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Black Mirror sweeps nation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2014

If you weren’t watching the new HD remaster of The Wire over the holidays, you may have been tuning in to Black Mirror on Netflix. Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi series was broadcast in Britain beginning in 2011 but only recently became available in the US on Netflix. Emily Nussbaum reviews the show for the New Yorker’s latest issue.

Still, for all the show’s inventive storytelling, its true provocation is its righteous outrage, which shares something with Mike White’s whistle-blower series “Enlightened,” although it’s overlaid with a dark filter. Like “Enlightened,” “Black Mirror” is about love in the time of global corporate hegemony. It’s a bleak fairy tale that doubles as an exposé. An anthology series, it consists of six one-hour episodes spanning two seasons (plus a Christmas special), each with a new story and a different cast. In various future settings, Brooker’s characters gaze into handhelds or at TV-walled cells, using torqued versions of modern devices. In one episode, a couple has sex while stupefied by virtual visions of earlier, better sex. In another, a woman builds a replica of her husband from his photos and posts on social media. In a third, workers watch streaming schlock and are docked points if they shut their eyes. Some plots deal with political terrorism (or performance art-on this show, there’s little difference) and the criminal-justice system; there are warped versions of reality TV. Though the episodes vary in tone, several have a Brechtian aggression: the viral video “Too Many Cooks” would fit right in. But, in even the most perverse installments, there’s a delicacy, a humane concern at how easily our private desires can be mined in the pursuit of profit. The worlds can be cartoonish, but the characters are not.

Like Nussbaum, I also watched the show “through occult means”1 and it’s fun hearing from friends who are catching up on it. Too bad the show couldn’t have found a way over here earlier.

Update: From Josh Dzieza at The Verge, I can’t stop comparing everything to Black Mirror:

A friend recently told me that his favorite thing about the show Black Mirror is that he finally has a term for a certain type of technological anxiety. It’s a type of anxiety that seemed everywhere this year. The Sony hack could have been an episode of Black Mirror, as could Gamergate. In the same way that we refer to Blade Runner as shorthand for gritty dystopian cityscapes, Gattaca for worries about corporate use of genetic information, and Terminator for ominously powerful AI, Black Mirror has become shorthand for a certain type of contemporary internet-age creepiness.

  1. It’s interesting to hear the TV critic for the New Yorker all but admit to pirating shows off the internet.