I watched Black Mirror and you won’t believe what happened next

I hate the show Black Mirror.

If you aren’t familiar, each episode of this Netflix original presents a standalone plot that captures and dissects different unfortunate aspects of our modern culture, often in a dystopian future setting. The show seems particularly interested in exploring the unintended consequences of technology. The commentary is accurate and sharp that it’s a little off-putting. I watched 5 episodes last weekend, and I’ll justify that by saying I was completely snowed in at my house.

At the beginning of each episode you start to learn about the particular premise that guides the plot. For example, one episode tells us about a future where humans are able to select and re-play any part of their memory at will, and a man who uses the technology to obsess over troublesome social interactions to the point where it destroys all his relationships. He sees his wife talking to another guy at a party. Was she flirting? Replay. Is she losing interest in me? Replay. Instead of letting go of the past and embracing the good in his present he continues to let himself be consumed by suspicion. He dies alone, continuously replaying the happiest moments of his life; the reminders of what his neurosis cost him.


This is a dark show.

It’s not just dark because each of these stories is horribly depressing. It’s dark because at some point you realize that the premise isn’t futuristic or far off. It’s dark because this is already how people live. At the beginning of the episode I thought “wow, what a terrible capability for people to have. You would end up overthinking everythi…oh no.”

I hate it because each episode was able to pull that trick on me. They’d set up the futuristic & horrifying premise, and then at some point I’d realize that what they were portraying looked futuristic but was already reality.

One episode that literally made me nauseous took on our society’s addiction to digital validation. From an artistic standpoint everything about it was phenomenal. The set designs, the color tones, the music; every detail was painstakingly crafted into this retro Stepford Wives vignette that made every futuristic juxtaposition a little more upsetting.


In this particular dystopia, humans have done away with pesky subjective evaluations of relationships. Instead, every interaction is rate on a 5 point scale which affects your personal rating. Good experience with the barista? 5 star rating. Titillating chat on the elevator? Another 5 stars. Your entire value as a person is determined by the comprehensive amount of ratings anyone you’ve interacted with has given you. Of course, the natural outcome is a collective humanity that is consumed with the quest for a higher rating; more validation. Empty shells of people walk around with fake smiles and share  saccharine interactions to acquire the holy stars. It’s honestly really upsetting to watch.

“Oh man, that would suck to live in tha…oh…”

Again, it’s futuristic and it’s extreme. But at a fundamental level, this is already how people are living. That’s the precise moment where Black Mirror is able to deliver the gut punch. When you realize the disease isn’t really futuristic at all. People are already on their knees begging digitally for validation.

We’re already trading relationships for likes. The slope is perfectly slippery and it just snowed again.


The episode that I found to be most incisive also made me the most depressed. The premise is complicated so bear with me:

The basic scenario is, again, placed in the future. Some reality tv show in the vein of American Idol (let’s just call it that from here on out) has become so big and so profitable that tens of thousands of people have committed chunks of their lives to being a part of it. To capitalize on this fervor, American Idol creates an entire ecosystem housed in a dark, modern, and windowless skyscraper where contestants come pedal bikes day in and day out to generate electricity. Generating electricity earns you points. Points are the only currency in this isolated ecosystem. You use them to buy food. You use them to skip commercials that are force fed to you in your dorm room. Earn 15m points and you can buy yourself a slot on American Idol. That’s the ultimate goal. Grind away, climb the ladder, become a star. Maybe. Then you’ll be happy for sure.

In the interest of avoiding spoilers I’m not going to delve into what happens with the protagonist. The implications are still available to us here.

The idea that this could be what the future looks like is really horrifying. It’s dark, modern, and cold. People working their lives away at something menial and pointless in order to achieve this mirage of happiness that’s been sold to them through advertising an…

Oh no. And here we are again.

That moment when you realize our entire economy, and at some level our society, is built on selling people a mirage of happiness to get them to pedal themselves into their own graves. Countless hours of market research have determined the precise distance from which that carrot should hang from your face.

 

Delete the Insta draft, get off the electricity bike, and go be with your friends rocks.

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