Tag Archives: the system

Black Mirror

Black Mirror
Black Mirror

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.

Star House
Star House

Are Americans all Potty?

Are Americans All Potty?
Are Americans All Potty?

Very often after returning from the U.S. I contrast the chirpy cheerfulness of sales staff in the U.S. with the monosyllabic and apparent indifference of their counterparts in the UK. Arriving at Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon I bought a ticket for the bus and then a bottle of juice and was confronted by aforementioned monosyllabic staff.

For some reason, this time, I was more philosophical. Yes, the guy could have done with some training in how to relate to customers but on the other hand he was being himself. After dealing with car hire and mobile phone companies in the U.S. I had started to speculate that the U.S. forces people to modify their behaviour to suite the system. This arrangement is good in that it increases efficiency and allows greater material prosperity but I wonder whether the cost is increased alienation of people from society.

The Virgin Atlantic flight from L.A. to London had been on an airbus A300-600. The seats on this aircraft allowed virtually no room for one to move ones legs. I recall that, in the past, long haul flights made a big issue of telling you to perform leg exercises and I believe that this was to counter a tendency of long haul passengers to suffer blood clots in the legs following a flight. This is known as known as Deep Vein Thrombosis.

The emphasis on efficiency has led Virgin to pack the seats closer and closer together so that now it is not possible for even a person of my modest stature to raise ones legs once seated. Consequently the airline no longer deems it necessary to encourage passengers to exercise and I wonder whether the instances of known as Deep Vein Thrombosis, which can be fatal, have increased. I also wonder whether these chairs conform to any safety standards and whether Deep Vein Thrombosis is considered within these standards.

England was warm and sunny and I boarded a National Express bus to Brighton. Arriving home around 7:30pm I implemented my strategy for negating the effects of jet lag. There are two important factors to countering jet lag. The first is to attempt to stay awake during the daylight hours of the destination both on the aircraft and as soon as one arrives. For this one needs some kind of activity to perform on arrival. The second factor is to consume alcohol just prior to the desired sleep period.

As I had arrived home in early evening my course was clear. I occupied a couple of hours preparing and consuming a curry and then opened a bottle of beer.

I switched on Radio 4 and considered my three weeks in the United States. While driving around in California I had listened to talk radio. While American PBS fights a bravely to encourage intelligent debate it is a battle it seems destined to lose. I listened with interest to shock jocks and dismissed the right wing as bigoted. I listened to the liberals and began to think that there might be reasoned debate but soon realised that the left too is obsessed with over simplification and adherence to dogma.

A friend of mine once met an American woman who claimed to be allergic to glass and insisted on drinking beverages through a straw. He deduced from this that all Americans are potty and this is a widely held view in the United Kington. Personally I temper this with acceptance of difference and the knowledge that the United States is a vast country with numerous disparate people.

However, I sometimes find myself wondering, if Americans appear potty to the British, why do we not hold similar opinions of other nationalities? It is possible that pottyness is merely the most prominent defining character for Americans and that other nationalities too have their defining characters but I think that what is more likely is that the language we share with Americans enables us to gain an insight into their world view and that we are denied this insight with other nationalities. This reasoning is strengthened as I believe that Brits also consider Australians to be potty. Perhaps if we were fluent in Spanish or Chinese we would consider them potty too?

I guess that if an understanding of the language of a foreign country means that on is capable of appreciating their pottyness then, as English is the most common second language, it is the British who must appear the most potty and that is a stereotype that I am very happy to live with.