Last Sunday (11th December 2011) I watched the second program in the series Black Mirror on Channel 4. I’d seen a bit of a buzz about Black Mirror on Twitter but refused to get lured in. Partly this may have been because it was created by Charlie Brooker and I have ambivalent opinions of Mr. Brooker. Yes, he is funny and can be quite sharp but I’ve sometimes thought his antics a bit contrived.
Sunday’s episode was entitled 15 Million Merits and portrayed a society where people are doomed to spend their lives either sitting in cubicles playing dumb video games, watching dumb TV and cycling on treadmills to produce electricity to run the videos and TV.
In this world, nothing is physical. The screens cover entire walls, floors and ceilings. People who are overweight occupy a lower class and wander around cleaning up after the game players. Each player gains credits and may use these to dismiss advertisements or collect their credits for a chance to audition for a X-factor style show and potentiality become famous and escape the treadmill. One guy decides to try and make a difference and, by threatening suicide at an audition, is allowed to rage against the machine on prime time TV. The inevitable result is that he impresses the panel with his passion and is employed to rage away twice a week on a video channel.
A pretty obvious reflection of western society as it is today. Overdone for effect but nonetheless fairly literal. Even the rebel who is absorbed into the system is a well understood phenomena and we’ve seen this again and again from Mick Jagger’s knighthood to Bryan Ferry’s adverts for Marks and Spencer.
However, I was impressed with Black Mirror, not so much for it’s originality, but because it restated the ideas in stark and contemporary terms. It’s storyline was tight and without needless decoration. It is all too easy in consumerist society to be drawn in by the hype. We consider we are being ironic but slowly slowly we start to believe the hype. Slowly we think we really NEED a 4 by 4. Slowly we start to doubt our ideals. Perhaps we’re just out of touch. Perhaps the winners of X-Factor are real artists? Perhaps Deal or No Deal is an engaging game show.
The prediction of Science Fiction are never true but what good Science Fiction does is to hold up a mirror to our civilisation and show us the absurdity of our lives. The world of Black Mirror is not in our immediate future yet it is close enough in many respects to remind us that we are all being duped. Mr. Brooker has produced a fantastic piece of television, in this episode at least, and I look froward to next Sunday’s program.