Has the mirror cracked?

I was a big fan of the first two series of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi/horror satire of how modern technology and media act to reflect our darkest impulses right back at us. I didn’t love every single episode, though while I found series 2’s “The Waldo Moment” possibly the weakest instalment, 2016 has proven it depressingly prescient. When Netflix announced that they were financing a third, longer series, I was definitely interested – though then it came out to, let’s say, uneven reviews. Many still loved it, and some thought the new series was simply uneven but still largely good – but eminent internet essayist Film Crit Hulk (if you don’t already know him, be warned: while he is usually insightful and well-reasoned, he does have his quirks and affectations) published a pretty damning post. Its title didn’t exactly promise a differentiated look at the series: “Why BLACK MIRROR Is Kinda Bullshit”. Ironically, FCH’s post increased my optimism about the new series; while usually get a lot out of his essays, even when I disagree, what he wrote about some of my favourite episodes of Black Mirror, such as series 2’s “White Bear”, made me think that he’d misunderstood several fundamental things, mainly this: in its first two series, Black Mirror wasn’t about how technology was evil, it was about how technology acts as an amplifier and accelerant for some of our worst impulses. The metaphor’s not subtle, but it’s effective: new technology and media acts as a dark, distorted reflection of ourselves, they’re (all together now!) a black mirror to mankind.


So, having dismissed FCH’s argument, I got started on the third series of Black Mirror – and found that, yeah, it was kinda bullshit. Continue reading

The future’s so bright…

There’s something ironic about watching three one-hour films about the influence of modern technology on our lives, recorded via digital TV, and then that old technology they call “Teletext” goes on the fritz, giving us one line of subtitles every 5-10 minutes… Where are modern TVs that use the YouTube algorithm to subtitle programmes on the fly?

Anyway, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. We already had the one where the pig, ahem, and the prime minister, erm, you know. The second episode was broader in choosing its satirical targets: gamification, avatars, Nintendo WiiFit and Miis, micro-transactions, casting shows, all of those were in there. There wasn’t anything terribly original about any of the individual elements – but Brooker and his co-writer and wife Konnie Huq turned “Fifteen Million Merits” into a strangely moving, discomfiting romance with a final twist that, though again not exactly new, worked very well… and Rupert Everett makes a wonderfully hateful mirror-universe Simon Cowell.

I was very much looking forward to the third and final episode, “The Entire History of You”, as I’d been surprised to enjoy the first two as much as I did. The episode was beautifully shot and edited, and the acting was strong as well, but in the end it disappointed, more so than any of the previous ones. My biggest quibble with it is that the central conceit – in the not-too-distant future, almost everyone has an implant, the Grain, that records what people experience and allows for instant playback on any AV setup, complete with zooms and, I’d imagine, instant uploads to YouTube for all of those cute-cat/fat-kid-making-an-arse-of-himself/America’s-funniest-maulings type experiences. So far, so okay… but the entire story, centred on an insecure husband who (rightly) suspects his wife had an affair, does not really depend on the Grain. While the tech, which Black Mirror purportedly is about, may change the exact expression of the protagonist’s anxieties, the story would not have differed in any major way without it. “The National Anthem” (now with more pig!) and “Fifteen Million Merits” were about human foibles, but they depended on technology to highlight how our understanding of public vs. private, self-image, entertainment etc. are shaped by the media we use to express them. Perhaps “History”‘s point was that technology doesn’t screw up people, people screw themselves up, but after the previous episodes had made a strong point that the tech, the media, the platforms do matter, that they do shape us, that would have been a strange point to make.

Still, having watched all of Black Mirror, I’m definitely curious now about Brooker’s Big Brother-inspired, zombie-infested satire Dead Set. Apparently Davina McCall gets munched on by the undead… not that I’d wish that on any TV personality. Except perhaps Ann Coulter, but let’s face it, those brains would be a tad on the nouvelle cuisine side.