A Mirror of our Own Creation

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Publicat în October 16, 2015 , o comentarii

Black MirrorBlack Mirror (2011- )

Created by: Charlie Brooker

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror explores plausible scenarios of possible futures, with the common theme of our delicate relationship with technology, and what it means to be human in an increasingly technocratic society. Each episode can be viewed separately from the rest, presenting a different story, with a different cast and characters – so that the series as a whole appears as an anthology. To date, there are seven episodes, split in two series of three episodes with a running time each of sixty minutes, plus a Christmas special that aired in 2014 (and features Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as one of the main characters).
In a Guardian article, Brooker says that “the “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” The ever-present interaction of people with this black mirror is one of the series’ pivotal points when setting up and within each story, and is also used as a taken-for-granted backdrop in the life of each and every character. The show uses the black screen as a link between our reality and the realities presented in each episode, its creator being fully aware that after all, the mirror will still be here in the future.
Although each episode is a stand-alone environment or possible universe, nods to earlier episodes are scattered throughout. This might lead some to postulate towards the series having an underlying cohesion, with the episodes all taking place in the same reality. The point of this is to further enhance the idea that these situations, these scenarios that barely qualify as science-fiction are all equally shocking, if not daunting, and could very well be encountered during our lifetimes. This is where the series shines, in presenting food for thought about the 21st century and the ethical discourses around which we might find ourselves.
A good science-fiction author, knows where to draw the line between entertaining and provoking the audience to think the implications of these possible worlds, without feeding too much information on a platter. Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker manages to do exactly this. The stories present enough background to let you make sense of each episode, enough context to keep you interested as the plot develops, at the same time holding back a lot. It lets the viewer fill in the gaps as to the possible fate of our technological evolution. The dialogue between the characters barely reveals information regarding their feelings towards the situations they are put in, even less about how those situations came about in the first place. More precisely, the people in the show react accordingly, the context is taken for granted by the characters, and there is no hand-holding expositional dialogue in which the viewer’s perception is meant to be finely tuned to fit each story. You pick it up as the plot develops, quite often with multiple masterfully crafted twists that would make Asimov proud.
The show also follows up on a mystery tradition; in the same article, Brooker mentions The Twilight Zone as one of the main influences for the series. And, not unlike Rod Sterling’s show, Brooker manages to produce suspense and tension throughout. Neither does the show simply boil together overused sci-fi tropes – in fact, these are barely present. Black Mirror distances itself from its predecessor by abandoning (most of) the quirkiness and hilarity in favor of darker undertones. For example, in the White Bear episode, a woman wakes up in an empty house with no recollection of how she got there – scared, she runs outside and demands help from the many onlookers, only to discover that they are all silent and inactive, simply watching and filming with their camera phones as she is hunted by masked assailants, the reason for it being held back right until the very end. This particular episode serves as a good example of how we as a society often choose to passively place a filter between ourselves and the horrific actions happening in our immediate vicinity – by way of the ever-accessible black mirror, which acts as materialized justification for inaction.
Many would not even classify the show as science-fiction exactly because of the absent space battles, aliens, or technological mumbo-jumbo that estranges an audience from the context – this is not escapist science-fiction, happening in a galaxy far, far away. No, this show is very much grounded in reality. The absence of such tropes is what makes Black Mirror accessible and smart in its approach towards a wider target audience. To put it more precisely, the situations are very relatable to viewers who do not partake in the (traditional) sci-fi genre, and definitely to those who do. Each episode’s plot is written in a cunning manner, making you jump to conclusions only to find your hopes crushed at the end when, for example, the hero is absorbed by the very system he was trying to demolish (in Fifteen Million Merits), or simply finding yourself terrified at the implied inner workings of a world where nothing is ever forgotten (in The Entire History of You). Besides the style in which the series is written, many episodes present different modes and types of shooting (whenever pertinent to the given context), either to add to the mystery, or to add to the validity of the scenario with things like TV commercials, news broadcasts or the live-cam of a police tactical team, and so on. This fleshes out the style of the show, making each episode broader in scope and engaging the audience in a manner appealing to an every-day sensibility, while the editing keeps these scenes from seeming out of context.
Black Mirror might be found lacking by some, though. Given that the show has an anthology-like structure, there is never enough room for characters to develop as they would in other recent drama series (such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc). A viewer who seeks large character arcs with many turns, pitfalls, recoveries and so on will be disappointed by this TV series. The characters are more like props who are there for sustaining the ideas presented in the episodes. They are merely voices and faces hurled amidst underlying conflicts that have no palpable inception. The point is we are never presented a full story, so to speak – only a partial glimpse the larger context or sprawling situation. The rest eschews the viewer in a manner that provides another argument for the show’s ability to initiate debate about the nature of our relationship with our greatest technological creations. In Be Right Back there is a service that provides comfort for people in grief over the loss of loved ones. It is provided in the sense that it accesses the entirety of the deceased person’s digital footprint, in order to recreate a virtual avatar of them – one that can talk and (eventually) act similarly to how the real person might have. This is a very possible scenario – Facebook users for example, can choose to have their account kept memorialized after they pass away. Perhaps we’re not so far away from what occurs in the episode – a process which leads to utter alienation. We’re left aghast, wondering how we’ve become so entangled with our creations that not even in death do we renounce them – hopelessly clinging to whatever simulation can bring us the slightest piece of mind in the face of annihilation.
Not all episodes are so straightforwardly grim, however. The Waldo Moment, for example, takes a more lighthearted approach, but nevertheless it ultimately brings the same level of seriousness. In it, a cartoon character becomes an actual candidate for an upcoming parliament election. The influence of social media can sometimes exert a pressure to big to withstand by the governing class, for better or worse. The comedian voicing the cartoon is ultimately crushed by the responsibility and falls into obscurity, while the cartoon itself becomes an international icon. In the end, we are led to believe that the ever-growing popularity of Waldo has been taken advantage of and used by a shady organization – under the guise of voicing public demands. The episode brings to our attention that we must never cease to be vigilant about freedom of speech always being a double-edged sword and how the virtual public space of the Internet can be used manipulatively by those who know how to use its worldwide reach.
By choosing not to focus more than it is necessary on characters, the show makes its viewers think about the larger picture, the backdrop of each scenario. Therein lies the magnetism of Black Mirror and why it is ultimately a science-fiction work: presenting relatable immediate futures implying (at least) questionable ethics in the use of emergent technologies. Moreover, it is an entirely fresh perspective in that it does not fall towards overused tropes and over-explored subjects – Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror never ceases to keep in view our own reality, with the directions we take in developing new technologies and walking towards an ever-increasingly gray area with scientific discoveries.

Tudor Scolca

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