As a show focusing on society’s fixation on technology, Black Mirror has quickly made the transition from cult hit to worldwide phenomenon, netting guest stars like Hayley Atwell and Jon Hamm, as well as critical acclaim virtually across the board. Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone-esque anthology is single handedly taking on the modern age, with episodes decrying our generation’s fixation on screens more than the world those screens depict.
Each self-contained episode focuses on a different aspect of social media, technology, and the modern era, with each one more unsettling than the last. Marathon through it on Netflix and you’ll come out the other end fearing for the future of humanity, with the show depicting sci-fi scenarios in the not-so-distant future that in many ways seem plausible. Buried in these parables, though, are very clear messages to audience members who spend more time checking their phones than talking to people face to face.
1. Recording everything is overrated
In the episode entitled “The Entire History of You,” we see a world where everyone has implants that allow them to play their memories like a video up on any screen. At first, it seems like a wonderful idea. Who wouldn’t want to be able to watch their favorite memories in vivid high definition? Everyone has a photographic memory when all you have to do is search through a library of videos. But it soon devolves into something far more horrifying, as our main character, Liam, obsesses over his wife’s interaction with an ex-boyfriend. Scrolling back through his memories of their conversations, he soon uncovers the truth through his wife’s video memories.
We’re a society fixated on photographing and recording everything we see and hear. Blow that up to gigantic proportions and we’re treated to something that spirals out of control frighteningly fast. It’s bad enough that every moment of our lives is documented on social media. We’ll pass on the near future’s video memory, thank you very much.
2. Turn. Off. Your. Screens.
The premiere episode of Black Mirror starts off with a bang. In it, the prime minister is given a choice: Either he must fornicate with a pig on live TV or allow a kidnapped royal to be killed. In the end he terrifyingly opts for the pig, with no one noticing the royal’s release well before he performed the deed. Why didn’t anyone notice? Because billions of people were glued to their screens, rather than looking out their windows to see the dazed royal wandering through the London streets. The greater message here is clear: Turn off your phone, TV, and computer and go outside. We spend far too much of our lives looking down at our technology and not enough having real human moments. This is a future that’s already arrived, and one that seems to have no clear end in sight.
3. Our political system is tragically broken
Episode 3 of the second season, titled “The Waldo Moment,” shows us what happens when people become so fed up with their same old politicians that they willingly vote for a cartoon bear to represent them in Parliament. The bear itself represents a larger message: That the new-world politicians are now more than ever meticulously crafted caricatures of people, focused more on their own re-election than enacting real, actionable change. The world we live in now is surprisingly similar to one in which a cartoon could run for office. How often have you heard about Internet groundswells wishing that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart would make sincere runs at public office? At this point, we’re so fed up with the dog and pony show of politics that we’re willing to throw our support behind anyone who simply acts like a real human being, rather than a campaign robot.
4. The person we pretend to be on social media is far different from who we actually are
Hayley Atwell’s turn in Black Mirror came in the first episode of Season 2, “Be Right Back.” In it, Atwell plays a widow grieving the death of her husband. But a new technology enters into the picture, pulling from all of her late husbands social media to reconstruct his personality digitally. At first, it’s like her husband is alive and well, speaking to her as he would have in life. But things feel. He’s almost too perfect, possessing all of his charming quirks but none of the flaws that make us all human. And that’s because that’s what our social media has become: a representation of everything we want to be but little of what we actually are.
5. Brain implants of any kind are terrifying
A couple of episodes deal with a society in which brain implants are implemented to make our lives easier. First, the aforementioned “Entire History of You.” The second stars Jon Hamm in “White Christmas” as a man exiled to God-knows-where as self-punishment for his misdeeds. The implants in this episode are even more terrifying than the memory-recall chips, allowing people to “block” each other in real life, as you would in social media. The implant, connected to the ocular nerve, blots out the person who you’ve blocked, making it so you can neither hear nor see them in any way. It’s an unsettling logical next step to our habit for muting people we don’t agree with on social media rather than discussing problems like human beings. The greater lesson, though? Say no to brain implants. If Black Mirror has taught us anything, it’s that they rarely, if ever, go well.