“Full, unsimulated sexual intercourse with a pig broadcasted live on television.”
These are the words uttered by a teary-eyed and kidnapped Princess Susannah, a much-loved member of the esteemed Royal Family.
The words, a demand from the anonymous kidnapper, aimed towards the Prime Minister of England. To ensure her freedom from captivity, the Prime Minister must have sex with a pig in front of the eyes of just over one billion people. The video of her kidnapping and plea were initially published on YouTube.
In spite of the video’s removal and subsequent agreement of news organizations to not broadcast the video, and in effort to keep the sickly video from public eye, it was too late.
Why? Duplicated by the anonymous many, it’s already “trending on Twitter.” The video’s gone viral and public opinion maintains that the president must follow through with the demand. So he does, as billions watch with fervor and revulsion.
Five minutes into the first episode of “Black Mirror,” entitled “The National Anthem,” the audience is presented with this absurd, devastating premise. Though sarcastic and sardonic throughout, the show never turns into comedy, as one may expect, but rather demonstrates a horrifying exploration of morality and society’s relationship with technology.
While the plots remain absurd and hyperbolic, the writing runs amok with the ideas in ways that are impressively character-based, grounded and relatable.
A British anthology series, it consists of six one-hour episodes of speculative fiction span- ning two seasons (plus a Christmas special), each with a differing story and new cast.
“Black Mirror,” named after the way our screens look while powered down, features standalone stories of varying genres (political thriller/dystopian sci-fi/relationship crisis), though they all share a similar tone and sensibility.
The majority of the series is written by creator Charlie Brooker, who centers each episode around cerebral ideas: our fixation on reality competitions, our internet-enabled obsessions with public humiliation and mob justice, and how new technologies affect our relationships and the way we communicate with one another.
Though none of the episodes are entirely realistic, “Black Mirror” magnifies current circumstances to reflect a warped display of our technological immersion. They stand as allegorical tales.
One of the most unnerving scenes in the British series is what appears to be a passionate love-making scene. Episode three, “The Entire History of You,” takes place in an alternative reality where most people have had small devices called “grains,” implanted behind their ears that can record and replay their memories, a process known as a “re-do,” on demand.
As the passionate sex scene unfolds, it is revealed that the couple is actually having dull and mechanical sex, their eyes grayed out, appearing possessed, as they both tune into their grains to watch memories from a previous, steamier time in their relationship.
This is one of the many scenes “Black Mirror” postulates will happen as technology continues to expand and coalesce into our lives.
Rather than pointing a blind, accusatory finger towards technology, condemning it as inherently corrupt and responsible for humanity’s downfall, Brooker writes episodes that simply paint a picture of the sorts of scenarios that may arise as unchecked new technologies perpetually flood an overwhelmed society.
“Black Mirror” resonates culturally because the show exhibits caution about the role of technology without diminishing its impor- tance and novelty, focusing its aperture on how humans interact with technology and subsequently with one another, rather than solely placing blame on the technology itself.
“The Entire History of You” essentially asks a question, like all episodes do: Would you rather be held accountable for every mistake you’ve ever made or to just forget it ever happened? The jealous husband has exactly what he needs: the ability to scrutinize his wife flirting with another man.
Gathering access to her memory bank, her adultery is revealed and his life proves ruined. The final scene displays the lonely, desolate-looking man watching “redos” of happy memories in his now-absent relationship.
The technology got the best of his jealousy, exacerbated it and allowed him to exploit his obsessive emotions to a bitter end.
The nightmarescape of a near-future gone technologically awry mirrors the cautionary tales told by “The Twilight Zone,” written and created by Rod Serling. Both shows ask unresolved questions in lieu of settling on one convincing outcome as many blockbusters are guilty of committing, favoring nihilistic endings over Hollywood’s feel-good ways.
Rod Sterling’s hugely entertaining TV series of the late 50s and early 60s echoes the sci-fi, futuristic, paranoid style of its predecessor “Black Mirror” through its ability to plunge head first into controversial issues without reliance on platitudes and surface observations.
In Sterling’s day, he wrote about issues of concern for the time: namely, the atomic bomb, civil rights, McCarthyism and the space race. Today, among many things, he’d write about our relationship with technology, as Brooker does in his show.
Often, they end on a bleak, ambiguous note, hinting at the notion that no one knows what’s to happen next, but with diligence and proactive thought, consequences could be minimized and dealt with rather than succumbed to compla- cently.
“Black Mirror”—a “Twilight Zone” for the digital age—has self-contained episodes that are brilliantly crafted and produced, providing a large dose of awareness and skepticism right along with cheeky witticisms regarding the absurdity of our digital obsession.
We’ve seen the Prime Minister of England have sexual intercourse with a pig, and somehow Brooker spins such a storyline to convey the darker aspects of humanity, its appetites and the ability for technological screens to rule our lives; this is a testament to the ingenuity of his writing.
Watching “Black Mirror” is an exhaustive experience through its coupling of thought-provoking content and utterly desolate storylines.
Not only does each episode capture the viewer’s attention, it enthralls your thoughts long after the credits roll. “Black Mirror” shows us a reflection of ourselves and allows us to evaluate scenarios through our own emotional filters.
On Sept. 24, 2015, Netlix announced their acquisition of “Black Mirror” from previous broadcaster, Britain’s “Channel 4,” commissioning Brooker and the same production team to create 12 all-new episodes.
“Black Mirror” season three looms around the corner. With six episodes premiering Oct. 21 on Netflix, Brooker is sure to assert his claim that his digital dystopian vision of the future is actually simply the slightest exaggeration of current circumstances in which we are currently submersed.
“I just hope none of these new story ideas come true,” concludes Brooker in a Netflix press release.
Dimitri Kandilanaftis is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DK838967@wcupa.edu.