), such as YouTube, Twitter and iPhones, have graduated to implanted memory chips and surround-screen entertainment, where a mere swipe of the hand through the air of your living room can change the channels on your corporatized options. All of this is taken for granted, it’s just there.
What this program does is interrogate our dependence, our addiction, our enslavement to this not-so-future world. When a rebel arises to use the technology to make a stand or a statement, they are often left stranded in the lonely wake of their decision. Technology wins. Every time.
You can try any of the six episodes in the series, but I’d start with the first, called “National Anthem”, in which the British Prime Minister faces a ransom demand in which, to free a kidnapped royal princess, he must have actual sex with an actual pig on live television. The episode makes a comforting point about reaching our moral limit for repugnant viewing, but it is less comforting about our hunger for humiliation.
In another segment, “The Entire History of You,” an otherwise contemporary looking group of 30-somethings discuss and share their entire lives’ worth of memories via their personal, grain-sized memory chip lodged just below the skin behind their ears (like Google Glass taken to its most extreme, invasive potential). Everybody has one, except those renegade few who have chosen to go “grain-less.”
In the most horrifying episode, “The White Bear”, an amnesiac woman is tormented and chased through a suburban town while onlookers record everything with their phone cameras, refusing to help. It’s reality TV at its nadir, except it’s even worse than that. The episode had me reeling for hours afterwards.
Black Mirror is a direct hit to our cyber solar plexus. It might be the most important, most difficult-to-watch TV series of our time.
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