I’ve been watching Black Mirror, that highly-acclaimed SF series on Netflix, for the past few weeks (I’m too busy to binge-watch anything). Not quite done with season 3, I can easily see why it’s so acclaimed; but alas, I don’t have as high an opinion of the series as others seem to.
As the name implies, the show offers a mirror to the dark side of our society, and it does a great job, production-wise, of doing that. Except that it really doesn’t. This show offers us a mirror into an alternate universe, where absolutely everything and everyone is intentionally designed to be evil.
Does anyone out there remember the Star Trek original series episode “Mirror Mirror,” where everything and everyone was an evil version of the main characters? The Federation enslaved entire planets, or destroyed them if they didn’t comply; Star Fleet officers did Nazi salutes, and attrition was by assassination. And if you thought about it, none of it made a lick of sense—that evil Federation wouldn’t have lasted a decade—but it made for good, dramatic TV to see tyrannical Kirk, Sulu with a nasty battle-scar, scheming Chekov, knife-wielding Uhura and Spock with a beard.
Well, that’s what Black Mirror is. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the world of Black Mirror is the one that eventually became the alternate universe in “Mirror Mirror.”
As I’ve watched the show, intended to be a cautionary look at our love affair with technology in general and social media in particular, I’ve been fascinated by the forms of technology that the show has concocted: Memory-saving and playback chips apparently implanted in users’ heads; eye-cameras that identify someone or put data up in your line of vision; memory chips that learn your every habit, in order to be your personal “servant” and tend to your needs; these are among the most notable of technologies introduced by the series.
And I can think of any number of ways in which these technologies could be used to enrich our lives and our world. But Black Mirror doesn’t show those to you; in fact, it goes well out of its way to show you every negative possibility associated with that technology, to present nightmare scenarios of people isolated from human contact, memory chips that think they are humans trapped in virtual reality hells, and social media systems in the hands of—well, assholes—that can control your life and crash your career.
And in so many episodes, it’s been so incredibly obvious to me how the contentious beats of the stories could have been effectively handled by people actually talking to each other, working together to solve problems and help each other. But in every case, the moment was dominated by an asshole, exactly the kind of person who would make everything worse, just because they could… and did.
Okay—So maybe this is just me, seeing yet another TV show filled with the unnecessary and over-the-top melodrama that audiences seem to gravitate to like moths around a flame. Maybe this is just me, resisting the urge to stare at the train wreck that’s got everyone else’s attention, and trying to move on to better things. Maybe this is just me, wishing we could have television that shows good people who want to help each other, societies that work when people want them to, and happy endings whenever possible… or at least acceptable endings when we know no one’s going to actually win.
Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate nightmares any more.
And so, as well-produced as Black Mirror is, the series simply frustrates and depresses me. Not just because of its downbeat, Twilight-Zone-ish stories where nobody lives happily ever after; but for its tacit admission that nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever be good about technology… or any of its users.